The 40 young people, all Dominicans of Haitian decent — and all members of the Reconoci.do movement who have been erroneously denied renewal of their identity documents by Dominican authorities — were participating in a march in a public park outside of the Civil Registry office in Monte Plata when police began throwing tear gas canisters and arresting the protestors.
Ana Maria Belique, a staff member of our Jesuit affiliate in Santo Domingo, who herself is a Dominican of Haitian ancestry (born in the Dominican Republic to Haitian parents), is one of the spokeswomen for the group.
She reported that days before the demonstration the youth properly submitted a request to the Governor of Monte Plata for permission to hold the demonstration in a public park outside of the Office of Civil Registry. According to Belique the authorities denied the groups request on the grounds that "non-Dominicans did not have a right to demonstrate."
In the face of this unjust refusal the group decided attempted to the march anyway. The members of the group have been found by various courts to in fact merit recognition of the Dominican national identity and thus should have the right to fully exercise Dominican citizenship.
After the protest began, a contingent of the Dominican National Police proceeded to attack demonstrators, dispersing the protestors with tear gas and arresting eight of the young leaders, while pursuing the rest through the streets of the community.
Three of the detainees were beaten by a police officer known as "Papo," a member of the anti-theft department of police. The police officer reportedly yelled racial insults at the victims while assaulting them, demanding that they never again demonstrate in "his country."
After several hours of arbitrary detention, Fr. Mario Serrano, S.J., the director of our Dominican-based affiliate, successfully negotiated the release of the eight civil rights leaders.
The Reconoci.do movement is made up of young Dominican-born people of Haitian descent who seek recognition of their Dominican nationality. The members, ranging in age from 10 to 40, were born in Dominican territory before the Dominican Republic reformed its Constitution and laws in 2010, adopting new nationality requirements and ending the long tradition of birthright citizenship.
Accordingly, more than 120 of those arbitrarily denied access to their national identity have been favored with positive rulings in various courts. Court rulings have ordered the immediate delivery of their documents, orders with which the Central Electoral Board (JCE) has refused to comply.
In San Pedro de Macoris, civil rights leaders also held a demonstration, marching from Duarte Park to the San Pedro the Apostle Cathedral.
In a homily held at the end of the march, Monsignor Francisco Ozoria, Bishop of that district, spoke about the rulings in favor of the civil rights of 28 young people stripped of their citizenship who reside in San Pedro de Macoris. The Bishop likewise acknowledged the many other Dominicans from El Seybo Province who have had court rulings in their favor, but who the JCE refuses to recognize as Dominicans because their grandparents or parents were Haitian immigrants.
The Bishop decried the civil rights violations against Dominicans of Haitian descent, highlighting the state of discrimination to which they have been exposed. Bishop Ozoria remarked, “these young people are unaware of another land, they have never been Haiti … this country is what they are. They are Dominicans.”