Dominican Republic breaks off Haiti talks over immigration ruling

Manuel Jimenez
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines' Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves (R) addresses a media conference, with CARICOM Secretary-General Irwin LaRocque, Haitian President Michel Martelly, and Trinidad and Tobago's Prime Minister and chairperson of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Kamla Persad-Bissessar (L-2nd R) at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann's, on the outskirts of the capital Port-of-Spain, November 26, 2013. REUTERS/Andrea De Silva

By Manuel Jimenez

SANTO DOMINGO (Reuters) - The Dominican Republic broke off talks with Haiti on Wednesday over a recent Dominican court ruling that potentially strips citizenship from more than 200,000 Haitian migrants, many of whom were born on Dominican soil.

The two countries, which share the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, have been holding talks mediated by the Venezuelan government to resolve their differences over a September 23 ruling by the Dominican Republic's Constitutional Court.

The Dominican government has come under intense international pressure over the ruling, with foreign leaders, United Nations agencies and human rights groups questioning its legal basis.

Gustavo Montalvo, chief of staff to Dominican Republic President Danilo Medina, said in a statement the government will not participate in a meeting with Haitian officials scheduled to be held in Caracas on Saturday.

The decision comes a day after Caribbean heads of state agreed to defer an application from the Dominican Republic for membership in CARICOM, the region's largest cooperation group, until Santo Domingo addresses the high court's ruling.

"Haiti has decided to take a different route and that has brought an end to our talks for now," Montalvo said.

Haiti President Michel Martelly attended the CARICOM meeting in Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday where the group's leaders urged countries in the region to call on the Dominican Republic to "right this terrible wrong."

The court ruling retroactively denied Dominican nationality to anyone born after 1929 who does not have at least one parent of Dominican blood, citing a constitutional clause declaring all others to be in the country illegally or "in transit."

Human rights groups say the ruling could leave Haitians in the Dominican Republic without basic rights, such as the right to vote, and restrict their access to basic services including public education.

The wealthier of the two countries, the Dominican Republic has long complained of illegal migration of undocumented workers from its impoverished neighbor, even as it benefits from a steady source of cheap labor.

Most of those affected are the descendants of Haitians who moved to the Dominican Republic to work in the sugar cane fields. Many used a temporary worker's card issued by the former state sugar company as proof of their residence in order to register their offspring.

The Dominican Republic's population of 10 million includes about 458,000 people of Haitian descent, many of whom lack proper documents, according to official figures. About 240,000 of those people of Haitian descent were born in the Dominican Republic.

(Writing by Kevin Gray; Editing by Leslie Gevirtz)