Democracy at risk for all Dominicans


The international community has justifiably condemned a decision by the supreme court of the Dominican Republic revoking the citizenship of as many as 350,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent. Unfortunately, that decision in September was just the latest in a pattern of cynical, partisan actions that threaten the rule of law and economic growth in that nation.

Dominicans of goodwill must act to restore the probity and independence of their institutions to secure a better future for all of its citizens.

Early this month, the respected Inter-American Commission on Human Rights paid an urgent visit to that country to study the implications of the decision to retroactively apply a 2010 constitutional amendment that redefined citizenship rights, effectively stripping multitudes of their “right to nationality.” The commission urgently issued a series of unambiguous recommendations insisting that the Dominican state take “simple, clear, fast, and fair” steps to “guarantee the right to nationality of those individuals who already had this right” before the ruling.

The court’s decision has been defended as a measure needed to address legitimate concerns over illegal immigration. However, even before this draconian court decision was issued, electoral authorities had refused to provide voter identification cards to thousands of persons of Haitian background.

That is a clue that this dubious decision is likely a shameless political maneuver of the ruling Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) to disqualify voters of Haitian descent who tend to vote overwhelmingly for the opposition Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD). For example, the late José Francisco Peña Gómez, the proud son of Haitian immigrants, was a pillar of the PRD.

The PLD’s boss, former President Leonel Fernández, has named his partisans to the supreme court and the electoral tribunal — which explains why these important institutions of the state serve his political interests. For example, the current chief justice, Mariano Germán Mejía, was Fernández’s law partner, and another justice, Marta Olga García, is the sister-in-law of Miguel Vargas, a fellow caudillo with whom Fernández is conspiring to hijack the opposition PRD.

Although the electoral tribunal is supposed to be a panel of impartial magistrates who run all national elections, its members were chosen based on their loyalty to Fernández and/or the ruling PLD. Fernández has wielded his absolute control of the tribunal to rig recent elections to deny the opposition party proportional representation in the congress; for example, although the PRD won nearly 42 percent of the nationwide vote in 2010, it claimed only one of 32 Senate seats.

The former president’s egregious manipulation of state institutions to build a “one-party state” is chronicled in a report issued in November by the prestigious Washington, D.C., think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), authored by veteran U.S. Senate advisor Carl Meacham. Meacham highlights a brazen maneuver by Fernández to make a pact with former PRD candidate Miguel Vargas to usurp control of the PRD, oust the party’s strongest leaders, and undermine the party’s ability to muster a viable campaign against the ruling PLD.

“The Superior Electoral Tribunal (TSE) has ensured the continued disunity of the PRD,” Meacham reports. “Given its discretionary involvement in preserving Miguel Vargas’ PRD presidency — and its decision not to engage in the party’s expulsion of former president Hipólito Mejía — some fear that the TSE is playing an undue and decisive role in crippling the PLD’s primary opposition.”

Dysfunctional institutions will trap all Dominicans in corruption and economic decline. According to Transparency International (TI), the country is ranked 123rd in the world in terms of corruption; only Venezuela, Paraguay, Honduras and Nicaragua have worse ratings in the Americas. A State Department report this year noted that, “Corruption remains endemic at all levels of Dominican society. Dominican law enforcement, military, and government officials are often accused of a range of corrupt activities including narcotics trafficking, money laundering, extrajudicial killing and other crimes.”

Not surprisingly, the CSIS report notes that Fernández or his allies have been accused of corruption, money laundering and other serious crimes. For example, Vargas was accused in sworn testimony earlier this year of accepting $300,000 from reputed drug kingpin Jose David Figueroa Agosto in 2008.

Haitian Dominicans are not the only citizens paying a price for systematic corruption. Perhaps the current international scandal generated by the Supreme Court’s careless ruling will spur the nation’s political class and civil society to agree on an urgent overhaul of its judicial and electoral institutions. Only then will the Dominican Republic return to being a good neighbor and productive partner for both the region and the United States.

Roger F. Noriega was U.S. ambassador to the OAS and assistant secretary of state during the George W. Bush administration. He is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and managing director of VisionAmericas LLC, which represents U.S. and foreign clients.

Read more Other Views stories from the Miami Herald



    RPOF’s deliberate strategy to twist the truth

    As a lifelong Republican and a legislator for many years, I have seen a disturbing change in the Republican Party of Florida, its policies and its tone. I’m particularly troubled by the willingness, if not deliberate strategy, to twist the truth.

 <span class="cutline_leadin">CIVIL RIGHTS:</span> Attorney General Eric Holder talks with Capt. Ron Johnson of the State Highway Patrol after arriving in Missouri on Wednesday to look into the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson and the ensuing protests.


    State leaders strangely silent on events in Ferguson

    The silence scares me.



    Unequal access, unequal results at Miami-Dade County Schools

    The research is clear that teachers are the most significant in-school factor affecting student achievement. Yet, across the country, we see a persistent and shameful pattern, whereby low-income students of color are far more likely to have the least experienced and least effective teachers.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category