Haitians in New York and Haiti took to the streets Thursday, commemorating the death of one of their nation’s founding fathers with protests.
In Haiti, they marched against poor living conditions and the presidency, and in New York, they protested a Dominican court ruling stripping citizenship rights from Dominican-born children of Haitian immigrants.
The nearly simultaneous events happened on the 207th anniversary of the assassination of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, a slave-turned-freedom fighter who later declared himself Emperor of Haiti after leading the army that helped Haiti defeat the French.
In New York, more than a 100 Haitian-Americans, who were joined by a few Dominicans, gathered near the Consulate General of the Dominican Republic, demanding that a ruling by the country’s constitutional court be reversed. Retroactive to 1929, it effectively makes refugees out of nearly 300,000 Dominicans of Haitian ancestry if they cannot prove their parents were legally in the country.
“These people were born in the Dominican Republic, a lot of them don’t speak Creole and don’t know anyone in Haiti,” said Barbara Saint-Louis, a protest organizer with the Haitian Diaspora for Civic and Human Rights. “We’re asking for justice.”
Angel Vicioso, a Dominican living in New York, spoke to the crowd and was equally critical about his country’s ruling.
“They want to apply something back to 1929 and if they do that, I don’t even know if I’m Dominican,” he said.
The U.N. on Thursday reiterated its call for the Dominican government to “ensure that Dominican citizens of Haitian origin are not deprived of their right to nationality.” The world body has said the court decision violates the Dominican Republic’s international human-rights obligations.
But protesters had sharper words, calling the ruling a “racist civic genocide” as they waved Haitian flags and displayed English and Creole signs.
“It’s not a political situation; it’s a humanitarian situation,” said Vilaile Charlotte, a Haitian-Dominican living in New York. He has six children who live in Santo Domingo.
Others suspected the ruling has something to do with increasing tensions between the two nations, which share the island of Hispaniola.
“Whatever problem [Dominican officials] have with the Haitian government, they have to keep it between themselves and not involve the people,” said Demeza Delhomme, who is running for mayor in Spring Valley, a heavily Haitian-American community in upstate New York.
Protesters in New York were emotional but calm. But in Haiti, some protesters became violent as several thousand took to the streets in the capital to protest against the way President Michel Martelly and Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe are governing.
After gathering in front of the razed presidential palace on the Champ de Mars, some began throwing rocks, forcing police to abruptly end the gathering by firing tear gas. There were also reports of rock-throwing in the northern city of Cap-Haitien, where accounts differ as to how large a crowd turned out. They protested against the government and rising food prices. Police also ended the protest there.
As protesters held anti-government placards as they marched along Cap-Haitien’s narrow streets, Martelly visited Dessalines’ purported birthplace, Grande-Rivière-du-Nord, a rural town on the outskirts of Cap-Haitien.
Earlier in the day, in line with tradition, he laid a wreath at Pont Rouge on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, the site of the fallen leader’s assassination on Oct. 17, 1806.