Brethren attend ECHO Caribbean conference in the DR, GFCF manager assesses situation of Haitian Dominicans




A group of Brethren at the ECHO Caribbean conference
Photo by Jeff Boshart
Anastacia Bueno, Onelys Rivas, and Flora Furcal (from left) at the ECHO Caribbean conference held in the Dominican Republic. Not pictured but also in attendance were Ariel Rosario and Juan Carlos Reyes.

Brethren representatives from the Dominican Republic and the United States were part of an ECHO Caribbean conference this fall, including Jeff Boshart, manager of the Church of the Brethren’s Global Food Crisis Fund (GFCF).

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ECHO (Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization) is a non-profit, interdenominational Christian organization headquartered on a demonstration farm in North Ft. Myers, Fla., that provides resources for mission and agricultural workers in over 160 countries. The organization is dedicated to fighting world hunger through innovative ideas, information, agricultural training, and seeds, seeking to find agricultural solutions for families growing food under difficult conditions.

The ECHO Caribbean conference was a success on many levels, Boshart reported, but also a disappointment as Haitian Brethren leaders were not able to get visas to attend despite efforts on their behalf by him and others including Lorenzo Mota King, the executive director of Servicio Social de Iglesias Dominicanas (Church World Service partner agency in the DR). In the end, the two Brethren delegates from Haiti--Jean Bily Telfort and Adias Docteur--were replaced by Dominican Brethren delegates.

The Dominican Brethren in attendance included Anastacia Bueno, Onelys Rivas, Flora Furcal, Ariel Rosario, and Juan Carlos Reyes.

Onelys Rivas, a Dominican Brethren leader, gives morning devotions
Photo by Jeff Boshart
Onelys Rivas, a Dominican Brethren leader, gives morning devotions at the ECHO Caribbean conference.

“The ECHO conference allowed our DR Brethren to rub shoulders with university professors from the US and other countries, as well as hear presentations from Christian development agencies working in the DR, Haiti, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Africa,” Boshart said. “I made numerous contacts on behalf of the Haitian Brethren who could not come and will pass those along to them.”

Effects of recent ruling on Haitian Dominicans

The visa situation for Haitian church leaders who cannot enter the DR may be related to a recent court decision in the Dominican Republic that will strip people of Haitian descent of rights to stay in the country. A significant number of Dominican Brethren are of Haitian descent and leaders in the church there are in process of putting the situation on their agenda, Boshart reported.

Anastacia Bueno, a Dominican Brethren church leader who is of Haitian descent, and a former moderator of Iglesia de los Hermanos (the Dominican Church of the Brethren) was one of the Brethren representatives to the ECHO conference. During his visit to the DR, Boshart also spent an hour visiting in her home in San Luis.

During the visit, he had a chance to find out about the effects of the court decision on daily life in the DR.  “This is still a situation in flux so things could easily change in the next few months,” he said. “The current issue is complicated by several factors that aren't entirely obvious at first glance. The obvious things are the anti-Haitian feelings in Dominican society that are nearly 200 years old, as well as the present presence of many illegal Haitian residents in the DR.

“The Brethren in Sabana Torsa (one of the bateys east of the capital) are reporting that a Catholic priest has been banned from the area by the government for his outspoken opposition to the recent ruling and treatment of Dominicans of Haitian descent. Check points are on the alert to turn him away if he shows his face,” Boshart added.

The Organization of American States, among others, are pressuring the DR government to change its ruling, Boshart reported. The decision impacts all children of foreigners born in the DR since 1929, and will reclassify them as "in transit" on their government documents, and likely will have an impact on at least three, if not four or more, generations of Haitian Dominicans. “Many have ancestors who came to the DR legally as contract workers to work in the sugar industry for companies ranging from Dominican to European to American-owned companies,” Boshart said. Up until now, they been able to carry Dominican identity cards, attend Dominican schools, vote in Dominican elections, and pay Dominican taxes.

For more about the Global Food Crisis Fund, go to www.brethren.org/gfcf

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