Monday, September 30, 2013

Dominican Court Ruling Denies Citizenship to Thousands

A ruling by the Dominican Constitutional Court last week could have disastrous implications for individuals of Haitian descent in the country, potentially leaving tens of thousands of people stateless. 

On Thursday, the court found that anyone born to undocumented immigrants to the Dominican Republic since 1929 are not legal citizens, giving civil registry officials in the Central Electoral Board (JCE) a year to come up with a list of people to exclude from citizenship. In its ruling, the court said JCE officials were going over the birth certificates of more than 16,000 people, and recognized that some 40,000 people of Haitian descent had been denied identification documents because of their status.

Up until the Dominican constitution was revised in 2010, the country automatically guaranteed citizenship to anyone born there, regardless of the nationality of their parents. However, the new constitution left out children of undocumented immigrants from this provision, deeming them to be merely “in transit.” Because the change mostly affected descendants of Haitian migrants, it was widely chalked up to longstanding discriminatory attitudes against Haitians in the Dominican Republic.

Last week’s ruling is a continuation of this discrimination, and puts individuals of Haitian descent in an extremely difficult position.  Under Dominican law, they are living in the country illegally and could be deported to Haiti. However, most are not Haitian citizens either, and do not speak Creole or have significant ties to the country. Because of this, legal experts have challenged the basis of the court’s decision. As constitutional lawyer Nassef Perdomo told Dominican news site 7 Dias, “By revoking the citizenship of all these people, it has been determined that they are all of Haitian nationality, even though the Constitutional Court has no power to grant someone the nationality of a foreign country.”

The Associated Press notes that activists say they intend to file a petition against the ruling with the Inter-American Commission, which in turn may refer the case to the Inter-American Court.

Officials in the country insist that no one will be left stateless by the ruling. Over the weekend, JCE President Roberto Rosario told El Dia that Dominican law establishes mechanisms for affected individuals to apply for legal citizenship. “The sentence unifies the country,” Rosario said. “It clarifies and defines a legal path [to citizenship] and allows these people a humanitarian solution through a legal framework.”

“Far from remaining in limbo like some critics are arguing, [they] will for the first time benefit from a defined status and identity without having to violate the law,” Immigration Director Jose Ricardo Taveras told reporters.

However, the AP notes that this legal path to citizenship has not yet been established, nine years after a 2004 law called for its creation. It is also unclear how many of those who have been denied nationality by the recent court decision will be eligible for the process.  

News Briefs
  • On Saturday, Colombia’s FARC rebels called on U.S. civil rights activist Jesse Jackson to facilitate the release of a former American soldier held captive by the guerrilla group since June. El Espectador reported that the guerrilla group requested Jackson’s help due to his “experience and integrity.” Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos immediately vetoed the request, saying he wanted to avoid a media spectacle. Nevertheless, Reuters reports that Jackson is determined to assist in the release, and plans on traveling to Colombia in the coming days.
  • An anonymous Obama administration official has contested Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s claim that he skipped out on the UN General Assembly last week because of plots against his life. According to the official, the decision was more likely due to fears that the Cuban jet he was flying in would be seized by U.S. authorities.  
  • Paraguayan President Horacios Cartes will arrive in Brasilia today to meet with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. The meeting helps mend ties between the two countries, which were badly damaged after Brazil sought to isolate the Paraguayan government in response to the controversial ouster of former President Fernando Lugo. EFE reports that the two are expected to discuss Paraguay’s re-admission to the Mercosur trading bloc, from which it was suspended after Lugo’s removal.
  • InSight Crime features an analysis of Mexico’s criminal landscape by Malcolm Beith, who argues that the main criminal groups in the country have become increasingly fragmented over the last several years. Because of the level of market insecurity in the country, Beith argues that there is a possibility that newer, smaller crime syndicates could seek to unite under the banner of the largest remaining cartel, the Sinaloa Federation.
  • The Miami Herald looks at an underreported theme among the addresses that Caribbean leaders delivered at the UN General Assembly last week: calls for reparations to the descendants of victims of the African slave trade in the Americas. The paper notes that the movement for reparations has picked up momentum in recent months, and has been endorsed unanimously by the Caribbean Community regional bloc.
  • The Cuban government has lifted a ban on Cuban athletes participating in foreign leagues, so long as they pay taxes on their earnings agree to compete for Cuba in international events like the Olympic Games. As El Nuevo Herald notes, the ban is part of a package of reforms -- including pay raises -- thought to come as a response to a wave of high-profile desertions of Cuban athletes in recent years. The L.A. Times reports that, because of the U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba, the changes will not lead to an influx of Cuban players to Major League Baseball.
  • Just before Chilean authorities closed one of the two special detention centers used to house human rights violators of the dictatorship era, and it inmates were set to be transferred to the other facility, one of the prisoners committed suicide on Saturday. The New York Times reports that former intelligence chief Odlanier Menam shot himself at home, where he had been allowed to spend weekends since 2011. The incident has not complicated the closure of the Cordillera prison, which was completed yesterday according to La Tercera.
  • The Miami Herald’s Carlos Alberto Montaner has an interesting interview with an anonymous “former U.S. ambassador” on the reasoning behind the United States’ recently-exposed surveillance of Brazilian government officials.  The official describes the Brazilian government as “not exactly friendly,” and argues that U.S. espionage activities in the country are justified by Brazil’s diplomatic ties with U.S. rivals. According to the ex-ambassador: “The friends of Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, of Dilma Rousseff and the Workers Party are the enemies of the United States: Chavist Venezuela, first with (Hugo) Chávez and now with (Nicolás) Maduro; Raúl Castro’s Cuba; Iran; Evo Morales’ Bolivia; Libya at the time of Gadhafi; Bashar Assad’s Syria.”  The official’s conservative views and relative openness to the media are in keeping with the profile of former Venezuelan ambassador-turned-policy analyst Otto Reich, though it is impossible to tell for sure.
  • The Washington Post looks at the complications to Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s reform agenda, which has been hampered by sagging popularity and mounting opposition on both the left and right of the political spectrum. While many in the left-wing PRD oppose his confrontations with teachers’ unions and plans to scale back the country’s state oil monopoly, the conservative PAN is against plans to raise taxes on wealthy Mexicans to build up revenue. Peña Nieto will face a major test of his agenda next month, when lawmakers are expected to vote on controversial energy reforms.
  • The governments of Spain and Argentina have reached an agreement to join forces in their respective territorial claims against Great Britain: the Falklands Islands and Gibraltar.