Dominican Republic: Haitian workers protest

More than 100 Haitian immigrant workers and their family members remained encamped in front of the Dominican Labor Ministry in Santo Domingo as of Jan. 10 to demand severance pay and other benefits they say they were owed when two coconut processing plants in nearby San Crist贸bal province went out of business. According to the workers’ lawyers, the owner of Coquera Kil贸metro 5 and Coquera Real, Rafael Alonzo Luna, declared bankruptcy in an irregular form and denied benefits to employees who had worked at the plants for up to 14 years. Conditions at the encampment, which the workers have maintained since Dec. 14, were said to be deteriorating, but the group’s spokesperson, Elmo Ojilus, said the workers planned to continue their protest.

The Haitians, who are mostly undocumented, claim they have received no response from Labor Ministry. Haitian diplomats have been no more helpful, according to the protesters; ambassador Fritz Cin茅as reportedly advised them to go back to Haiti. By contrast, Dominican churches and unions have brought them food and medicine. Representatives of the Classist Autonomous Union Conference (CASC), the Roundtable for Migrants and Refugees in the Dominican Republic (Menamird) and the Socio-Cultural Movement of Haitian Workers (Mosctha) visited the protesters on Jan. 8 to demonstrate solidarity and to denounce inaction by the Labor Ministry. (Hoy, Santo Domingo, Jan. 4; AP, Jan. 9, via Miami Herald; List铆n Diario, Santo Domingo, Jan. 9; AlterPresse, Haiti, Jan. 10; Diario Libre, Santo Domingo, Jan. 11)

In related news, hundreds of Haitians blocked the bridge connecting the northwestern city of Dajab贸n with the Haitian border city of Ouanaminthe for four days at the beginning of the second week of January after Dominican authorities denied them entry into the country. The action kept Haitians from participating in the market day in Dajab贸n on Jan. 7; the markets held there every Monday and Friday provide one of the major points of commercial exchange between the two countries, and the loss of business on Jan. 7 was estimated to have cost Dominican merchants large amounts of money.

Regino Mart铆nez, a Dominican Jesuit priest and the president of the immigrant aid organization Border Solidarity, got permission from immigration authorities in December for 2,030 Haitians who work in the Dominican northwest to return after visiting their families for the Christmas holidays. But when the Haitians presented themselves at the border in January, Dominican authorities said their papers weren’t in order, sparking the protest. After negotiations, the Haitian workers agreed to stay in Ouanaminthe while the Haitian government provided them with passports; the Dajab贸n market operated normally on Jan. 11. Some 920 Haitians were expected to get their papers for reentering the Dominican Republic by Jan. 12, according to Mart铆nez. (EFE, Jan. 7, via Diario Vasco, San Sebasti谩n, Spain; Hoy, Santo Domingo, Jan. 12)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 13.