*This is a short reflection of three challenging scenarios for migration in the Americas and an invitation to a deeper reflection and advocacy for measures to prevent further tragedies.
I know, use the word Holocaust sounds a little bit extreme but just think about the meaning of the term. For the Nazis, the technical expression was “Endlösungt” and was used to refer to the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question”, which ended with the genocide that killed approximate six million of Jewish during the II World War. In Hebrew, the Holocaust was known as “Shoah” which is translated as “The Catastrophe”, and indeed it was since it exterminated two-thirds of the Jewish population in Europe.
The Holocaust was the systematic murder of a race led by Adolf Hitler and his associates to “solve” the problem of Jewish migration to Germany. This measure is perhaps the most extreme, but the world has seen several examples of racial discrimination ranging from the Apartheid in South Africa, the genocide of the Kurds in Iraq during the regime of Saddam Hussein, to the conflict in the Balkans that ended in a civil war in Kosovo after former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic launched an ethnic cleansing campaign against Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians.
The American continent hasn’t been immune to the discrimination for racial or ethnic issues. It’s enough to remember Martin Luther King’s struggle while was leading the Civil Rights Movement that sought equality for African Americans in the United States from the mid-1950s until his assassination in 1968. However, racial discrimination in different countries of the continent has now reached unprecedented levels, which draws attention not only to reflect about this issue, but to advocate for respect for the difference, tolerance, and above all for human dignity, an inalienable right.
The first case I’d like to share is the discrimination lived in the Dominican-Haitian border for several decades. I remember how when I was a kid, my stepfather used to tell me about the atrocities committed by the Dominican dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, who ruled the country between 1930 and 1961, and ordered his army to perform the “Test of Parsley” which ended with the murder and torture of about 15,000 people of Haitian ethnicity, many of them born in the Dominican Republic, on the border marked by the river Masacre. Those stories sparked my interest in these countries, so I decided to do an internship at the National Office of the Organization of America States – OAS- in Santo Domingo and had the opportunity to visit Haiti, just to confirm that the discrimination has not only left deep scars in these two countries, especially in Haiti, but is an issue that persists and is accepted as a normal practice among many Dominicans.
Nowadays, tensions and discrimination against Haitians are growing stronger, even more when in 2013 the DR Constitutional Court declared that people born in the Dominican Republic wouldn’t be considered automatically as a citizens. This rule would retroactively apply to anyone born after 1929, which has raised the fears of thousands of Haitian descendants and immigrants, who live in panic, anxiety and confusion, waiting for their future and their legal status to be determined.
The second case, which touches my fibers as a member of the Latino and immigrant community in the United States, are the recent statements made by Donald Trump during his presidential campaign announcement, but more importantly the impact these words have had on the behavior of some Americans who support his ideas. On June 16, Trump said that:
“When Mexico (referring explicit to the Mexican Government) sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems to us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists… They’re sending us not the right people. It’s coming from more than Mexico. It’s coming from all over South and Latin America, and it’s coming probably from the Middle East”.
Also, Trump shared one the pillars of his immigration plan if he becomes the next President of the U.S.: the construction of the “great, great wall” between the U.S. and Mexico border. An idea that is not only cost inefficient, mostly coming from a business man, but is the segregation at its most visible level.
Mr. Trump words don’t scare me or offend me, as my grandma always says “to foolish words, deaf ears”, what really worries me is the echo that his nonsense words are leaving on thousands of Americans who have forgotten that this is a country raised by immigrants, and owes its prosperity to millions of migrants from around the world who came to the “land of opportunities” to provide a better future for their families. Some of these families that now feel proud to be a quarter Irish, German or Italian, including Mr. Trump’s, are the same that discriminate the Latino immigrants.
Another aspect to worry about is the role of some media, which amplify these ideas and help perpetuate stereotypes and misconceptions about immigrants, while giving a hand to Mr. Trump to attract voters who believe that the solution to the problem of illegal migration is to criminalize all immigrants, regardless of their background or their personal situation.
The last case of discrimination, was the final stimulus for writing this post and is the one that touches me more closely. In recent weeks, the President of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, declared a state of emergency and proceeded to close the border between Colombia and Venezuela, which led to the expulsion of about 1000 Colombians living in Venezuelan territory. While it isn’t the first time that the border is closed, it is the first time we see such a high level of discrimination against the Colombians. Maduro’s order was marking houses of the Colombian immigrants living state of Tachira with an R (Revised) and D (Demolish), just like the homes of Jews and Gypsies were marked during the times of the Holocaust, which have been forced hundreds of Colombian immigrants to cross the border carrying their belongings on his shoulders, in inhuman and degrading conditions.
While there have sought diplomatic solutions to this situation, many Colombians who have decided to accept violence as normal behavior are demanding more extreme measures, like declare a war against Venezuela, as if over 60 years of internal conflict weren’t enough.
Therefore, the voice of those who, like me, reject violence, discrimination and war should rise to call the attention of governments, civil society, media, aid agencies and citizens in general to be aware that regardless of our origin or our differences, WE ALL ARE ONE HUMANITY.