The Dominican Republic is a fairly new democracy, emerging as recently as the late nineties through collaboration between the Christian Reform Party and the Dominican Revolutionary Party. In 1994 the two parties came together to form a “pact for democracy” which ignited increasingly democratic election processes. However, in the wake of these new democratic trends, various characteristics of democratic erosion arise. Political corruption and state led violence sparked nonviolent protests and civic engagement within the Dominican Population.
The Liberal Democracy Index for the Dominican Republic between 2000 to 2019 suggests there are three observable periods of democratic backsliding. The two periods of erosion most closely related to nonviolent protest are between 2001-2003 and 2014-2015. In 2003 President Mejía bailed out the Intercontinental Bank, who’s main executives had been given a ten-year prison sentence for fraud of upwards of 55,000 pesos. The effect of his actions left prices higher than ever, the Dominican peso depreciated, and the country was forced to fall back on international credit unions to avoid economic collapse. Soon after this discovery, organizations band together to plan a march in Santo Domingo, and led two strikes in which an estimated 95-97% of the country participated in.
These strikes generally called for a reduction to prices within the family market, fuel prices, the transportation fare, while calling for increased wages. It also urged for the renationalization of privatized energy enterprises, and called to end agreements with both the IMF and urged an end to the increase of national debt, while lastly ending the free trade agreement with the U.S. Further strikes additionally demanded the resignation of Hipolito Mejía, and with about 90% of the country’s participation, successfully shut down the country for two full days.
Between 2014-2015 it became apparent that the Dominican Republic was one of many countries involved in the Odebrecht scandal. Money being sent from the Brazilian construction giant, to the Punta Catalina coal-fired power plant with the intention on landing in the pockets of Politian’s. The scandal paid off officials on such a large scale that it created Division of Structured Operations, a unit meant solely for handling bribes. Rightfully so, the legitimacy and integrity of Dominican officials was now jeopardized, leaving voters skeptical of the intention of their leaders.
The Green March became product of the Odebecht scandal, where tens of thousands of protesters flocked to the streets of Santo Domingo to carry out the biggest protest in decades. The protesters waved the Dominican flag, touted posters with faces of guilty politicians, and chanted in unison calling for the resignation and end to impunity for said politicians. This large scale protest went so far as to reaching the streets of cities across the U.S. where many Dominican immigrants marched in respect for the Green March happening in their home country.
It comes to no surprise that corruption and distrust between the government and its people breeds tension likely leading to political activism and civic engagement. In the case of the Dominican Republic, it is quite impressive to observe the lengths at which this newly democratic population passionately pursues the transparency characterized by democratic institutions. The persistence of the Dominican civilians and their efforts to gather, strike, and march in a nonviolent manner goes to show the extent to which they demand their voices be heard.
In a 2012 publication by Chenoweth and Stephan, The Success of Nonviolent Resistance Campaigns, the pair break down the importance of nonviolent protests. In a study called Nonviolent and Violent Campaigns and Outcomes (NAVCO) they found that the success rate of violent insurgencies has declined, claiming changes which occur as a result of successful nonviolent resistance create much more peaceful democracies than those stemming from violent insurgencies. The active participation rate for nonviolent resistance is far more than that of violent resistance which broadens the base of resistance therefor handicapping the opponent’s ability to maintain the status quo.
The highlighted levels of corruption seen in the Dominican Republic successfully created an active civilian population, willing to resist their shady economic and political elites in a nonviolent manner. Violence however, still persists at a state level. The peaceful protest held by Dominicans were repeatedly met by police brutality, many leading to lost lives. Following the Green March, protestors claimed police beat and illegally detained a number of citizens. Several officers were even seen on video planting illegal drugs in one activist’s car. In 2003, civilians protesting heightened prices, power cuts, and economic policies were met with deadly force by police, leaving at least five dead.
Given that the Dominican democracy is relatively new and evolving, the outcomes of the most recent protests are still being analyzed. However, the current President Danilo Medina, has proven to be an optimistic candidate for more transparent and democratic practices. Winning voters over by virtue of his sympathy for society and the respect for great international leaders. After two and a half decades, the Dominican citizens finally have a President who seemingly has their best interest in mind. Following the last few waves of protests, casting attention on corruption and abuse from authorities, demanding justice and an end to impunity, while handling various unnamed struggles; the Dominican Republic is just one example of how ordinary civilians can protect and enhance their democratic institutions, while holding economic and political elites accountable.
This is a very interesting story about how citizens can come together to resist democratic backsliding, and if 90% of the country went on strike, that means people of different political persuasions worked together.
It’s interesting to read the story and can see the same happening within my country, Jamaica. Politicians have been accused multiple times of using the government’s money for their own personal gain. Jamaica had a similar scandal to the Odebrecht scandal in the Dominican Republic. In Jamaica the scandal involved the state owned oil refinery. The leader of the oil refinery was paying out illegal contracts and over-reporting the company’s annual profits.
It’s unfortunate, but not surprising to see just how deeply rooted corruption is in the Dominican Republic, especially with the officers who are supposed to be protecting citizens from drugs and violence, instead of being the ones perpetuating it. Even in countries with a higher scores on democracy, like America experience this which is why I say it is not surprising. However, it is nice to see that citizens are pushing back against this and are working to assert their rights so that the country can be led and the people supported by someone that is not working in their own self-interest.
This article does well in establishing historical context when it comes to democratic erosion in the Dominican Republic. The nation’s democratic roots can only be traced back to the late 70s, and since then it has been captivated by numerous instances of political corruption. However, the big thing I disagree with is the statement that Medina is an optimistic candidate who promotes transparency and democracy. Medina was president during a lot of the listed events in this article, and was a major figure in the election meltdown that caused one of the biggest protests in the nation back in February. His administration was a major factor in elevating wealth divide and political corruption, and so saying that the nation finally has an honest president castes this belief that the Dominicans are on the right track in reimplementing democracy, when in reality, even after voting in a new president, there are still questions to answer.