Haiti and the DR Jockey For The Pope’s Support in the Refugee Crisis

Pope_Francis_at_VargihnaSince the refugee crisis began two years ago, Dominican leaders have been walking a public relations tightrope. It’s difficult to spin 30,000 refugees and hundreds of thousands more facing deportation, but President Danilo Medina knows his country depends on international trade, aid and tourism.

Now Dominican leaders face a new challenge: convincing Pope Francis to stay out of the fray.

The leading newspaper in the Dominican Republic reports that the Dominican Foreign Minister AndrĂ©s Navarro met today with the Vatican’s secretary of state to explain the extent to which the Dominican Republic is “respecting human rights.” The foreign minister repeated familiar talking points that forced deportations have not begun and that illegal immigrants were given time to register with the Dominican government.

Meanwhile, Haitian President Michel Martelly is spending the next few days with the Pope in Ecuador.  Martelly has been slow to speak out on the refugee crisis, but he condemned Dominican policies in strong terms on Friday and will presumably seek the Pope’s support on the refugee crisis.

Pope Francis is already seen as a friend of Haiti — he appointed the country’s first ever cardinal last year. In these two predominantly catholic countries his opinion could be very important.

Medina has been mindful of the optics of the refugee crisis since the Dominican Supreme Court stripped away the citizenship of hundreds of thousands of Dominicans two years ago. He responded to the first round of international pressure two years ago by giving people stripped of their citizenship a year and a half to register with the government. The current spin is that Haitians are voluntarily leaving the country on comfortable government-sponsored buses.

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