Santo Domingo, February 21, 2020 – If you haven’t noticed, and you likely would not if you were in the DR right now vacationing on beaches and sightseeing – there have been daily peaceful protest marches in the Dominican Republic since Monday, February 17, 2020. They’ve been taking place all around the country’s major cities, towns and provinces.
Even if you’re feet-deep in sand, you should know what’s happening because it’s really, really important for the Dominican Republic and for Dominicans. It’s the most important people-led movement to have happened in this country in the last two decades.
With presidential elections ahead this year, including a current party and government that has grown extremely unpopular with its people, this current united wave of protests countrywide has surprised many, including Dominicans abroad. It has been decades since Dominicans have taken to the streets in such large numbers and this united, and it’s a sight to behold. The DR is most definitely at a major crossroads.
Since I began sharing posts about these peaceful protests on Instagram, I’ve received a number of questions and messages.
I. What are these peaceful protest marches all about?
*On Sunday, February 16, 2020, municipal elections were taking place as scheduled in all the major towns and cities in the Dominican Republic. People were out at their respective polling stations, voting, while others were in line.
*Four hours into the voting process, the government canceled the elections, nationwide. Just like that. No more voting. This was a first-ever occurrence in the history of the Dominican Republic – for national elections to be halted midway like this.
*For these municipal elections, electronic voting machines were used for the first time as well – a national investment of US$19 million. Despite international observers being present, something happened – faults were reported but the public was not told by whom, nor the how or why or what – and the elections were simply postponed.
Check out this cool illustration of the events by a Dominican artist.
*No one from the government, not the President nor the electoral board, has still told Dominicans why they weren’t able to vote on that day or why those votes that were made will be erased, or why the elections were postponed.
There are unconfirmed allegations that trickled out from Sunday, through the local news, that an employee of a major telecom company here was alerted to faulty equipment, that he may or many not have seen someone who infiltrated and tampered with the machines, and that he alerted a high ranking general friend of his by text to tell him confidentially about it. The texts were allegedly leaked from their phones and published in the media. Subsequently, the two were accused of being allegedly involved in election tampering – although the general public doesn’t buy that account at all and instead believes these men might have been onto something and are being punished for being whistleblowers. This remains speculative but the point is that the people have lost their trust in the state are are fed up.
*Update: Just today, the Government released these two individuals, pending an investigation by the Organization of American States as to why the machines failed (proof that the protests are working).
Bottom line: people are demanding answers as to what happened exactly on election day and are demanding the resignation of the entire electoral board, or Junta Central Electoral. These are not violent protests – quite the opposite: it’s a peaceful but clear demand from the people to their government, just as we saw in Puerto Rico. Dominicans are outraged that no one in government has given the people a coherent explanation and no one has fessed up to the huge loss in taxpayer money and the lack of electoral transparency.
II. Is it only about the municipal elections being halted?
That’s plenty, I’d say. But it’s also, in my opinion observing and studying the DR these last few years, that what happened on that nationwide municipal election day was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. Dominicans have been fed up for a very, very long time with corruption and their government. Starting with allegations of corruption with the Odebrecht scandal, the biggest corruption scandal in recent years in Latin America if you recall, in which a handful of DR politicians were found to be central players yet have not been sentenced (beyond a soft slap on the wrist) the way other countries’ politicians have.
Add to that inner-party power struggles, high unemployment rate for two decades, weak educational institutions, low pay (ridiculously low pay), Constitutional amendments on a whim, violation of protected areas with alleged state-sanctioned illegal agriculture in the country’s most prized protected areas per the nation’s environmental NGOs investigations, including private avocado farms established inside a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and depleting the country’s water resources… the list goes on. There’s an excellent political analysis I read a few months back that digs deep into more of this; I’ll circle back here with a link when I find it.
I never thought I’d see this wave of protests happen so soon – led by Millenials of all social classes and supported by older generations happy to see the country’s future speaking up, like the old days when these kids’ grandparents used to take to the streets in the days of Trujillo, et al. Over the past five years, I’ve asked myself more than once: when will Dominicans get fed up and take to the streets? There’s been so much apathy, and discouragement. But no more.
The events of this past Sunday have ignited a fire that will not be put out until the current government explains and takes action so that the electoral board steps down, especially as the country faces presidential elections in May 2020. The system is gravely broken if people can’t trust that their votes will count. Beyond sorting out the elections, Dominicans are determined to vote out the current ruling PLD party.
III. When are the next elections taking place?
Municipal elections have been rescheduled for March 15, 2020. They were rescheduled very quickly – which only added to the people’s heightened suspicion. Presidential elections are scheduled for May 17, 2020 – they will be hotly contested is my guess, as the current party, the PLD, seeks to remain in power.
IV. Where exactly in the DR are the protests taking place?
The peaceful protest marches have been taking place daily, every afternoon until evening (from around 3pm to 9pm) in the major cities and provinces around the Dominican Republic, usually facing a major avenue or landmark in those locations.
This image you’re seeing below, in the main cover of this post, was taken by Somos Pueblo when the marches initially started. Since then, the crowds have increased dramatically and quickly as more Dominicans of all walks of life began joining every day.
So far, the following cities and provinces have joined in the daily protests from their respective areas:
Santiago, Puerto Plata, Punta Cana, Monte Cristi, La Romana, Bani, Ocoa, San Pedro de Macoris, Las Terrenas, Miches, Boca Chica, Hato Mayor, and many more.
Protest itineraries are posted daily – this is how determined and organized this movement is.
In addition, protests have been organized in all the major cities and countries with large Dominican immigrant populations, including New York City, Boston, Miami, Barcelona, Lyon, Valencia, Toronto, Puerto Rico, Zurich, and many more.
Follow the NGO Somos Pueblo for daily updates from around the country; they’re doing an excellent job of coverage (in Spanish). One of the hashtags that’s stuck is #sevan (“they’re on their way out”).
V. Is there a bigger march planned than the ones taking place right now around the country?
Yes there is. A million person march is planned for February 27, 2020, which is Independence Day and a public holiday. Advocacy groups and community leaders, journalists and other influential Dominicans in the DR and abroad have called on all Dominicans from around the country to come down to Santo Domingo that day. The meet up spot is at Plaza de la Bandera, facing the Junta Central Electoral building – where it all started.
I have little doubt that this will happen, and it’s going to be historic. Keep in mind that Santo Domingo alone has millions of inhabitants.
Also keep in mind that the usual February 27 independence day festivities on Santo Domingo’s Malecon – particularly the military parade – are not likely to take place given the current climate, but that’ s just my guess. At this point, we’re not even sure whether after his annual state of the union address, President Medina will make his usual stop at the mausoleum of the DR’s independence forefathers inside Parque de la Independencia, on the edge of the Colonial Zone. He has to as it’s tradition, so we will see.
What’s for sure, is the general population is not celebrating – or rather, their celebration of freedom is to stand up and ask for respect for their rights as Dominicans under the Constitution. Absolutely fitting for Independence Day, I’d say.
Everyone will go to the February 27 protest wearing all-black – and even Dominican celebrities abroad, including in Hollywood, have announced they will join the march right here in Santo Domingo. Zoe Saldana just announced that she’d be there.
Correction 2/22: Zoe Saldana apologized for her confusing message on IG. She’s supporting but can’t make it she says.
VI. Are the protest marches affecting tourism in the Dominican Republic?
Right now, it isn’t affecting tourism. In fact, no major English language news outlet is even fully reporting in detail about these marches – write ups have been very general even from the New York Times and that’s why I’m publishing this now, before any of them confuse the message and the facts. I’ve come across one headline on Youtube titled “Violent protests in the DR” = totally false!
In fact, the organizers and advocacy groups have kept the message clear and uniform to all participating: keeping the order is a must so as not to dilute the message, and to remain calm even if provoked by police. So far, it’s been very effective. The police and the crowds have even reached an understanding and are supportive of each other (just yesterday, a young police officer quit publicly and took off his uniform, saying he was fed up and was joining the cause).
Back to the question at hand. The Colonial Zone, for instance, is the same as always, there are no marches here. In fact, oddly enough, they have their carnival events still scheduled; I can’t imagine Dominicans with a conscience celebrating there right now. Friends of mine were also just in Punta Cana having the time of their lives at a resort in Bavaro, which I was glad to see. So that’s the *current* situation on the ground at the time of this post.
For my point of view, I say that the day to day lives of Dominicans and their future are more important than tourism at this point, and there is no sustainable, successful future for tourism if the locals aren’t even able to live well or decently with rights in their own country. So yes, come and spend local, support locals.
Just remember that right now, it’s not about any of us at this time except for Dominicans who are living this and standing up for their country, and that’s OK. It’s not about carnival being likely stopped for the rest of this month, or any of the events you were hoping to attend. It’s about a better country for Dominicans and their children, and their children’s children.
In the meantime, please call out anyone you see online spreading false facts, do not spread panic by sharing poorly researched articles from people who are not on the ground, and avoid telling people it’s not safe without asking or checking in first with reputable sources. Share this post instead, and cheer Dominicans onwards and upwards.
VII. Will I be safe visiting now or in the coming months?
See above. Yes you will be safe as the marches and protests are not taking place in tourist areas. So far, during the peaceful protests – while people, mostly university students were chanting – tear gas bombs were thrown once into a peaceful crowd, on the second day of the protest. The government denies it was on its order, but cameras later revealed that the launch came from the electoral board building; no one is claiming responsibility. That’s been the only incident so far, however.
Will the protests and crowds eventually affect those major tourist areas? It’s not likely for Punta Cana, which is its own world (even though they’ve also had peaceful marches), but I can’t say for sure for other areas. If this affect tourist areas eventually, it is what it is. What I do hope, is that Dominicans are heard and get justice.
If you appreciate how courageous it is to stand up for your rights (and if you’re from the States, I know you should get this, especially now as we face our own major elections), and if you also want to support your fellow human beings in creating a better world, do visit especially now.
We should all care about these kind of protests because they benefit and will affect all of us, in some manner.
Last but not least? Que viva la Republica Dominicana! I hope justice prevails for Dominicans and for the future of their beautiful country.
I leave you with this young Dominican’s rap tune gone viral, which seems to have become the official theme song and hashtag #SeVan for this youth-led protest and movement.
If you have other questions, post below – I’ll do my best to answer if they’re not already answered in this post. I’m currently buried in work and I’ll be on the road soon as well, so please forgive any delays. To follow what happens, including on February 27 for the million person march, stay tuned to my Instagram account where I’ll be posting updates, and follow the accounts I’ve mentioned in this post.