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How Haitians' Beef With Dominican Republic Complicates U. S. Trade Relations

Rick Stone

One of the latest villains in the rogues' gallery of human rights is the Dominican Republic because of a decision handed down by the country's highest constitutional court late last year.

Reaching back decades into its shared but troubled history with Haiti, the nation with which it shares the island of Hispaniola, it ruled that ethnic Haitians living in the D.R., some of them since 1929, are not eligible for citizenship because of the "in transit" status of their parents.

Dominican Ambassador Aníbal de Castro, in an op ed printed in the Miami Herald and elsewhere, said the decision was nothing more than immigration reform that creates a "path" to legal status for the now-stateless Haitians. And U. S. Ambassador to the D. R. James Brewster seemed to agree.

But the human rights community was not buying. And, emphatically, neither were Haitians and Haitian Americans living in Miami.

Thursday was their day to be heard as the state's economic development agency, Enterprise Florida, prepared for a trade mission to the Dominican Republic. The country is Florida's ninth-largest trading partner, with annual bilateral commerce valued at close to $6 billion.

At a news conference outside her Miami office, executive director Marlene Bastien of the activist group Haitian Women of Miami, said Gov. Rick Scott should abort the trade mission and bring everybody home.

"It is insensitive, immoral and inhumane for Enterprise Florida to make a decision to go to the Dominican Republic right now," she said as a dozen supporters chanted and waved signs behind her.

The trade mission comprises about 140 exporters, other business people and state trade officials.  It's not the first such mission, said Enterprise Florida spokesman Sean Helton in an email, and it’s all part of Gov. Scott's strategy to develop the economy and create jobs.

"One way we accomplish this is by working with Florida’s small and medium-sized businesses to expand their operations through international trade. We assist those companies by providing export counseling sessions and marketing plans, and by conducting trade missions and trips to trade shows. Florida companies that export can grow more quickly, create more jobs and are more resilient to domestic economic downturns," Helton wrote.

Scott usually tags along. But this time -- at the last minute -- he decided to stay home. There was no explanation from Helton or the Governor's office about Scott's decision to sit this one out.

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