A popular president, with the door glowing for corruption
The current president, Danilo Medina, is significantly more popular than his predecessor, Leonel Fernández. Medina was previously accused of being Fernandez’s nod, one who ruled in anticipation of the actual boss coming back, but he has emerged as a more independent president than so. For example, in the fall of 2014, he opposed a bill that would criminalize all forms of abortion in the country. This led to considerable protests from the powerful Catholic Church in the country, but at the same time to ovations from both the women’s movement and the liberal sections of civil society. Another reason for the president’s popularity could be a large-scale literacy campaign that has been carried out.
So Medina is better off than the “boss”. Latinobarometro presents figures that show that there has been a significant change in the question of whether one is positive about the government’s work. In 2011 – under Fernández – 36 percent said they were satisfied. Of the 18 countries on the list, this gave a 17th place, which is the second worst of all. In the 2013 report, however, the Dominican Republic is the country where the government receives the most recognition, with 74 percent saying they are happy with the current government. This is a radical improvement that can partly be explained by the change of government.
Danilo Medina clearly appears as a different kind of president than Leonel Fernández. The latter came to power for the first time in 1996, including through a public handover from compatriot Joaquín Balaguer, and an openly racist campaign against opponent Fransisco Peña Gómez, in which his alleged ties to Haiti were used actively to spread mistrust. Fernández’s style has always been of pomp, splendor and big cardboards. He appears as an elegant, eloquent and highly educated statesman of international casting, with a clear distance to his subjects. He must also have become a wealthy man during his years as head of state, and among the opponents he is the very face of an overly corrupt Dominican state. Danilo Medina acts far more humbly, and he runs a tight, but apparently successful, balancing act in his politics.
President Medina probably also won some Dominican hearts when he spent the entire eleven minutes of speech he gave before Congress on National Day February 27, 2013, to attack mining company Barrick Gold. This can be seen as the predecessor of the Loma Miranda fight. Medina received standing applause and cheer from congressmen when he made the demand that the agreement between Barrick Gold and the Dominican state be purely spiked exchange and it had to be renegotiated as soon as possible. What he did not say, however, but which an attentive Dominican newspaper picked up, was that the same agreement they are now protesting had been approved by Congress three years earlier. 75 percent of those present and giving Medina standing applause had also been there when voting on the agreement with Barrick Gold. 11 had voted against, and 115 voted in favor.
When it comes to the corruption issue, President Medina has a style that is more reminiscent of Joaquín Balaguer and his “corruption stops at the door to my office” style. It is not that he has stopped the corruption, but he is not directly associated with it in the same way as Fernández. It can be said to be strange. As an example, extensive lists of Dominican officials and women who receive staggering monthly amounts from the state have recently been published without having worked. This is another proof of an extensive purchase and sale of loyalty. A widespread way of rewarding each other in the political class is through real or fictitious government appointments. This has not changed under President Medina. According to The Economist, the Dominican Republic has “more diplomats in the United States than Brazil and the seven Central American countries together”.
Based on Transparency International’s data for 2014, consulting firm Deloitte recently published an overview of the perception of corruption among government employees and politicians. The Dominican Republic achieved better results than in the previous survey two years ago, but still has only six US countries on the list, including neighboring Haiti. Overall, the country ranks 115th among the 175 countries surveyed.
Former President Fernández, for his part, is currently meeting regularly with demonstrations, at home and abroad. A public and presumably highly politicized campaign is underway, trying to put some of his best-known allies in charge of corruption charges. The most famous of these is the businessman and Senator Felix Bautista, who has become one of several faces for the lack of transparency and intelligence in the country. That Bautista may have to stand trial, however, is not in itself a matter of any structural change, as accusing him of bribes and dirty play may as well be part of a political game to blackmail Leonel Fernández ahead of election campaign.
The Caribbean poverty factory
Although much is written about the relationship between the Dominican Republic and neighboring Haiti, this is not what appears in Latinobarometro’s overview of the Dominicans’ perception of the country’s main problems according to Countryaah.com. Instead, it is access to paid work (23 percent) that tops the list of the country’s most important challenges, ahead of crime (15 percent) and low wages (12 percent).
The distribution problem seen throughout Latin America also applies here, with 69 percent perceiving the distribution of resources as either “unfair” or “very unfair.” This injustice is easy to observe. You see it in the maids, whom you meet in every home, from the lower middle class up. A maid can work 10-12 hour days for a family, without fixed working hours, without the right to complain, without organizing, and still risk not having enough left at the end of the month to keep the family going. The police are another version of the same story. Similarly, a policeman earns a quarter of what is considered minimum to provide food on the table to an average family.
If you are hospitalized without the proper insurance, your family must go out on their own and obtain the blood needed if you are going to have surgery or for other reasons need blood transfer. As a college student at the state universities, which is the everyday life of the majority of those studying, you enjoy virtually free education. But – unlike those who can pay for private education – you are then pretty much obliged to accept every approach from the lecturer and institution. How many subjects can you take per semester? All the way up to the university. Does the lecturer choose not to teach? Your problem.
The middle class is also squeezed, in the form of an increased tax burden in recent years, which primarily “affects” those who have little, but not so much. “Frames, because the widespread corruption and misuse of government funds also leads to deep skepticism when it comes to paying taxes. The experience that the tax money goes to building the country must share space with the knowledge of the widespread corruption and all the privileges that benefit the elected officials and the upper layers of government employees (and especially the “employees”).
Freedom follows your wallet. No revolutionary insights, per se, but this is more true in the Dominican Republic than in most other places on earth. Journalist and economist Miguel Ceara Hatton published in 2013 an analysis of the Dominican economy in the years 2000-2012. There, he concludes that despite a positive development at the macro level, the country is still among the countries in the region with the most unequal distribution of resources. In addition, knowing that Latin America is the region with the greatest inequality on the world scale, we can conclude that distribution of goods is one of the country’s key problems.
If this is visible to the visitor’s naked eye, then great attention is also paid to various studies and reports from the past couple of years. The World Bank’s latest publication (2014) on the state of the country is simple and straightforward: When wealth is not shared. There it appears that GDP per capita has increased by as much as 50 percent in the years from 2000-2011, but that this has nevertheless not improved the lives of a large part of the population. The leveling has not been close to the general upswing in the economy. They point out that around a third of the population is poor, despite being able to work, and mentions as one of their most important three tips for introducing a “leveling, efficient and sustainable” tax policy. Another report, from the Dominican Central Bank, claims that 96 percent of Dominican households do not have sufficient funds to cover all the expenses they face. Dominican journalist Minerva Isa wrote an article series about the social inequalities in the newspaper Hoy, in which she described her country as a factory that produces poor and criminals. So it is an institutionalized form of exclusion, a wild policy, with few other possible exits.
Despite serious challenges when it comes to the environment, citizenship and international relations, perhaps the extreme inequality between citizens is the biggest challenge for the country in the years to come. There are no visible signs that this will change, but a steady attention in the Dominican media can – if nothing else – help spread awareness around this.
Capital: Santo Domingo
Population: 10.61 million (2016)
Life expectancy: 78.1 years (2016)
Infant mortality: 18.1 per 1,000 (2016)
GDP per capita (pp): US $ 15,900 (2016)
Religion: Catholicism 95%, other 5%
Official language: Spanish
Currency unit: Dominican pesos
Export items: Gold, silver, cocoa, sugar, coffee, tobacco, meat and consumables.
Regional relations: Member of CELAC, PetroCaribe, CAFTA-DR and OAS.