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Domestic Violence in the Dominican Republic

30 Nov

In the Dominican Republic gender-based violence is the fourth highest cause of death among women. Every two days a woman is killed in the country by an act of violence. Domestic violence is something that is culturally accepted in the machismo society. Now, the congress in the Dominican Republic is going to vote on a bill which would ease punishments for domestic violence perpetrators.

The Dominican Republic recently celebrated the fifty second anniversary of the death of the Mirabal sisters. The Mirabal sisters were killed by the Dictator Trujillo, the anniversary of their death is dedicated to them with the International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women. But despite their efforts violence against women is increasing in the country. The Dominican Republic has a very machismo, male dominating, culture which contributes to domestic violence. In the country there is a higher percentage of women to men unemployed and women who are employed make significantly less than men. This makes many women feel powerless towards their husbands. Women feel like they cannot leave an abusive home because they would have nowhere to go. Women are treated as lesser to men. It is common in the country for employers to require pregnancy tests before hiring women. In this year alone Women’s Health Organization estimates that there has been at least 163 femicides reported. UNIFEM reported that 70% of Dominican women experience violence at some point. In the past six years over 1,300 women have been killed in the country due to violence. Men dominating women and domestic violence are part of the culture, education efforts need to be made to change that.

Many domestic violence incidents never have a complaint filed. Many women are not aware of the resources available. The majority of women killed by domestic violence never file a complaint. The system of filing domestic violence complaints in the Dominican Republic is severely flawed. Of the complaints that are filed only four percent receive judgment and less than half receive convictions.  The agencies that are responsible for helping women with domestic violence do not take it seriously. There are not enough offices in the country and the offices they do have are ill-equipped. Those that work in the office are not trained in dealing with domestic abuse. Many women who do file complaints are forced by their partners to retract them. In order to report domestic violence there are many barriers and prejudices that women have to go through.

Despite the tragic domestic violence situation in the country lawmakers are reviewing a proposed bill that would ease punishments for domestic abuse. Domestic violence went unprosecuted for decades; it was not until 1997 that the Dominican Republic passed its first domestic violence law. The proposed bill would eliminate provisions including gender based violence. One provision in the bill would make domestic violence a serious offense, with a maximum sentence of 30 years, only if the result is death or injury that lasts up to 90 days. The current law on domestic abuse determines severity based on the action, not on the physical result. The proposed bill would also reduce the sentence for sexual abuse of a minor from 5 to 3 years. The bill would also eliminate the maximum sentence for incest. The law would also make all forms of abortion illegal, even if the mother’s life is in danger. The bill is a huge step back in women’s rights.

The proposed bill has sparked outcries from women’s rights and human rights groups. People protested the bill outside of the congress building holding cardboard coffins to represent the victims of domestic violence. If the bill is passed it would severely harm women’s rights, in a country that is already unsafe for women.

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Danilo Medina Becomes President of the Dominican Republic

17 Aug
President Danilo Medina & former president Leonel Fernandez, photo via Diario Libre

President Danilo Medina & former president Leonel Fernandez, photo via Diario Libre

President Danilo Medina and Vice President Margarita Cedeño, photo via Diario Libre

President Danilo Medina and Vice President Margarita Cedeño, photo via Diario Libre

Thursday morning at the National Assembly in Santo Domingo, Danilo Medina became the 56th president of the Dominican Republic. For twelve years Medina had been fighting for the seat of power in the country, which he finally won. Medina’s inauguration speech was chalk full of promises many Dominican citizens have long been waiting for. While Medina’s speech left many hopeful, it also left many wondering what he is actually going to get accomplished. His words were good, but now the Dominican public is waiting for action.

In part of his inauguration speech Medina declared, “Today I assume the most significant commitment for a public man, to defend and dignify my country. With a heart full of joy I promise to deliver the best of me for the welfare of my people and the greatness of my country.” Medina kept that same mood of hope and promise throughout his speech touching on subjects such as corruption, education, heath, poverty and tourism. He announced several new programs and plans of reformation.

Part of Medina’s focus during the speech was crime, security and corruption. In the Dominican Republic, as in much of Latin America, corruption is blatant and a big source of corruption comes from public officials, like politicians and police. In his speech Medina promised to put an end to the impunity and create a code of ethics for public figures. He said he would contribute to develop and to fortify the moral and ethical government that he promised during his campaign. With that promise Medina announced the creation of a new program, Vivir Tranquilo (Live Calmly) , the program will fortify police presence in neighborhoods of high crime.

As part of his civil safety policies Medina plans to reform the National Police, including improving agents salaries, getting better equipment and transforming the academy. Hopefully, the National Police improves as they are now unmotivated to protect citizens and regularly stop motorists just to ask for pocket change. Medina also plans to have a center of information with a map of crime in the country in order to start taking preventative action. In the next couple of months he said he will announce the details of the operation to create a 911 system to better attend to citizens during an emergency. “I want to reiterate once more my firm commitment to the life and the security of our men and women.  I do not want a town that is scared to go on the street, I do not want any more of our youth losing their lives, no more homes destroyed by the violence” Medina declared.

During his speech Medina also stated his plans to boost the economy through increasing one of the country’s greatest revenues, tourism. He declared that he set a goal of bringing ten million tourists to the country in the next decade. He plans on doing this by making Dominican tourism more inviting to private investors by the execution of programs and projects that are considered priorities. He hopes that the efforts will encourage the industry of cruises to make the Dominican Republic a home port of the Caribbean.

Energy has long been a problem in the Dominican Republic. Electricity comes and goes through out the days in homes, and those who are not wealthy enough to have a generator have to make do with no electricity for good portions of the day. Medina declared that by 2016 the energy problem will be over. He is creating the Department of Energy and Mines to be “like an organ responsible for the formulation, evaluation and control of the strategic politics of the energy sector of our country.” He declared the energy sector a high priority for the national economic development.

Poverty and development were also big focuses in Medina’s speech. He announced a new program, ‘Land Without Misery’ that will focus on the most vulnerable populations. The program’s goal is to reduce poverty and social inequalities, to promote and defend the family economy and to contribute to the nutrition of the country. Medina hopes that the new program will break the vicious cycle of poverty in the Dominican Republic. He also plans to revise health care in order to make sure that all impoverished families are incorporated into the Family Health Insurance Program. He hopes that health care changes will decrease maternal and infant deaths. Social issues need to be at the focus of the Dominican Republic’s politics as a great majority of the country lives in poverty.

What I saw as one of the great achievements that came out of Medina’s speech is his promise to focus on education and his acknowledgment of the 4% movement. For over a year the Dominican public has been pleading the government to dedicate 4% of the GDP to education in order to battle illiteracy and the country’s poor quality education, the plea has even become a social movement. In his speech, Medina promised that in 2013 the country will invest 4% of the GDP in education, and he also stated that he plans to restructure the Ministry of Education. Medina said that by 2016 he plans for 80% of schools to incorporate eight hour days, with enriched curriculum and the necessary resources for good learning. (Currently most schools in the Dominican Republic have half days) Medina promised to end illiteracy in the country by September 8, 2014. He acknowledged that education is crucial for a strong society.

In his speech Medina called the Dominican citizens to action. “The time has come, let’s get to work, without weariness, without stinginess and without reservations.” He told Dominican citizens “We are all united in this work. Continue to do what is right, correct what is bad and do what you have never done before.” Medina’s speech was inspiring, it focused on what needed to be focused on and made essential promises. However, while the speech left many inspired, it left many interest groups asking where he plans to get the money to fulfill his promises. Medina is coming into a government that has severe economic problems, with a deficit that surpasses 50,000 million pesos. Many are doubting that he will be able to accomplish much, since there is so little money. Medina himself addressed the worry admitting that he will not be able to fulfill all of his promises, at once. While words are good, and Medina definitely talked a good talk during the inauguration speech, actions hold more value and many are waiting to see just what actions Medina will take. Medina’s former running mate Hipolito Medina said, “My support of Medina will depend on his acts.”

I would love to see everything that Danilo Medina promised during his inauguration come to pass. The Dominican Republic is in need of citizen security, the end of corruption, quality education, literacy, effective electricity and social services. However, I like many, wonder what Medina will actually be able to get done. Much like Barack Obama who came in with high hopes and several promises, poor economy can stand in any politicians way. Medina’s inauguration did bring a new hope to the country, but now it is time for action.

Los Ranchitos

18 Jul

Here are some pictures from my recent trip to the Dominican Republic

Los Ranchitos

Los Ranchitos

River in Los Ranchitos

One of the creeks in Los Ranchitos

Some of the donated supplies and medicine

The busy waiting room of the clinic

One of our volunteers with Judy’s uncle, a diabetic with amputated legs

A store in Los Ranchitos

Homes in Los Ranchitos

Judy cooking breakfast for us in her home

Two cousins who shine shoes after school to make money to bring home to their mothers

Escape is Often Needed

18 Jul

Two girls outside their home in Los Ranchitos

I realize that I have been missing in action recently, not posting blog posts as frequently as I would like. And while I was having some WordPress difficulties trying to posts updates about the Presidential election, which has since past now that my blog seems to be fixed. I have also been busy with something much more exciting.

Towards the end of May, right after the elections, I headed to the Dominican Republic to start a new project of mine, Mariposa International. As of now, Mariposa International takes volunteers to the Dominican Republic to experience the culture and volunteer. For our first trip we brought five medical professionals who spent a week in the capital taking Spanish classes and going on tourist excursions. The second week we stayed in San Jose de Ocoa and worked in a small town named Los Ranchitos. We brought luggage filled with medical supplies and boxes full of medication to the clinic in Los Ranchitos. A clinic who normally sees about fifty patients a day and is run by one doctor sent from the capital to spend her year-long residency working in Los Ranchitos.Over the course of three days our medical volunteers saw about 120 patients.

While this was the first trip and had the as to be expected hiccups, the trip was overall successful. After the trip, I have even more ideas for Mariposa International floating around in my head than before. While our focus as of now is to take different volunteers from the US to the Dominican Republic to work we have many other projects in mind for the future. In December, we will be launching a new program, yet to be named, bringing Christmas to the kids in Los Ranchitos. We will be taking down toys and clothes that we will distribute to the kids in Los Ranchitos at a holiday party.

The future and possibility of Mariposa International excites me. It was a lot more work than expected but I’m so excited for the growth of the organization. But for me, just being in Latin America is a breath of fresh air. Here in the United States we are so obsessed with living the ‘American Dream’. We live a life driven by consumerism. We always want the latest clothes trend, the newest shoe, the hottest hairstyle. We are unknowingly focused on ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ (or nowadays the Kardashians) as we want our homes filled with the nicest items to impress our friends. This drive of consumerism turns us into hoarders. In order for us to keep this hoarder lifestyle we become obsessed with work. We are like animals pushing down others in order to get what we want, success and promotion. We spend five days a week tied to a desk, glued to a computer in order to get the paycheck we so desire. We give ourselves only two days a week to do want we want, which normally turns into errands we can’t get done the rest of the week. Most of us are convinced that this is just the way of life, and that finding a job that you love is as likely as winning the lottery. This is the reason I need to get away to the Dominican Republic, or Latin America in general, to remind myself that this consumerism, work obsessed gloom is not life.

Los Ranchitos, the town we were working in, is a small town bordering the road that connects Ocoa to the capital. Almost none of the homes in Los Ranchitos have running water and many do not have electricity. The common house has a cement floor, tin roof, wood walls, curtain doors and outside kitchens and bathrooms. Most people in the town, if not tradesmen like a father taught mechanic, work on local farms and orchards. What Los Ranchitos lacks in fortune it makes up in beauty. Los Ranchitos is naturally beautiful surrounded by lush green mountains and a river with creeks running through. The people in Los Ranchitos are not consumed by the desire to buy new things, they are not obsessed with having the new trend. They are happy if they go through a full day without the electricity going out, they are happy when they have some extra change to buy a cold Presidente, the national beer. One thing I’ve always loved about Dominicans is that they do not need a good reason to get together with their friends. They leave their job stress at the office and meet their friends still in their work clothes, they don’t put their life on hold during the week, only allowing themselves fun on the weekend. Even when I have visited offices in the Dominican Republic people often seem to be having fun, joking around with co-workers. Being in the Dominican Republic always reminds me of what life is really about, not being stuck in an office, not being obsessed with having the latest trend, not about keeping up with anyone. Life truly is about family, friends and being happy.

While the American Dream is perhaps false there is something that we benefit from in the United States which is our healthcare. While our healthcare system isn’t as accessible as it should be it is better than in most countries. Most of the patients we saw in Los Ranchitos were in the clinic for routine, non grave issues. However, some of the patients definitely stuck out in my mind. Judy, the woman who opened her house to us and cooked for us all week brought as to see her uncle and aunt. Her uncle is a diabetic who has amputated legs and is in a wheelchair. His wife was recently hit by an automobile and is now also in a wheelchair. Another patient who stuck out to me is a twelve-year-old boy who came in for a common cold. He was so sweet but so shy. When the nurse I was working with left to get medicine the woman he was with started to explain to me that she is not his mother. She explained to me that both of his parents were hit by a truck and killed, leaving him an orphan. The woman who was with him was the local pastor, who had since taken him in and has been raising him. Right after him a mother and her fourteen year old son came in. The doctor who works in the clinic pulled me aside when they were coming in to explain to me that the mother is HIV positive. They are Haitian which means Spanish isn’t their first language and the boy is unable to go to school. The mother’s health is in poor condition, she had bad rashes and scabs up and down her legs and pneumonia. Although the Dominican government provides free AIDS medicine to those who cannot afford it, the closest place for the mother to go to get it is Ocoa. When we asked her why she had not been going to get her monthly medicine she said it was because she did not have the money to get to Ocoa, a trip that costs about $1.25. We considered giving her the money to get to Ocoa, but realized that she probably would end up spending the money on her children not herself, also it is a regular treatment that she needs. Without proper treatment, that we were unable to provide, this mother will not live for very many more years, leaving her now fourteen year old son to take care of the family. Throughout the appointment it was obvious the shame that this mother felt, she did not make eye contact and sat in a submissive manner. In the Dominican Republic, Haitians are treated as outcasts, I could not imagine being a Haitian with HIV in the Dominican Republic. I hope that Mariposa International will eventually be able to help these patients more, by a scholarship program or some other way. These patients made me realize just how lucky we are, even for the little things. The kids were so amazed by the toothbrushes we gave them, and the mothers so thankful even for soap. To be healthy, to have a healthy family is more than enough.

Even for me, someone who has been traveling to the Dominican Republic for ten years now, each time is a new experience. A new reminder to be thankful for what we have, a reminder that life is not work, that life is not about what you own. I am excited to continue to bring volunteers to this country I love so much, to open their eyes to a new world outside their own. I hope that future Mariposa International volunteers will develop a love for the country and people and realize what is truly important in life.

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.