Tag Archives: Education Reform

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.

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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.

Colombia: Students Organize Against Law 30

4 Jan

Student kisses police

Student kisses police as an alternative to violence

Colombia's Hug-A-Thon

Students hug riot police


Last year was one of action in Colombia. Not because of anything to do with the FARC or drug cartels. No, what Colombia saw last year was students uniting together for a common cause. If any of the Occupy protesters in the US want a lesson in creative, effective, nonviolent protest they need only to look to Colombia. Colombia joined Chile in student protests when the first draft of the proposed reform of Law 30 was announced.

March of last year, President Juan Manuel Santos announced the need to reform higher education. He proposed a reform of the 1992 law, Law 30, a law which deals with higher education. The reform attempted to privatize education by encouraging private investment and by creating for-profit schools.

The students are against the reform of Law 30 for several reasons. The law would allow private investors to fund public universities which would force students to acquire debt and decrease public resources. Some students say that private funding is a step toward corporate control of the education system. Sara Yaneth Fernandez, vice-president of the Association of Professors for the University of Antioquia, was quoted saying, “Public education has a social interest. Private organizations have personal profit interests,” adding, “We are against changing the essence of the public universities in Colombia.”

The law would also increase the number of students in the classrooms which would mean the student to teacher ratio would increase and students would have less access to supplies. The students call this a ‘promotion of mediocrity’ by threatening the quality of education. Students also protest that the law reform would discourage education to develop skills for innovation and self-transformation. They say that they would be taught ‘to push the button, not to create the machine that made it’. Students are also concerned that subjects like humanities would be seen as ‘unprofitable’ and be dropped. The law would turn education into a product rather than a right. Justifiably, this proposed reform made students across the country irate and they took to the streets to voice that anger.

On April 7, thousands of students and teachers took to the streets of Medellin, and even more nation wide, in opposition to the education reforms. They closed down several main streets in the city. As a result of the protests the Minister of Education, Maria Fernanda Campo, said she would open a national debate with students. Later in August, after much public unrest regarding Law 30, President Santos promised to withdraw the for-profit section of the proposal of the reform. However, on September 7th thousands of students took to the streets in Bogotá to continue protesting Law 30. The students stated that the Law was still an attack on education.

President Santos presented the bill to Congress on October 4th, however, the bill seemed to not reflect any prior deliberations or debates, it only exhibited the government’s interests. That week the President addressed the student protests and reaffirmed the government’s commitment to the proposal of reform of Law 30. He criticized the students who continued to protest saying, “there is no worse deaf person than one who doesn’t want to hear.”

Following President Santos’ actions, on October 12th, there was a huge nationwide protest against Law 30. In Bogotá, 30,000 marched in the streets to Plaza Bolivar. Riot police clashed with protesters and used tear gas to attempt to disperse the protesters. In Medellin, 10,000 marched in the streets, nationally over 250,000 students took to the streets. Tragedy found the protests that day when a medical student in Cali fell down during the protest and activated a potato bomb which killed him. While a small minority of protesters resorted to violence and vandalism, the majority of the protesters across the country remained nonviolent and peaceful. The students gave the government the deadline of November 10th to completely withdraw the bill or they would block major streets in all participating cities.

By the end of October students nationwide were on strike and not attending classes or school activities, instead they were on the streets trying to defend their right to education. They did so peacefully and creatively by having a hug-a-thon where they hugged police instead of confronting them. They had a besatón where they blocked major city streets by kissing each other. They organized flashmobs in malls and open canelazos, a national beverage used to gather people around the fire which incited public deliberation. There protests were peaceful, creative and persistent.

On November 9th President Santos offered to withdraw the proposal of Law 30. Still it was no enough for protesters who were out on the streets in protest the following day. Bogotá saw over 20,000 students on the street protesting, despite the rain. The students said they would continue to protest until the law was actually withdrawn.

Then in the middle of November, after students had been on strike for five weeks, the Congress voted to withdraw reform of Law 30. Students and activists hailed the vote as a victory. The National Alternative Education Board said in a statement, “there were three conditions – first, that this reform package was withdrawn; second, that the government showed a willingness to build a new reform package, and lastly that there were guarantees regarding finishing the semester. All this has been accepted by the government and so we will end the strike right now.” While students vowed to return to class, and ninety percent did, there will still some who did not view this as a victory. Students at University of Antioquia, for example, felt that there were more demands to be met.

For those of us that study social movements or even those of us that have been following the failing ‘Occupy’ protests, Colombia’s students were victorious. Despite what the Colombian government may say the protesters had clear demands, they were persistent and despite a very small percentage they were peaceful and nonviolent. The government met their demands and the protesters ended their strike and returned to school. Yet, no social movements are ever completely over, there is always a next step. With this movement the protesters must make sure that the government does not try to implement the proposed reforms in another matter. Regrettably, I believe that Colombian students will have to take to the streets again in order to defend their education, but hopefully not in the near future.

Chile- The Fight for Education

15 Sep

You don’t have to spend that much time with me before I start to bring up Latin American current affairs or make references to Latin American policies. It is no secret that it aggravates me that the news in the US is blasted with events in the Middle East but yet you truly have to dig to find out what his happening in Latin America, a region right next to us. That’s why it is no surprise to me that while, recently, it has been impossible to escape news on protests in Egypt and Libya; I have heard nothing about Chile’s student protests in the mainstream media here. No, I learned about it the way I normally have to learn about what is happening in Latin America by following the right people on Twitter and knowing where to dig on news sites. It saddens me because what is happening today in Chile is historical and something Latin America and the world could learn a lot from.

Protests for education have been happening recently across Latin America, from Puerto Rico, to the Dominican Republic, to Mexico and to Colombia. However, the protests in Chile have gained the most attention as students, educators and Chilean citizens have been continuously protesting since May. The protests in Chile have brought together hundreds of thousands of Chileans across the country, the country has not seen protests this large-scale since the return of democracy in 1990.

The protesters are fighting an unequal and segregated education system which has become more privatized recently. The protesters want public school to be run by Chile’s Education Ministry, instead of local governments. Public schools being run by local government increases the inequality between rich and poor districts. Chilean officials have focused primarily on access to education as opposed to quality and equality. The quality of public school education is extremely poor.

Meanwhile, to attend a university, even if it is public, students have to pay enormous amounts of money. “They know that Chilean universities are the most expensive places to study, that advancing in higher education depends more on the university you leave than your own merits, that success isn’t guaranteed.”, said Bernardo Navarrete, a political analyst at the University of Santiago. Chile has the most complex financing system of education in the region. The education climate that people are experiencing in Chile is one where a parent has to decide which child to send to college. Higher education fees are normally higher than minimum wage. Only a small percent of Chilean youth, the wealthy percent, have access to quality schools and do not have to go into lifelong debt to receive it.

Why is education so important? Education is the foundation to the society, with strong education comes strong leadership and positive change. To simply put it, better education will lead to a better country. The musical group Calle 13 has been publicly supporting the movement in Chile. The leader Rene Perez was quoted saying, “Education is fundamental. The easiest thing for a government is to have a public that is uneducated so that they won’t fight for their rights. There needs to be free and public education.” When a country has free, public, quality education there are more opportunities for the middle and lower classes to achieve a higher economic level, society gaps close. With more educated minds there are more people to contribute to the country, more minds to work on scientific, technological, and of course political problems. That is why education is so important, and why free, quality education needs to be achieved not only in Chile but across Latin America.

The protests in Chile started as isolated boycotts by high school and university students. In early June protests started with anything from pillow fights in the streets to a huge flash mob of students dressed like zombies dancing to ‘Thriller’, to traditional peaceful rallies. Since the beginning of June hundreds of thousands of high-school and university students have been boycotting their classes as a means of protest. Several cacerolazos (a protest consisting of banging pots and pans) have been carried out. Protesters have also been occupying University of Chile’s campus, right next to the Presidential Palace. The protests have been large, although the Chilean government will try to convince you otherwise, and they have been consistently occurring for months.

On August 1st, the government announced 21 policies and proposals for the development of education including writing into the constitution the right to quality education. However, on August 5th, protest leaders rejected the government’s proposal stating that they want a profound change to the system not just an improvement. A few days later there were mass protests across the country. The news focused mainly on the violence cause by few protesters who broke off from the crowd, but the majority of protesters remained peaceful. Mostly, it was the police whom acted aggressively with the protesters firing water cannons and tear gas into the crowd. Since the protests started two students have been killed by bullets and hundreds of student protesters have been arrested.

Pinera’s government has scrambled to try to end the protests which have cause a nose dive in his popularity. On September 3rd, the President met with student leaders. Both sides discussed a twelve point petition submitted by the Confederation of Chilean Students that outlined demands for education reform. While the two sides agreed on some issues, like a constitutional guarantee to the right of quality education, they also disagreed on many central topics. Most recently, Chile’s Education Minister proposed working groups to find solutions to the conflict for education reform. Just this past Monday students handed over a counter-proposal with four guarantees they want from the government before participating in working groups. The guarantees were: to freeze two bills given to congress in August on education reform that were drafted with no student nor teacher input, to have TV and online coverage of the working groups, to end state funding for profit-based education institutions and, lastly, postponement of the end of the first academic semester, which could leave thousands of students without credit for a partially completed semester. The protesters have been quoted many times saying that they have no idea how this all will end, but they know they are making some sort of change.

One unique aspect of these protests has been who has been at the head leading the masses, the face of the uprising, Camilla Vallejo. Vallejo is a 23-year-old student who serves as President of the University of Chile’s Student Union. Vallejo has her own police protection now, after receiving several death threats. Vallejo has always preached peace to the protesters reminding them that the fight is not against the police but a peaceful fight for education. When discussing Vallejo I can’t help but compare and contrast her with Mexico’s Javier Sicilia (who you can read about in my What the Heck is going on in Mexico? blog) They both are the faces of movements for hope of a better future for each of their respected countries. They both emphasize maintaining peace in their movements and protests and both won’t settle or make half way deals with their governments. However, unlike Sicilia, Vallejo is not an old man in a cowboy hat and a multi-pocketed vest, no Vallejo’s youth and beauty has captivated the nation and the world. Vallejo is very aware of this and uses it to her advantage. She was quoted saying, “You have to recognize that beauty can be a hook. It can be a compliment, they come to listen to me because of my appearance, but then I explain the ideas. A movement as historical as this cannot be summarized in such superficial terms.” And unlike Sicilia, Vallejo is still very young, and it is because of this that Chile is buzzing with hopes of a political future for her.

There is no way of telling what the end result of this movement in Chile will be. But this movement has already accomplished so much I can only imagine that this movement is headed towards success. Perhaps Chile will be a model for movements for education reform across Latin America, a catalyst for movements in the region. They are already happening in Latin America, but from what I have seen they have not reached the level of Chile. I have not followed many of the other education movements closely, except for the Dominican Republic’s 4% movement. Last year, there were calls for the Dominican government to increase the amount of the GDP spent on education to 4%. Two days last year the entire country wore yellow in support of the movement. But there needs to be more, the Dominican needs to follow Chile’s model it’s laid down. The Dominicans, and other citizens of Latin American countries, need to hit the streets in peaceful protest and continue to protest until their demands are met. Today Chile is seen as the beginning of a huge shift in Latin America. Hopefully one day, Chile, the Dominican Republic, and all of Latin America will have education that is accessible to all, free for all and of high quality for all.

I want to leave you with the video of the Chilean students ‘Thriller’ flash mob. (Take note of the stray dogs trying to figure out what is going on) Thriller