Dominican Republic election suspension prompts protests


Jonathan Aguilar | La DePaulia

A man wears a Dominican Republic flag in front of the Bean in Chicago. A group gathered in front of the bean on the Dominican Republics independence day, the group was protesting what they consider unfair elections in their home country.

A suspension made to Dominican Republic’s nationwide municipal elections prompted people from the Caribbean country to step-out into what is said to be the heart of Chicago: The Bean.

In the midst of casting ballots, Dominicans were informed by electoral board officials that there was an error with the electronic voting machine on Feb. 16 – causing anxiety, uncertainty and raising questions about possible corruption occurring within the Caribbean country. 

But on Thursday, Dominicans in Chicago decided to bring awareness to this by bringing about a peaceful protest held in solidarity outside of Millennium Park on their Independence Day.

For some, the cold weather did not stop them from coming out to protest because their thoughts are said to always be with their people back home. 

“I came to college here in Chicago, but even if I’m here, I still think about the Dominican Republic,” said Maria Caamaño, 18, a native of Santo Domingo, who held up a sign that said her heart will always be with the Dominican Republic, even if she was far away.

With upcoming presidential elections in May, the country has to make sure its electoral system works properly due to previous reports made commenting on “illegal campaigning” and “vote buying.”

They suspended the elections without giving the people an explanation as to why this was happening, nor did they assume their responsibility as to what was happening,” said Kenia Julissa Lopez, 31, another native of Santo Domingo. 

Julissa Lopez added that the government does not want to clarify the reason why there are so many suspensions not only amongst the vote, but also their own board, highlighting what the people want: a valid explanation for this reported failure.

“The people’s complaints should be taken into account,” Lopez said. “There’s always something hidden. It’s always about hiding something, and unfortunately, it’s not the first time something like this happens in our country.”

She commented that protests over the political situation have been happening since mid-February, and since their Independence Day was approaching, Dominicans proposed there would be at least one million going out in streets protesting all over the world. 

“Our people have risen and our now lifting their voices up,” she said. 

 About 60 percent of the country was affected by this said “fraud” within ballots, as reported by The New York Times, and as Lopez mentioned, it really is “not the first time.”

The general election of 1990 in Dominican Republic prompted protests and accusations of voter fraud after incumbent Joaquín Balaguer of the Social Christian Reformist Party won the elections. 

The victory of Balaguer led the Central Elections Authority to create a set of electoral laws in 1992. 

Michelle Bueno Vásquez, 24, a resident of Rogers Park and organizer of the peaceful demonstration, said she wants to let the Dominican government and the Central Electoral Board know the world is watching.

“Dominicans believe this is another chance for the government to sabotage [our voting rights] and maintain the current regime of the Dominican Liberation Party that has been ruling since 2004,” Bueno Vásquez said. 

Bueno Vásquez said her family and friends in Santo Domingo are protesting everyday and giving what they can for the cause and that she felt inspired to take it upon herself to organize the demonstration. 

“I feel angry and in pain — my country is hurting right now. I demand that they give us an explanation, give us transparency and that the Central Electoral Board will step down,” she said. “We want them to leave, to step down because everything in our country is behind the scenes. They think we are not going to care, but Dominicans all over the world are waking up.”

Through social media and word of mouth, Bueno Vásquez said she was able to unite a group of Dominicans in Cloud Gate. 

Although the island is small, said Bueno Vásquez, the impact is reaching worldwide with demonstrations being held in cities like Paris, Belgium, Madrid, Miami and New York. 

“We hope to see democracy, transparency, our constitution be respected, our democratic rights  be upheld and overall a government that will give back to the country,” Bueno Vásquez said. 

Nicollette Alayon, 23, a resident of Roger Park, said she is demonstrating for the right of fair elections. 

“It’s horrible and I am frustrated, but I’m so proud of the people that live there, because they are standing up and they are showing up in masses to the capital to show what they believe is right,” Alayon said. 

However, the Dominican Republic is not the only country in Latin America to have reported a “fraud” or “corruption” within their electoral system. 

Venezuela’s presidential elections were filled with a nation unraveling tensions between the opposition and the standing Maduro regime. 

Ana Romano, who volunteered as a witness in election for state governors, spoke with Reuter’s reporter Brian Ellsworth, and said that people from the Socialist party walked into voting booths and pretended to ‘assist’ voters – when in reality, it was a method of intimidation. 

But for Caamaño, the difference here is that Dominicans are trying to bring attention to it a lot earlier. 

“Already, Dominican people are fed up with the government’s disrespect towards our democracy,” she said. 

Yet, she is not the only one who feels this way. 

Paola Perez, 19, who was also born and raised in the Caribbean country, said what is currently happening is a disgraceful act from the government.  

“I think that what is happening now is extremely outrageous,” Perez said. “These are things that have happened many times before and I believe that for the first time in a long time we’re [protesting] and we’re doing it with pride.” 

Julissa Lopez added that what they fear is the situation in the Dominican Republic will someday reach a point of complete chaos. 

“What we’re scared of is that it will continue to transform itself into a situation that will later lead us into ruin, which unfortunately happened in Venezuela,” she said. “Although we are here, our roots are still there… We continue to invest in our country.”