Continuity in Santo Domingo
Probably hardly noticed in the English-speaking Caribbean, a new President, Danilo Medina, was sworn in last Thursday in the Dominican Republic, after elections held there on May 20 of this year. The interregnum between the two events is one with which Caricom citizens are not too familiar, being more similar to the political process in the United States and other Latin American countries. Medina has proceeded to swear in a Cabinet which contains some of the members of the previous Cabinet of President Leonel Fernandez, both men being members of the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD). Of interest to us is that, remaining in the new regime is Fernandez’ Foreign Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso.
Though Medina’s victory represents political continuity, in systems of this kind the presidents come to bear a personal influence on the orientation of the government that does not necessarily hew to the philosophy of a prior party leader. In this case, however, it is noticeable that the dealing within the PLD in the process of choice of a presidential candidate, threw up as the vice-presidential candidate the wife of the then President Fernandez; though it should be said that she has had a record in the Dominican Republic of identification with certain preferences relating to the social programmes and orientation of the just departed regime.
The central interest of Caricom citizens in the Dominican Republic derives from the decision taken by the leadership there at the end of the 1970s into the mid-1980s, to identify with Caricom in the context of our adherence to the ACP-EU Lomé Convention, and then, more importantly, the successor Cotonou Convention. That DR decision reflected the growing significance of Spain and Portugal in the European Community at that time, and their insistence that the anglo-orientation of EC relationships in the Caribbean should be more geographically encompassing. And they too, were inclined to take the DR’s position that there was no reason, apart from history, why it should not be allowed to share in the United Kingdom’s banana market in particular – an attitude that drove fear, in the 1980s into the hearts of leaders from both Jamaica and the Windward Islands.
But DR leaders have continued to insist that EU-Caribbean relationships should be less so specifically attuned to the Caricom states, and should reflect the fact that particularly in economic terms, the DR has substantial significance relative to other states in the Region. To that end, and even before the establishment of the Cariforum, the DR began to insist that she should be accepted into Caricom itself, further insisting on this option after Haiti had been accepted into the community. Indeed both the DR and Haiti had applied at more or less the same time, in the early 1970s, for membership.
It is a fact that following the end of the Trujillo dictatorship, the United States intervention and the autocracy of the leadership of Balaguer which immediately followed, the DR leadership took a more liberal turn in both domestic governance and economic policy. The result is that, contrary to most Caricom countries, the country showed substantial economic growth in the 1980s and 1990s.The records show that per capita incomes grew from US$335 to US$2,107 between 1970 and 2007. This reflected a process of persistent economic growth averaging about 5% per annum, although the country did, like other Caricom countries, endure specific economic recessions during the period.
This growth has largely continued, with the country specializing in the creation of free export zones and a specialised tourism that has proved attractive both in the United States and Europe, as well as encouraging investment in mineral deposits. Latterly, the country has been the recipient of substantial investment from China, in energy, mining and telecommunications, although it still officially recognizes Taiwan, self-styled as the Republic of China. The result of all this is a continuing, and increasingly publicly expressed chagrin, on the part of leaders of the DR, about the anglophone Caribbean’s hesitations in resisting an institutional reformulation of Caribbean integration relationships that can include the interests and pursuits of their country. So in some respects, the country has, in recent years decided to seek relationships, in this era of establishment of free trade regimes, independent of Caricom.
Notably, the DR has stepped aside from what it no doubt considers excessive dalliance on the part of Caricom on the issue of a free trade relationship with the United States, in the aftermath of the effective failure of that country’s Free Trade of the Americas (FTAA) initiative, launched in 1994. The country hastened to accede to the US’s simultaneous offer to the Central American states to form a sub-regional FTA, and seems to have been welcomed with open arms.
The fact of the matter is that the DR has always had, given the orientation of its history, a closer relationship with the US, something that in the Caricom area might have tended to be characterized as subservient. But this has not seemed to worry the leadership of the DR, a country with a huge migrant population in the metropole (President Fernandez in fact was well socialized into the mores of the country while living there as a young man). The leadership now sees itself as capitalizing on that specific history.
No doubt too, the DR leadership must ask itself why Caricom, with less to boast about in terms of economic growth in recent years, should be so hesitant about finalizing an FTA with the United States. The country today sees itself as a pusher in the new configurations of international politics and economics. It sees its relationship with China in that light; believes that it can have a continuing influence in EU policy towards the Cariforum; and in the light of events in Haiti, is certain that Caricom’s present disposition towards that country cannot be concretised without its input.
Caricom will have to ponder on these things as time goes on. The characterization of ‘the Caribbean’ is in the air. And do doubt, the DR is feeling itself a sufficiently influential player, in terms of its relationship with the United States and the EU, and its simultaneous situation as a Caribbean and Latin American country, to influence the Caricom’s role in emerging new global multipolar orientations and regional configurations.
While in the DR, even as within the same party, the post-election leadership will have its own inflections on leadership priorities, it is unlikely that the attitude to Caricom will change substantially.