Above: Jean-Jacques Dessalines
By Ilio Durandis
After more than two centuries of suffering, humiliation and inhuman conditions, brave slaves and free people of colour revolted against their French masters to proclaim their freedom and the independence of their new Republic, which was given the name, Haiti.
The country became the first and only successful black nation created through a revolutionary war against European colonialists in the world. As if that was not enough, the founders, on Jan. 1, 1804, through their leader, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, cried out the words of freedom or death. The intention was for the people of the new Republic to be free and never subservient to any foreign dominion. The act of Haiti’s independence cemented the will of the founders that Haiti should forever belong to Haitians. Every constitution from 1804 to 1987 has taken into consideration the sacrifices of the founders.
The social, political, and economical conjecture of today’s world might have changed since 1987, but it remains an absolute that Haiti, the Republic, must always belong to Haitian nationals and citizens. Before 1804, there was no such thing as a Haitian national or citizen; the non-French were simply regarded as subjects of the French, not worthy enough to enjoy the same rights as their masters. On Independence Day, the tide had changed, and the price for such title was paid with blood and future economic prosperity.
The subject of this essay is to elaborate as much as possible on the current political crisis facing Haiti. It has the potential to erupt into something with irreversible effect that could forever divorce the Haiti of today from the Haiti of our founding fathers, if precious care, logic and intellect do not prevail.
Anyone from anywhere can choose to become a citizen of any country, as long as that individual follows the prescribed procedures of that country. In legal terms, there are two dominant principles, as far as acquired citizenship is concerned: jus sanguinis, which is based on blood, descent and heritage; and jus soli, which is based on being born within a specific country regardless of the citizenship of the parents. In Haiti, for an individual to occupy higher functions in public life, such as the presidency, parliament among others, jus sanguinis is the law and shall remain so.
The 1987 Haitian constitution, from its articles 10 through 15, is explicit on who should be considered a Haitian national at the time of birth and how Haitian citizenship can be obtained by a foreign national. Being explicit does not mean being perfect; however, the constitution is the supreme law of the land.
There is only one way to be of Haitian nationality. In Article 11, it states that the individual must be native-born, from parents, one of whom must be native born and never renounced their nationality, at the time of birth.
Haitian citizens and nationals are protected under the constitution, whereas there are certain privileges that are strictly reserved for Haitian nationals who have never given up their Haitian citizenship. It is these few provisions that are at the centre of the current crisis between members of the Haitian Parliament and officials of the executive branch of government, while the majority of the population are just casual bystanders.
The ferocious dictatorship of the Duvaliers helped enlarge what we today consider the Haitian Diaspora. Under the Duvaliers, some of the brightest minds of the country emigrated to escape the atrocities and oppression of the regime. Many of them, after long years overseas, never bothered to go back, even in the post-Duvaliers days. They have adopted foreign lands as their new home, and some have even become naturalized citizens of their new countries. By doing so, they gave up their rights to those special privileges consecrated to Haitian nationals who have never naturalized. Those people who left under the Duvaliers had a two year grace period under the 1987 constitution to reclaim all those privileges. I, personally, do not know how many did take advantage of those temporary provisions.
On another front, the destitute conditions left behind upon the departure of Duvalier in 1986, caused a massive wave of Haitians to once again migrate — this time, many of them were trying to escape the harsh living conditions at home in the hopes of better lives overseas. Under the Duvaliers, the preferred destination was usually the French-speaking world; after the Duvaliers, the majority of Haitian migrants chose the United States.
From that latest exodus, which is still ongoing, a new generation of Haitian descent arises, some of whom, through no fault of their own, happen to be born outside Haiti’s border and automatically obtain the citizenship and/or nationality of their birth country. Others, such as is the case with those born in the Dominican Republic from Haitian parents with no legal papers there, happen to be in limbo, with no real nationality or citizenship. A last group, for whatever personal reason, chose to naturalize and renounce their Haitian citizenship. For the first two groups, an amendment of the Haitian constitution is a necessity.
With the first successful democratic elections in 1990, many Haitians in the Diaspora were hoping and dreaming of going back home. At the time, Haiti only had nine departments, the largest political division of the territory. The term 10th department was coined to represent the Haitian Diaspora. It was a symbolic department; nonetheless, it was the beginning of the recognition of the Diaspora’s vital role in sustaining the lives of those at home. There was early talk to consider giving more political rights to members of the Haitian Diaspora back then, but it wasn’t until the last few years that the talk of dual-citizenship started to pick up steam.
A few months before the earthquake of Jan. 12, 2010, then-President Preval made a request to Parliament to formally amend the 1987 constitution. Among the many articles to be amended were those dealing with barring dual-citizenship and nationality, more specifically the annulations of articles 12.1, 12.2, 13, 14, and 15, and a change in the language of articles 11 and 12. The legislature that was in place back then accepted the motion to amend the constitution and, based on Article 283, it was up to the next legislature to vote yes or no on the amendments. That last step has a lot to do with part of the current political crisis.
It is not only that members of the current government are being challenged on their Haitian citizenship, including the President, Michel Martelly, and Prime Minister-designate Laurent Lamothe. But there is also an issue with the amended constitution, which President Preval signed and published into law on his last full day in office, only to be retracted by a presidential decree from the current president on the basis that the published document was incorrect or even falsified, according to the latest presidential commission.
This decision has created a fog in the landscape of the nascent and frail democracy in Haiti.
Citizenship is a choice through rights, whereas nationality is an inheritance of descendants. The constitution stipulates the common rights and those that are preserved as privileges for individuals who are tied to this land through the blood of the first citizens. This, in my opinion, is the ultimate way to continually pay homage to the founders and thank them for breaking the chain of slavery, so that Haitian people could have a nation that is socially just, politically independent and economically free.
There is no certainty how things will end up, but it sets a bad precedent to have violators of the constitution being served as its guardians. It is within the rights of the people to have a government of the people, for the people and by the people. The sovereignty of the nation is of primordial priority. The scars of slavery are not completely removed, and the audacious braveries of the founders have yet to be forgotten or forgiven. In such conjecture, Haitians cannot expect to build the society they deserve until a deep reflection is done on what it means to cohesively own this piece of land and who should be the beneficiaries and protectors of this precious freedom and independence.
Otherwise, it might be time to stop celebrating Jan. 1and evoking the name of Jean-Jacques Dessalines with such national pride. It is always prudent to be careful what one wishes for, because by the time the wish comes true, it might be too late to revert to what one had.
The inclusion of all Haitians should never be done at the expense of the exclusion of one single Haitian. The constitution of the Republic is the only legal document that defines Haitian nationality and the rights given to each citizen. Salute to the wise!
Ilio Durandis, a Caribbean Journal contributor, is the founder of Haiti 2015, a social movement for a just and prosperous Haiti. He is a columnist with The Haitian Times.