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“We Want Democracy!” Mass Protests Continue in Dominican Republic After Local Elections Suspended

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Thousands in the Dominican Republic took to the streets of the capital Santo Domingo Thursday to protest the abrupt suspension of local elections earlier this month and to commemorate the country’s Independence Day. Protests have been ongoing since February 16, after the government suspended the municipal elections four hours after voting began, alleging there were “technical glitches” in the electronic ballot machines used. The machines were previously used in October 2019, and they cost the Dominican government $19 million. The Dominican people believe the alleged technical glitch is just an attempt by the ruling party, the Dominican Liberation Party, to hold onto power as they’ve lost support. Protesters are now demanding an independent investigation into what happened in the local elections, as well as for the resignation of Dominican election board officials. Dozens of solidarity protests have emerged around the world, from Spain and France to New Jersey and here in New York City. We get an update from Amanda Alcántara, Dominican-American journalist and digital media editor at “Latino USA.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, we turn now to the Dominican Republic, where thousands of people took to the streets of the capital Santo Domingo Thursday to protest the abrupt suspension of local elections earlier this month and to commemorate the country’s Independence Day. Demonstrators wore black and held signs that read “democracy” and “punishment for the corrupt.” Massive protests have been ongoing since February 16th, after the government suspended the municipal elections four hours after voting began, alleging there were “technical glitches” in the electronic ballot machines that were used. Reuters reports the machines cost the Dominican government $19 million. But many Dominicans believe the alleged technical glitch is just an attempt by the ruling Dominican Liberation Party, the PLD, to hold onto power as they’ve lost support. This is one of the protesters in Santo Domingo Thursday.

NICOLLE COASCU: [translated] We want to know what happened with the suspension of the municipal elections. We want answers. Young people are 40% of voters this year, and we deserve justice, as we have demanded in recent days.

AMY GOODMAN: Protesters are now demanding an independent investigation into what happened in the local elections, as well as for the resignation of the Dominican election board officials. This is Eduardo Frei, president of the observer commission with the Organization of American States.

EDUARDO FREI: [translated] The Organization of American States calls on the electoral authorities in the Dominican Republic and the political actors of the country to maintain an honest and constructive dialogue to face the next steps that should be undertaken, faced with this complex reality.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Eduardo Frei. Municipal elections have now been rescheduled for March 15th. Meanwhile, dozens of solidarity protests have sparked Dominican communities all over the world, from Spain and France to New Jersey and right here in New York City, where thousands of people demonstrated last weekend in Washington Heights, a predominantly Dominican neighborhood. Nationwide, there are at least 1.87 million Dominicans living in the United States. Some 40% of them live here in New York City alone.

For more, we’re joined by Amanda Alcántara. She is digital media editor at Latino USA and also Futuro Media. She is a Dominican-American journalist and author of Chula, a bilingual collection of poems and short stories about the life of a Dominican woman before and after moving to the United States.

It’s great to have you with us, Amanda. If you can start off by talking about what all these protests are about? What happened with the elections in the Dominican Republic?

AMANDA ALCÁNTARA: Yeah. So, these protests are basically people taking to the streets and saying our right to democracy and our right to exercise self-determination has been taken away from us. We’re talking about a country where people have been disenfranchised in many different ways. We’re talking about a country that is predominantly populated by people living in poverty. And this is the one thing that they have to be able to claim any right to whatever happens to the future of their country. So, imagine people standing in line for three to four hours, because that’s when the elections were canceled, and being told, “You now have to go home, because the elections are no longer happening.” So, people were angry. They were confused. And starting on that very Sunday afternoon, mostly youth started taking to the streets and going directly to la Junta Central Electoral — that’s the Central Electoral Board — in Santo Domingo to protest and to demand answers.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, of course, the ruling party in the Dominican Republic has been in power, more or less, for what? About 20 years now?

AMANDA ALCÁNTARA: So, over 18 years. So, I like to talk about sort of like my own age, right? So, I’m 29 years old, and they have been in power almost my entire life. You know, so, like, ever since I’ve had any sort of political understanding, I’ve only known the PLD. And that, to me, is insane.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s go to thousands of people who were in the streets right here in New York City in the Dominican community in Washington Heights to protest the suspension of the municipal elections in the Dominican Republic. This is one of the protesters, Yolis Pérez.

YOLIS PÉREZ: [translated] I’m a professional who had to migrate from my country in search of a better future for my daughter. My daughter’s generation needs us to truly wake up and that we clean up our country for them.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, the passion of the people here, as passionate, of Dominicans here, as they are in the Dominican Republic. Talk about the diaspora of the Dominican Republic. And also, can people vote here for the Dominican Republic elections?

AMANDA ALCÁNTARA: So, yes, people can vote here for the Dominican Republic elections. Sometimes there’s this sort of nickname that we have, specifically for the community in New York, and that’s Provincia 33. Right? So it’s sort of like the 33rd province of the Dominican Republic. And, you know, I think, even for me, being part of the diaspora, we care so much about what’s happening in the country, because a lot of the issues that happen in the Dominican Republic and a lot of the conditions of the people there actually lead to there being such a widespread diaspora. I mean, we’re talking about Dominicans being not only in New York City, not only in different parts of the United States, but there’s a large population of Dominicans in Spain, and there’s Dominicans all across the globe. And I think these protests are actually — have become an opportunity for people to almost come out and say, “Hey, you know, we’re Dominicans, and we’re also living in the exterior. And we would love to live in our country, but it’s difficult to live there, because of these very issues that are happening.” You know?

And earlier you asked me about the PLD, right? So, people are saying that there was attempts at fraud. You know, so whenever people went to the ballot and they tried to vote for their candidate of preference, some of the candidates were not showing up on the ballot. And this is very, very questionable. It’s very shady, to say the least. And people see this as an attempt at sabotage. You know, this is the first time in 18 years, or the first time at least in a decade, when the PLD is no longer ahead in the polls, you know, when, instead, it’s the opposition party — which is also questionable — is ahead in the polls. Right? So, this is the first time when the PLD might not win the elections. And they found themselves in a situation of fear, and instead of allowing for the democratic process to happen, people see this as an attempt at sabotaging that democratic process.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you about the attempt to redo the election. This time they’re going to paper ballots, because the problem, apparently, they claim, was that this was an electronic voting system that somehow malfunctioned, as if we haven’t heard this story before.

AMANDA ALCÁNTARA: Yeah.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Didn’t we just hear about Iowa? Haven’t we heard about all these other problems with electronic voting? So now they’re going back to the old-fashioned paper ballot. And then they have a presidential election in May, isn’t there?

AMANDA ALCÁNTARA: Yeah. That’s correct, yeah. So, these elections were not only meant for people to choose their local leaders — and we know how important it is to choose the mayor that represents you, to choose the regional leader that represents you — but these ballots were also going to create momentum, or were an opportunity to create momentum, for the opposition come the presidential elections. Now that momentum has been lost, you know, because there is no credibility in the election process. And we have no idea what’s going to happen on March 15. Also, they spent $19 million on these voting machines. And people are angry about that. A lot of the signs that I have seen in protests, you know, they say, “These dollars, they went to the trash.” How can you spend $19 million and all of that, and the machines don’t work? Like, you can’t do that.

AMY GOODMAN: There’s been no connection between Dominican Republic and Iowa that’s been uncovered, has there?

AMANDA ALCÁNTARA: Not that we know of, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

AMY GOODMAN: But also, Amanda, you talk about this, and, Juan, you write about this in Harvest of Empire. Talk about the history of the Dominican Republic and U.S. relations there, with U.S. soldiers moving into the Dominican Republic, invading the Dominican Republic in 1965, and then how that shapes modern-day Dominican Republic.

AMANDA ALCÁNTARA: Yeah. So, you know, there were memes popping up during the — on Sunday of the face of Joaquín Balaguer. And the meme was basically him laughing and saying, “Wow! You don’t even know how to properly steal an election.” You know, so, Joaquín Balaguer was the man that the United States helped put in power once there was a U.S.-backed coup in 1965. And he was president — you know, I like to talk about this a lot, because I feel that Dominican Republic doesn’t get — I feel that people normally look at Trujillo, right? The Trujillo dictatorship that lasted 30 years, that was like a very, very tough, stronghold regime where a lot of people were killed, a lot of people were disappeared. And they think, “OK, after Trujillo happened, we had democracy. That’s it.” And that wasn’t the case.

Balaguer was president starting from the — like the late 1960s up until the early 1990s. We’re talking about like two to three generations of Dominicans who saw Balaguer on and off in power. And his was also a right-wing sort of strong regime and a repressive regime. And people are already seeing the connection, you know, between his time in presidency and also how long the PLD has been in power and how they have crushed the opposition.

And talking about U.S. interventions, there was an article in The Washington Post that came out where Giuliani — we’re talking about President Donald Trump’s attorney — was in the Dominican Republic consulting for Luis Abinader, who is the opposition leader. You know, so already the other opposition parties are saying, “Well, this guy is trying to get U.S. backing,” because, in the end of the day, it is the U.S. that has a stronghold in Dominican Republic, and foreign American investments that have a stronghold in the country.

AMY GOODMAN: Final words, as we move into March 15th — of course, this is something we will cover — and whether you feel the government will hold fair elections?

AMANDA ALCÁNTARA: I think the government has no other choice but to hold fair elections. I think that if they don’t, there’s — the people will no longer accept, you know, not having fair elections, right? So, I’ve been thinking about, you know, what does it mean for people to be taking the streets to today, for people to be taking the streets in historic numbers, and whether this can cause change or not. And I don’t think that institutional change is going to happen from one day to the next, but I do think that the people now know that these elected officials are accountable to you. You know, so, if, on March 15 — we don’t really know what’s going to happen, but if the elections are not fair and if they’re not transparent, which is what the people are demanding, I think the protests are just going to continue.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’ll continue to cover those, as well. Amanda Alcántara, digital media editor at Latino USA. Dominican-American journalist, author of Chula, a bilingual collection of poems and short stories about the life of a Dominican woman before and after moving to the United States.

When we come back, we look at the fight to save a New Jersey elementary school that serves a large Latino community in New Brunswick, New Jersey, from the forces of a healthcare industry and gentrification. Stay with us.

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