Yesterday, two catastrophes befell black people living next to the Atlantic Ocean. You may have heard about one of them, the unthinkable slaughter of nine African-Americans in a historically slavery-resisting church in Charleston, South Carolina. This post is instead about the one that will irrevocably change thousands as many lives, on the only island where a slave revolt ever succeeded in toppling a government — Hispaniola, now divided into Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Yesterday, the Dominican Republic began to expel most of its Haitian-descended citizens, as well as those that look “too black” and sound too, well, foreign. President Danilo Medina’s government has revived Slobodan Milosevic’s term of “cleansing” as it makes stateless more than 200,000 people; for most of them, Haiti is no home, and no one else will take them either.
Now, regular readers of Nicholas’ Kristof’s column in The New York Times know that the world has plenty of citizen displacement problems. And atrocities of expulsion in the Mediterranean, in Jordan, and in Southeast Asia do deserve more attention than we typically pay them.
But this is different, and not just because it’s closer to home. Another reason is that this problem is our legacy: many of the tensions between the two nations to occupy the island of Hispaniola date back to a century ago, during World War I, when the United States Marines took over the entire island. The U.S. took over most of the sugar industry in both Haiti and Republica Dominica, and brought the poorest people in the former over to the latter to work the harvests. We also developed highly militarized police forces in both places, a necessary condition of the rise of our friend Rafael Trujillo, who, after we left, fomented hatred against darker, French-speaking workers, and eventually ordered the Parsley Massacre of 1937, killing perhaps 30,000 Haitians and their descendants. In many ways, the deportations that began yesterday are simply an outgrowth of that history, exacerbated by the ripple effects of the calamitous January 2010 earthquake in Haiti. So this is both a century-old problem, and this week’s new problem. A fuller version is here.
However, there’s another thing that distinguishes this migration problem from others around the world, and that’s our potential for doing something about it. Sure, in other cases we can contribute to the Red Cross or Doctors Without Borders or write to our Congressperson or even join the Marines (let’s hope our soldiers have become a little more helpful in the century since World War I). Yes, all well and good. But in the case of the Dominican Republic, there’s another card we can play.
Take it from someone who just came back from the parade for the 2015 NBA Champion Golden State Warriors. This is the time of year when a large nation of sports-lovers pivots to Major League Baseball. And guess which country, other than the United States, has supplied Major League Baseball with the most players? If you’ve read this far, you can probably guess that it isn’t Aruba. (Go, Xander Bogaerts!) Yes, it’s the Dominican Republic.
Starting today, we need to start naming and shaming Major League Baseball players who support President Medina’s “repatriation” policy. (Despite what the government says, Haiti won’t be repatriating anyone, particularly not people who’ve lived in the D.R. all their lives.) And frankly, just being silent on this issue really shouldn’t be enough.
I know, I know, we’re not supposed to put politics in sports. Even though that happens all the time, from gay rights to Ray Rice. (Did you see what I did there?) So if we’re going to bother these players, it would have to be for a good, once-in-their-careers kind of reason, right? Like a genocide in the making? Well, according to the Washington Post:
Cassandre Theano, a legal officer at the New York-based Open Society Foundations, said the comparisons between the Dominican government’s actions and the denationalization of Jews in Nazi Germany are justified.
Asked to explain the comparison, Theano said that she could see why certain groups or people felt that way because denial of citizenship was one of the first acts perpetrated against Jews in Nazi Germany.
“We’ve called it as such because there are definitely linkages,” she told The Washington Post this week. “You don’t want to look a few years back and say, ‘This is what was happening and I didn’t call it.’ “
When 200,000 people lose their homes and are thrust into the world of the homeless and stateless, it’s pretty much the first step toward slaughtering whoever happens to remain. At risk of violating Godwin’s law, we’re seeing something a lot like what happened to Jews in Germany. And frankly, we don’t have a great record on this sort of thing. In 1939, Jewish refugees from Germany got close enough to Miami to see the lights on the harbor – only to be permanently and irrevocably turned away from the United States.
But what can we do right now?
Well, one can make jokes about it, but Twitter outrage works. We can tweet to many of these MLB players and ask them to support the #not1more campaign, to support #haitianlivesmatter, to speak out and make it clear that Danilo Medina and the rest of the current Dominican government does not speak for them.
Who do I mean, specifically? Who should speak out? Albert Pujols, David Ortiz, Pedro Alvarez, Adrian Beltre, Robinson Cano, Jose Bautista, Melky Cabrera, Hanley Ramirez, Alexi Casilla, and Welington Castillo would make a good start. But the full list is right here, and it’s not exactly short: 127 names. If all 127 of those guys re-tweeted #not1more tomorrow, you really think the Dominican government would just continue its deportations like business as usual?
I don’t think so. Let’s get on this, people. No genocidio en Republica Dominica. Hasta la victoria siempre.