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Human Rights Developments

The human rights situation in the Dominican Republic in 1992 continued to be dominated by official mistreatment of Haitian migrants who crossed the border into the Dominican Republic. The Dominican government's continued reliance on forced labor by Haitian workers on its state-owned sugarcane plantations was shaped by two events in 1991. The first was the government's summary deportation of as many as 6,000 Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian origin, and the flight to Haiti of tens of thousands of others who sought to avoid forced deportation, between June and September 1991. The second was the bloody September 30, 1991 military coup in Haiti, which ousted the first democratically elected Haitian president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The military takeover led thousands to cross the border, some returning to the country that only months earlier had grievously mistreated them. Some voluntarily took up work on the government's sugarcane plantations, diminishing but not eliminating the government's need for forced labor. The shortfall continued to be made up by compelling Haitians to cut sugarcane.

The mass deportation of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian origin was the Dominican government's response to heightened pressure from international human rights groups. The forced "repatriations" began abruptly in June 1991 after the forced labor practices became the focus of a report by "Primetime Live," the U.S. television news program. The exposé led later to U.S. congressional hearings.

Bands of soldiers, often abusive and corrupt, raided Haitian communities throughout the Dominican Republic and rounded up anyone deemed to "look" Haitian, including Dominicans of Haitian origin ("Dominico-Haitians"). Victims were separated from their families, belongings were stolen, and personal documents were confiscated or destroyed. The victims were taken to makeshift immigration detention centers and, within days, transported by bus across the border to Haiti, with little or no attempt to determine their citizenship or immigration status. Domestic laws on the right to a fair hearing before deportation were openly and systematically flouted.

At the same time, tens of thousands (estimates range as high as 50-60,000) of Haitians and Dominico-Haitians fled to Haiti, a foreign country to many who spoke Spanish as a first language or had few if any remaining relatives there. Many Haitians left "voluntarily" to avoid the arbitrary and abusive nature of the round-ups. The forced deportations and concurrent exodus to Haitiended only with the coup in Port-au-Prince.

Although the Dominican Republic may promulgate nondiscriminatory immigration laws, it cannot escape responsibility for its long-term active encouragement of Haitian migration into the Dominican Republic. The Dominican government and its State Sugar Council (cea) did not require Haitian workers to obtain visas or immigration permits before hiring them to engage in the arduous work of harvesting sugarcane which Dominicans refused to perform. Nonetheless, it now alleges the lack of such documentation as a basis for their summary deportation.

During the 1992 harvest, most of the cea's recruits traveled from Haiti to the border "voluntarily," some because they had no hope of earning a living in Haiti after the coup, and others to flee the persecution and violence unleashed by the Haitian army. Thus, unlike past years when the cea sent recruiters to Haiti, where they used force and deceit to secure a sufficient number of workers to supplement those willing to work on cea sugar plantations, recruitment in Haiti this year was unnecessary.

Nevertheless, many Haitians arriving on Dominican territory were subject to the same abusive treatment at the hands of cea employees and the Dominican army that has persisted for years. Upon crossing the border, the Haitians were often taken into the custody of Dominican border guards and held in military posts or makeshift detention areas until there were enough people to fill buses that transported them to plantations. Some Haitians and Dominico-Haitians were arrested by soldiers and armed cea guards while traveling on roads in the Dominican Republic and brought to government plantations. Once on the plantations, the recruits were forcibly confined to the plantations for the duration of the seven-month harvest. Restrictions on internal travel, arbitrary detention, and confiscation of belongings were regularly used as methods of confinement. Thus confined, they were forced to work to earn enough to feed themselves.

The use of forced labor persists in the Dominican Republic because of the government's failure to enforce its own decrees and laws prohibiting the practice. Offenders-whether soldiers, plantation security guards or cea employees-continue to profit from the labor trade with impunity. Victims have no recourse.

Despite ongoing abuses, the Dominican government did implement some meaningful reforms in its sugar industry in 1991 and 1992. It legalized sugarcane-cutter labor unions made up predominantly of Haitians and Dominico-Haitians, who it had long argued were not covered by existing labor laws. The new Labor Secretary, Rafael Alburquerque, began discussions with numerous newly recognized cane-cutter unions to consider additional reforms of the cea's labor practices, such as more frequent cash payment of workers to reduce their dependence on the usurious plantation stores. The government also distributed one-year renewable work permits to some Haitians, thus establishing their immigration status.

Forced labor by Haitian children, a recurrent problem in the past, was largely eliminated in 1992. An Americas Watch delegation in February-March 1992 neither found nor was told of any cases of forced child labor by local monitors. Although a few children could be seen picking up cane in the fields to help their families,efforts by the authorities to curb the hard labor of cane cutting by children seemed largely to have succeeded.

Some improvements were made with respect to living conditions. Small, dark rooms in run-down, concrete or wooden barracks-style housing continued to be the norm. However, the cea, together with private and foreign governmental development agencies, has undertaken projects to build latrines, modernize water systems, and improve access to health care and family planning. Cane cutters' wages were raised from eighteen pesos per ton (about U.S. $1.44 at the exchange rate in 1991) to twenty-five pesos per ton (about U.S. $2.00). Still, it is barely enough to buy one meal of rice and beans a day.

The draconian repression of the press in Haiti since the coup also spilled over into the Dominican Republic when the Dominican government barred a Catholic radio station from broadcasting news in Creole, the language of its Haitian listeners on both sides of the border. In February, the Dominican State Telecommunications Director, Leopoldo Nuñez Santos, suspended the Creole-language programming of Radio Enriquillo, a popular Dominican station based in the southwest, near the Haitian border. Radio Enriquillo had been a main source of information for Haitians on developments in their own country, including its regular reports of human rights abuses by the army. By seeking to silence Radio Enriquillo's Creole broadcasts, Dominican authorities assisted the Haitian military's efforts to impose a blackout on all independent sources of information reaching the Haitian people.

President Joaquín Balaguer, in a press conference the following week, stated that the ban had been imposed after his government received complaints from "the Haitian authorities" that the radio station was broadcasting "subversive slogans that were creating a certain uneasiness among the Haitian population." Neither the telecommunications director nor the President offered any evidence of the "subversive" nature of Radio Enriquillo's reporting.

The banning of the Creole program also marked the beginning of a crackdown on local Dominican popular organizations that sought peacefully to demonstrate their support for Radio Enriquillo. After the ban on the radio station, local groups that previously had been allowed to hold similar peaceful marches in protest against the Haitian coup and in solidarity with the Haitian people were subjected to heavy-handed police intervention, including gunfire, beatings, tear gas, arrests and intimidation. A bystander, Bienvenido Moquete Ramírez, was shot and killed by the police during one such protest in February.

Following the suspension order, the director of Radio Enriquillo was told by the national telecommunications director that Haitian music would not be banned. Radio Enriquillo announcers then began to sing the news in Creole. Each song was also summarized in Spanish for Dominican listeners.

On July 14, the national telecommunications director himself traveled to Tamayo, where the station is based, accompanied by several soldiers, and submitted another order to suspend "any type of program in the Creole language," including music. After that, the station developed a new program called News Without Frontierswhich provided news stories that were read very slowly in "Creolized Spanish" that Haitian listeners could understand.

Radio Enriquillo finally had to suspend News Without Frontiers on October 29 under continuing pressure from the authorities. A month earlier, it had transmitted President Aristide's speech before the United Nations General Assembly, in which, among other things, he had criticized the Vatican for being alone in the world in recognizing the Haitian military junta. This transmission reportedly elicited complaints from the Apostolic Nuncio in Santo Domingo and the Haitian Church hierarchy-which does not actively oppose the de facto Haitian regime-as well as from the Haitian junta itself. The station also learned that four of its staff members, including the director, were considered "dangerous" by the authorities and would be closely watched. Fearing reprisals such as losing its powerful frequency, Radio Enriquillo was forced to suspend all of its Creole programming.

Torture in police custody, believed by local human rights monitors to be widespread, received national attention in 1992 after several cases were reported in the press. For example, Professor Felipe de Jesús Medrano García, the director of the Cultural Promotion Department at the Santo Domingo Autonomous University, was arrested on January 16 at his home by agents of the National Police in connection with an investigation into a United States currency counterfeiting case. He was detained in police headquarters in Santo Domingo following a warrantless search of his home.

On the first day of his detention, he was forced by a police lieutenant to lie face down on the floor with his wrists handcuffed behind his back. He was then repeatedly beaten with a wooden bat on the buttocks and lower vertebral column. A medical examination after his release revealed severe trauma to his lower back and to the third finger of his left hand.

Medrano was finally released on January 24, as the police investigation found that "he had nothing to do with the case." He was never brought before a judge; there was no official explanation for his arrest; and he was never charged.

After Medrano filed a complaint, the two officers who beat him were subject to charges before an internal police court, although one was promoted to captain a month later. The proceedings now await a definitive medical evaluation to determine whether Medrano's injuries are treatable or permanent. He is currently being treated for a herniated disk. Doctors at the public hospital where he initially sought treatment were reportedly pressured by the police to drop his case.

The Right to Monitor

Dominicans generally enjoy the right to monitor human rights in their country. For years, there has been great public attention in the Dominican Republic to the issue of forced labor, and discussion about the deportations has been widely aired in the press. However, many domestic human rights advocates have traditionally proceeded with discretion, fearing legal and extra-legal reprisals from the authorities.

A young human rights lawyer was killed by plainclothes policein Santo Domingo on September 20. Rafael Efraín Ortiz died of gunshot wounds that he sustained during a peaceful demonstration against the official commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Columbus. According to human rights and press accounts, the police, posing as journalists, began shooting into the crowd when demonstrators discovered they were armed police and confronted them. Ten police officers implicated in the incident were dismissed from the police force and will be prosecuted by civilian courts.

U.S. Policy

The United States is by far the Dominican Republic's largest trading partner, purchasing approximately 67 percent of Dominican exports annually. In fiscal year 1991, the U.S. imported $2.02 billion worth of products, including $548.9 million under the Generalized System of Preferences (gsp) and the Caribbean Basin Initiative (cbi). The Dominican Republic continues to be allotted the largest segment, 17.6 percent, of the U.S. sugar import quota, or 232,555 metric tons of sugar.

In fiscal year 1991, the Dominican Republic received $1.7 million in military assistance and training and $18.9 million in humanitarian assistance; in fiscal year 1992, $2 million in military assistance and training, $6.7 million in budgetary support known as Economic Support Funds (esf), $15.3 million in humanitarian assistance, and a small amount of anti-narcotics assistance was provided; for fiscal year 1993, the Bush administration has requested $1.2 million in military assistance and training, $5 million in esf, and $32 million in humanitarian assistance.

In 1989, in response to a petition filed by Americas Watch, U.S. Trade Representative Carla Hills began a review of Dominican labor practices pursuant to a law that bars gsp trade benefits to countries that violate labor rights. Americas Watch's petition documented the Dominican government's practice of forcibly recruiting Haitian workers, confining them in poor conditions and physically abusing them.

On April 25, 1991, after a two-year review of Dominican labor rights violations, the Bush administration determined that the Dominican government "[has] taken or [is] taking steps to afford internationally recognized worker rights." As a result, the administration decided to maintain trade benefits to the Dominican Republic despite the persistence of the use of forced labor on state sugarcane plantations. The administration's findings were based at least in part on reports from the U.S. embassy in Santo Domingo that were never made public. The decision put an end to the formal review of Dominican labor rights practices and to a highly effective mechanism to pressure the Dominican government to improve its treatment of Haitian workers.

The State Department's January 1992 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1991-virtually the only administration statement on human rights in the Dominican Republic during 1992-correctly gives credence to reports of continuing abuse and thus contradicts the administration's own justifications for maintaining gsp benefits. The report's section on the "Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor" was less thorough than the previousyear's, yet it did summarize the main concerns raised by domestic and international human rights organizations:

There were credible charges in the 1990-91 sugar harvest that the Government and cea forcibly recruited Haitian seasonal agricultural workers and then restricted them to work on specific sugar plantations. In some cases, workers told of holding facilities under military guard, having personal effects confiscated, and being physically and psychologically abused by cea employees to restrict them to the plantations. There were also charges that the Government used the military and police to round up Haitians residing in the Dominican Republic and compelled them to work in the cane fields.

Commenting on the 1991 mass deportations of Haitians from the Dominican Republic, the Bush administration initially acted as an apologist for the Dominican government by parroting its denial of allegations of rights abuses. Later, however, the State Department in its Country Reports conceded that human rights violations had occurred during the forced repatriations.

The U.S. Congress should follow up on the investigation it began during its June 1991 hearings and express disapproval not only of the continued use of forced labor in the Dominican Republic, but also of the Dominican government's policy of indiscriminate expulsions of Haitians. While the improvements that have taken place over the last year-such as the elimination of child labor and the prompt payment of workers-should be recognized, sustained Congressional attention would assist greatly in keeping the spotlight on continued abuses. In a welcome gesture, Congress withheld $1 million of the $5 million in Economic Support Funds for fiscal year 1993 until the U.S. President reports on steps taken by the Dominican Republic to improve respect for labor rights.

Congress should also consider taking steps to ensure that the Dominican Republic is not permitted to export sugar to the United States as long as it employs forced labor to harvest its sugarcane. A threatened reduction in the Dominican Republic's share of sugar imports by the United States could be an appropriate and highly effective source of leverage to pressure the Dominican government to end its use of forced Haitian labor.

The Work of Americas Watch

Americas Watch, together with the National Coalition for Haitian Refugees (nchr), undertook a two-week mission to the Dominican Republic in February-March 1992, during the sugarcane harvest. The delegation conducted interviews with cane cutters at six of the cea's ten plantations. The delegation also met with human rights monitors, church workers, trade union organizers, and journalists, as well as with the Dominican Secretary of Labor, Rafael Alburquerque, the Director of the cea, Juan Arturo Biaggi, and the U.S. Ambassador Robert Pastorino. Requests to meet with the Director of Immigration, José Ramón Mota Paulino, were not granted.

In April, Americas Watch and nchr issued a newsletter, "Dominican Authorities Ban Creole Radio Program and Crack Down onProtesters," on the censoring of Radio Enriquillo. Americas Watch and nchr had visited the station and met with its staff a month earlier.

In October, the organizations published their fourth joint report on the Dominican Republic, "A Troubled Year: Haitians in the Dominican Republic." The report, which also incorporated findings from an investigative mission in July 1991 to document abuses surrounding the forced deportations, was issued to coincide with the Dominican government's commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the landing of Columbus.

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