Dominican organizers apologize: Chaos at panel discussion

POSTED: 07/16/15 4:19 PM



A scene from Friday’s panel discussion at the library in Philipsburg. Photo Today / Andrew Dick

St. Maarten – Chaos broke out after audience members walked out of the Punto Latino International panel discussion about the deportation of Dominicans from Haitian descent by the Dominican Republic. Hosted by journalist and DJ Reynaldo Urena, audience members consisting of St. Maarteners and Haitians started to disrupt speakers who chose to speak Spanish only at the event at the Philipsburg Jubilee Library.

“Speak English,” an audience member blurted out to the speaker who was explaining the timeline of the immigration situation in the Dominican Republic. The crowd got agitated and walked out of the library, frustrated that they did not get to hear the information in English. The organizers tried to take control of the situation by calling out to the persons who walked out and stood at the entrance of the library, asking them to come back. However it was too late after most of those present made up their mind not to support the event anymore.

Organizers were forced to cancel the remainder of the panel discussion saying, “We did not want to offend anybody but it was about the Dominican Republic and that is why we spoke Spanish, we did not want to offend anyone. This event is now canceled,” Urena said.

Earlier tempers started to boil when veteran journalist Maximo Castro talked about the reasons behind the immigration policy change. He was requested after his presentation to speak in English which he did. The response to what should have been a question by Haitian television host Teri Janvier, ended up being a presentation on facts Castro had not mentioned. “Let us not lie to the people my friend, this is not about immigration, this is about racism disguised as immigration and this is wrong,” Janvier said – a remark that earned him some applause.

One of the panelists stood up and interrupted Janvier by stating that this discussion is not about him and he should refrain from speaking because the other panelist had not yet spoken. The situation caused a back and forth argument between the two, the host managed to get control of the situation and moved on to the next speaker.

The driver of bus 236 who was born in the Dominican Republic spoke in Spanish; this infuriated the crowd and they walked out of the meeting. The bus driver did not help the situation as he stated that he will speak Spanish and that is it.

“Go back to Santo Domingo,” one person shouted The explosive situation escalated after some Haitian nationals told journalists that they are offended that panelists gave wrong information and that the organizers only spoke Spanish. “We are in St. Maarten,” one audience member said.

Organizers told this newspaper that they plan to host another panel discussion soon in collaboration with the Haitian community to give a broader explanation about the issue. They apologized and said they wished the evening had not turned out the way it did.

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