Democracy and rights

Abbreviated as DOM, the Dominican Republic is a democracy where regular elections are held. However, the institutions are weak and the corruption stubbornly bites itself. The situation is difficult for tens of thousands of Haitian insurgents who live as stateless.

The elections are described as predominantly free, although what was held in 2017 was followed by a debate on inadequate electoral laws. Criticism has also been raised about unequal conditions of party funding and access to media.

Politics are characterized by strong personal fixation, and most presidents rule the country as self-sufficient patrons. After each election, many public servants are replaced. The job is used as a kind of reward to those who supported the presidential election campaign. This leads to a lack of continuity and experience within the state apparatus. The bureaucracy is ineffective and corruption is widespread, as is the impunity. Bribes and purchased votes are common. It contributes to politician disdain and weak confidence in the authorities.

In Transparency International’s index of corruption, the Dominican Republic is ranked 137 out of 180 countries. It is significantly better than neighboring Haiti, which is, however, second to none in the entire Western Hemisphere (before Venezuela). Dominican Republic placement is in roughly the same strata as Mexico and Central American states such as Honduras and Guatemala (the entire list is available here). A corruption scandal in 2017 triggered extensive demonstrations (see Calendar).

There is freedom of assembly, but demonstrations require special permission. In several cases, the police have used violence to disperse spontaneous demonstrations. Although some improvements have been made in recent years, respect for human rights is deficient.

Discrimination affects especially LGBTQ people and, not least, the large proportion of residents who originate in Haiti (see Population and Languages). They are largely excluded from education, formal employment and adequate medical care. Their children are often denied birth certificates and schooling. As a result of the 2010 Constitution, children of paperless Haitians were completely denied the opportunity to become citizens of the country. In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that the rule also applies retroactively, which has caused sharp criticism abroad. Despite a legislative change that would mitigate the effect, the authorities began to deport people to Haiti in 2015, who, after several natural disasters, were ill-equipped to receive refugees. The UN accused the Dominican Republic of having in practice made at least 200,000 people stateless (see alsoCalendar). Human rights organizations have repeatedly criticized mass expulsions of Haitians as well as the racism and xenophobia that particularly afflict black Dominicans and Haitians.

Freedom of expression and media

Freedom of the press and freedom of speech are usually prevalent and respected by the government. One problem is that the media is concentrated to few owners, which encourages self-censorship. It also happens that journalists who dare to address sensitive topics are badly affected.

Representatives of the media struggled for a long time to decriminalize criminal prosecution and in 2016 such a change in legislation was also implemented, a great success for democracy and freedom of speech. In Reporters Without Borders index of freedom of the press in the countries of the world, the Dominican Republic is ranked 55 out of 180 (see full list here).

Journalists who investigate such things as violent crimes, drug smuggling or corruption are often subjected to threats and harassment, from both authorities and drug cartels. Even those who criticize powerful companies, especially in the important tourism sector, are at risk of reprisals.

In an as yet unresolved case, in 2011 a TV manager was murdered who was on a collision course with local authorities and had previously been sued for slander. Another journalist murder occurred in 2008, on a TV photographer who had received several death threats after reporting on drug smuggling. Despite appearing to be fully established that three perpetrators had been identified, these were unexpectedly released in 2012. That same year, international journalist organizations sharply criticized the country when a radio and online journalist was sentenced to high fines and six months in prison for slandering a lawyer. In February 2017, two journalists were shot to death during an ongoing radio broadcast.

Judicial system and legal security

The judiciary is susceptible to pressure from politicians. However, the Supreme Court is considered to be relatively independent. Impunity is extensive for military and police officers who are guilty of corruption, extrajudicial executions or involvement in drug smuggling.

The Dominican Republic has become a hub for drug smuggling from South America to the United States, which contributed to a sharp increase in violent crime during the early 2000s. The murder rate has now been declining since 2011, but the lack of security is still perceived as a major problem.

Drug and arms trafficking occurs in the country’s overcrowded prisons, as well as prostitution and sexual abuse.

Physical abuse of prisoners is common and many are incarcerated without trial, sometimes for several years.

Dominican Republic Crime Rate & Statistics

Dominican Republic Democracy and Rights
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