Anglophone Caribbean,Dominican Rep.: Mutual incomprehension
Mutual incomprehension perhaps best sums up the way inwhich the Anglophone Caribbean and the Dominican Republic presently regard oneanother.
Although in recent months the focus has been on thecomplex concerns surrounding Haitian migration and residence, the regionaldivide has much deeper origins.
As someone who has had the privilege for more than 25years to work with the Anglophone and Hispanic Caribbean and knows many inpolitics, government, academia and business in both, it is clear that the pre-existinggap between perception and reality has widened over the last eighteen months.
At the heart of the matter, is the failure by bothparties to understand how to relate to size: the Dominican Republic is largeand diverse, and has a population of nearly 10m compared to the fragmented 5.5mliving in the whole Anglophone Caribbean. However and perhaps more importantly,there is an absence of any deep or emotional understanding of the history ofthe other.
That is to say their different various experiences ofslavery, occupation, colonial rule, dictatorship, invasion, and culture andsocial structures, let alone how these have shaped national sentiment and theview of the world beyond.
When it comes to size, in much of Caricom there is a fearthat the Dominican Republic may overwhelm the Anglophone part of the region throughits success and drive if there were ever to be a full economic opening.
It is easy to see why there is this underlying fear. DominicanGDP has been growing rapidly with 4.8 per cent growth forecast for this year. Thecountry has demonstrated that it can out-compete the Anglophone Caribbean insectors such as sugar and bananas; once thought of as the domain of Caricomproducers through their now long-gone post-colonial preferential arrangements.Its tourism sector is highly competitive, is growing rapidly and is well on itsway receiving by 2022 the 10m annual visitor arrivals it projects. It can demonstratethat it is able to attract overseas investment from global manufacturing companiesthat can take advantage of the free trade opportunities on offer from both theUS and Europe, and has a dynamic increasingly outward looking businesscommunity with an interest in investing in the region and beyond. There is thepossibility that the country may in time become energy rich and a regional energyhub.
But at a much deeper level there are in Caricom other lessdiscussed concerns. There is a perception that the Dominican Republic is a countrywhere most from the English speaking part of the region would be culturally orsocially unwelcome. More recently this stereotype has been reinforced by suggestionsin the media that the country is an abuser of the human rights, despite theextraordinary numbers of mainly previously undocumented Haitian migrants – 300,000- it has absorbed and is now legalising for citizenship.
Unfortunately the perception is often just as negative inreverse.
In the Dominican Republic despite the proximity of thenations of Caricom they are seen as small, distant, socially incomprehensible, andstruggling to overcome a post-colonial world view; all ideas fostered by thenegative rhetoric used by the now long-dead former President, Joaquín Balaguer.
There is also incomprehension and anger that some inCaricom speak about the Dominican Republic in the context of Haiti in ways thatthat Dominicans find culturally and intellectually insulting, levelling accusations that those insignificant positions find hard to reconcile with their pride, pragmatism and educatedinternationalism. There is also a view, usually unspoken, that most in Caricom have no ideawhat it is like to live next to the poorest country in the western hemisphere, tohave porous borders, or to have once been subject to Haitian control. The point is also made that Caricom nationswould not expect their constitutional order to be arbitrarily overturned, andhas failed to be critical of those of its own members that have been takingtougher and sometimes judicially questionable actions on migrants.
None of this should be taken as an apologia for the many shortcomingsof the Dominican Republic or for those within Caricom who have failed to understandthat globalisation has changed its world; nor is it to underestimate or setaside often passionately or morally held views on the subject of Haiti and theDominican Republic that are vocalised in the region and beyond.
There will of course always be ultra-nationalists withinthe leading political parties in the Dominican Republic, as well as those inCaricom who see short and longer term political value in division and all butformally breaking relations, making the present impasse not easy to resolve.
Despite this, and beyond the high level steps now beingtaken to try to effect a reconciliation with Haiti, there is a strong case forestablishing a much longer term approach that involves people-to-peoplecontact, visits, understanding, and day-to-day information flows in ways thatencourage dialogue and normality between the Anglophone Caribbean and theDominican Republic.
This is not rocket science and could start for example withmuch improved media coverage, informal contact between leading members of thebusiness community, and academic exchanges once key election dates in Haiti andCaricom have passed.
There is already a base of contacts to build on. Somecompanies, notably in the Dominican Republic, Trinidad, Jamaica and the EasternCaribbean and doing business with one another or have invested; the regional private sector organisationsthe West Indies Rum and Spirits Producers Association and the Caribbean Hotelsand Tourism Association have for many years been fully integrated; and itcannot be beyond the wit of newspaper proprietors who believe in the free exchange of information to reachsome form of arrangement on carrying news and comment from both sides of the linguisticdivide.
There are also many opportunities for longer term privatesector and government dialogue. There is the US$2bn bi-national private sector Quisqueya development project which isintended to spur economic development across the Dominican-Haitian border tocreate employment and stability. There may also be value in exploring neweconomic relationships that might be created between the economies of theNorthern Caribbean as Cuba’sdialogue with the United States develops.
The Dominican Republic is an essential part of theCaribbean region offering potentially huge economic synergies. At a time ofchange, failure to find ways to heal the rift between the Dominican withCaricom would be an historic mistake.
David Jessop is a consultant to the Caribbean Council andcan be contacted at
Previous columns can be found at www.caribbean-council.org