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Largest march ever protests impunity in government, Jan 22

Evidence from aerial photos suggest that the Sunday morning, 22 January 2017, March Against Impunity could well have been the largest protest in recent years against the government. Hundreds of thousands marched seeking an end to impunity that has enveloped government officers who are accused of having benefited from overpricing and bribes. The march marks an end to the generalized tolerance of Dominican society to corruption.
Attired in green shirts and many with their children tagging along, protestors from all walks of life completed a route from 27 de Febrero and Máximo Gómez avenues to Independencia Park. The media reported that the march headed south on 30 de Marzo street, instead of on Dr. Delgado avenue. The Dr. Delgado route would have brought the protestors in front of the Presidential Palace.

There was an extraordinary turnout even after on Friday, 20 January 2017, Attorney General Jean-Alain Rodríguez had announced that Odebrecht, the Brazilian construction giant, would reimburse the Dominican government for US$184 million. This is double the US$92 million in bribes the corporation admitted to having paid to local players for securing of US$163 million in procurement works from 2001-2014. This payment would be in compliance with Law 448-06 on bribes in trade and investment.

In a press conference on Friday, Rodríguez said that the Attorney General Office requested that the Procurement Department issue a resolution calling for the temporary suspension of the registration of Odebrecht as a state provider, which would prevent the company from participating in any tender for future transactions with the Dominican government. However, this resolution does not impede the company from continuing to participate in the construction of what is its largest public works project underway, the Punta Catalina power plant. The project, contracted under the Medina administration, has been criticized for alleged overvaluation and irregularities in the tender.

During the press conference, Attorney General Rodríguez insisted that the investigation will not end with the suspension of future projects, nor will it end with the company’s payment of the fine. He said the investigation would be complete when charges are made against those who have committed these crimes.

The announcement from the Attorney General’s Office, however, did little to discourage Dominicans from participating in the Sunday, 22 January, march against government impunity. The PLD governments have long been accused of making backroom deals and holding undue influence over the judiciary. Protestors called for the judiciary and the central government to be more transparent and pro-active in pursuing and prosecuting individuals accused of administrative corruption.

While Odebrecht has earned a reputation for the quality of their public works projects in the Dominican Republic, documents in the New York Court ruling revealed that many of these projects were some of the most costly in Latin America. Graft, in the form of payments to government officials, has inflated the costs of public works projects, which are ultimately paid by taxpayers.

While local attempts to take the alleged corrupt government officials to court for corruption have been filed away by the PLD influenced judiciary, the recent US New York court ruling directly quantifying local bribes at more than US$92 million has renewed the interest in the general public to identify and prosecute those who may have taken bribes.

The Dominican judiciary has been notably complacent when confronted with accusations of administrative corruption, and the handling of the Odebrecht corruption scandal has not been any different so far. While the corruption has been acknowledged, the names of those accused have yet to be revealed or mentioned in court documents.

Meanwhile, commercial representative of the Odebrecht, Angel Rondón confirmed receiving a similar amount to the US$92 million described by the US judiciary as bribes, but insists that this was a payment to compensate him for his work.

The Odebrecht construction works encompass a period of 17 years, from 2001 to 2017, with most of these projects having been undertaken during the governments of former President Leonel Fernández, who is the president of the ruling PLD party. The largest single contract of all, nevertheless, is that for the construction of the Punta Catalina power plant. The Odebrecht corruption scandal spans three presidents – those of Leonel Fernández (1996-2000), Hipólito Mejía (2000-2004), Leonel Fernández (2004-2008, 2008-2012) and Danilo Medina (2012-2016, 2016-2020).

In an editorial on Saturday, 21 January 2017, Diario Libre editor Ines Aizpún wrote: “The PLD cannot show for its years in power a firm will to identify and punish the corrupt…. The PLD is too expensive to maintain… The march on Sunday calls for an end to corruption, and above all, demands the end to the very complex system of complicities. In an economy that grows without retribution, in a challenging environment of a stagnant labor market, with labor and fiscal pacts pending and feared… the stolen amounts would make anyone dizzy. US$184 million at least… and the names are?”

Diario Libre’s editorial on Monday, 23 January 2017 focuses on the millions of Dominicans that followed the march on social media.

The organizers of the successful march included:
Foro Ciudadano, Centro Juan XXIII, Poder Ciudadano, Somos Pueblo, Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos, Participación Ciudadana, Centro Bonó, Federación Nacional de Trabajadores Independientes de la Construcción (Fenticon), Colectivo LGBT, Bloque Popular, Movimiento de Trabajadores Independientes, Movimiento de Mujeres Trabajadoras, Los Cañeros,  Comité Codiano, Corriente Magisterial Juan Pablo Duarte, Los Peregrinos de Moca,  FEFLAS, FAPROUASD, La Multitud, Frente Universitario Renovador, Grupo Milenio Verde (MIVER) among others.
Abroad, there were reports that Dominicans living in New York and Texas carried out their own walks wearing green shirts to protest administrative corruption impunity in the Dominican Republic.

A follow up protest concert has been announced for February 2017.

Source: DR1, DiarioLibre

Jan 24, 2017

Category: DR News |

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Last updated March 25, 2017 at 5:40 PM
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