by Tim Shenk
Coordinator, Committee on U.S.-Latin American Relations (CUSLAR)
Two serious human rights violations have marred the beginning of 2019 in Dominican Republic, both involving the arrest and harassment of nonviolent protestors.
First, on January 7, seven members of the Frente Amplio de Lucha Popular (FALPO) organization were arrested and held after a creative nonviolent expression at the Supreme Court building in Santo Domingo. Five men and two women, including FALPO’s national spokesman Grabiel Sánchez, threw bags of feces at the building’s entrance.
Their protest shed light on the complicit role of the Supreme Court in prior violations of human rights, especially regarding the extreme police repression of the widespread nonviolent protest in the country. Sánchez said the Court had become “a receptacle of excrement” complicit with the corruption and impunity of the country’s leaders.
The seven FALPO members were taken by police and have been “treated badly” during their detainment, according to a source close to the situation. They were still detained at the writing of this article on the afternoon of January 8 and will reportedly face expedited charges. FALPO has announced marches across the country on January 9 until the seven are released.
The second human rights violation occurred in the morning of January 8, when peasant farmers from the Sánchez Ramírez province were beaten, threatened and detained by police. The campesinos and campesinas were on foot taking demands to the National Palace in Santo Domingo, approximately 70 miles away, a journey they expected to complete in three days.
Reports from the Diario Libre newspaper and sources close to the group confirm two separate confrontations with the police of the Villa Altagracia province, which lies between Sánchez Ramírez and Santo Domingo. Ramón Ventura and Leoncia Ramos, speaking for the group, reported being roughed up and dragged in handcuffs to the police station in Villa Altagracia. Later, the group would be stopped again and would be told by police that they had “orders from superiors not to let the group reach the capital city.”
The campesino group represents about 500 families who live near the Pueblo Viejo mine operated by the Canadian company Barrick Gold. They ask the government to resettle them away from the mine. Many members of the community have suffered health problems and most have no access to water because of the mine’s contamination of the region.
Last year closed with coordinated general strikes in 14 provinces, then a transportation strike in Santo Domingo, demanding the lowering of gas and diesel prices, raising wages, support for small farmers, youth and single mothers, and criminal proceedings for president Danilo Medina and other corrupt officials.
January is usually a quiet month in the DR, with several national holidays including the important Three Kings’ Day on January 6. So repressive police activity – responding, as they say, to “orders from superiors” – already on January 7 and 8 may mean a combative year ahead for those who would seek true justice, not what FALPO has called the “justicia de mierda” represented by the Dominican court system.
Nonviolent protest is being repressed and criminalized around the world, including in the United States, at a time when inequality is growing, and impoverished people have no other recourse but to take to the streets. CUSLAR joins organizations in the Dominican Republic and around the world calling governments to honor and uphold the right to freedom of expression and protest.