In the Dominican Republic, A Search for Democracy
Written by: Indhira Suero Acosta Photos by: Adolfo Sesto
It is challenging to write about how the Dominicans feel after the suspension of the municipal elections on Feb. 16. Extremely difficult to try to maintain my objectivity as a journalist and not let my feelings and ideas influence this article, ever since — for the first time in the democratic history of the Dominican Republic — the elections were canceled.
On Feb. 16. Dominicans were set to elect 3,849 municipal officers.
We had a new automated voting methodology under a new electoral law, as well as the observation of international delegates from 20 countries.
That Sunday, early on, there were reported problems in municipalities that represent 62% of the electoral roll — where voting would be automated. In places such as Distrito Nacional, Santo Domingo, Santiago, La Romana, and San Pedro de Macorís, the candidates of some parties did not appear on the electronic ballots. Voters could only see the candidates belonging to the government party, or Partido de la Liberación Dominicana (PLD).
At around 11 a.m., the president of the Central Electoral Board, Julio César Castaños, announced to the country that: “Without a ballot that is not complete, for all parties, that election cannot be made, for elementary reasons. It is a real shame that this happened.”
The international observers of the Organization of American States (OAS) followed Castaños’ statements with their own.
Presidential candidates asked to clarify what happened.
“We express our deep indignation over the events derived from the suspension of municipal elections, constitutionally called for today,” said Luis Abinader, candidate of the Partido Moderno Revolucionario. “It constitutes an unprecedented event and a serious democratic outrage that Dominicans have not been able to exercise the right to choose and be elected as enshrined in the Constitution and Dominican laws.”
“As a citizen and candidate for president of the PLD, I feel indignation and demand a rigorous investigation into everything that happened. And that the eventual leaders fall [under] the full weight of the law,” said Gonzalo Castillo in a speech to the nation that was broadcasted on television, radio and social networks.
“The only party that strangely was not affected by any of these anomalous circumstances was the ruling party, whose current leadership, for some time now, has been cultivating unscrupulous conduct of disrespect for the Constitution, of ignorance of democratic institutions and of breaking the popular will,” said former president Leonel Fernández.
President Danilo Medina would speak to the country the next day, in the middle of a great blackout that impacted most of the sectors of the National District, the Metro of Santo Domingo, the Teleférico, as well as several provinces in the interior.
“It is in situations like this when we must show the measure of our leadership, acting with due prudence and at all times putting the interests of the country above the partisan interests,” said Medina.
That same Sunday, Manuel Regalado, a Claro telephone company technician, was detained by agents of the Dominican National Police. He reappeared two days later in a health center, with a sprained foot and shoulder trauma supposedly caused during police interrogations. Regalado was accused, along with Colonel Ramón Antonio Guzmán Fernández, of electoral crime. He was arrested — for the second time — on Feb. 19 and released on February 21st.
“Dios, Patria y Libertad!” Guzmán cried as he left the Palace of Justice that day.
The Dominican Government released the accused after instructing the Public Prosecutor to suspend the investigation conducted against Guzmán Peralta y Regalado. The decision of the Executive Power came to “give time to a special investigation conducted by the Organization of the American States, which can shed light on the failures of the automated equipment used in the last municipal elections.”
The reason? The dwindling confidence that, in general, the Dominicans have in the police and Attorney General’s Office.
Besides, according to a news article, the government’s action to request the Public Prosecutor’s Office to stop the investigation into the ruling on the automated voting equipment, “highlights the political control of the decisions of the Executive Power in the actions of the Attorney General’s Office and calls into question the independence of the persecuting body.”
Even in 2020, the Dominican Republic still needs international organizations to organize things.
The division of the elections, in municipal and congressional and presidential, caused much controversy among public opinion makers. We’ll have presidential and congressional elections on May 17.
Dividing the electoral elections represents a double expenditure of money and resources, in a country where economic growth does not translate to the entire population. For example, for the last elections, they released 11,000 kits of automated voting at the cost of almost 19 million dollars that would be allocated to 62 percent of the electoral roll. The rest would vote manually.
The General Budget Directorate informed that “as of January 24th, the sum of 3,182.9 million pesos had been credited to the account of the Central Electoral Board, to complete the amount required by the electoral body for the holding of these elections.”
A press article also writes that when the Central Electoral Board requested its budget for this year, it informed that it would allocate 8,377,508,998.43 Dominican pesos for the two electoral processes.
I don’t even know how to translate so much money into dollars.
A new generation
After the failed municipal elections of Feb. 16, a significant number of Dominicans feel fed up.
Since Feb.17, peaceful protests continue in various parts of the country.
In the Plaza de la Bandera, in front of the Central Electoral Board, young people and adults demand clarification of what happened with automated voting, transparency, clean and legitimate elections.
From agglomerations, people moved to “cacerolazos” (banging pots and pans) in houses, buildings, shopping centers, and universities. These are similar to the ones held in Colombia, Bolivia or Chile during the past year.
This series of protests and cacerolazos raised the faith of many people who had lost it. Especially in youth.
A younger generation that, according to surveys, wants to leave the country.
Amid this recovered faith, however, three points need to be addressed:
1. Most marches and protests take place in middle-class neighborhoods. How are we going to work in marginalized communities?
2. Who to vote for in the May presidential elections? Here’s an example of the results of the second monitoring carried out by the platform PolétikaRD, from Jan. 27-Feb. 16.
The non-partisan platform follows the discourse of presidential candidates on media and social networks. “The results of this monitoring are worrying because of the poverty of the speech of our presidential candidates,” PolétikaRD said in a statement. “The majority of this monitoring being a total silence or lack of specificity on the part of the candidates in most of the issues of interest to the citizens. So far we have no real commitments.”
3. As journalist Argénida Romero wrote, most of the protests concentrate in the Great Santo Domingo and several cities of the interior. What happens in the countryside? In the deep south? On the border. In central Cibao?
I don’t know how to answer those questions, but I hope that this situation improves with clean elections on March 15 and, then, on May 17. Most of all, I wish that the surge of love for the homeland and positive patriotism continues among Dominicans, especially the younger generations.
It only remains to wait.
Indhira Suero is a cultural journalist, columnist, broadcaster, press analyst and university professor. She created Negrita Come Coco, a character that promotes popular Dominican culture through social networks. She’s also an Ambassador for SembraMedia, a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing the diversity of voices and content quality in digital media in Spanish in Latin America.
Adolfo Sesto is a photographer and architect, exploring the vulgar in search of authentic intimacy. Urban meditations on existing and inhabiting, without nostalgia or romanticism, exaggerating the world. 6 years of experience working on event photography (mostly with musicians). Dog lover (about 10). In 2014 he worked with the Dominican Architecture Laboratory in “La Feria Concreta”, the first national exhibition of the Dominican Republic at the Venezia Biennale. His artistic work has been published in various media in the United States, VICE and Arquitexto.