Haiti and the Dominican Republic have been working to repair bilateral relations in the wake of the Dominican Republic’s new citizenship law. As Haiti deals with its own political paralysis, a return to normal relations would improve stability and development on the island.
A deal was reached in January 2014 to ease tensions over the Dominican Republic (DR) high court ruling in September 2013, which revoked the citizenship of about 24,000 people, mostly the children of Haitian migrant workers. The representatives from both countries issued a public message, stating “concrete measures will be taken to safeguard the basic rights of people of Haitian descent.”
Dominican historian and economist Bernardo Vega explained that, “the ruling has clearly hurt the relationship between Haiti and the Dominican Republic.”
International condemnations in response to the high court’s ruling and regular allegations of racism remain a key obstacle for the DR’s efforts to join the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
The former chair of CARICOM and Trinidadian Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar stated, “It is especially repugnant that the ruling ignores the 2005 recommendations made by the IACHR [Inter-American Commission on Human Rights] that the Dominican Republic adapts its immigration laws and practices in accordance with the provisions of the American Convention on Human Rights.” The DR must work to change this unfavorable image.
Both countries missing out on capitalizing on ties
However, the rest of the Caribbean is also missing out. The DR could offer the economic support and stability that a large economy brings to an international trade organization. Haiti and the DR currently lack the ability to tax the estimated $1.4 billion worth of trade that crosses the island’s border. The Haitian government could reap an annual $400 million in tax revenue if there was greater bilateral cooperation.
Restored relations may be the boost that the DR’s economy needs. There has been a decline in exports and a drop in overall competitiveness. Despite being the 2nd largest economy in the Caribbean, the telecommunications, financial services, and tourism industries have failed to significantly reduce poverty. The new jobs being created are mainly in the country’s service sector. The DR government has also had difficulty with revenue sources. The cost of living is difficult for many, as real wages sank by 27 percent this past decade.
Haiti is also enduring a period of political uncertainty. Protests have been a regular occurrence in the capital of Port-au-Prince. The Organization of American States has lauded the Martelly Administration’s compromise with his political rivals, known as the “El Rancho Accord,” to hold legislative and municipal elections by the end of 2014.
Efforts to reach a trade agreement have so far been elusive. Dominican Industry and Commerce Minister José del Castillo said, “I should inform you that within the responsibilities that we have as Dominican Republic, we’ve come a long way in drafting a protocol agreement on trade which we’ll sign at that meeting, so I think the meeting will take place.”
This move has potential for a reset in the troubled history between the two countries. A trade deal could go far in healing the political rift over the citizenship ruling. Still mistrust and negative perceptions are the norm.
The political trouble is holding back Haiti from new business opportunities. The crisis in Port-au-Prince has contributed to the cancellation of a new port in the northern Haitian city of Fort Liberté. A report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office stated, “USAID officials recognize that there is a risk that no private company interested in operating the port would be willing to cover the entire remaining costs of construction, particularly given the political risks of operating in Haiti.”
Others in the Caribbean region have shown interest in Haiti. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is scheduled to tour Haiti this coming September. At the Association of Caribbean States Summit in Mexico, he pledged to continue Mexico’s development of Port-au-Price’s shipping infrastructure and floated the possibility of discounted fuel for the Haitian government. Political stability along with normalized relations with the DR could go far in inviting similar foreign investment.
Greater bilateral cooperation between the Ministries of Environment of both countries is also showing progress on sustainable use of the Artibonite River Basin. Within the Dominican government interagency cooperation is also trying to tackle the immigration issues. The Dominican Immigration Agency and Agribusiness Board have taken initiatives to legalize the status of migrant workers. Emerging environmental concerns also loom on the horizon.
If the Dominican government were to provide legal protection and better treatment for migrants, and if Haiti manages to hold a timely election, there would be more opportunities for mutual development on Hispaniola. In the meantime, the DR will still miss out from the benefits of CARICOM. Haiti will struggle with its democratic process and efforts to move forward from the devastation of the 2010 earthquake.