An Anatomy of Racism

September 25, 2007

DOMINICAN PRESIDENT JOA- quin Balaguer has, surely, never been in any serious danger of being mistaken for a man of even moderately liberal ideology or opinions. The octo- genarian dean of the most pusillani- mously colonial and racially preten- tious wing of the Dominican Right, Balaguer has devoted more than half a century to the rationalization and de- fense of its most jejune orthodoxies and cliches. His recent book, La isla al revs: Haiti y el destino dominicano ("The Island Turned on its Head: Haiti and Dominican Destiny," Santo Domingo: Editora Corripio, 1989) is a self-contra- dictory pastiche of the would-be aristocracy's most shopworn and flatu- lent bromides. It is also an articulate, if offensive, delineation of the racist ide- ology that permeates a significant por- tion of Dominican society. For all its pretense to scientific objectivity and broad-mindedness, Balaguer's thesis has the delusive partiality of a planter's fallacious syllogism. The Dominican Republic, he ahistorically postulates, has always been a "white and Chris- tian" country. This country has now, alas, fallen victim to a "progressive ethnic decadence" (p. 45) and gradual disappearance of the nation's somatic characteristics that threaten the immi- nent loss of "its Spanish physiognomy" (p. 43). The trouble, Balaguer tellingly sug- gests, originates and is symbolically embodied in the final triumph of the 1791 uprising of slaves in Haiti and the Black Republic's "imperialist" occu- pation (1822-1844) of the eastern half of Hispaniola. He dismisses out of hand as plain treachery a considerable body of annexationist and abolitionist Do- minican sentiment, which he regards as racially suspect or out of place in a Spanish colony in which he contends slavery was "more benign" (p. 197) and "racism has never existed" (pp. 188, 198). Save for a "minuscule" (p. 23), "ob- viously" marginal and unrepresentative portion of the population, he argues, the black presence in the Dominican Re- public constitutes a foreign intrusion, something alien to the authentic na- tional spirit of the place: in a word, something actually or effectively "Hai- tian." Genuine patriotism requires "our" unrelenting resistance to this exotic, I REPORT ON THE AMERICAS Roberto Mdrquez teaches Caribbean and Latin American Studies at Mt. Holyoke College, and is a member of NACLA's Editorial Board. I I V- , X, g a: rr~p~~rt' pagan and primitive, foreign penetra- tion and its inevitable train of ominous effects. H AITI, ADMITTEDLY, NO longer poses any political or mili- tary threat to the sovereignty or territo- rial integrity of the Dominican Repub- lic. But, Balaguer insists, "Haitian im- perialism is now an even greater threat to our country than before for biologi- cal reasons" (p. 35). Principal among these is the regressive genetic impact and cultural influence that are a conse- quence of miscegenation and "the veg- etative increase of the African race" (p. 35). Race, predictably enough, gradu- ally emerges as synonymous with na- tionality. The least de-nationalized sec- tion of the country, we are told, the one that best conserves "the spirit of nobil- ity that survives in Santo Domingo like an inheritance from the colonial golden age," is Bani, an isolated rural commu- nity of "whites." "[Tlhe least miscege- nated zone in the country...where the [white] race has the best sense of its capacities...a firmer notion of its culture...and its dignity" (pp. 61-62), Banf is Balaguer's wistfully nostalgic, emblematically ideal polity. His notion of the Republic's proper destiny can, in effect, be reduced "to mak[ing] the en- tire Dominican population a commu- nity like Ban"' (p. 62). Balaguer's methodological triad of race, demography, and eugenics-the cornerstone of his argument-betrays a distinctively anachronistic, nineteenth- century slaveholder's anxiety: the all- consuming fear of an "Africanization" of "our nation," whose social-darwinist and patrician temper is only too appar- ent. "If the government continues to ignore the problem of race," Balaguer writes, "the white race will eventually be absorbed by the African" (p. 97). The twentieth-century personification of that dread possibility-and the mani- fest villains of the book-are Haitian immigrants and "guest workers." Balaguer, evidently, sees no contra- diction in the fact that successive Do- minican governments-and most nota- bly his own-both directly profited from and significantly encouraged that im- migration. The state regularly recruits Haitian workers for the plantations of the State Sugar Council, offering ex-ploitative terms and living conditions which ensure the migrants' isolation and relative powerlessness and preclude their ability to exercise anything like the nefarious omnipotence attributed to them by El Sefior Presidente. Balaguer holds Haitian immigration responsible for everything from the deterioration of his homo dominicans' sense of loyalty to traditional Christian family values, the native working class's increasing lack of nationalist solidar- ity, and the middle class's meager strength, to the discouraging state of the country's overall health, its economic instability, and the general failure of current development strategies. What a less jaundiced observer of the frontier zones might have recog- nized as an ordinary example of recip- rocal adaptation and cultural exchange, Balaguer invariably regards as evidence of the corrupting subtlety and malevo- lent ingenuity of "Haitians" intent on sabotaging the locals' sense of moral rectitude and patriotic purpose. Cross- cultural exchange and interracial con- tact becomes, under the circumstances, virtually synonymous with sedition. Consistent with his dim view of blacks in general and "Haitians" in par- ticular, the president invokes a phobic vocabulary of elemental sexuality, pri- meval excess, social pathology, and enervating disease. Negroes are all "in- stinct-governed" (p. 36), ferally and incestuously promiscuous, "vegetally fertile" (p. 36) while, consonant with their ancestral inheritance, "Haitians" are "heathens" (p. 40), "generators of indolence" (p. 52), "of primitive men- tality" (p. 37), and a "contagion" (p. 49). To the extent they may be said to possess any culture at all, it is a deriva- tive veneer, the result of mimetic as- similation. Those few Haitians whose intellectual stature Balaguer favorably singles out as exceptional are finally redeemed, with condescending pater- nalism, as oblique tributes to the civi- lizing force of their European educa- tions. Except for the enthusiasm with which he draws on the noirisme of Jean Price Mars, Lorimer Denis, Jean Dorsainvil, and Franqois Duvalier to enhance his own dubious credibility, Balaguer appears to be wholly ignorant of the work of even a single Haitian intellectual from among the multitude of those active during the last 50 years. At least he does not make reference to any. This allows him conveniently to elide their nearly unanimous critique of his chosen sources and what, with a keen sense of political irony, Ren6 Depestre bitingly calls their "Adven- tures of Negritude." B ALAGUER'S REMEDIES TO inhibit any further spread of the Haitian "blight" include a Malthusian free-marketeering, broadening of the rural base and centrality of Catholic instruction, bringing the borderlands under tighter government control, pro- moting the "spontaneous immigration" (p. 143) of white capitalists from abroad and entrusting the future to "a vast eugenic plan" (p. 136) directed by those already of "raza selecta" (p. 148). "To make a people free," he maintains, "is less important than to regenerate it" (p. 99). Balaguer's undisguised apologia of Trujillo's October 1937 massacre of more than 17,000 Haitians-as a mea- sure leveled at "the very causes...of our ethnic regression" (pp. 76, 97)-leaves no doubt that he is not beyond contemplating a policy ofdeliberate geno- cide. It comes finally as somewhat of a surprise when, against the force of its own pernicious logic, La isla al revis concludes by proposing a conciliatory confedera- tion of the Dominican and Haitian states to ensure the independence of each and, after a century and a half, put an end to their tension-fraught relations. Haiti's comparative vul- nerability, it appears, and, no doubt, the Duvalier- istes' politicalconsanguin- ity, now make such a compact particularly at- tractive. Balaguer's tacit supposition is that, under such an arrangement, the Dominican nation he en- visions would emerge as first among "equals." The offer, in any case, rings hollow and is wholly sus- pect. Certainly, Haitians A Haitian s Republic. I for all of hi and the ethnically mixed population of ordinary Dominicans have every rea- son to view so unexpected a gift of unity with at least as much skepticism (which the Greek who bears it inspires) as Balaguer's protestations that he is no racist. La isla al revis adds another vol- ume to the already monumental library ofraceologist tracts which includes texts by such notables as Ernest Renan (1823- 1892), the Spaniard Marcelino Mendndez Pelayo(1856-1912), the Ar- gentines Domingo Faustino Sarmiento (1811-1888), Carlos Octavio Bunge ( 1875-1918)and Jos Ingenieros( 1877- 1925), the Bolivian Alcides Arguedas (1879-1946), and the Peruvian Fran- ciscoGarciaCalder6n( 1883-1953). The impertinent presumption and terrified consciousness Balaguer shares with these supposed paragons of humanism is a barometer of the intensity of their mutual distrust of democracy's egali- tarian impulse and of the racially het- erogeneous masses of theirown peoples. Their dreams are, in truth, the stuff of nightmares.

Tags: Dominican Republic, Joaquin Balaguer, Haiti, racism, nationalism

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