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From left to right: Wilson Camacho, head of anticorruption unit Pepca; attorney general Miriam Germán and deputy attorney general Yeni Berenice Reynoso. (Photo: Roberto Guzman/PGR/RG)
Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Corruption: Dominican Republic Makes Progress

Independent attorney general’s office advances with several major cases.

Inter-American Dialogue

Security forces carried out more than 80 searches across the Dominican Republic on Sept. 8 as a part of Operation Falcón, resulting in the arrests of more than 20 people. The effort, aimed at dismantling a money laundering and drug trafficking network, implicated several government officials, including the head of the government-run organization combating poverty. In response, Dominican President Luis Abinader vowed to continue fighting impunity and corruption. How big of a problem is graft in the Dominican Republic? What are the political consequences of Operation Falcón for Abinader’s government and its allies? How serious are his efforts to fight corruption and impunity?

Elías Wessin Chávez, Quisqueyano Christian Democratic Party member of the Chamber of Deputies of the Dominican Republic: Administrative corruption in the Dominican Republic has reached unexpected limits. The corruption scandals that have occurred in recent years have transcended the parties that have held power in recent decades, as well as Dominican borders. The international media has covered the scandals, which affects the image of any country and pushes away large and medium-sized international investments, harming economic confidence in the country. Administrative corruption negatively affects public investment in goods and services, as well as industrial and economic development, further diminishing the people’s confidence in their authorities. Corruption deprives citizens of benefiting from public goods and services as they should. The series of irregular and illegal acts committed by public officials, often in complicity with the private sector, means less quality and quantity of public services for the population. The recent Operation Falcón undoubtedly helps the government’s image, as it demonstrates commitments to the persecution of organized crime and corruption.

The president is doing the right thing by separating himself from any member of his government singled out for corruption. It is no less true that the fight against corruption and organized crime, which has on countless occasions pointed to the government, affects powerful economic interests, demonstrating how people guilty of corruption have managed to penetrate the political sphere and gain power. President Abinader has certainly shown that he is taking firm steps against corruption, and he has fought organized crime in a similar way. An example of this is his appointment of a person without partisan or political ties as attorney general.

Another signal that President Abinader has sent is the fact that he does not cover up or interfere in the investigations of the Public Ministry. This effort will only bear fruit, however, if the government continues not to interfere, and the mafia networks that damage society are disarmed.

Cristián Vallejo, partner at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP: Graft has been an endemic problem throughout the Dominican Republic’s history. Despite previous administrations’ promises to fight and punish graft, it was not until the arrival of President Abinader that a serious effort toward that end seems to finally be occurring.

The Odebrecht, OISOE and other corruption scandals that broke during the Medina administration and the grassroots movements that arose against them were significant factors that got President Abinader elected. Independence of the Public Ministry and the fight against corruption and impunity were key promises of Abinader’s campaign. Soon after taking office, President Abinader made two key appointments aimed at fulfilling such promises: Miriam Germán (a former Supreme Court justice) as attorney general and Yeni Reynoso (a former prosecutor for the National District) as assistant attorney general. Both are highly regarded professionals with a history of independence and commitment to fighting corruption. As a result of such appointments, there are already various ongoing corruption cases against people associated with the former and current administrations, demonstrating the unprecedented seriousness with which the current administration is addressing the graft problem. Such cases include Operations Pulpo, involving relatives of former President Medina; Medusa, involving the previous attorney general; and Falcón, involving officials of the Abinader administration. I believe these cases are rendering political benefits for President Abinader and his allies. Dominican society has repeatedly demanded that corruption, regardless of the political affiliation or economic status of the parties involved, be investigated, fought and punished. As a candidate, Abinader promised he would do so, and as president, he is delivering on such promises and has made his zero tolerance for corruption clear. As long as his administration continues its current and unprecedented fight against corruption and impunity in an independent and nonpartisan manner, it is likely that President Abinader will be rewarded with a second term if he decides to run for re-election.

Mary Fernández, partner at Headrick Rizik Alvarez & Fernández: Corruption in the Dominican Republic has deep roots. A study that nongovernmental organization Participación Ciudadana conducted in 2004 concluded that there had been near-complete impunity for corruption between 1983-2003, allowing the exponential growth of corruption at all levels. President Leonel Fernández, in his inaugural address in 1996, estimated that corruption cost the country $30 billion annually. Operación Falcón is a significant, positive step for the Abinader government, as it serves as a demonstration that it does not protect the corrupt, regardless of their political party.

This is further legitimized by the activities of an independent prosecutor who has initiated actions in various corruption cases against officers of the current and past governments. Nevertheless, due to the country’s expansive nature of corruption, there is uncertainty as to how this can permeate the present administration. President Abinader has demonstrated his seriousness in his efforts to fight corruption and impunity, and his designation of an independent attorney general is evidence of this, as he no longer controls the persecution of corruption cases as did prior administrations.

Ernesto Sagás, professor in the Department of Ethnic Studies at Colorado State University: Corruption has deep historical roots in Dominican politics and society, where lax campaign financing laws, a weak judiciary and a tradition of impunity have helped entrench corrupt practices.

Moreover, widespread graft also distorts citizens’ trust in government institutions. According to a recent poll by Transparency International, 93 percent of respondents think that government corruption is a big problem in the Dominican Republic. During the 2020 campaign, opposition candidate Luis Abinader vowed to fight corruption if elected president, and Operation Falcón seems to be a major move by his administration to deliver on that promise. However, it remains to be seen how deep the police dragnet really goes. So far, it has ensnared several high-profile drug kingpins and a couple of politicians, but money laundering by Dominican drug cartels is extensive, and its corruptive effects permeate the Dominican political system. Despite President Abinader’s public assurances to the contrary, it is doubtful that the investigations will reach deeply into the Dominican political class, as all political parties stand to lose from airing their dirty laundry. But perhaps the Abinader administration does not have to go that far. Operation Falcón’s highly publicized arrests—and the swift deportation of detainees to the United States—may be enough to satisfy members of public who demand drastic government action against graft, show the country’s international partners that Abinader is taking corruption seriously and potentially serve as a deterrent to crooked Dominican politicians who now must weigh the possibility of serving lengthy terms in U.S. federal prisons.

Republished with permission from the Inter-American Dialogue's daily Latin America Advisor




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