The Dominican Republic has been an established democracy since the 1960s when it established itself as such in their constitution in 1966. During the 1960s and 70s the DR transformed their economy and had their first peaceful transition of power during the 1966 election which led to a strengthening and the stabilization of democracy. Ever since then there have been strong signs of democracy, for example there have been regular elections, and in 1996, 80% of the electorate voted which shows strong political mobilization. Despite the regular elections, there have been other symptoms of democratic erosion in the Dominican Republic. One that is gaining a lot of traction is the rise in recent deportation and racist rhetoric towards Haitians.
There has been a long history of animosity between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which mostly stems from the colonization of these nations by different European countries. However, this issue still bleeds into current politics and has led to the rise of maltreatment towards Haitians. There is a high level of immigration of Haitians to the Dominican Republic because of significantly better economic conditions, for example “the average Haitian is nearly 10 times poorer than the average Dominican, and much more likely to be unemployed.”
During recent months, Haitians have been targeted by the Dominican government. Around 50,000 Haitians have been deported from the country, especially those of which are seeking asylum. The current president, Luis Abinder, has “issued a decree calling for stepped up migration protocols enforcement and the creation of a police unit to investigate foreigners living in ‘illegal land occupations.’” Currently, in Haiti, there has been a crisis of both disease outbreak and several human rights abuses reported in the country including the blockade of fuel.
This targeted deportation during a time of crisis goes against the policies set in place by the United Nations in the Dominican Republic and the National Refugee Commission, which allows for the protection of refugees that are seeking protection. Institutions such as the United Nations, of which the DR is a founding member, has called on the Dominican Republic to stop these deportations. The Dominican Republic has a history of deporting Haitians during times of crisis, even during the devastating 2010 earthquake.
These decisions go against the most recent 2015 constitution that the Dominican Republic has produced. Some of these naturalization laws include Article 1(b) which “allows any foreign resident who is an adult (eighteen years of age or older), and has resided legally in the Dominican Republic for at least two years, to acquire Dominican citizenship by naturalization.” Many Haitians in the DR have been living there for years and have built families and lives in the country. Additionally, the constitution allows for birthright citizenship, which has been stripped away from Haitian children born in the Dominican Republic.
This case is an example of democratic breakdown because of the blatant disregard for their own constitution, and the UN’s policy towards refugees, therefore breaking international law. Additionally, there has been targeted deportation towards Haitians which demonstrates how there have been ethnic and identity based divisions in the country. Political theorists Ellen Lust and David Walder point to the idea that democratic breakdown is more likely when racist and ethnic cleavages are involved, and there is ethnic polarization. By these deportation numbers, we can see how there has been a ethnic divide between the two groups which has legally impacted Haitians. Furthermore with these exacerbated cleavages, it is more difficult for the country to democratize further.
It is interesting to note that Lust and Walder do point out that international organizations do sometimes help the country be held accountable. However, we do not see this in this case and the opposite is happening and the DR is not being held accountable for their actions.
Additionally, political theorist Juan J. Linz in their book, The Breakdown of Democratic Regimes, points out that presidentialism is not a system that produces stability, especially with cases in Latin America. We can see this here since there is a lack of stability and accountability for these actions since this treatment towards Haitians has occurred for hundreds of years, and the number of people being deported is said to increase by President Abinder himself. International institutions are failing to hold the DR accountable as well. Moving forward, it will be interesting to see if there are going to be economic sanctions or other tactics used by the UN or other countries in order to incentivize the Dominican Republic to open their borders and not deport Haitians from the country. The racialization of people in the country has even caused warnings of detainment based solely on the color of their skin in the DR. The United States Embassy has issued warnings to people of color traveling to the DR in case of detainment due to the heightened deportation of Haitans. However, claims like this have not been received positively by the Dominican government and might even create more tensions with the United States. How will the government be able to be held accountable when these calls are so outrightly rejected?