By Chantalle F. Verna
Chantalle F. Verna, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of History and International Relations at Florida International University based in Miami, Florida. She is the author of research articles about Haiti and the relationship between Haiti’s domestic and international affairs published in The Journal of Haitian Studies and Diplomatic History. Her forthcoming works include a single-authored book currently entitled Haiti and the Uses of America: Post-U.S. Occupation Cooperation, 1934-1953 and a co-edited volume, The Haiti Reader, with Laurent Dubois, Kaiama Glover, Nadèvé Menard and Millery Polyne.
Coming together to support the well-being of forced migrants arriving into Haiti from the Dominican Republic is a concrete way to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the United States occupation of Haiti (July 28, 1915-August 14, 1934).
Attending to the needs of the tens of thousands continuously arriving into Haiti is consistent with the nationalism that emerged in response to the assault on Haitian sovereignty. That nationalism acknowledges the significance and inter-dependence of all segments of the Haitian population. It can also defend against new and extended forms of occupation in Haiti.
Since June 2015, an estimated ten to thirty thousand men, women and children have been deported or have been self-deporting to Haiti, due to recent changes in Dominican laws. Those changes have stripped hundreds of thousands of men, women and children of their Dominican citizenship. The changes have closed avenues for thousands more to establish that citizenship.
Individuals of Haitian descent are the primary targets of this ethnic cleansing campaign underway in Dominican Republic. A conservative minority among Dominican officials and citizens has been behind this campaign. The campaign belies the fact that Haitians and Dominicans have crossed the borders to one another’s country and co-existed, particularly in border communities, since the nineteenth century.
Voluntarily and by human trafficking, Haitians left Haiti to labor in the Dominican Republic during the twentieth century. These Haitians have typically worked on plantations owned by the Dominican state, and capital investors from the DR and the United States. Neglecting the interest of Haitian laborers, Haitian officials and capitalists facilitated the contracts and the capture of able-bodied persons for inhumane work experiences in the Dominican Republic.
Today, it is those Haitian laborers and their descendants who are being forced to relocate in Haiti.
The social and economic challenges of managing an influx in Haiti’s population can be the basis for instituting new forms of foreign intervention in Haiti. It also presents the risk of an extended mandate for the current United Nations Mission in Haiti.
Foreign interventions in Haiti, as elsewhere in the world, have generally been justified with arguments about the capacity of foreigners to handle a situation more effectively than Haitians. As colonizers around the world have done, U.S. officials and their supporters claimed to take up “burdens” such as instituting political stability in Haiti. In reality, Americans with commercial interest in Haiti were complicit in financing revolutions that led to frequent political turnover in nineteenth century Haiti.
Haitian men, women and youth living during the occupation increasingly acknowledged that the vulnerability of one segment of Haiti’s population made for a vulnerable Haitian state and society. The same is true today, and particularly in the case of forced migrants who if neglected will add to the numbers of homelessness, unemployment, and public health risks in in Haiti.
During the late 1920s and 1930s, Haitian protestors used the power of military attacks, published writings, political lobbying, social action and even working within the occupation mission to defend their rights and the rights of their compatriots. It was these actions that helped to integrate the idea of collective responsibility as a core component of the Haitian nationalism that emerged during the occupation.
Mobilizing against a common threat has historically generated more results than mobilizing for a particular cause. Today, outcries against the policies and practices in the Dominican Republic that are prompting mass migration to Haiti have been many.
There is a need for simultaneous outcries on behalf of the forced migrants currently arriving into Haiti. From whatever our vantage points, our areas of expertise, on our own or in partnership with the Haitian state or private entities, our funds, our advocacy, and our creative action is required in this very moment, perhaps even more so than it was needed as a U.S. occupation unfolded in Haiti one hundred years ago.
As has always been the case, not everyone will share a vision of how to offer assistance. And, many who want to help are likely to propose solutions reinforce the problem. One such example is the vision of creating labor opportunities within manufacturing, agricultural or tourist industries that depend on low wages. It is those types of employment opportunities that led Haitian laborers to travel voluntarily or by force across the Americas.
Still, it is worth discussing and centering our actions around the Haitian national motto l’union fait la force (in unity there is strength). The motto is the core idea behind the organizing that led to the nation’s independence in 1804, and that made the end of the occupation possible in 1934.
The best way to honor Haiti’s national motto, the sovereignty it has made possible and those who have aimed to defend it is to take on the present-day need to help the men, women and children arriving en mass from the Dominican Republic to Haiti.