Countries > Dominican Republic > Under the blue skies of Quisqueya

Under the blue skies of Quisqueya

V. Demenina, K. Sapozhnikov

Tiwy.com, december 2004
(page 2 of 3)

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In those days, when we were in the Dominican republic the general topic for discussion was “entertaining show” experiment with “Life behind the glass”. Trendy show with “intimate life” for general view did not arouse interest of local TV channels, and that is why business men-organisers erected the “Glass house” right in El Conde avenue. From morning till night thousands of idlers with morbid interest watched the “experimental” couple Julio and Joselin. Young people who went for trials by “exhibitionism” because of earnings and promised glory (participation in advertising business, shooting in TV stories) by the mid of the contracted monthly period started experiencing claustrophobia, stresses and nervous break-downs. They overestimated their strength, when they found themselves in the centre of ill cynical cries and low instincts of the crowd. The capital newspapers wrote with sympathy about the “of behind-the-glass prisoners”, underlining that the road towards the personal success lies through the “thorns and suffering” and that Julio and Joselin are a worthy example to follow not only by the growing generation of the Dominicans but by the political elite as well. In one of the articles somebody has suggested to have “Glass wall days” in the Presidential palace, Parliament, ministries and other State institutions:

“For how long will the politicians and officials endure such a life for display? Won't they have to explain later to the respective authorities the reasons for suspicious visits, unofficial whisper discussions of commercial affairs and the origin of strange “packages”, which they secretly get from their visitors?”

The Dominicans are not only cordial but they are also big masters in the field of praising, dithyrambs and flattery if they need to establish fruitful relations with this or that person. In this respect the guest of Quisqueya should be on its guard. Of course it is pleasant, when they admire you, shower with compliments and epithets in the superlative degree. But it is useful to remember, that the one who is anxious to please you with sincere eyes unlikely does it because of love to the art of florid style. There is always some personal interest, hidden goal or selfish implication. The connoisseurs of the Dominican soul think that the “habit” to exalted praise of bosses and “useful people” got stuck in the Dominicans during the thirty year dictatorship of Trujillo. He admired flattery and encouraged unrestrained praise to his address, thinking, that it was the revelation of sincere love of the people.

During the life of the dictator hundreds of monuments to his honor were erected in cities and villages. Nowadays there are none. Only in the Historical Museum there is a hall that is devoted to Trujillo and his epoch. Here is the bronze bust of the dictator made by Lopez Glass. The eyes are turned out to be well: attentively watchful, slightly sarcastic and at the same time – authoritative. Under the showcase glass are exhibited full-dress uniform with golden braids, cocked hat, cane for walks, “official” briefcase, family pictures – but all these are somewhat faded, bitten by moth, with traces of rain leaks. It is apparent, that there are not enough resources for keeping the museum exposition: and all this due to that vestigial principle of cultural establishments financing! Nearby – in the corridor – there is a bullets riddled presidential limousine. Conspirators got their own way – they liberated the country from the dictator. But themselves – within the first day after attack - were caught and executed by the security service. “The character” of Trujillo has been so strongly planted in the subconsciousness of the Dominicans, that he is recollected at any different instances, especially in connection of criminality and lengthy interruption of power supply:

“The country lacks a strong hand! Benemerito1 would have established order very quickly!”.

The personality of Trujillo is the subject for deep investigation and analysis for the Dominican intellectuals. The bookshelves are literally breaking under the load of books devoted to him in the “nationally directed” bookshop "La Trinitaria". And the books can suit any tastes – starting from objective and to openly biased ones. However, exposing literature is nevertheless prevailing. I couldn't help but buying the “bestseller” of Castro Ventura “Trujillo: hereditary perversity” (Trujillo: Perversidad Hereditaria). The author made a good job by searching the archives, files of old newspapers and miraculously remained intact criminal cases. It turns out that the complete “family” of Trujillo possessed openly expressed “criminal consciousness”, and the would-be dictator even at his teens was distinguished by his cruelty, revengefulness, greediness, jealousy mania and unrestrained sexual appetite.

It is appropriate to recollect that it was Trujillo who established diplomatic relations with the USSR in the period when the wave of recognition of the Soviet state, which not only could withstand in the cruel war but also inflict a destructive defeat to the Hitler Germany, swept across the Latin America. Even Dominican Ambassador, Ricardo Perez Alfonseca (1892-1950), famous poet and diplomat, went to the remote Russia. But he did not stay in Moscow for a long time. Already in 1948 with the first winds of the “cold war” Trujillo “rang off” the thaw in home and foreign policy, having started the fight against communism at all fronts. A curious fact: in his speeches during that same period of “thaw” several times Trujillo mentioned “active trade with the USSR, visits of Soviet ships to the Dominican republic with different goods, arrival of Soviet delegations and cultural groups to Santo Domingo”. In reality there was nothing. The dictator just fabricated “active ties with the USSR”, most likely for “external use”.

The most saleable goods at the Sunday “flee market” are the relics of the Trujillo epoch – medals, badges, tokens, busts and small busts. Metal plates with the portrait of Benemerito that were fastened to house doors: “Trujillo is the National symbol in this family” look very touchy. As Angela, the Dominican working in the Russian consulate in Santo Domingo, told me that portraits of Trujillo were an obligatory gift to all the newly married couples. They were everywhere, at the most honorable places and their absence was considered as an open sign of non-conformism and a challenge to the society. The face of Benemerito was always in front of eyes, as if becoming a family member.

“I considered him as my second father”, Angela confessed.

There are no official tourist routes connected with the life and activity of Trujillo. However, any taxi driver is ready to take you to these “memorable places” for an extra remuneration.

Previous anxious attitude of the Dominicans towards “the first person” of the nation has passed into history. Nowadays the Presidents get it from the public opinion and leaders of non-governmental organisations, and from the “fourth power” and from separate critically disposed citizens.

On August 16, 2004 Leonel Fernandez was sworn in. He already ruled in 1996 – 2000 and had a hand in privatisation of practically complete governmental property. In the inaugural speech in the National Assembly he did not promise the Dominicans an easy life. The country has to work hard to get out of the lingering economic crisis that threatens even bigger drop of living level of 10 million Dominicans and intensification of social instability. Inflation has devalued peso twofold, the people are utterly irritated by the neo-liberal policy, which almost emptied the country treasury with 6 billion dollars external debt. It was in the parliament, where Fernandez courageously confessed, that he felt like a man, who unexpectedly found himself in a mine field or red-hot stove.

The state treasury of the Dominicana would have been empty but for tourism. Although there is another reliable source of currency income. Between one and half and two billion of dollars a year come to Quisqueya in shape of money orders from the Dominican citizens working abroad, mainly in the United States. Political and economic orientation to the superpower is in the traditions of the Dominican leadership, and therefore in Santo Domingo, in general, optimistically view the perspectives of joining the All American zone of free trade. The talks of dollarisation of the Dominican economy are heard more often , however, admitting the fact, that at present the necessary for this reserve “cash” currency is not available in the country.

According to Fernandez the idea of national unity can be saving for lifting of collective morale and readiness of the Dominicans to pay higher price. But will the Parliament support the new President? Out of 32 senators only one is the member of the presidential party, and among the deputies the ratio is not o the favor of Fernandez: 35 out of 150. Nevertheless, not all are ready to patiently wait for arrival of “the Dominican economic miracle”. With the unemployment level of 16% a lot of the Dominicans choose to look for happiness outside and leave the country resorting to all legal and illegal ways, and the most “popular” among them is the channel of sea transfer to Puerto Rico. There were a lot of tragedies, deaths and even cases of cannibalism on this route, but despair and search for better life make people take risk.

According to the Dominican tradition arrival of new President was marked by total replacement of functionaries. The Party of Dominican liberation that has won the elections, brought their own people to all important posts. Combing-out in the highest military command of the Republic armed forces has also been done. More than 110 generals were transferred to the reserve (where 120 of those who remained in the ranks is an apparent excess for a small Dominican army).

New persons have come to the head of National police, Investigation department and Drug enforcement agency. Will they be more effective? As the situation in the sphere of fighting the crimes in the Republic is rather adverse. The Dominicana is one of the basic Caribbean terminals for drug trafficking to the USA. Smugglers, forgers of famous trade marks feel themselves at freedom in the country. The press often reports about “moonshiners”. For the Dominican republic it is not a self-made vodka, but different brands of rum.

Average statistical criminal – is an unemployed “migrant” from the neighbouring Republic of Haiti, and he tries to improve his desperate welfare standards at the expense of average statistical Dominican, who, according to the Haitian standards, is bathing in luxury. Car thefts are usually “attributed” to the Haitians. Almost every day the mass media report about robberies and murders committed by the Haitians. The fear of men in the streets give birth to discrimination. Lynch law cases become more frequent. So not long ago, a rich land owner from Monte Cristi by two point blank shots killed a Haitian woman because she has “stolen” a lechosa2 fruit from his plantation. Local judicial authorities tried to acquit the murderer on the basis of “accident nature” of his actions. However, the independent investigation revealed that the Haitian woman and her son were agricultural wage labourers of the land owner-murderer; as per agreement he had to provide food to them, but he often used to “forget” it.

In response to revelation of discrimination – more frequent actions of “migrants” are carried out in defence of their rights. Loud echo was caused by the rally of thousands of Haitian children, who tried to attract attention of the Supreme court to the uncertainty of their status in the country. Dominican birth certificates are not issued to them and without those the children can only finish six grades of basic school education without any chances to continue study. The legal grounds for normalisation of stay of the Haitian children in the republic and and their civil rights do not exist, as, according to the paper “El Caribe” “the lawyers are unable to finish discussion on essential documents, which must be produced by the Haitians so that their children could obtain Dominican nationality”. It is worth mentioning that at least a couple of dozens of different organisations that support Haitians are operating in the country. Among them – Jesuit order of help to refuges, Socio-cultural movement of Haitian labour, Association of pastors and Christian leaders, Dominicana-Haiti women movement and others.

According to the sociologist Marcio V.Maggiolo, racial prejudices do not play the last role in spreading the “Haitian threat”, instigation to “Haitiphobia” in the Dominican republic. Its practical and theoretical “grounds” were laid in the period of dictatorship of Trujillo. By his personal order at least 13 thousand Haitians were killed in the borderline regions of the country. Accordingly, study of history of Dominican-Haitian relations were “established” under his rule.

Despite of all erected barriers the Haitian colony in the Dominican republic is constantly increasing. It is not possible to put an end to illegal immigration to the country. The subject of deportation of “illegal” Haitians is regularly discussed in the national mass media. Majority of the Dominicans step forward exactly for such solution of the problem. And deportations, without much fuss, are carried out. By the way, for official Quisqueya the word “deportation” has one more meaning – these are mass expulsions of the Dominicans from the Untied States. In the framework of programme of “relief of American prisons” the Dominicans, jailed in the USA for crimes to different terms, return to their homeland. One can imagine to what “heroic deeds” this multi-thousand “troopers” are ready.

1. Benemerito (Spanish) – honored, deserving a reward.
2. Lechosa (Spanish) – in certain Latin American countries is known under the name of papaya.

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