Dominican Republic: Haitians end labor protest—were they tricked?

On Jan. 19 a group of Haitian immigrant workers reached an agreement with international organizations and Dominican authorities to leave an encampment they and family members had maintained in front of the Dominican Labor Ministry in Santo Domingo since Dec. 14. The 112 mostly undocumented workers said they were owed a total of 15 million pesos (about US$368,550) in severance pay and benefits after two coconut processing plants, Coquera Kilómetro 5 and Coquera Real, in nearby San Cristóbal province went out of business.

Later the Haitians charged that they had been pressured by Dominican immigration authorities and Cy Winter, the local director of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), to sign a form they thought would keep them from being deported; in fact it was an application for voluntary repatriation to Haiti, according to one of their lawyers, Carlos Sánchez Díaz. The workers also accused Edwin Paraison—a former Haitian minister for Haitians living abroad and now the head of the Zile Foundation, which seeks to improve Haitian-Dominican relations—of helping to trick them into signing. Paraison said he’d simply aided in the production of identity papers for the Haitians. Winter “didn’t tell me this would be to incorporate my compatriots into the voluntary return program,” Paraison said.

After leaving the Labor Ministry the Haitians went back to San Cristóbal province, where a relative of one of their lawyers was letting them camp out in a large parking lot. The workers are apparently continuing their lawsuit for severance pay. Some supporters of the workers say the owner of the closed plants, Rafael Alonzo (or Alonso) Luna, is a local leader of the governing Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) in Samaná province in the north and is being protected by an influential official. (EFE, Jan. /20, via Univision; El Día, Santo Domingo, Jan. 21)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 27.