Postnational Pressures: Haitian Migrants in the Dominican Republic

By Pimentel, Pedro | Harvard International Review, Fall 1998 | Go to article overview

Postnational Pressures: Haitian Migrants in the Dominican Republic


Pimentel, Pedro, Harvard International Review


PEDRO PIMENTEL, Senior Editor, Harvard International Review

Last June, President Leonel Fernandez of the Dominican Republic and President Rene Preval of the Republic of Haiti met in the capital city of Port-au-Prince to consider the state of relations between both nations and to sign substantive agreements in several areas such as trade and tourism. This meeting represented a historic leap forward in Dominico-Haitian relations. Not since 1936 had a Dominican President actually spent a night in Port-au-Prince, a fact which is unsurprising considering that in 1937 President Rafael Trujillo ordered a massacre of all Haitians residing within Dominican territory in an attempt to `strengthen' the border. Recognizing the historical conflicts between both countries, President Fernandez was attempting to forge new ties that would create the groundwork for greater co-operation in many areas of interest to both countries, particularly in the area of migration.

Migration between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, however, tends to flow in one direction: from Haiti to the Dominican Republic. Traditionally, this migratory flow has met intellectual and political opposition from the Dominican ruling classes. Nonetheless, the number of Haitians within the Dominican Republic is approaching one million and their presence is crucial in almost all areas of industry, from tourism to politics. The Dominican government, in response to the strong anti-Haitian sentiment that is present in much of Dominican public discourse has been accused of pursuing an active anti-Haitian policy by human rights groups in the United States, Haiti, and even within its own borders. Although evidence reveals that the Dominican state does not pursue an active anti-Haitian policy, it regularly fails to provide many Haitians with adequate legal, economic, and medical security even when they are hired by the state itself. Additionally, the Dominican government still refuses to develop a cogent immigration policy that would address the concerns of Haitian migrants and the Haitian state. The result, despite President Fernandez's efforts, has been indiscriminate repatriations of Haitians and the inability of the Dominican Republic to develop an agreement with Haiti on immigration issues. The Dominican Republic thus continues to fail to meet the model of citizenship that purportedly exists in more advanced democratic nations.

The "Postnational" State

Some scholars suggest that citizenship is no longer tied to the territory of the state or to specific cultural ties that might exist for members of that territory. Instead, they claim that the importance of territorial boundaries has been eroded by a growing discourse on human rights that relies on a theory of universal rights. This argument suggests that states are not bound by ethnic ties of sentiment, but that instead the qualitative benefits of citizenship the state gives can now be obtained by any person who chooses to settle within the territorial confines of a given nation. A "postnational" model of citizenship, however, falls short of explaining why certain countries fail to grant either legal or qualitative citizenship to those who settle within their borders. In the case of the Dominican Republic and its treatment of Haitian migrant workers who are employed in various sectors of the economy, clear barriers exist to this conception of postnational citizenship.

The concept of the postnational state has been developed by several theorists. In the opinion of Yasemin Soysal, an assistant professor of sociology at Harvard University, a postnational state is one in which "what were previously defined as national rights become entitlements legitimized on the basis of personhood." Professor Soysal posits that the new normative assumptions that underlie the postnational state imply that, for example, migrant workers or guest workers need not have a "primordial attachment" to the specific state in order to gain the full benefits of citizenship. …

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