UPDATE, 3/4: The Ambassador of the Dominican Republic has responded to this article. The Ambassador's statement is posted in full at the bottom of this post.
UPDATE 2, 3/4: Mayor Sharief has also issued a response, which is posted below.
On February 23, Enterprise Florida led a group of local politicians and leaders, including Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief, as well as local business leaders to the Dominican Republic for a trade mission.
Governor Rick Scott, who had been scheduled to be a part of it, canceled his trip.
But now the Haitian American Professionals Coalition (HAPC), a non-profit group that advocates the needs of the Haitian community, is calling out Sharief, and other leaders, for going on the trip.
The group's reason: politicians and leaders that partook in the trade missions to D.R. are sending the message to the Dominican government that it's okay for them to continue their persecution of their Haitian neighbors. Or, at least turn a blind eye to it.
The main issue stems from the HAPC's view of the a continual persecution of Haitians by the D.R. government.
The two nations coexist on the island of Hispaniola, with the Dominican Republic's standard of living historically being considerably greater than those who live in Haiti.
The two countries have a long and divisive history.
In September of 2013, the Dominican Republic's supreme court upheld a ruling that took away Dominican citizenship away from Dominicans of Haitian descent. The ruling, the HAPC says, is retroactive to 1929, which means that generations have been stripped of their citizenship.
A Haitian citizen who is 84 years old today, their children and grandchildren, are all de-nationalized under this law.
"We understand that the Dominican Republic is able to determine who can and cannot be a citizen of their country," a representative of HAPC told New Times. "But this is systematic persecution that goes back years."
When news of the planned trip broke, HAPC sent Scott's office a letter, asking him to cancel his participation of it:
"This is the time for our governor and state," the letter read, to clearly communicate the message that we will not allow the Dominican Republic to continue its persecution of Haitians and those of Haitian descent. At this critical hour, our governor should suspend his upcoming trip."
Scott did eventually cancel his trip, although it's unclear if the letter had anything to do with it.
Sharief, however, went on the trip. Meaning that Rick Scott is more keenly aware of this issue than Sharief is. Or, at least it appears that way.
The HAPC has tried to contact the county mayor's office, to discuss the issue, but have so far had no luck in reaching her.
"We just want to see local politicians and leaders take a stand on this issue," the HAPC rep told us. "Going on this trade mission doesn't send the right message."
According to Enterprise Florida's website, the Dominican Republic is Florida's 9th largest trading partner with 5.34 billion in two-way trade and the state's 9th largest export market with $2.95 billion in Florida exports.
Ambassador of the Dominican Republic's response:
A recent article in the Broward/Palm Beach Times unfairly presents a one-sided characterization of the Dominican Republic's efforts to implement a fair and transparent immigration policy, and - not surprisingly - contains a number of false statements and inaccuracies.
Let's take a moment to separate fact from fiction. The September 2013 Constitutional Court ruling provides the opportunity for thousands of individuals living in the Dominican Republic to normalize their immigration status - the ruling affects a sizeable portion of the Dominican population that lacks documentation as well as undocumented people from more than 120 countries who are residing the Dominican Republic.
Contrary to the claims of critics, no one currently holding or entitled to legal, or rightful, Dominican citizenship will be deprived of it. In fact, the Dominican Government is implementing a process that protects fundamental rights while documenting and guaranteeing a legal status to each and every person living on Dominican soil.
As move forward with this complex initiative, close and open collaboration with Haiti and the international community will bolster our efforts. To that end, we have opened a historic dialogue with the Haitian Government to address issues of mutual interest, including immigration.
Together, our two countries are making progress toward a solution that not only recognizes the Dominican Republic's sovereign right to determine its immigration and citizenship policies, but also safeguards the fundamental rights of people of Haitian descent residing in the country.
International leaders, including the European Union's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, have welcomed our dialogue with Haiti and efforts to take "concrete measures to safe guard basic rights of persons of Haitian descent." US Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James Brewster has also voiced the US Government's support for our nation's strong commitment to our immigrant community.
We are confident that with the support of key partners and friends around the world, we will put in place a modern and transparent immigration policy that benefits the island of Hispaniola and the region.
ANÍBAL DE CASTRO Ambassador of the Dominican Republic Washington, DC
Mayor Sharief posted a comment on the Broward County Board of Commissioners Facebook page in response to this post.
In a conversation with New Times, Mayor Sharief also expressed her disappointment in the accusations made by HAPC, while making it clear that she never heard of them, nor received any contact from them prior to or after her trip.
"I have never heard of this group before," Sherief told New Times. "They have never contacted me to express their concerns over this trip before, or after I returned from the Dominican Republic."
Mayor Sharief's Facebook response:
This letter to explain and clarify my recent business trip to the Dominican Republic in February. Please know that I meant no disrespect to the Haitian people living in Broward County or to those who reside in Haiti.
Broward County was invited to participate in this economic development mission by Enterprise Florida and by the office of Governor Rick Scott. In my capacity as Mayor, I am, by County Charter the official Broward County Ambassador and it is my responsibility to be present at such events.
The goal of Enterprise Florida is to broaden our State's economic reach throughout the Caribbean, South America, Asia, Europe and in countries with emerging economies. In support of that goal, former Broward Mayors and Commissioners have participated in multiple business missions to Haiti, China, Brazil, Venezuela, Africa, the Bahamas and to several countries in Europe and Africa. Likewise, Broward County has hosted many people from those countries who have visited Florida.
These economic missions have one purpose and that is to bring business back to Broward County and Florida and encourage trade. These business trips are never political in nature, nor do they ever address disagreements that may exist between two regions or conflicts that may occur internally within any particular country.
As an African American woman and Broward's first female African American Mayor, I empathize with your concerns and would never disrespect any of the diverse cultures and ethnicities that make up all of Broward County.
Please note that my office never received a letter or a telephone call from any representatives of your organization prior to or after the economic business mission. Indeed, I would not know of your concerns had I not been alerted to the news article that appeared in the New Times article dated February 28, 2014.
However, if you would like to talk to me about this issue please call me directly at (954) 357-7008. I am happy to sit down and speak with you as I strive to do what is in the best interests of all people in our community. Sincerely,
Barbara Sharief Broward County Mayor District 8 Commissioner