Sunday, May 10, 2009

Chilean Presidential Candidate Will Attract Japanese Attention

Marco Enríquez-Ominami is a Chilean actor-turned-politician who has left the ruling Socialist Party to run as an independent candidate in the 2009 presidential election. In doing so, he has gone against the wishes of his adoptive father Carlos Ominami, a Senator from the Socialist Party. Senator Ominami is the grandson of a Japanese immigrant and son of Carlos Ominami Daza, an Air Force Colonel who was tortured by the military junta and subsequently spent the dictatorship years in exile in Belgium. There’s little to no chance of an Enríquez-Ominami victory, but he’s not exactly a fringe candidate either. (He is expected to tilt the election in favor of the opposition candidate.) Add to that his matinee idol looks and his Japanese connection, and I bet the Japanese media will give him his quinze minutos.

If they notice.

I understand and respect Enríquez-Ominami’s decision to honor both fathers by keeping their surnames as a professional actor. Having said that, I have a question for my Latin American (particularly Chilean, if any) readers here: Does the unusual name Ominami add a touch of the exotic? Or is it like any other name in a land of immigrants?

In Brazil, my guess is that an Ominami would be tagged as part Indio. That is a rare name, even in Japan.

Colonel Ominami was known as “El Chino”, the same nickname bestowed on Peru’s ex-President Fujimori. That’s not unusual; many American kids in the early sixties thought Japan was part of China.

Speaking of Fujimori, I never understood what all the fuss over Japan refusing to hand him over to the Peruvian authorities was about? Japan and Peru do not have an extradition treaty between them, and Fujimori was/is a Japanese citizen. The most the Japanese authorities could have done was to arrest and try him for crimes under the Japanese Criminal Code—say, kidnapping and murder. Did the Peruvian authorities try that?


gary Morrison said...

is not a common lastname or surname, but you got a ponit saying that Chile is a land of inmigrants, and we're used to hear "exotic" surnames, even more in politics...

i thought Ominami was a palestine lastname.. because we have the greatest palestine colony outside middle eats in the world... so when i hear an strange lastname...that doesn't sound european, i inmediately think of it as a palestine lastname..but you're right...ominami sopunds very japanese now that i know

Christopher said...

The fuss was not so much about them refusing to hand over a Japanese citizen, but about the fact that he was able to claim Japanese citizenship so easily and quickly, given 1) Japan's widespread paranoia over immigration and 2) their ostensible prohibition of dual-citizenship.

Jun Okumura said...

gary: Thank you for the information. I’d never have guessed without your telling me. By the way, your name is as good a proof as any other of Chile’s diversity.

Christopher: Becoming a Japanese citizen, which takes years, is one thing, proving that you have retained Japanese citizenship, which is a matter of documentation that likely takes no more than a few weeks, is another. It is the latter that Fujimori did. People who disapprove of him find that simple point hard to grasp, while those who support him overlook the glaring fact that he brought it up only when it became convenient for him to do so. There must be a scientific term for this. If there isn’t, let’s call it value-selective cognizance.

The dual citizenship question appears to be another red herring. My understanding is that when the rules were tightened in 1985, everyone 22 or older at the time was grandfathered in, so that should not have been an issue with regard to Fujimori.

Dice said...

@ jun
Why were the rules tightened in 1985? If anything it's probably made it harder for the government to track those who have more than just the Japanese passport.

Jun Okumura said...

Dice: I’m not sure what you mean by “tracking down”. I don’t think the Japanese authorities are interested in creating a comprehensive list of Japanese citizens with dual citizenship if that’s what you mean. Let me explain a little further what happened and we’ll see if that helps answer your question.

The 1985 legislation gave automatic Japanese citizenship to a child born between Japanese mother and a non-Japanese father. Since this would automatically increase the incidence of dual citizenship—which international legal practice discourages in principle—the legislation also required all Japanese who acquire foreign citizenship by birth after 1985 and intend to keep Japanese citizenship to file a declaration between the ages 20-22 that they would give up that foreign citizenship. (This does not mean that the person automatically loses foreign citizenship, nor does it force him to take legal action to give it up, so it appears to be mainly a symbolic gesture. There’s a little more to it than what I’ve explained, but that’s the best that I can do without doing intensive legal research.) This did not affect Fujimori’s situation in any way substantively or procedurally, since the legislation did not (as I already mentioned) apply retroactively to per-1985 births nor did it do anything to tighten any evidence rules.

LB said...

Okumura-san - the bug in Fujimori's case, as I see it, is that Japan does not allow dual citizenship. Children born with more than one citizenship are supposed to declare which one they will keep when they turn 20. And, legally, "both" is not an option.

Chile recognizes dual nationality, and while the Chilean constitution in effect when Fujimori was elected only says the President must be a Chilean national and does not say "Chilean exclusively", by becoming President of Chile Fujimori was declaring he was Chilean - which inversely and viewed from Japanese law would mean he was not Japanese.

That he was able to come to Japan, "discover" that he was registered as a Japanese citizen at birth and then claim that citizenship (and have the Japanese government go along with it) is what bugs me and a lot of other people. If I am successful in naturalizing in Japan, I have to renounce my current citizenship and provide proof that I have done so within 2 years. If I do not I could have my new Japanese citizenship revoked (in theory). It is this double standard that torques me off about the Fujimori incident. He should never have been allowed to claim he was "still Japanese".

Dice said...

@jun thanks for clarifying, I wasn't sure why Japan would care about dual citizenship if they had know way of knowing who had more than one passport.

Jun Okumura said...

LB: Japanese law “frowns” on dual citizenship. That’s very different from a ban. The declaration only confers an unenforceable obligation to take the necessary procedures to renounce foreign citizenship. It’s a really half-assed measure, but that’s the law.

[B]y becoming President of Chile Fujimori was declaring he was Chilean - which inversely and viewed from Japanese law would mean he was not Japanese.Ethically, perhaps. But the laws doesn’t say so.

[H]e was able to come to Japan, "discover" that he was registered as a Japanese citizen at birth and then claim that citizenship (and have the Japanese government go along with it)Are you suggesting that the Japanese government colluded with Fujimori in faking a registry at birth? Because otherwise, the Japanese government would have had no choice but to accept the evidence. I discount such conspiracy theories for two reasons: One, if I were Fujimori’s parents, I would have made sure to register him just in case, as insurance. (I’ll spare you the personal story behind my conjecture.) Two, a conspiracy on a bureaucratic procedure of this nature requires too many people to keep a secret.

If I do not I could have my new Japanese citizenship revoked (in theory).Bummer. But Japan is far from the only country that discriminates between citizenship by birth and citizenship by naturalization.

He should never have been allowed to claim he was "still Japanese".Perhaps. But that would have been against the rule of law.

Dice: you’re welcome.

LB said...

Okumura-san, I am not suggesting that Fujimori or the Japanese government faked his registration as a Japanese citizen by birth. And yes, it could well be argued that citizenship by birth and citizenship by naturalization are two different things - more than a few countries make that distinction.


If my wife and I were to have children, they would have two citizenships by birth - US and Japanese. They could carry both passports until they turned 20. At that point, under Japanese law, they have to declare for one or the other. That is not "ethics", that is Japanese law. And it is not applying to naturalized citizens, it is applying to citizens by birth. In other words, if a dual-national Japanese citizen by birth reaches adulthood and makes a public proclamation (such as, for example, by becoming president of a sovereign country) that they are a citizen of Country X, then under Japanese law they cease to be a Japanese citizen. That is the law, and that is the way it is supposed to work.

Fujimori had been legally registered as Japanese at birth by his parents. No faking, no conspiracy, the registration at that point in time is an indisputable fact. What should be in dispute is whether that registration should mean anything after Fujimori reached adulthood and declared himself a Peruvian national. I hold, and Japanese law would agree with me, that it does not. By making a public declaration of Peruvian citizenship Fujimori renounced the Japanese citizenship he later claimed he didn't know he had.

Japanese officialdom is not guilty of conspiring to fake his birth citizenship, but they are guilty of ignoring the law in cases like his by claiming that somehow he maintained Japanese citizenship all those years. If Japanese law said, as some other nation's nationality laws do, that citizenship by birth is permanent, irrevocable and unrenounceable that would be one thing. But Japanese law does not say that, and is in fact quite clear on the "one citizenship and one citizenship only for adults" principle (a principle I happen to strongly agree with - one cannot owe multiple allegiances).

Jun Okumura said...

LB: My mistake. The correct distinction (in most situations including the ones we are discussing) is between the dual citizens grandfathered in under the 1985 legislation and those who were not.

Regarding your point about a “proclamation”, the information available to me indicates that some formal procedure under the citizenship laws of a foreign country is required to cause loss of Japanese citizenship and that the mere exercise of the civil rights of a citizen thereof is insufficient. Adding the word “public” does not provide a useful distinction even for legislative purposes; does taking an appointive position in government that requires both citizenship and legislative confirmation make that appointment “public”? How about registering as a voter?

That is the law, though, not being an immigration lawyer, I stand ready to be corrected.

On the purely political level, I can understand the anger and frustration of Fujimori’s opponents at his opportunistic use of his Japanese citizenship. However, given the precarious political history of Latin America until fairly recently, disinterested observers probably nodded their heads and said, smart guy, or something to that effect in Spanish or Portuguese.