Dominican Republic Political Reviews
The tourist paradise of the Dominican Republic has many faces: poverty, corruption, environmental struggle and international conspiracies against the nation’s maritime law.
According to Countryaah, the single largest case in the Dominican Republic in 2013 and 2014 was the sentencing, known as 168/13 in the Constitutional Court, which threatened to deprive an unknown number of Dominicans of Haitian origin of their citizenship. These were uncertain but large numbers: Somewhere between 200,000 and 600,000 people could be hit. In practice, these were Dominicans, born and raised in the country, but with a family background where one or more had arrived in the Dominican Republic from Haiti, with or without the Dominican State’s approval. So there were descendants of potential offenders.
It is a complicated matter to enumerate in Dominican citizenship, and not least when it comes to those of Haitian origin, when very many of them came under poorly regulated conditions. These could be sugar workers with temporary residence permits or workers who arrived in the country illegally or who did not initially have documents from Haiti. Therefore, it was a simplifying factor that the Dominican Republic previously followed jus solis-the principle of citizenship. This means that you are entitled to citizenship if you are born in the country. However, the sentencing from last year opened for scrutiny of irregularities as far back as 1929, and citizenship of people who had never seen any country other than the Dominican Republic was put on hold. This is a new systemization of a practice that has been going on since 2007. The Dominican organization Centro Bonó said in a report on a number of victims of this policy who had been informed that their citizenship had been put on hold because they had “foreign surname” or “French-sounding names.”
This created a huge amount of international debate and strong reactions to the small island nation. Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa compared the Dominican Republic’s practice with Hitler-Germany in a reader letter to the Spanish major newspaper El País, and all the major international media covered the matter thoroughly, including the BBC, Al Jazeera, CNN and the Washington Post.
The decision was partially reversed in May 2014, but the debate is not dead at all.
Nationalist tidal wave
The ruling of the Constitutional Court contributed to a much more polarized debate climate in the Dominican Republic. For someone who regularly follows the big online newspapers, such as Listin Diario and Acento.com.do, it became clearer and clearer that this was just fresh gasoline on an old fire. The struggle is not only about citizenship or not to Dominicans of Haitian origin, but about the Dominican nation’s right to decide over its own borders and territory. Therefore, the significant international reactions to the judgment were interpreted as an attack on Dominican maritime law. As we enter a new round of presidential elections in 2015, there is reason to believe that patriotism will be one of the most important cards in the election campaign.
It is a widespread idea in much of the Dominican public debate – both in and above the commentary fields – that there is an international conspiracy to merge Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The rationale behind this alleged conspiracy is a desire by vaguely defined major powers and “foreign interests” to merge the two countries into one, thus making Haiti the problem of the Dominicans. The enemies of those who see it this way are Dominicans and foreigners working for Haitians’ rights in the country, or descendants of Haitians. It could be Jesuit priests along the border, Dominican-Haitian women’s advocates (MUDHA), the Norwegian-funded Migration Observatory OBMICA in Santo Domingo, or international and local dialogue projects in the border areas. There is a very categorical and dogmatic polarization, where one is either a patriot or one is “anti-Dominican”, “pro-Haitian”, “traitor” or “bought and paid” of foreign interests. The fear is that the Dominican Republic will be silently invaded through a large undocumented immigration from the poorer neighbor in the west. The nationalist party Fuerza Nacional Progresista is the most loud representative of this view, in the political arena.
There were many kinds of rumors in the time after the verdict, among other things, in late autumn 2013, loosely-based rumors spread on social media about massacres of Haitians in the border areas, which turned out to have no root in reality. Error information is nothing new, nor is anything exclusive to this island, but it illustrates another typical feature of treating the Dominican-Haitian conditions: the one-sided portrayal of the Dominican as the uncultivated abuser and the Haitian as the voiceless victim. This tendency can be said to be of great benefit to the most avid nationalists in their propaganda, as it does indirectly confirm the thesis of foreign conspiracies of false accusations against the country.
Broad alliances for Loma Miranda
In the middle of the greenest of the Dominican Republic’s many fertile valleys lies an area called Loma Miranda, which in 2014 has become a symbolic project for a very broad popular alliance and resistance movement. Initially, Loma Miranda is protected by a restrictive development policy for the area, but at the same time it is subject to agreements made with international companies. These agreements allow for mining. A highly debated industry in Latin America in general, and so in the Dominican Republic. After protracted protests against Barrick Gold in connection with the gold mining in the village of Cotuí, it did not take long for Loma Miranda to become a national concern, as the discussion bubbled to the surface as to whether to redoLoma Miranda to a protected area. The Swiss-owned mining company Glencore, through their Dominican subdivision Falcondo, is the activist’s counterpart in this fight. A unified congress – with the exception of a small minority – supported the conservation movement’s demand to create a nature reserve to protect Loma Miranda. In August 2014, Congress gave a thumbs up to a bill to protect the area, but the president sent it back, demanding re-treatment. The reason for this was the consideration of the agreements concluded with the international companies, and the fear of large financial losses for the country if they were overstepped. In February 2015, which is writing time, it is still unclear what will happen to this case.
An interesting feature of the movement behind Loma Miranda is the breadth of mobilization. For example, the State University Department of Santo Domingo (UASD), about two to three hours drive away, set up free bus transport for students and others who wanted to attend. Local people in the surrounding areas, mainly poor farmers, showed strong support. Large sections of the Catholic church also showed up, both in demonstrations and in the tent camps that were set up in the area. People from the region traveled to the area and settled for a shorter or longer period to ensure that no development was implemented. There was talk of cross-class alliances and the political spectrum, both in the mobilization and implementation of the protests. Similar to the 2012 tax reform protests, Loma Miranda engaged broad sections of the population.