Haitians and Dual Nationality

Posted on Thursday 20 October 2005

By Ericq Pierre [1]

Submitted to AlterPresse on October 19, 2005

The candidacy of Dumarsais Siméus, which received much media attention, has brought the issue of dual nationality in Haiti to the fore. From the second half of the 20th century onward, tens of thousands of Haitians have adopted a foreign nationality for reasons ranging from political, economic, and professional to simply for personal convenience.

Over the same period, tens of thousands of others who have lived or are still living in foreign lands have not adopted another nationality. This second category generally, but not exclusively, includes political activists forced into exile after having served a prison term or to avoid one, or who had reasons to fear for their safety and that of their families. In general, those Haitians who aspire to a leading political role at home rarely adopt another nationality. I am speaking, of course, about first-generation Haitians and not of their children.

Yet while implicitly acknowledging that the two life terms that the Duvaliers served as president may have killed any hope among exiled Haitians of playing a political role in their own country, leading them in desperation to take another nationality, the transition provisions of the 1987 Constitution make it possible for them to regain their Haitian citizenship. Many took advantage, while others apparently did not see fit to do so.

Remember that most countries, even the most democratic ones, have adopted restrictive criteria to determine who is eligible to fill such and such a position there, who is allowed to govern. In Haiti, these restrictions derive from the particular circumstances in which we became independent, among other causes.

Haiti, being the only country in the world to have won its independence following a slave revolt, its nit-picking over the issue of nationality is completely understandable. The real problem is not the restrictions imposed. Rather, it lies in the fact that the country has never established the legal means to enforce the restrictions, including possible exemptions. There are also many secondary aspects that merit clarification.

It is well known that a large number of Haitians who have acquired another nationality continue to reside in Haiti and take full part in its national life. Does this mean they are living in Haiti illegally? Do they still have a Haitian passport? When we talk about Haitians voting abroad, does this mean simply residents or naturalized citizens? Is the naturalized Haitian who continues to live in Haiti still entitled to vote? Is he breaking the law if he uses a Haitian passport? Could he be charged with “impersonation of nationality†as one can for impersonating another individual? Is one’s nationality an integral part of one’s identity? These are all questions I cannot answer personally, but that deserve to be asked. It would also be good to know if the answers are found in current Haitian legislation.

In truth, even the wording, “to have never renounced one’s citizenship†lends to confusion. Does adopting another nationality mean that you automatically renounce your original nationality? I have been told that Mr. Siméus’s lawyers have focused on this ambiguity, among other things, to promote their client’s candidacy despite his U.S. citizenship. For Mr. Siméus, to my knowledge, has never hidden his U.S. citizenship. He has simply stated that he has never renounced his Haitian nationality.

He left the rest to his public relations team and to his lawyers. The lawyers probably convinced him that it would be easy for them to play-and to win-on the wording’s ambiguity. Thus, they adopted a strategy of one-upsmanship, going so far as to dare anyone to prove that Mr. Siméus had renounced his Haitian nationality. Even though the Constitution clearly states elsewhere that dual nationality is not permitted under any circumstances, the lawyers can always argue that having dual citizenship does not imply that one has renounced either one. That stands to reason.

One can question the value of such a strategy based on “casuistry†reasoning, but it makes some sense if we factor in the ambiguity shown above. We also cannot rule out that it was inspired by the fact that other Haitians with dual nationality might have previously held positions reserved for Haitians with only one nationality under the Constitution. Unfortunately, if we are striving to achieve the rule of law, it cannot explain this situation. Certain persons have perhaps knowingly broken the law, but in Haiti it has always been acknowledged that someone who has adopted another nationality is ineligible for certain posts.

Has the time come to reconsider this provision of the Constitution, given the size of our diaspora and its contribution to Haiti’s survival? I am personally convinced that it has, but I have only one vote and, in any case, this can only come about through a constitutional amendment.

Meanwhile, more critical observers may say that the strategy of Mr. Siméus’s lawyers stems from the same specious reasoning that Haitian politicians use for never giving a straight answer to a specific question, which has caused so much harm to the country. And it would be only fair, since it is doubtful that Mr. Siméus was able to succeed in business, particularly in the United States, through such reasoning.

It is difficult to predict what impact Mr. Siméus’s electoral mishap will have on his plans in Haiti. Those , Haitians and foreigners , who have had dealings with him have always said that he is law-abiding and professes a great sense of humility. Some have even said that his high social standing does not give him altitude sickness. Not knowing him myself, I thought that it was all to his credit. When you realize that there are some who, having scarcely reached the second rung of the social ladder, are already beginning to turn up their nose, take on an air of superiority, and look down on others, if everything that they say about him is true, Mr. Siméus should be congratulated for his good behavior. It would be a real shame if, following an electoral mishap, this entrepreneur is unable to keep his good reputation intact, while the image makers portray him as a reformer and people praise his simplicity and humility.

His lawyers should be ready to assume responsibility for the strategy they have adopted, both in success as in failure. I admit, however, that the lawyers do not always have an easy job. This reminds me of the joke going around Washington D.C. in the mid-1980s. It seems that President Reagan called in his security advisor and asked him, “What should I do if I find myself in an elevator with Ayatollah Khomeini, Saddam Hussein, and a lawyer when I have only two bullets in my revolver and I think my life is in danger?†The advisor replies without hesitation, “Mr. President, you’ll have to shoot the lawyer with both bullets to make sure he is really dead.†Lawyers! You can’t live with them, and you can’t live without them.

Although the legislation on nationality leaves many issues open, things are even more complex on the emotional level. It appears that when you change your nationality, for any reason, you somehow feel still more Haitian, still more deeply a native son, especially if you keep some roots in the country. Unfortunately, in the eyes of current laws, one is not completely so. It’s unfair; it’s frustrating; but that’s the way it is until the rules of the game are changed.

The naturalized Haitian feels in his heart that he has never stopped being Haitian, so he generally pays little attention to the legal ramifications that his naturalized condition can have for him in Haiti itself. When he is in Haiti, he rarely wears his adopted nationality on his sleeve. He generally reveals it only when forced to do so, and only to get out of a tight situation. Some even hide it like a shameful disease.

There are several reasons for this, of which a few are rightfully linked to the uncertain status of the naturalized person who returns to live in his native country. A naturalized person is assured to stay in his adoptive country, not return to live near-permanently in his native country. That carries clear risks. These “hybrid†countrymen, who are not entirely Haitian nor entirely foreign, are more often than you would think victims of the arbitrary and high-handed behavior so common in Haiti. In addition, Haitian politicians are suspicious of a member of the diaspora who wants to go into politics. They consider him as taking the foreigner’s side.

Don’t they say that there was an unwritten rule under the François Duvalier regime that allowed those exiled Haitians who wanted to go into politics to quickly be regranted their citizenship as soon as they set foot back on Haitian soil? Unfortunately, the idea behind this “generosity†was the power to throw these exiles into prison with no obligation to report to the authorities of their adopted country. Thus, more people than we think have fallen victim to their dual nationality.

In fact, not until the adoption of the legislation governing the privileges granted to native Haitians and their descendants who have acquired another nationality ( Ref: Le Moniteur of August 12, 2002 and Claude Moise Editorial in Le Matin of October 7-10, 2005), it was obvious that Haitians who have adopted a foreign nationality were among the members of the universal diaspora the ones who were the most downtrodden and abused by the laws of their country of origin. But other forms of exclusion are still in force. The Haitian authorities seem to be interested in them only when they bring back awards for excellence or when they send money. Then they rush to invite them to Haiti to appear in public with them and exhibit them proudly as very special specimens of Ayiti Toma.

To be sure, several members of the diaspora recently seemed to have no other ambition than to have their picture taken in Haiti with the occupant of the presidential mansion. Former president Aristide took considerable advantage of this, even succeeding in giving the diaspora (particularly those in Canada and the United States, and thus relatively well off) a reputation for partisan and captive political patronage. In return, he popularized the idea of the “tenth département†and created a Ministry of Haitians Abroad, whose objectives are still vague, and not even artistically so. In that sense, the August 12, 2002 legislation mentioned above is a big step in the right direction.

Rumors of high officials with dual nationalities ran strongest during the Lavalas regimes. Yet for many Haitians, the line between rumor and truth gets blurred. Particularly as those who are “accused†of dual nationality do not deign to voluntarily provide proof of the contrary.

In any event, this issue of dual nationality must not be kept under wraps. It must be addressed exhaustively and transparently for the whole country’s benefit. I cannot understand why the diaspora is not able to mobilize to form a real pressure group to legally and constitutionally amend the various articles on dual nationality. Could it be because there is no internal consensus on how to proceed? Or could it be that the status quo does not affect everybody in the same fashion?

The truth be told, beyond that nationality issue, the entire 1987 Constitution must be reviewed . The next president will probably have to convene a special constituent assembly and submit the proposed amendments to a referendum.

Amending the articles on dual nationality should not be regarded as a favor to the diaspora. Fellow countrymen who live abroad or have taken a foreign nationality have displayed great solidarity with Haitians living in Haiti. They have struggled and suffered with and for Haiti. Since independence, survival has seemed to trump development as our main objective. Survival before development ! Over the past 25 to 30 years, well before international aid, our diaspora helped us to survive. Let us arrange things so that it can contribute fully to our development by removing once and for all these barriers that are no longer justified in any way. Yet, this must come about through a process, not the result of a power grab.


Contact : Rochasse091@yahoo.com

[1NDLR : Haitian Delegate at IDB