The Political Stage in the Dominican Republic

27 Jan

Hipólito Mejía

Hipólito Mejía

Danilo Medina

Danilo Medina

The world of politics in the Dominican Republic is one which is overrun with blatant corruption. Where knowing the Head of State will secure your finances as long as they are in office. Where being appointed to a government position has nothing to do with your experience or educational background but rather who you know and who you are friends with. Where there has been more constitutions, thirty-eight in total, than any other country, an indicator of the political instability. Where people are murdered for trying to expose the truth or change the system. Where political events rarely receive international attention. And now where the country is gearing up for an exciting presidential election this May.

Political discussions in the Dominican Republic sound nothing like those here in the United States. Rarely do they consist of whose policies are better, but instead they focus on who will feed the family more. In the campos, the rural countryside towns, it is a long-standing practice for a campaigner to go and hand out money, bags of rice and liquor to those in need in order to secure a vote. In the capital it consists more of which candidate a family has connections to, because those connections will lead to paychecks. In the Dominican Republic a person can go from living on a dirt floor to living in a huge mansion all based on who they know in the government. But Dominican voters also make it no secret that they are tired of the corruption dominating their country.

Democracy is still very new to this small Caribbean nation. A democracy which political scientists would call a ‘soft democracy’ meaning still very vulnerable and new. The early 1900s saw US occupation in the Dominican Republic. In 1930 began the rise of the ruthless, brutal dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo. Trujillo was finally assassinated in May 1961 after more than thirty years of forced disappearances, torture, terrorist methods against opposition and genocide. In 1966, after five years of unrest and military rule Joaquin Balaguer, the last puppet-president of Trujillo, won the presidential election. Balaguer remained in power as president for twelve years, his presidency was filled with human rights abuses and repression of civil liberties. In 1978 the Dominican Revolutionary Party(PRD) rose to power with President Antonio Guzman Fernandez (who is suspected of committing suicide while still in office) and then in 1982 with Salvador Jorge Blanco. During the rule of the PRD the Dominican Republic saw restoration of human rights and a more liberal style of government. However, Balaguer regained the presidency in 1986 and held the position for the next decade. But Balaguer’s victory in 1994 brought on strong international criticism of fraudulent elections so Balaguer agreed to serve only two years of the four-year term. Mind you in 1994 Balaguer, who had ruled the country for several decades, was now eighty-eight years old and completely blind.

Leonel Fernández won the 1996 presidential election as a result, many say, of Balaguer throwing his support behind him. Balaguer supported Fernández once his vice president lost the primaries. Leonel of the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) focused on economic reform and participation with Western hemispheric affairs. In 2000, PRD candidate Hipólito Mejía was elected president when he beat PLD candidate Danilo Medina. Mejía campaigned on the platforms of education reform, economic development, increased agricultural production and poverty alleviation. He also worked to increase relations with Central America. In 2004, Leonel Fernández of PLD won the presidency again.

On May 16th Dominicans, both in the country and abroad, will vote for their new president. Leonel has now been in office for eight consecutive years and is unable to run again. Leonel’s wife, Margarita Cedeño de Fernández, ran for president in the primaries with the slogan ‘Llegó Mamá'(Mom has arrived) but lost. She is now running on PLD heavyweight Danilo Medina’s ticket as vice president. Medina’s campaign slogan is ‘Lo Mejor Para Todos'(The best for everyone). The other main contender for president is PRD candidate Hipólito Mejía who is running under the slogan ‘Llegó Papá'(Dad has arrived). From what I gather from my long political discussions with my friends from the Dominican Republic is PLD is more right-wing while PRD seems to be more left-wing.

Supporters of Danilo believe he will continue Leonel’s policies and keep the country developing. Leonel supporters have credited him with advancing the Dominican Republic’s technological and infrastructure development, such as the metro train, and for keeping monetary stability. Danilo supporters also believe he will keep crime under control, during Leonel’s presidency he started enforcing clubs to close at 12am. But PLD’s critics worry that if Danilo wins it will just be another four years of Leonel ruling. Many criticize the multimillion dollar a month budget that Margarita apparently has and the many others on Leonel’s payroll.

Supporters of Hipólito believe that he will help small businesses, agriculture, adequate housing and education. The last couple of years in the Dominican Republic there has been a movement demanding 4% of the GDP go to education, a movement which Leonel’s administration has ignored. Hipólito supporters believe that with him the movement has a greater chance of success. His critics, however, say that he will ruin the economy like he did during his last presidential term, where the country found itself in one of the worst economic crises, with three major banks collapsing. Also during Hipólito’s last term drug trade and other illegal activities rose.

As for me, I’m not sure which candidate is better, or rather which one is less worse. What I believe is that the Dominican Republic needs is change, true change. Both of these candidates have been the faces of their parties for a long time, they are old news. I would love to see a fresh face rise up in politics in the Dominican Republic. One with fresh ideas and passion for the people, one who the Dominican public could enthusiastically throw their support behind. As far as the high level of corruption, I think it is so expected that unfortunately even if a new candidate rose up who was against it they would be forced into nepotism and paying people off, if not they would most likely get death threats.

I believe the real hope for the Dominican Republic lies in its youth. If the Dominican Republic really started focusing on quality education, and if children were taught the importance of social justice, democracy and fair politics the country would have a better chance. Dominican children need to be inspired to change their country, change their circumstances, make opportunities for themselves and taught not to accept corruption as the norm. New life needs to be breathed into the youth in the Dominican Republic in order for the country to progress. While there may not be much hope for change or progress in the Dominican Republic’s current political setting by investing in the youth there could be hope for the future.

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