Wednesday, April 18, 2012

And you thought YOUR political system was broken

It's election season in the Dominican Republic, and that means that politicians get even dumber than normal.
Yesterday the Dominican Senate apologized to the United States for what the candidate of the opposition party said about President Obama.
"If Obama, who came from Africa, and grew up over there can become president, why can't any of you reach as high?" said Hipólito Mejía, loosely translated, to a group of New York City clergy on April 4th.
Thirty-one of the Dominican Republic’s 32-member senate Senate approved a resolution Thursday condemning the remarks, calling them "unfortunate" and a "disrespectful insult." One senator, a political ally of Mejía, refused to sign the apology.
If this blunder was some sort of exception, Dominican politicians could be foregiven. Unfortunately, it isn't.

This is the second scandal of the week for the candidacy of former Dominican President Hipolito Mejia. The other scandal is more disturbing.
Radhames Jimenez says retired army Col. Pedro Julio Goico has been caught on a recorded telephone conversation instructing a Haitian accomplice to help discredit Haiti President Michel Martelly, and ultimately force him from office. Jimenez declined to discuss a potential motive or to say whether he is pursuing criminal charges.
Goico was an aide to former Dominican President Hipolito Mejia. The former president on Friday denied the existence of any plot and called the allegations absurd.
Hipolito Mejia was actually a very progressive politician while president, who proposed the country's first social security system.The problem was that during his term in office the 2nd largest private bank in the DR collapsed due to fraud linked to political corruption.
The resulting financial crisis ended with a bailout from the central bank (that benefited the wealthy elite), which triggered a massive currency devaluation and a 30% inflation rate. Most of the fraudsters never went to prison.

Running against Hipolito Mejia is Danilo Medina Sánchez, a career politician with the current governoring party.

Politics Dominican style

Most Americans complain that their politicians speak a lot, but say nothing.
Dominican politicians have a solution for that - they don't speak at all. At least not about the issues.

There are no political debates in the Dominican Republic. None.
Politicians run on slogans that are as meaningless as possible.

For example, Danilo's slogans basically translate to “Correct what is wrong, Continue what is good, and do what has never been done.”
If you think that is bad, you should see Hipolito's. It's "Llego Papa", which roughly translates to "Father is here", or "Here's daddy". No, seriously.


And it gets worse.
Instead of talking about issues, both candidates have created campaign songs. They rent trucks with huge stacks of speakers (run by generators, because no car battery could power speakers that large) and go through towns all over the country playing these songs at ear-splitting levels.
The songs don't say much. Mostly they just repeat a simple campaign slogan and the candidate's name over and over again.

So why do Dominicans tolerate these politicians? Because their jobs depend on them.
There is no real civil service in the Dominican Republic. So when an opposition party takes over there is a general housecleaning, all the way down to teachers and janitors in the local grade school.
Thus Dominicans tightly embrace their political party that they openly know is corrupt. In many cases there is only one person in a large family with a job. Thus 5 or 10 people may depend on their political party winning or everyone goes hungry.

The other side of this employment situation is that people get appointed to jobs based on politics rather than qualifications. Thus you have teachers in high schools that are barely literate.