lunes, marzo 02, 2015

Basic facts are missing on coverage of Dominican Republic

International media fails in checking basic facts about the Dominican Republic

You should probably guess by the fact that this blog is being hosted by that I'm not some big time writer or journalist working for a large media organization, a fancy think tank or a prestigious university.    I am in fact the prototypical "concerned citizen", taking advantage of the tools that people like me have available today to comment on things that interest us.

I work full-time as an Information Technology professional in a large corporation in the state of Maryland, USA and I'm originally from the Dominican Republic.  Although I don't live there anymore and consider the United States my home, I'm still interested in my country of origin and follow the news over there as closely as I can via the Internet.

For the last two years the main story related to the Dominican Republic in the international media has been the situation of Haitian immigrants and their descendants and how they are affected by the Dominican Constitutional Court's ruling 168-13. I'm the first to say that the issues surrounding this ruling are complex and anyone who's interested on this topic should start by reading this ruling.  It's 147 pages long, in Spanish and if you have a background in law (I don't) it would help but it's not necessary.

I won't even pretend to address the ruling and the issues surrounding it, as this is not the purpose of this post. My concern is how this issue has been covered and the misreporting of basic facts about the country, its laws and institutions. Let me start with the latest example, a February 27 post by Iman Amrani with the title "Stateless and Silenced".

Ms. Amrani is a journalist based in London and according to her online profile is associated with the UK newspaper The Guardian, although the post that I refer to was published in the Huffington Post Latino Voices section.   Ms. Amrani starts her post with the following:

Today is Independence day in the Dominican Republic. Across the country, thousands of Dominicans will celebrate the 171st anniversary since the expulsion of the Haitian government after 22 years in power, controlling the entire island of Hispanola. Incidentally the anniversary of Dominican independence from Spain, who colonized the country twice, passes without notice. [emphasis added]

The fact that the Dominican independence from Spain "passes without notice" came as a surprise to me and it would probably come as a surprise to anyone who knows basic facts about the Dominican Republic history.  That's because we do in fact celebrate our independence from Spain on August 16th, a Dominican holiday known as "Dia de la Restauración" (Restoration Day).

My first reaction was to try to contact the author and see if I could use this as an opening to start a conversation about the post.  In the past I would just comment on the story, but lately I had decided that contacting the authors of posts like these might be a more productive approach.  The only contact information for Ms. Amrani was her Twitter account, so I posted the following tweets:

Shortly after the second tweet I got this reply from Ms. Amrani:

Iman Amrani Twitter Profile

I'm not into casting aspersions on people I don't know; I really can't say that I know Ms. Amrani's work, as this post is the first time I've ever read her.  But it really doesn't reflect well on her that she got a well known fact about the Dominican Republic wrong and when challenged about it she went for the online equivalent of covering her ears.

It is noticeable that in her post Ms. Amrani states that she was a teacher in a Dominican school; she knows the fact that Spain colonized the country twice, so her claim that the country does not celebrates our independence from Spain is even more puzzling.  This is far from an obscure subject after all.

There are other instances in Ms. Amrani's post in which she misstates facts about the effect of the Constitutional Court ruling and other events she references:

  • She calls Henry Claude Jean, a man who was murdered early last month as a "Dominican shoeshiner of Haitian descent". As indicated in the Huffington Post story that Ms. Amrani herself quotes Mr. Claude Jean is in fact an Haitian Immigrant.  This is also confirmed in an open letter published by a RECONOCIDO (a Dominican civic group) and addressed to Dominican President Danilo Medina.
  • She claims that ruling 168-13 "retroactively denied birthright citizenship to people born in the country after 1929 to illegal immigrant parents."  In fairness to Ms. Amrani she's not the only one making this claim.  This is in fact how the effect of the ruling has been reported (as it was in the Reuters story that she links to).  Like I said above, this is a complex subject but it can be discerned by anyone interested in reporting the facts by reading the ruling (which I did).  The first part of the ruling states that anyone who was issued a birth certificate in an "irregular manner" (meaning, they did not present the required documentation needed by Dominican citizens or foreign citizens legally settled in the country) is not in fact Dominican citizen.  The second part of the ruling is never reported, even though is the part that actually puts the fault on various Dominican governments that so many irregular birth certificates were issued and order it to take corrective action to prevent those citizens from remaining in legal limbo (or "stateless").
  • The 200,000 number: Again, Ms. Amrani is not the only one reporting this number (others put the number at 250,000) and it's supposed to be the number of citizens affected by the ruling.  The Dominican government according to this report by local daily Diario Libre states that only 24,392 citizens are affected.  This is not a minor discrepancy, so you would at least expect to get the source of the larger number and some clarity on why such a large discrepancy exist.  Neither Ms. Amrani or anyone else that I know of have quoted the source of this number.  As a matter of journalistic integrity, if somebody did the foot work and found out that in fact 200,000 to 250,000 citizens are affected by the ruling, that person or organization should get the credit.
  • "Bureaucratic hurdles" in the naturalization process: What are those "hurdles"? No culprit is given in Ms. Amrani's post and she gives no details or link to any source that could document what are these.  She also neglects to provide any background about this "naturalization process" and to whom it applies given her earlier assertion that 200,000 citizens were stripped or their citizenship.  Media reports in the Dominican Republic (such as this report by leading local paper Listin Diario) state that Haitian nationals who are elegible to benefit from the naturalization process are protesting in front of the Haitian government consular offices, claiming that documents that they need to apply are being delayed.  Another report by El Nuevo Diario indicates that Haitians are being charged the equivalent of $135.00 for a passport, which happens to be the same price that I would have to pay to renew my Dominican passport in any of the Dominican consular offices in the U.S.  If these reports are true (and it really wouldn't hurt for somebody to actually follow up on these claims), the price paid by Haitians living in the Dominican Republic for these documents seems excessive. 
The biggest irony is the post being published in the Huffington Post's Latino Voices, as it appears that Dominicans do not have a voice on this issue.  Last time we check, we are Latinos too and we deserve to be heard when we request that the actual facts underlining this very complex issue be presented.  I addressed Ms. Amrani's post with Roque Planas, editor for Huffington Post Latino Voices and who I should mention has been very responsive and engaging with all those who have approached him to discuss this very sensitive issue.

So I finish by asking Mr. Planas and his staff to ensure that no stone be left unturned in searching for the truth in this or any other issue that they deem newsworhty.  If through their efforts I learn that everything I had believed about immigration to the Dominican Republic, the effects of ruling 168-13 and the subsequent naturalization law (169-14) is wrong it would not ashamed me to acknowledge this.  

Shining a light on the truth, whatever it might be it's indeed a very worthy goal.

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