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People wait outside the Ministry of Interior to register in Santo Domingo, June 16, 2015. (Photo: Reuters)

People wait outside the Ministry of Interior to register in Santo Domingo, June 16, 2015. (Photo: Reuters)

Hundreds of Peace Corps Vets Demand US Stop Funding Ethnic Cleansing

Over 500 former volunteers call on the U.S. to halt military aid to the Dominican government over mass expulsion of people of Haitian descent

Sarah Lazare

Over 500 former Peace Corps volunteers are calling on the U.S. government to withhold military aid and stop funding the Dominican Republic's ethnic cleansing of people of Haitian descent, adding theirs to the cacophony of voices—from Pope Francis to United Nations experts to thousands marching in Port-au-Prince—speaking out against the mass-scale human rights violations.

In a letter addressed to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, 560 former volunteers who have spent at least two years working with Dominican communities, including three former country directors, invoked the Leahy amendment, which bans the U.S. from aiding security forces guilty of gross human rights violations.

"Given the Dominican government’s disregard for international law with respect to the status of its citizens of Haitian descent; the violent track record of Dominican security forces receiving funding and training from the United States; and the Dominican Armed Forces' readiness to execute a potentially massive campaign of rights-violating expulsions, we ask that the United States suspend its military aid to the Dominican government," the letter declares.

The letter notes: "The security forces that appear poised to carry out mass deportations within the country, including the U.S.-trained border patrol agency, CESFRONT, have received more than $17.5 million in assistance from the United States since 2013."

The year 2013 also saw the Dominican Republic's highest court issue a ruling that stripped hundreds of thousands of people of their Dominican citizenship, based on a retroactive reinterpretation of the country's nationality laws. The vast majority of those impacted are of Haitian descent, particularly those born to undocumented parents between 1929 and 2010, with an estimated 200,000 people made stateless by the ruling. The ruling worsened the Dominican Republic's bloody history of mass expulsions and discrimination targeting people of Haitian descent.

Numerous human rights organizations and bodies denounced the 2013 rule, and in 2014, President Danilo Medina passed a "Naturalization Law" allegedly aimed at restoring status to those whose births are in the national registry. However, the law included prohibitive documentation requirements and inequitable government processing of paperwork. When the government set a June 2015 deadline for people to register or face deportation, tens of thousands fled or were forced out.

"The Dominican Republic is denying tens of thousands of citizens their right to a nationality, and despite mixed messages, people are being detained and shoved over the border," said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, in late June. Thousands have resettled in squalid camps in Haiti.

"Tens of thousands of Dominicans born in the Dominican Republic, many whose families have lived in the country for generations, are required under Dominican law to self-report as foreigners, and they risk being expelled to a country that is utterly unknown to them," Keane Bhatt, a returned volunteer who served in the Dominican Republic from 2008 to 2010, told Common Dreams.

"The Dominican government has used the pretext of sovereignty to obscure the reality that its security forces routinely violate the rights of darker-skinned Dominicans," Bhatt continued. "But these are not independent actions—the abusive security forces are supported by U.S. taxpayers and trained by the U.S. military."  

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