by Wesley Gibbings
The outrageous September 23, 2013 ruling of the constitutional court of the Dominican Republic on birthright citizenship and ensuing action taken against persons of Haitian descent should signal to the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) an unwillingness of the Dominican authorities to accept the sense of fraternity which serves as the fuel which keeps the integration movement, however disabled, very much alive.
The ruling, and oppressive official actions that followed, came only two months after renewal of the DR’s application for membership of CARICOM – a process set in train since 2005 when it was found that the various bilateral and multilateral attempts at forging more meaningful trade and economic integration between the Spanish-speaking country and CARICOM had borne considerable fruit to the benefit of all concerned, the DR in particular.
Between Haiti and the Dominican Republic alone, there is a more than US$1 billion trade deficit in favour of the DR while just 2.4% of all CARICOM exports land in the DR.
Since the judgment, the government of Haiti has launched an aggressive campaign to bring greater awareness to the Community of the serious challenges this development presents to a neighbouring republic already buckling under the stresses of persistent economic hardship and a less than rocky ride with the international aid community.
Advancing the facilitation of Dominican membership of CARICOM can only be viewed as a slap in the face for Haiti – a country whose courtship by the Community over the years led to a slow and arduous ascent from provisional to eventual full membership between 1998 and 2002 and full compliance with the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) in 2006.
There also remains the anomaly of visa-restricted travel within CARICOM for Haitian nationals. This requirement flies in the face of CARICOM Summit pleasantries and member countries have been slow to lift the restrictive barrier, with only partial allowance made for selected categories of Haitian nationals. One diplomat has already opined that such a situation can be contested at the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).
One of the difficulties with regional engagement of the DR immigration assault is the fact that some of CARICOM’s own member states appear to have engaged programmes of their own to discourage greater levels of intra-regional movement. The Bahamas is yet to join the common market system and is unlikely to do so in the near future and several countries have sought temporary stays on the obligation to facilitate the free movement of Caribbean workers in selected areas.
The Shanique Myrie judgment delivered by the CCJ on October 4, for example, found that the authorities in Barbados had displayed open disregard for regional decisions made in keeping with the requirements of the Treaty of Chaguaramas; the right in question being the entitlement of national to enter CARICOM Member States “without harassment or the imposition of impediment, and to stay for up to six months.”
Myrie was a Jamaican national who was detained, subjected to a cavity search and deported from Barbados on March 14, 2011 because she was “untruthful about the identity of her Barbadian host.”
A specific CARICOM decision on the movement of regional nationals had been made four years prior to the incident and regular travelers would attest to its non-compliance in several countries.
According to the CCJ, the Treaty establishes a requirement to give a person refused entry written reasons for the refusal and also to advise them of their entitlement to access meaningful judicial review. The right may be denied only where the receiving state establishes that the visitor is an “undesirable person” or one likely to become a charge on public funds.
This judgment has the potential to dramatically change immigration hall treatment of some CARICOM travelers. Guyanese and Jamaican nationals are known to suffer disproportionately from such a breach by regional immigration authorities.
Additionally, virtually all CARICOM Associate Members have travel restrictions, including visa requirements for some full members of the Community. Certainly, this should militate against any application for full membership.
None of this, of course, amounts to the focused attempt by the Dominican Republic to transact a purge of children and grandchildren born to Haitian and other immigrants since 1929. However, it is difficult to envisage the shaping of a common Caribbean space committed to according equality of treatment to all nationals of the region under such conditions.
For the DR to become a member of CARICOM, it would have to sign on to a treaty which pronounces very firmly on the matter of free movement. The Myrie CCJ judgment does not speak to the question of birth rights, but it operates under the assumption that freer, not more restrictive, conditions for accepting CARICOM citizenship as a lived reality are part of broader integrationist aspirations.
In the end, jus soli (citizenship by place of birth) and jus sanguinis (citizenship by blood) may just have to be considered within the context of a single Caribbean space, as opposed to individual nation states.
The region might be some way off from achievement of such a scenario, but the whole-hearted embrace of a member moving in the opposition direction is not likely to accelerate the process.
Membership of the Dominican Republic, through endorsement of the Treaty of Chaguaramas, has the potential to activate landmark adjudication by the CCJ to settle what appear to be discriminatory actions against a so-called “fraternal” state.