2003-12 General strike in Dominican Republic [Colome]
By Marcos Colome, from News & letters 12-2003
On Nov. 11 more than 20 mass organizations in the Dominican Republic called a 24-hour general strike. The strike shut down businesses, the transportation system, schools, factories and offices around the country in a protest against deteriorating living conditions, high inflation, and corruption in the public and private sectors. The strike was also directed against the reelection of President Hipolito Mejia.
More than 70,000 military personnel have been deployed to suppress the strike, and buildings of Mejia’s ruling party have been set on fire by crowds of protesters.
Several people were killed by police and military forces and leaders of the mass organizations have been imprisoned. Fernando Morillo, a leader of an organization formed by leftist groups, unions, and neighborhood committees, declared: "The security forces of the state have started a witch hunt against all our leaders and prominent members. Many of them have been arrested and others are under strict surveillance….wherever we move they follow us."
Mejia’s government has received millions of dollars in loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), funds which ended up in the hands of big landlords, corrupt politicians, and bankers. Industries that were once in the hands of the state have been privatized for the benefit of American and European investors, while most of the populace lives in extreme poverty, insecurity and despair.
The loans from the IMF have led to a devaluation of the currency, high inflation and increased taxation on the poor. Workers’ salaries are denominated in depreciating Dominican pesos, whereas the price of commodities (which are equivalent to prices in the U.S.) keep going up. The Dominican peso is now worth 42 to a dollar; in the 1960s, it was roughly equal in value to the dollar. Dependency on U.S. dollars, high inflation, and the import of petroleum and other goods have produced a massive deficit. Many commercial banks are in bankruptcy and even the Central Bank of the Republic is in total collapse. Huge loans are being taken out to cover these deficits. The Intercontinental Bank (Baniter) has a deficit of $2.2 billion, which workers are asked to pay back with their own sweat.
The inflation rate is 42%, and an energy crisis has affected the entire nation. Most of the country experiences regular blackouts (for as much as 15 hours a day) and many industries have been forced to shut down due to lack of electricity.
The high price of gasoline has destroyed public transportation. Workers have been forced to get to their jobs on motorcycles and bicycles. Many public employees haven’t received salaries for months. Many doctors and nurses are working without being paid by the government. The high cost of medicine has led to many deaths, and many public hospitals have closed. Some teachers haven’t been paid in two years.
Many professionals, along with peasants, factory workers and youth have been forced to emigrate illegally to Puerto Rico in small boats, where some have died without reaching their destination. Those who succeed become farmers, factory workers, homeless, or slave laborers. Amnesty International reports that many Dominican farmers are working under conditions of slavery in Puerto Rico, despite its being a commonwealth of the U.S. Faced with this situation, people have gone into the streets to confront the police with rocks, burning tires and political slogans. They claim the government has sold the country’s sovereignty to the yanquis and to international corporations.
The Dominican Republic is one Latin American nation where the process of globalization has hit the economy extremely hard. "Free Trade" zones, maquiladoras, low salaries, no fringe benefits, no unions, and industries where most of the employees are poor women exist side by side with the privatization of public beaches for the enjoyment of rich people and Hollywood celebrities. Forests have been destroyed by foreign lumber corporations and precious metals have been stolen from the soil, so the country now lacks the resources to replenish the national treasury.
The Dominican Republic is not the paradise presented by the U.S. and European press and tourist agencies. It is only paradise for runaway criminals from other countries in Latin America who came here to evade prosecution for stealing the public funds of their own nations. Nor is it a democratic nation. The Dominican Republic’s government has sent troops to Iraq, while its own people live under oppression, dictatorship, poverty, and hunger.
The struggle of the Dominican workers is part of the long history of struggle by all of Latin America against internal enemies and outside imperialists. As a nation mostly of Black people, its struggles are also related to fights carried on by African Americans in the U.S. against racism and exploitation.