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.
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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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