The fact is however, whether we realize it or not, America is a model for the rest of the world. And what happens in the U.S. will affect either directly or indirectly, the affairs of many other countries. Being American carries a great deal of weight, because that means that you, yes you, and I have the ability to affect the lives of millions, whether we know it or not. Our votes and our voices are heard, and we carry with us the ability to create change. This is not something that we often recognize as Americans. In fact, like so many other things in life, we take it for granted. Because I was privileged enough to be born American, I have made my way through life with more comforts than I can count, never troubling myself what life might be like for anyone else anywhere else in the world. I have been indifferent about politics because they have never truly affected me in a way that I knew I had to worry for my well-being. But for many nations and many people, this is simply not true. The Dominican Republic is one of those nations.
Being a very young country, the Dominican Republic has been struggling to find its way in the world of democracy ever since the end of its dictatorship in the 1961. One corrupt political party after the next has risen to power and brought the country into a state of ruin. Every day I am forced to bear witness to the blatant and unnecessary poverty of this country. I walk by ragged children begging for pesos, I see the tin-roofed shanties built along a litter-ridden river, I talk to people who work 12 hour days every single day of the week just to scrape by a living, and I am deeply troubled. How can a country with so much natural beauty (sincerely one of the most beautiful places on earth), with such a vibrant culture, with so much passion, be brought to this state of depression?
And lately things have been getting worse, not better. The way things work here are that the political parties are allowed to use government money to support their campaigns. This, among many, many other things, has helped to insure that only corrupt political parties stay in power by using the people's hard earned tax dollars to fund their advertising and continuing to abuse tax money while in office to bankrupt the country. Now, the newly elected president, Danilo, has pushed a fiscal reform through the Dominican legislature, increasing taxes on nearly everything in an attempt to cover the national debt that his (and previous) political parties have accrued. The Dominican people have been consistently lied to and abused. Many are living on the edge of poverty (and not poverty by American standards, but true and devastating poverty), and they are now being asked to give up even more of the little that they work so hard to earn to cover the extravagant expenditures of corrupt politicians.
The country is in an uproar, with protests and strikes being organized weekly. Just the other day, an innocent student was shot and killed by the national police at a protest on campus at Santo Domingo. And now the new government is trying to push legislation through the Dominican Congress that would prevent freedom of speech.
"The legislation includes amendments to the Criminal Code and, among them, one that eventually punishes offensive expressions against the President and the Vice President, lawmakers, judges, electoral and other officials, imprisonment of up to three years and fines as high as nine minimum wages." DominicanToday.
Truly, the Dominican Republic is facing a crucial point in its history. The people are calling for change, for just the chance to make their lives better, to make their country better, for just the chance to give their children a better future. It is difficult to hear their cries and not feel a tug on my own heart.
Being a foreigner, I still have a lot to learn about politics in the Dominican Republic. But there is one thing I do know: Things must change here.
This is not my country. I am not Dominican. It is not my place to fight this battle. But I am American. And you are American. And we can call attention to this cause. The more eyes that are turned on this corrupt government, the fewer places they have to hide. Please keep the Dominican Republic and it's people in your thoughts and prayers for a peaceful resolution to the growing conflicts. And please, remember to recognize how much you truly have, and to be grateful for it.
"President Medina told the public that the reform was the necessary action to take for the country which is experiencing the worst financial crisis in its history. The government is hoping to collect over one billion dollars from the reform. The reform would raise sales tax from 16 to 18 percent and increase taxes on fuel, which is already extremely high [$5.75/gallon] in the island nation. It would also increase taxes on food staples that Dominican families buy regularly."
"The World Economic Forum, a Swiss outfit, ranks the country last for “government waste”. The state hires too many people for non-essential jobs—it has more diplomats in the United States than Brazil and the seven Central American countries combined—and pays them generously. The country’s central-bank president earns 32% more than Ben Bernanke of the United States’ Federal Reserve. Meanwhile, the government fails to fulfil a constitutional mandate to spend 4% of GDP on the country’s ineffective education system"
"The Dominican government is expected to end 2012 with a deficit of $4.6 billion, an amount that represents roughly 6.8 percent of the country's GDP. This budget gap is two times larger than last year's deficit."
"Szterenfeld attributes the spike in the Dominican Republic's deficit to outgoing president Lionel Fernandez who spent millions in infrastructure projects, partially aimed at "securing" his legacy."
"the president [...] has stayed silent in recent days as protests have rocked the country."
Canada, one of the largest countries in the world, has 25 vice-ministers, while the Dominican Republic, a tiny country situated on an island in the middle of the sea, maintains 334 vice-ministers in its cabinet. (vice-ministers are designated by the President to be part of his cabinet and assist him in his functions).
Recently, the Minister of Education, Josefina Pimentel, confirmed that her monthly salary was increased from $4,625 to $7,500 while the monthly salary of a teacher at a public school remains on average $250. The salaries of other employees in the Ministry of Education were also increased.
Despite paying excessively high taxes, Dominicans must additionally pay for basic services in private institutions because the public ones are not efficient or trustworthy:
Most children attend private schools because public education is precarious, school breakfast is of questionable quality, and in the countryside students attend "improvised" schools which the townspeople themselves construct, and to attend classes the students have to carry their books on their backs and CHAIRS on their heads.
Dominicans use private clinics because the public ones are ill-equipped, lack supplies, and their hygiene is questionable.
They pay for an excessively high electric service but still must buy electric plants or inverters because permanent energy is not dependable.
They pay for water service, yet it isn't even drinkable and they must buy water in large bottles or purchase filters and other means of purification.
They pay more than 15 different taxes to possess a vehicle and up to $11.25 for a toll, yet still the public streets and roads are not well-maintained.
They must pay for "couriers" to bring mail and internet purchases because the Dominican Postal Institute is a myth.
So what's the end goal of all these protests?
Well, for starters: To put a stop to the Fiscal Reform. To bring to justice the corrupt politicians (namely ex-president Leonel Fernandez) who abused Dominican tax money to create the deficit. To eliminate the use of the Dominican budget for political campaigns. To reduce excessive government jobs provided to relatives and supporters of the leading party. And to revise and supervise pensions and salaries of government employees.
A picture speaks a thousand words...find more here
Let me finish by saying I don't usually write on political topics, so I've tried really hard to do my research on this piece, to find out as much info as I can from Dominican newspapers, online journals and websites, along with informal chats and interviews with my Dominican friends. I have tried very hard to find out both sides of the story here, and if I am misrepresenting or misinterpreting any information, please accept my sincerest apologies and feel free to share your thoughts.