The year 2020 has seen the democratic fallacies of one particular nation unraveled in front of the eyes of its citizens, all within the premises of a presidential election. Acts of political corruption, racial injustice, and evident tactics to remain in power have pushed the people to vote out those in power to usher in a new administration. Now the future of its democracy lies not only with the new government, but also with the decisions of the people and whether or not they are complacent with the results of the election.
What’s even more rare is that with this short description, one could come to the conclusion that the country in question is the United States; the ongoing protests have caused more Americans to pay attention to systemic racism embedded in the country, all within the months leading to the Presidential Election. However, there is another nation, approximately 1,998 miles south of the US, with circumstances similar that occurred at the beginning of this year: the Dominican Republic.
The Dominican people rose on February 17, 2020, after the Central Electoral Board (JCE) suspended the municipal elections, the first occurrence in the history of their government. Their justification was due to irregularities found in the electronic voting system, however, voters believe that this tactic was to instead benefit the rising unpopularity in the current ruling party, the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD). Their theory is based on the missing names of opposition candidates on the voting system; the PLD has dominated Dominican politics for nearly two decades.
This act was watering the seed that has been long implanted into the fallacies of Dominican Democracy, as citizens have felt the weight of political corruption since the beginning of President Danilo Medina’s 1st term in 2012. Medina came in with a promise to tackle political corruption at its head, but Transparency International’s Corruption Index indicates that with a score of 28/100, he has done the exact opposite.
The Medina Administration:
Medina has built a tract record when it comes to political corruption under his two terms as President. The possibility of his second term was a result of that corruption, as by the constitution, Presidents weren’t allowed to run for a consecutive term. The ability for sitting presidents to change their term limits is not uncommon, especially in the past 20 years. When Medina came into office, it had only been two years since the last reform, which prompted his reform in 2015, which allowed for presidents to run for a consecutive term.
However, Medina’s alleged strategy to get Senators to pass his reform revolved around the now infamous Odebrecht scandal, where the Brazilian conglomerate was involved in bribery scandals all across Latin America. The PLD-led government received $92 million to secure construction projects across the country, and those payments were then used to bribe Senators to support his 2015 constitutional reform. The exposure of the scandal led to nationwide protests, and Medina’s failed proposal for a third term only led to more hatred for the PLD government. While there are many acts of corruption that fall within the Medina administration, there is one action he committed that falls in line with not only the government, but with the social culture in the country: the treatment of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent.
The Dominican Republic has a violent history with its neighboring country, Haiti, that can be characterized by colonialism, racism, and oppression. After Dominican Independence from Haiti in 1844, there was a mass migration of Haitian that looked for work in the Dominican Republic, who exploited them with unfair wages in unbearable living conditions. It wasn’t until Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo that antihaitianismo became a staple of Dominican society.
Trujillo envisioned a “whitening” of the Dominican Republic, as he wanted his nation to resemble the Spanish colonizers, instead of the African and indigenous people those same colonizers enslaved and killed. To do so, he headed a very anti-black, haitian rhetoric, inevitably leading to the parsley massacre, where Trujillo sent Dominican soldiers to the border and killed 5,000-30,000 Haitians in the span of five days. Trujillo was nothing more than a fascist bigot, but his policies elevated the social divide and colorism in the Dominican Republic. In today’s culture, Dominicans coincide white features with education, beauty, opportunities, etc. That shuts the door not only on Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent, but any Dominican who is black.
This anti-black/Haitian rhetoric carried under the Medina administration, as the Constitutional court revoked the birthright citizenship Act in 2013 for children of undocumented immigrants from 1929-2007, leaving thousands of Haitian descendents stateless. The act was criticized globally by human rights organizations, and while Medina established a pathway to citizenship, that route doesn’t grant any pre-existing rights because they maintain belief that these people were never Dominican nationals. There is an entire community that is completely left stateless and has little opportunities, not only because of the government but of the social hierarchy in the Dominican Republic.
New Government and what the future of Dominican Democracy entails:
The protests in February rode its momentum into the polls in July, where the Dominican people voted in Modern Revolutionary Party (PRM) candidate Luis Abinader as President of the Dominican Republic. Abinader, like Medina, also vowed to tackle political corruption, but has actually made some strides in that area, such as establishing an independent Attorney General. Luis Abinader has also focused on social programs, such as the construction of 30,000 homes for low-income families, as well as vocal and technical programs for youth ages 14-24.
Although this president shows promise to return to a more stable democracy, he has also played into the societal norms of casting out the Haitian population. In 2016, he blamed the PLD government for the amount of “illegal” Haitian immigrants and stated that his government would not make the same mistake, although he stated it would be in respect to human rights (Even though calling humans “illegal” throws respect out the window). Even when asked about the stateless Haitians and the border situation on the Woodrow Wilson Center, he neglected the former of the question and focused on the latter, stating that they need to focus on technological advancements on the border. With all of this said, Abinader boasts a 84.5 percent approval rating, showing that the Haitian stance doesn’t matter to the Dominican population.
Like the United States, the social issues in the Dominican Republic are not going to be solved by the transition of a President. These issues are embedded within the culture of everyday Dominicans and it takes groundwork to unlearn the centuries of anti-blackness and work towards a more equitable future. While Luis Abinader shows promise for an upwards in Dominican democracy, Dominicans should not forget that because of their ability to protest against the masses, there came an end to the 16 year reign of PLD politics. At the end of the day, it is their will that can alter the thread, and they must be willing to do so in every facet on Dominican society.
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“El presidente Abinader continuará en SFM con el programa Dominicana se Reconstruye.” El presidente Abinader continuará en SFM con el programa Dominicana se Reconstruye | Presidencia de la República Dominicana. https://presidencia.gob.do/noticias/el-presidente-abinader-continuara-en-sfm-con-el-programa-dominicana-se-reconstruye (December 6, 2020).
“Un 84.5% valora como positiva gestión de Luis Abinader.” Un 84.5% valora como positiva gestión de Luis Abinader | Presidencia de la República Dominicana. https://presidencia.gob.do/noticias/un-845-valora-como-positiva-gestion-de-luis-abinader (December 6, 2020).
Collado, Ramon. June 25, 2020. “Punta Catalina: Power and Corruption in the Dominican Republic.” Transparency International. https://www.transparency.org/en/blog/punta-catalina-power-corruption-dominican-republic (December 18, 2020).
Gamboa, Liliana, and Bingham, Laura. January 13, 2015. “Internal Exile: The Plight of Dominicans of Haitian Descent.” World Politics Review. https://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/articles/28571/in-the-dominican-republic-protests-could-challenge-the-ruling-party-s-grip (October 13, 2020).
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Marsteintredet, Leiv. 2019. “How the Dominican Republic Successfully Resisted Presidential Term Extension.” ConstitutionNet. http://constitutionnet.org/news/how-dominican-republic-successfully-resisted-presidential-term-extension (September 27, 2020).
Reyes, Aristides. April 2, 2016.“Abinader acusa al Gobierno de llenar país de haitianos.” El Nacional. https://elnacional.com.do/abinader-acusa-al-gobierno-de-llenar-pais-de-haitianos/ (December 6, 2020).