Wednesday, 5 November 2014

The Dominican Republic leaves the Inter-American Court of Human Rights

Here are my first, rapid thoughts and more than anything else a recount of the process leading to the Dominican withdrawal from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. I will probably post more soon on different aspects of this process. 

On Tuesday, November 4, the Dominican Constitutional Court declared the State's adherence to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) as inconstitutional. With effect one year from now the Dominican Republic will join Venezuela as the only other Latin American nation that does not accept the jurisdiction of the IACtHR. The country, however, is still bound by the American Convention which it signed and ratified in 1977, and be part of the system of supervision of human rights by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

The Dominican Constitutional Court in its sentence 0256/14 declared that the procedures by which the Dominican State adhered to the jurisdiction of the IACtHR in 1999 were inconstitutional. The Dominican Republic as the last Latin-American nation, accepted the IACtHR's jurisdiction by presidential decree in 1999 during the first administration of President Leonel Fernández (PLD -Partido de la Liberación Dominicana). The key question the Constitutional Tribunal considered was whether the adherence to the IACtHR's jurisdiction required congressional confirmation or not. The Constitutional Tribunal argued that it did and that President Fernández at the time had usurped his presidential powers. The Constitutional Tribunal based its decision on article 37.14 of the 1994 Constitution, which states that it is a faculty of Congress to approve or reject any international treaty or convention, in addition to a series of other articles (55.6, 46, and 99.3/4) The Prosecutor General (in 2013), however, argued that the adherence to the IACtHR's jurisdiction followed naturally from the ratification of the American Convention according to its article 62.1, and that congressional ratification was not required. Furthermore, the Prosecutor General argued that the adherence to the IACtHR did not constitute the signing of an international treaty. In 2005, however, during President Fernández's second administration, the Prosecutor General (same person as in 2013), argued in favour of declaring unconstitutional the 1999 decree signed by President Fernández during his first administration (1996-2000).

The background for the decision made by the Constitutional Tribunal is the issue of the right to nationality for children of Haitian migrants born on Dominican soil and in particular two sentences that deal with this issue in the IACtHR. In a groundbreaking sentence, Children Yean and Bosico vs. the Dominican State, the IACtHR sentenced the State to give Dominican citizenship to the children of Haitian ascent Yean and Bosico, change and ease bureaucratic procedures for obtaining citizenship and respect the State's own ius soli clause in the 1966 Constitution. The bone of contention then and later was whether children of illegal migrants born in the Dominican Republic had a right to Dominican citizenship. The Yean and Bosico sentence argued that the illegal status of migrants was not hereditary and that the Dominican legal system at the time did not have any exemption in the ius soli clause for children of illegal migrants. The State also argued that Haitian migrants should be considered in transit - children of persons in transit, in addition to children of diplomats, born on Dominican soil were exempt from the ius soli clause - but the IACtHR did not accept that argument and pointed to the fact that transit in Dominican law had since 1939 been defined as a stay of maximum 10 days. After this sentence opponents of the Inter-American System of Human Rights filed a suit of unconstitutionality in November of 2005 against the Dominican adherence to the IACtHR in the Supreme Court (at the time also the Constitutional Court). It was on the basis of this petition that the Constitutional Tribunal emitted its sentence on November 4. In addition, legal actions through migration laws (2004) and a reformed Constitution (2010) aimed to restrict the ius soli clause and exclude children of illegal migrants from their right to Dominican citizenship. Furthermore, the Central Electoral Board (responsible for emitting birth certificates and overseeing the civil register) and the Constitutional Tribunal (in a well known sentence, 168/13) gave the laws retroactive effect back to 1929.

Even though the sentence declaring the Dominican State's adherence to the IACtHR for unconstitutional had been expected for some time, a second sentence in the IACtHR that came only a week earlier, triggered the latest action of the Constitutional Tribunal. In the sentence in the case Dominican and Haitian people expelled vs the Dominican State, published October 28, the IACtHR sentences the State to repair damages for Dominicans and Haitians illegally expelled in 1999 and 2000 from the Dominican Republic. The case discusses the long-standing and serious problem of illegal expulsions of Dominicans and Haitians (often on the merit of their skin colour) and condems the State's activities. The more critical issue for the Dominican State is the fact that the unanimous sentence declares that the Cosntitutional Tribunal sentence 168/13 - which gave the restriction of ius soli in the 2010 Dominican Constitution retroactive effect back to 1929 and stripped many people of their Dominican citizenship sending many thousand Dominicans and Dominican-Haitians into statelessness - should de facto be annulled (or declared without any effect). In addition the sentence also specifies that any constitutional, legal, or administrative decision or interpretation that restricts the right to citizenship of children born on Dominican soil should also be rendered without any effect. This means that the IACtHR basically annuls all actions made by the Dominican State in the migratory and citizenship areas restricting the ius solis of the previous Constitution (see pp. 171-172 of the sentence). One week after the IACtHR published its sentence, the Constitutional Tribunal withdrew the Dominican Republic from the IACtHR. All is not totally black, however, since the Dominican state still must meet its obligations to comply with all the sentences against the State in the IACtHR. On the other hand, following the logic of the Constitutional Tribunal, dominant voices in the Dominican Republic are bound to argue the opposite on the argument that the Dominican Republic never accepted the jurisdiction of the IACtHR and that this means that the State has no obligation to comply with the IACtHR sentences.

This is a dark moment for the Dominican democracy and the protection of the most vulnerable groups living in the country, the Haitian migrants and Dominican-Haitians. It is also a dark moment for the IACtHR and the whole IASHR, which now results weakened. Even thought the Dominican Republic may be a small and unimportant country in Latin America it is still the most democratic and democratically stable country to ever leave the IACtHR. Peru left in 2000 under Fujimori, an act that never took effect since Fujimori resigned not long after, and Venezuela withdrew under Chávez (in addition Trinidad and Tobago withdrew in 1998). The Dominican case, I fear, is likely to be the worst blow of them all. Peru returned after re-democratisation with Fujimori's resignation, and it is not unlikely that Venezuela would return should the Maduro-regime fall or the opposition win a future election. Today, however, the Dominican Republic is led by its most international human rights friendly government in decades, if not ever, and the regime is a stable electoral democracy, not any form of populist authoritarian regime. It therefore seems very unlikely today that the Dominican Republic will return any time soon.

Monday, 14 May 2012

The Opposition: Hipólito Mejía and the PRD's fight for the presidency

The opposition for this election is represented by former President Hipólito Mejía (2000-2004) and the PRD (Partido Revolucionario Dominicano). Despite its name it is no longer, and actually never was, a revolutionary party, but it belongs to the Socialist International organisation, and claims to be a social-democratic party. For a Norwegian it feels a stretch to define the PRD as a social-democratic party, today I would say it is a mass-based populist party. Compared to the PLD which is also a mass-based populist party, the PRD has a somewhat more authentic "street-approach", while the more educated PLD seem to be less authentic in their populism, even though the end result is much the same.

The PRD is the oldest party in the country, founded in exile on Cuba in 1939 as an opposition party to the Trujillo-regime (1930-1961). It is the party that in opposition fought Trujillo first to claim democracy for the country, and then Balaguer (1966-1978), and can to a certain extent, claim that the final transition to democracy in 1978 was their victory. It is also the party, represented at the time by Juan Bosch, that won the first free and democratic election in the country in 1962. Juan Bosch was elected President, a position he only had for about 7 months before he was couped by the military. Bosch who was one of the founders of the PRD, left the party in 1973 because he had lost faith both in his mass-based party and in democracy. Now, Bosch sought a dictatorship with popular support, and used the newly founded PLD as his vehicle. PRD was the democratic hero of the 12 years of Balaguer rule (1966-1978), also called "los doce años". The party fought for its and the citizens' democratic rights, and won the final battle in 1978 with the presidential elections that year. Silvestre Antonio Guzmán (PRD) was elected president that year and he presided over the first democratic, uninterrupted electoral period of the Dominican regime. President Guzmán sadly committed suicide in July 1982, just one month before he was to hand power over to Salvador Jorge Blanco (also PRD). Jorge Blanco got to rule during the worst economic crisis of the 1980s in the DR and in Latin America, and has later been remembered (erroneously) as one of the worst and most corrupt presidents of the Dominican Republic. In reality, Blanco's government did manage the country's economy quite well considering all the problems it encountered due to the international economic downturn in the region.

When Jorge Blanco took over power, the PRD was already split in several factions. Guzmán's vice-president (and short-time president) Jacobo Majluta fought for the candidacy in 1982, but Jorge won. After Majluta had lost he fought the Jorge government from the Senate (many say Jorge fought the Guzmán government from the Senate in the previous four years). Majluta won the internals for the presidency for the 1986 elections, but lost the election to Balaguer. Later, Majluta would have to fight Peña Gómez for the presidency, a fight that would lead to a split between the Majluta faction, who left the party and founded the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional) and the Peña Gómez faction (who stayed with the PRD). The split between the two faction was the culmination of a conflict that started back in the 1970s with the battle for the presidency in 1977/78.

The PRD would also later be battled by internal splits. Peña Gómez managed to maintain unity until his death in 1998, and for the 2000 election Hipólito Mejía got half the votes while Joaquín Balaguer (PRSC) and Danilo Medina (PLD) split the remaining half of the votes. In 2002, however, when Hipólito Mejía decided to reform the constitution to open for immediate presidential reelection, the fight was on again in the PRD. Presidential aspirers such as Hatuey De Camps, Fello Suberví, Milagros Ortiz Bosch, Enmanuel Esquea Guerrero, and others were disgusted by Mejía's actions, in particular considering him running a dysmal government that seemed to run the country into an economic havoc (this was not all Mejía's fault, but his rule did not make things better). Mejía's decision was very important for the DR regime since it also opened up for the return of Leonel Fernández, and this decision has been very detrimental to internal party democracy and recruitment of new leaders in the parties and the country as a whole. Under the 1994 constitution Mejía was barred from ever running for presidency again, Mejía changed that in 2002 and at the same time opened up for the Fernández rule 2004-2012. The latest constitutional reform which does not allow reelection, but has no upper limit on how many times one can run for the presidency, opened up for Mejía's current run for the presidency (and eventually President Fernández's future runs for the presidency). Anyway, Mejía's reelection bid split the party (Hatuey DeCamps left the party and created the PRSD) and Mejía became the first Latin American incumbent president since Daniel Ortega in 1990 not to win a reelection bid (many Latin American presidents have of course never had the opportunity to get an immediate reelection). 

The 2000-04 rule of Mejía was not a succesful one. First, in 2002 he reformed the constitution to open for immediate presidential reelection. This was unpopular because the PRD was created around the idea of no-reelection since the founders held the belief that reelection had been influential in Trujillo's rise to power and, later, in the prolongation of his rule. The former party leader, Peña Gómez, even wrote his Master thesis in Law about the topic, and was vehemently against reelection of any kind. Second, Mejía ruled when one of the biggest banks in the country went bankrupt, and two more medium-sized banks fell as well. The Baninter case is a story in itself and involved high-end government corruption (of several governments), and most importantly, bankers' illegal use of their clients' money. The crisis was handled relatively poorly, and the government lost more money than necessary over the crisis, but it managed to save the bank clients' money. After international pressure, leaders of Baninter had to go to jail. Third, the Dominican economy was already in shambles when the banks couldn't survive any longer and inflation rose to Venezuelan levels. In 2004, the PRD therefore made its worst electoral performance since 1990 and Leonel Fernández (PLD) won the presidency in a landslide.

Mejía managed to win the open primaries in 2011 by beating PRD president and presidential candidate in 2008, Miguel Vargas Maldonado. Mejía's rise from the dead came as a shock to many, but Vargas Maldonado, who had managed to unite the leadership of the party and counter-arrest the party's tendency of split leadership between the party and the presidential candidates, had abused his powers and ignored internal party democracy. For the 2010 legislative and local election Vargas Maldonado imposed many of his own candidates for the legislature and mayoral election, often bypassing internal democratic processes. This made him increasingly unpopular in PRD circles (many were already annoyed with him due to his fight for a unitary leadership, despite being a formula for division many in the PRD fear concentration of power and prefer divided leadership). Vargas Maldonado also miscalculated the impopularity of Fernández's constitutional reform when he signed a pact with Fernández to carry the constitution in the spring of 2009. The only serious contender to Vargas Maldonado was Hipólito Mejía. Vargas Maldonado has never accepted the loss in the primary and he still claims that Mejía won due to PLD votes in the open primary. His theory, which sounds valid, is that the PLD would rather meet Mejía in the presidential race than himself. However, he has no reason to quarrel, being the PRD president he could of assured a closed primary only open to PRD members instead of organising an open primary open to all adult citizens.

The problem for the PRD, however, is that the most popular candidate within the PRD, Mejía, is the most disliked candidate among supporters of other parties and independents (due to the 2000-04 rule). Therefore, Mejía has faced problems in the electoral campaign, and since the PLD seems to hate him (I know, strong word, but it seems that way), the fact that Mejía is running has raised the tension of the campaign (that plus the fact that it is going to be a very close race). The other problem for the PRD in this campaign is that Miguel Vargas Maldonado, the party's president, has refused to do any campaigning in favour of the party's presidential candidate. The party is again split between the party leadership, or probably just leader, and its presidential candidate. Given these two factors many would say it is quite surprising that the race is as close as it is. With a united party or another candidate, this election could have looked very different for the PRD.

So what about Mejía's campaign? It has not been very programmatic, no campaigns are in this country. If anything it is obvious that the PRD wants to focus on farmers and food-production, which the PRD argues has been ignored by the current administration. Also, Mejía highlights that he will fight poverty, meet social demands, support the 4% of GNI to education, and fight corruption. Apart from that his campaign slogan has been "Llegó Papá" (Father/Daddy is here), a clear reference to the patrimonial political culture that reigns here. Apparently the slogan came about when some of his supporters were waiting for Mejía to arrive at the airport and someone shouted out "Llegó Papá" when they saw him. This slogan caught on and has been used for some time (First Lady and Vice-presidential candidate Margarita Cedeño used Llegó Mamá for some time as well.). The slogan is somewhat inappropriate considering the history of the Island of Hispaniola and that the last president to use the nickname Papá, was the dictator Papa Doc in Haiti.

Mejía's campaign has been on a downward slope for some time. Late last year Mejía was winning according to most independent surveys, but lately Cid/Gallup Hoy, Penn Schoen and Berland, and Diario Libre's Greenberg survey have Medina as winner in the first round. This seems to have diminished somewhat PRD's drive lately. Mejía has also committed what has been perceived by the media and maybe the public, as several blunders. Only one, maybe two, of these are serious. First he said jokingly that if Obama whose ancestors come from Africa, has made it, Dominicans in the USA should also be able to make it. This occurred in an election meeting in New York. The Dominican senate embarrased itself and the nation by sending a communiqué to the president asking forgiveness for Mejía's transgression. Mejía did not say anything untrue, and his point in the speech was rather ok and decent, and curiously Leonel Fernández used almost the exact same words in a speech some years earlier. The other blunder was that Mejía said that domestic workers stole the food from their patrons/bosses. His point was that they were so poor that they had to steal to get by and that he would do something about it. The story was spun that Mejía was accusing this relatively poor group of stealing. The third blunder was that Mejía said that he would revise any current contract the state has with private companies and not pay the contracters if he found out that the contracts were the result of a corruption scheme. To suggest that the state would not uphold contracts is serious, and the PLD and the media used this as evidence that Mejía is erratic. The last blunder, and most serious one, is that Mejía criticised the Supreme Court for being politicised and the judges for being in the pocket of President Fernández. While this may be true, Mejía also added that he'd like to reshuffle the court. This latter statement is serious and is contrary to his desires of a less politicised Supreme Court. Sadly for Mejía this statement ruined what was an otherwise good speech on democracy and the political system of the DR.

Mejía knows he is fighting an upward battle and argues that his fight with Medina is a David vs. Goliat match. I am not sure whether the playing field is that tilted, but I am sure that Mejía would like to repeat David and beat Goliat/the government/PLD/Danilo Medina.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

What the Félix Bautista case tells us about the Dominican democracy

Even though the Félix Bautista case still looms over this election campaign, it is time to sum up what this Bautista-corruption case tells us about the Dominican political system.

First however, a very brief update since last. Nuria and other media (in particular and Hoy...finally) have dug further into the case and revealed how Félix Bautista ruled the OISOE and helped his friends (and himself) get rich by doling out state construction contracts that were illegal and valued too highly. Second, the smoke-screen tactic of the government has partly worked, Pepe Goico had to appear in front of a local prosecutor for questioning yesterday, while Félix Bautista of course, runs free. Third, and this is ugly, a PLD senator (Wilton Guerrero) said he had from a good source that drug traffickers close to Mejía's campaign were out to kill Nuria Piera. Piera, naturally, is now worried for her and her family's life. Today, the senator admitted he had no evidence whatsoever for what he was saying. But he (and the PLD) did manage to scare Nuria Piera. Quite a paradox that President Leonel Fernández not long ago put out a book discussing press freedom and the free word...while his government is probably doing more harm to freedom of the press in this country since the Balaguer governments (1986-1996). Fernández, as always, is silent on this matter, as he always is when it comes to corruption.

Anyway, back to the lessons about the Dominican Political system. Given all the evidence against Bautista, any regular democracy would have started an investigation against him. It is a minimal test the regime must pass should anything it says on anti-corruption be taken seriously. If nothing is done, however, in such a case of rampant and proven corruption, it demonstrates clearly that the regime does not take the issue of corruption seriously (which should come as no surprise for any close observer of the Dominican political system, but may surprise people, investigators, politicians, who only know the country from the outside). The way the Bautista case has been handled by the government and the government party, the PLD, has turned out to be just as big a scandal as the corruption case itself (for details, read two of my earlier blogs on the matter).

The lessons are:
1) There is no judicial independence in the DR. The lack of investigation into a case that is presented almost as fully investigated by Nuria Piear with damaging evidence, shows that the Ministry of Justice (Ministerio Público) and its Prosecutor General has no independence or autonomy to act on charges of corruption. This becomes even clearer when we know that the person that should have been investigated is the President's best friend (and who according to rumours is the guy behind Bautista reaping the benefits of Bautista's corruption schemes). If the prosecutor had been a professional and independent of the president, investigations would have commenced.

2) The Ministry of Justice is subordinate to other ministries and interests, and is being commanded by other people than its boss, the prosecutor general. Why? This is one reasonable explanation for why the prosecutor general decides to use state resources to investigate cases that are presented with such bad evidence that anyone can see the charges don't hold up. Why investigate supposed coup-plans against Haiti, when it is obvious from the evidence presented that this is not the plan? Why prioritise cases that don't stick over cases that clearly holds water? The only explanation is that the Ministry is used for the government's political purpose (win the election) and also to aid a neighbouring government (Haiti) from corruption charges.

3) The case demonstrates that the Dominican Senators couldn't recognise a crook even if they were held on gunpoint and were releaved of their yipetas (jeeps), much less recognise corruption. I have long argued for the closure of the Senate in the DR, a small country with few regional differences and no federalism. There is simply no need for this useless institution (ask anyone having anything to do with the Senate, they will agree). Going out in defence of Félix Bautista when it is demonstrated that he is corrupt, is just bad. The Senate and the PLD thus look more like a sect than a political party. Had the Senate had any decency they would have stated that the institution was ready to lift Bautista's immunity if the prosecutor general asked for this. The Senators represent their voters and taxpayers: is it in the taxpayers' best interest that their representatives defend a guy who steals from them?

4) There is press freedom in the DR, although some say under pressure. The greatest problem, however, is that the journalists themselves prefer to take payments from the government rather than to do their work properly. Press freedom is demonstrated by Nuria,, etc. The rest, such as Diario Libre, Hoy, El Caribe, Listín Diario, demonstrate too much respect for the government, fear of the government, or that they receive payment to silence critical news (to cite the tweet of journalist Marino Zapete, @mzapete: "Con excepción a la compra de periodistas y el chantaje, el gobierno no tiene ninguna política en materia de comunicación"). It is an embarrasment that respected newspapers such as Hoy and Listín Diario decide to use more space on false rumours and accusations than on the real deal. Any newspaper with any self-respect would be all over a story that the president's closest ally, and senator for the governing party, is taken with his pants down enriching himself and buying favours in Haiti, Peru and Panamá. The press in the DR should be ashamed, very ashamed for their priorities during this case.

5) The case also demonstrates that even though democracy has taken a hold in the country, the regime, state and government do not hold a democratic mind. The government together with Haiti's government have done what it can to make the playing field unlevel and difficult for the opposition. It is behind false accusations and lies that involve a coup-complot in Haiti, the killing of the PRD president, the murder of Nuria Piera, and several more embarrassing attempts at getting off the hook of the ugly corruption charges against it. The government has demonstrated that it uses illegal recordings of phone conversation to attack the opposition. The international scandal (in addition to Félix Bautista bribing Haiti's president Martelly) is that the governments of Haiti and Dominican Republic blatantly lie about coup plans against the Haitian government. If the accusations were true (and they should be given the fact that they were presented by the Dominican Minister of State, Prosecutor General and ambassador to Haiti, in addition to the Haitian Minister of Justice, and ambassador to the DR) should this not be a case to bring forth at the OAS. This could clearly be cause to invoke article 1080? I would have loved to see the two governments' attempt to convoke an extraordinary meeting in the OAS on these grounds. The governments have made a mockery out of serious institutions such as the national elections, the OAS articles regarding the defence of democracy, and they have made a mockery out of themselves in order to avoid any serious investigation into the deeply rooted corruption on the island of Hispaniola.

6) The case also demonstrates that the abyss between the rhetoric and realities has grown tremendously under Leonel's regime. Despite many reforms and some changes to the better (for instance macroeconomic stability) under his regime, many realities remain the same. Even though the Cámara de Cuentas (the external auditing agency) has been reformed, gotten more resources, and according to the law is more powerful and autonomous, the case demonstrates clearly that the Cámara neglects its tasks whenever it comes over corruption schemes. It is as impotent as ever. The same is Congress (at least as long as the government holds a majority). A new constitution calling for a new democracy are also empty words as long as the government, the senate and the governing party calls thieving for honesty, and corruption for hard work. The democratic revolution has at the least stumbled in the very start (maybe the government should feel lucky the case isn't tried in the courts, which could have revealed that these have become increasingly politicised under Leonel and in particular after the reshuffling of the Supreme Court, filling of the Constitutional and electoral tribunals). In the end, when considering the new Constitution and new laws regulating the economic dealings of the government, the Bautista case may mean that a) the new laws and constitution is just a show to satisfy voters, international donors, academics, Leonel's ego, etc; b) if the reforms were sincere, the effect of institutions are only skin deep, political culture and legacy is much more important.

7) In the end, like no other case I have seen (and I have followed DR politics closely since 2002), this case and the official reactions it has created, have made abundantly clear that this government has no shame, and that all the fine rhetoric the last eight years have been just that, and nothing more.

I also think that like in no other case, the handling of the Bautista case has disappointed me because it is so obvious that he has stolen other people's money, money that the people who defend him vigorously (the government, the senators) are entrusted to spend wisely for the greater good. For the PLD it is obviously more important to defend one of their own's "right" to steal than to defend their voters' and taxpayers' money.

The Bautista case has been a test of the Dominican democracy which it has failed horrendously.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Scandals, Lies and videotapes: A follow-up on Félix Bautista and the Haitian corruption case

Things happen so quickly during these elections it is impossible to keep track. In this blog I will list all the recent scandals that have emerged, one crazier than the other (and all lies, it seems like), before I analyse the government's desperate answer to the Nuria revealed scandal involving Félix Bautista, a PLD senator, organisational secretary of the PLD, and as close to a president as the president's own son. It seems like I will never get time to write on the institutions and do more "political sciency" analyses of the parties, party system, electoral system, etc. We'll hopefully come back to that in May.

First an update on the Félix Bautista scandals, which are not few, before I talk about the others (which also are quite many). Nuria's revelation of Félix Bautista's corruption schemes, his fortune, and the bribing of two presidential candidates in Haiti has made the governing party rather desperate. The evidence Nuria has presented is very convincing and as mentioned earlier: in most other countries Félix Bautista would be under investigation, potentially in custody, and his party would have tried as hard as it could to distance itself from him. In the DR none of this is occurring. Since the first (of the last of many) revelations regarding Félix Bautista, Nuria has provided more evidence that nails Félix Bautista to the coffin. First of all, as everyone here knows, many journalists receive money from the government so that they will talk nicely about the government. Nuria is the first to present evidence of this by putting forward cheques from Bautista to "journalist" José Laluz who used to work in the famous morning debate show "El gobierno de la mañana". She also demonstrated that Bautista hires the ASISA survey company, which not surprisingly is one of the companies that give the highest popular advantage to the PLD and Danilo Medina. Nuria also presented evidence of payments to another PLD senator, an ex-bureaucrat of Panamá (a country in which one of Bautista's company is working to get construction contracts). Finally she presented two interesting news: the government is seeking high and low for her sources (instead of investigating Bautista), and several of the people Nuria has demonstrated is paying or receiving money in an irregular way, have sought official letters from their banks that deny Nuria's accusations. None have gotten this so far. Today, April 18, also produced the Cámara de Cuentas (Chamber of Account, the state's external auditing agency) report for OISOE (Oficina de Ingenieros Supervisores de Obras del Estado), which Félix Bautista headed between 2006 and 2010. It had been rumoured for some time that the audit existed, but that it demonstrated so many irregularities that it had been shelved. Licelot Marte de Barrios, the distinguished and respected PRSC politicians who deads CdC said that no audit had been shelved, and dared the media to prove this. Acento did so within a couple of days, and published a summary of the shelved report (which means that indeed Marte de Barrios did conceal this report to protect Félix Bautista...which of course constitutes another scandals and discredits even more the already heavily discredited CdC9. To make a long story short, there has been no control of the budget and thousands of million Dominican Peso are unaccounted for (either going out or in and to different sources). From the government's side, no news: investigations have not come up with anything (My guess is: there are no investigations).

The revelations Nuria has presented with have been great food for the PRD in their attack on this government's corruption. Therefore, the story has been used for what it is worth politically, and as always rumours are created. This time the PRD started rumours that Nuria had fled the country to avoid government persecution. Several I know updated their Facebook pages with support-statements for Nuria, etc. (it'll be interesting to see how long the PRD will be fond of Nuria if the PRD wins the elections in May). Nuria, however, was travelling for private reasons and finally had to send out twitter messages denying the rumours that she was hiding from the PLD-government. The case has also become a minor international embarrasment not only for the country, but indeed for the press. The journalist covering the case for Le Monde has compared the Haitian and Dominican press coverage of the case and found that the Haitian press seems much more interested in the case, and that the Dominican mainstream media hushes the case down. The latter is also my impression, and as mentioned earlier, mainstream media only overs the Félixgate when there are official denials from the government, and then rarely on the front page. This has been noted in Hoy, which is becoming slightly more critical, but has not created any investigative journalism in that newspaper either.

What is new this time is that the scandal finally is well substantiated. This never happens in the DR. Scandals used to be invented, like the Margaritagate, or when in 2004 the PRD government put out false tapes that Leonel Fernández was trying to destabilise the Peso, or whenever Vincho Castillo (FNP) opens his mouth, and so on and so forth. Maybe the government and Danilo's electoral campaign is just taken aback by Nuria's audacity to actually publish evidence of corruption. Maybe it is because they really do not know what to do with Bautista (how does one actually perform an investigation into government corruption? The PLD doesn't seem to know or care)? Or, maybe it is that the Danilo campaign has figures showing them to lose the elections and therefore they are getting desperate. What is clear is that Nuria's revelations have unleashed a series of desperate measures from the PLD, one more incredible than the other. In sum the government/PLD has accused parts of the PRD of plotting to coup Michel Martelly in Haiti, use that to stop the elections in the DR, and to want to kill the president of their own party, Miguel Vargas Maldonado (PRD). Before those cases, some other incredible stuff.

It started quite innocently with the Senate sending an official apology to Barack Obama for Hipólito Mejía's (PRD) statements in New York that Barack Obama was from Africa (and born over there) (31 of 32 Senators signed, only Amable Aristy Castro of the PRSC and ally of Hipólito Mejía did not sign). See the tape here. As always with Mejía, this was only a bad joke, which the PLD has taken out of context, but a good example of how one can overcome obstacles to succeed (Obama was the example). It is obviously not true that Obama was born over there (por allá) since Obama is born in Hawaii, but that he comes from Africa is partially true since his father was from Kenya. I would not be the least surprised that Mejía would make a point of this, he has been known to comment on skin colour earlier, and after all he is a Dominican, and if there is one place where genetics is important, it is here. Nevertheless, if Mejía said this it is only a minor error (although typical, and one that points towards a potential anti-african sentiment in Mejía), said in a jokingly tone to make a point that your background (African) does not matter. The irony, however, is that the way the apology is formulated it looks like the Senate finds it to be more of an insult to argue that one is born and/or have ancestors in Africa than the fact that Mejía potentially put in a little lie about the US president. I do actually believe that the Senate considers the "accusation" that one is born and have ancestors in Africa to be an insult. No matter the truth of the matter, this case is just as embarrassing for the Senate as it is for Mejía, and I am sure whoever received this in the White House is having a big laugh. Considering that this was an official letter sent to the President of the USA from the Dominican Senate, it is also an embarrassment for the Dominican Republic. The other irony is that  the Senate is dominated by the PLD (31 of 32 senators) and the PLD has since 1994 been allied to a racist and xenophobic party, the FNP, the PLD itself has been no stranger to racist attacks on its opponents when this has been necessary, and has implemented decrees, laws and a new constitution that is highly discriminatory against (black) haitians, but now find it prudent to defend the US president from attacks that potentially has discriminatory origins.

I mentioned the other day the surveys. The one ordered by Diario Libre (which I used in my blog on Margaritagate), has been surrounded by controversy. I heard early on that rumours within the PLD was that the numbers had been altered to favour the PRD before publication. I can understand the PLD wanting to put out that rumour given the fact that this survey is one of the more serious ones. The reason why it was altered, however, is a really interesting and bizarre story. The accusation is that Luis Alvarez Renta who is in jail in connection with the BANINTER bankruptcy in 2003, threatened to kidnap and/or kill the owner of Diario Libre, Arturo Pellerano, who is also in jail but due the bankruptcy of BanCredito the same year, if he did not change the results of the Greenberg survey published in Diario Libre in favour of Hipólito Mejía. The accusations were made by journalists favourable to the PLD, and former members of the famous "El Gobierno de la Mañana", who we know now, after the exposé of Félix Bautista, receive money from Bautista or the PLD. By the way: Funny how Pellerano could feel threatened by a threat to kidnap him considering he is in jail. Alvarez Renta took the accusations seriously and has asked the prosecutor general to investigate.

Last week the really big bomb (of desperation of the PLD) was dropped. The foreign minister of the DR, the Minister of Justice in Haiti, the prosecutor general of the DR, together with the ambassadors of Haiti and the Dominican Republic accused Pepe Goico and a Haitian Businessman Pierre Kansky of plotting to coup President Michel Martelly. A press conference was called to announce this bomb, a press conference in which no questions could be asked, only accusations be thrown out so that media coverage was secure and people could forget about Félix Bautista stealing tax payers money in order to get rich. The evidence was two taped phone conversations between Pepe Goico and Pierre Kansky. The quality was horrible and only demonstrates that Pepe Goico wanted to make it known in Haiti that Nuria Piera had proven that Michel Martelly was taking bribes from Félix Bautista. For the PLD/Government this was evidence enough that Pepe Goico/PRD was planning to destabilise Haiti. Apparently Nuria was being used by the PRD who had falsified the evidence Nuria presented in order to destabilise the president of the neighbouring country (see Nuria's reaction here). Why would the PRD do this, you might ask? Well, presidential candidate Danilo Medina explained it all a couple of days later: According to Danilo Medina, the PRD plans to generate disorder in Haiti via Pepe Goico so that the elections in the Dominican Republic would have to be cancelled. Medina argues that PRD and Hipólito is planning this because they are losing the election and Hipólito is a cry-baby (llorón). Before I go on here, it should be mentioned that it is not accidental that the PLD is attacking the PRD via Pepe Goico, who is Hipólito Mejía's and the PRD's own Félix Bautista. He is a weak spot for Mejía, and Mejía should have gotten rid of him years ago...I will write more on Pepe Goico later, suffice to say that when in government he is equally bad as Félix Bautista.

There are so many bad sides to this case for the DR, its government and the ruling party, the PLD:
The prosecutor general has taken the case seriously and sent it for investigation with the prosecutor of the Distrito Nacional, i.e. Santo Domingo, who is in a bind. Either she argues the case has merits and creates  international news: Man close to presidential candidate Mejía is plotting to take down Martelly (based on no evidence whatsoever), or she goes against her own government and presidential candidate Medina, and says that the whole press conference was full of lies (which is the truth). My guess is, she won't do much at all. The accusations, however, are serious, and they are an embarrasment to the DR, its government and governing party, the PLD. 1) First of all, it is obvious that this is not a complot. Nothing in the taped conversation suggests a complot, absolutely nothing. Second, how could a Dominican destabilise the Haitian government when he has no army in Haiti and the country is filled with 14,000 UN troops? Third, what are the motives? Etc. 2) The prosecutor general is taking this case seriously, while he would not touch the Félix Bautista case which is well evidenced, and has resulted in an international scandal already. This is also a huge embarrasment for the DR. Danilo Medina challenged the PRD and others to sue Bautista in a civil lawsuit, while he asked the prosecutor and the state to investigate Pepe Goico. It is actually Pepe Goico that should sue the state in this case. 3) The case demonstrates that the government has never stopped its bad practice of listening in on phone calls they have no business or right to listen to (see also below). Leonel government is just as bad as Mejía's in that regard. 4) The PLD/Government is implying that Nuria Piera's story of Félix Bautista is part of the plan to destabilise Martelly. This is a government attempt to drag into the mud the best, and most respected journalist in the country. No wonder the International Press institute expressed concerns about press freedom in the DR during these campaigns. The government is already trying to find Nuria's sources and has earlier searched other journalists' homes after exposés of scandals. 5) It is serious that the government of Haiti is picking sides in this elections. By joining forces with the DR government in this matter, they knowingly interfere with the Dominican elections. Normally, Dominican authorities cry foul whenever anyone makes an opinion on national politics. Here official Haiti is. Clearly Martelly and Fernández and the PLD have interests in common here: discredit Nuria (save Martelly, the PLD and Bautista), get Danilo elected (after all Martelly was given the highest dominican order, Duarte, Sánchez y Mella, when he visited three weeks ago).

The case is also serious because it demonstrates that the media here: 1) receives money from the government in order to work as "periodistas de bocina" (journalist loudspeakers) for the government; 2) the attention given to this case, or the lack thereof, demonstrates that the mainstream media fears the government or does not want to touch it, and that in Haiti the press is much more critical to its government; 3) the lack of questions from the press as to how the government got a hold of this tape, whether the tapping of the phone conversation was legal, questioning how the governments could argue for a complot when the tape reveals no evidence of such, and the massive attention this is given in the major newspapers, is an embarrasment to the media corporations in this country (exception is, 4) on a more personal note, the case really drags Ruben Silié, the former director of FLACSO in the DR, and respected social scientist (apparently Silié did not like being at the press conference, but as Dominican ambassador to Haiti, he was present. Silié also felt the need to express his concerns for Dominican-Haitian relations after the accusations in a letter written to El Día). All in all, this whole case is an embarrasment to the government, the PLD, and Danilo Medina because it is so clearly based on a lie, and because it demonstrates the government's total lack of interest in investigating what is clearly illegal and corrupt activities.

One would think that a trumped-up complot against the Haitian government was the worst the PLD/Government could come up with, but it was not...the next case is not as embarrassing at the international level, but just as unfounded and weird.

The latest, and maybe the craziest, or at least as crazy as the complot/coup-plans in Haiti, is that Guido Gómez Mazara, a PRD politician, together with other colleagues in the PRD are supposed to plan to kill the president of the PRD Miguel Vargas Maldonado. This was announced on April 17 in a press conferene by 5 PRD (!) representatives in the Chamber of Deputies (not surprisingly no questions were allowed). To this story one should add that Miguel Vargas and Hipólito Mejía are no longer friends after Mejía won the PRD primaries, and Miguel Vargas cried foul and fraud. Vargas still in control of the PRD as president of the party, has been reluctant to support Hipólito's campaign, but has come around somewhat. It is nevertheless a divided party that goes to the polls, and most observers blame this on Miguel Vargas. Apparently a conversation has been taped in which Gómez Mazara states that what Miguel Vargas needs is a bullett ("darle un tiro es lo que hay que hacer"). If the tape is the real deal, then this is just typical Dominican Tigueraje talking. I would not be suprised in any conversation with top politicians here that they state that their opponent is the worst ever, and in context say that the guy needs a bullett. But, what the press is not asking yet, is how PRD representatives have access to taped conversations between to other PRD-politicians. This case is of course yet another attempt to discredit the opposition, and the accusations are lies. The "clever" move this time is that it is the PRD that is making the accusations, not the PLD. The idea behind this is of course to increase the legitimacy of the accusations. Well, my guess is that these 5 PRD-representatives have been paid (maybe by Félix Bautista?) and are quite ready to leave the party (at least if Hipólito Mejía does not win the elections). And a simple google search on one of the main accusers, Victor Gómez Casanova, makes the accusation lose any legitimacy. The case is now being followed up by the prosecutor general who takes the accusations seriously, but who has his hands full with a host of phony cases recently. It will be interesting to see if the prosecutor general will ask where the tape comes from given the fact that Dominican law only accepts taping of private conversations after a court ruling giving permission to do so. 

So within a week we now "know" that the PRD is using Nuria Piera in order to remove Haitian President Martelly in order to stop the elections in the DR because they know they are losing to Danilo Medina, and because they are dissatisfied with the party president, Miguel Vargas Maldonado, the PRD is planning to kill him. Well, the DR is a good example of what happens when there are no ideologies or policies to debate, then scandals and lies take over.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Margaritagate and The Danish Debacle

A while back journalist and lawyer (everyone's a lawyer in this country...I think this is because it is the easiest way to be entitled Doctor, since having a master's degree in law gives you the title Dr. in this country), Marcos Martínez of Santiago (the second city, the capital of the Cibao valley and heart, lungs and economic motor of the country), in his morning show on Channel 55 accused the First Lady, and current vice-presidential candidate for the PLD, Margarita Cedeño and senator Félix Bautista, the allegedly and proven corrupt, senator of the PLD for San Juan, of having bank accounts in Den Danske Bank (The Danish Bank, major bank in Denmark) with holdings of 43.8 million €. Martínez argued he had evidence to prove this, but did not produce in the show at that time. Later, however, he did produce the so-called evidence, and it became relatively obvious for any serious person that the accusations were a lie.

Anyway I became rather curious about this. Knowing that all politicians tend to get rich when in power in the DR, I would not be surpised that Fernández/Cedeño family has values of that kind, and we do know Félix Bautista has that kind of money (see one of my previous blogs). Furthermore, it was a Danish connection, and coming from Norway, this was almost like home for me. My gut reaction, however, was that the accusations could not be true. If Denmark is like Norway, you probably couldn't open a private account there without a national identity number, and, more importantly, if you are from the Caribbean and have 40 million € to hide, would you pick Denmark over let's say the Cayman Islands?

The whole story tells us something about the media in the DR, both the fringe, unserious media, represented by Marcos Martínez, and the mainstream media which is paralysed by its self-censorship (a fact that is much more evident in the Félix Bautista case than in this case, and in a host of other cases of scandals involving important people). Furthermore it gives insight into differences in political culture between Scandinavia and the DR, and teaches us the value of having a professional, autonomous and politically independent bureaucracy (even though we might dislike bureaucracy in Scandinavia as well, some time in the DR or other places like the DR, teaches you the value of rules and regulations that are upheld by the state).

Let me quickly first take up the story again. First, in February 2012 Martínez accuses the first lady and current vice-presidential candidate for owning a bank account with more than 40 million € in Den Danske Bank. Martínez had no evidence, but said he had evidence securely stored and would present them at a later date (first sign that this is a lie). Then, what struck me was that no serious newspaper or media picked up on this (that means they thought this could be true). Canal 55 and Martínez's show is a far way off mainstream media and any impact on the daily political agenda. Nevertheless, such an accusation, true or false, would have been great news-stuff in most other countries. In what seems to be a pattern, however, the main news-media only pick up critical stories of people close to power (the presidency, senators, ministers) when the accused denies the story. By denying the scandal, the accused has confirmed the accusation exists and it is ok for regular media to cover the story (the coverage, however, is generally that the negation of the accusation gets great coverage, while the accusation and potential evidence, do not). So when Margarita denied the accusations on twitter, if I remember correctly, and then stated that she would sue him for diffamation and what have you, the case exploded in the mainstream media (as a contrast the Félixgate, which actually seems true and involved high-end corruption in DR and Haiti, still receives little news coverage), and became dubbed the Margaritagate.

Sadly, and typically, the media and politicians here were more interested in the accusations and refutations among the politicians than finding out whether the whole thing was true. The Prosecutor General for instance should have been very interested in this. If it were true, then he could probably accuse the First Lady of tax evasion, corruption and what have you (in the USA this Prosecutor/Attorney General would have made a career on this, not so in the DR). If it were false, then he could run a case against the journalist for lies, defamation, etc. In the end the prosecutor general was not interested in doing anything (maybe out of fear that the accusations were true?). Therefore, I took matters into my own hands and contacted and tipped off two respectable Danish newspapers, one of which was interested and took the case. This was Berlingske Tidende which wrote this article on the matter. Apparently at the time via Facebook, Dominicans had sent messages to Den Danske Bank asking for information about the First lady's supposed account, but gotten the answer that any account information was classified and could not be released. The Berlingske Tidende article basically said that Den Danske Bank could not release any information about their clients, and that the Financial Supervisory Authority of Denmark could not give any statement about this either.

On behalf of the First Lady, the President of the Dominican Superintendence of the Banks, Ng Cortiñas, however, had gotten in contact with his Danish colleague, who informally had said to his Dominican colleague that no such bank account existed. This information, which the Danish Financial Supervisory Authority had gotten from Den Danske Bank, had to be kept a secret since the Danish Bank and the Financial Supervisory Authority officially could not give out such information. As a favour to his Dominican peer, the Danish helped the First lady out. Here, however, is where the culture clash and difference between a professional and politicised bureaucracy create problems in Denmark and DR.
While the Danish boss of the FSA is a professional (economist, I presume), the Dominican President of the Superintendencia de Bancos is a politician. Now that Ng Cortiñas (the president of the Superintendencia de Bancos) had gotten confirmed that the First Lady did not have a bank account in Den Danske Bank, he immediately held a press conference stating that Mikkel Holle from FSA in Denmark had confirmed this. The problem occurred when Berlingske Tidende asked Mikkel Holle about this and he of course had to deny to ever have given out any information to his Dominican colleague (which if it were true, would have been illegal). The Danish FSA of course assumed that the information would be handled with discretion and not used politically. The danes probably expected that Ng Cortiñas would tell this to the prosecutor general and maybe the president.

The case had indeed become political at that time. Marcos Martínez who originally made the accusation, was a former member of the PRD and its 1980s splinter party the PRI, and the PLD (the First Lady's party) used this information to discredit Martínez. He did not need much discrediting, really, because after some time he presented the following picture from a supposed internet bank account as evidence for the First Lady's and Félix Bautista's supposed accounts (on YouTube you can find several analyses of why these are false).

PRD followers, on the other hand, took the pictures to be real evidence and were even more strongly convinced that Margarita indeed had this account together with her brother Alberto Cedeño and the "crook" Félix Bautista. Furthermore, as news of the Berlingske Tidende news story came to the DR (it helped that BT translated the story into English), the PRD had reason to question Ng Cortiñas's story where he stated that his Danish colleagues had cleaned the First Lady's name. Now, with evidence from Denmark the PRD could say that what Ng Cortiñas told during the press conference was a lie. So the culture clash between the Dominican and Danish Bank superintendents also came back to haunt the Dominican government. Mikkel Holle, who Ng Cortiñas said he had spoken to, said he was surprised to be quoted in Dominican newspapers. In this case the Dominican Bank supervisor had fooled his Danish counterpart in order to score political points, but in the end he ended up raising more doubts about the First Lady. According to what I know from my sources, the conversation, or exchange of information between Denmark and the DR did actually take place, and it was confirmed that the First Lady does not have a bank account in Den Danske Bank (and of course, the evidence presented is false).

I was quoted in Berlingske Tidende that the opposition would believe this story, and that the PLD supporters would not believe this story, no matter the evidence. Even though in the previous blog I stated that during these electoral times one cannot trust surveys, I will here present an interesting graph demonstrating to which degree people now believe the First Lady actually has a bank account in Denmark. This survey was done by Greenberg on behalf of the newspaper Diario Libre (if anything, this survey was probably tilted in favour of the PRD), and more or less confirm my comment to BT.

Source: Diario Libre, Tuesday April 3
The columns show whether people think the accusations were true (Verdadero) false (Falso) or whether they do not know, or do not want to answer (No sabe/se rehúsa), and separate the answer according to which party the respondents will vote for on May 20. Only 8% of the PLD supporters believe the accusations to be true, while 55% of the PRD supporters have the same faith (33% in total population). Interestingly a full 21% of the PRD supporters believe them to be false, and also a 24% do not answer or do not know. The survey at least demonstrates that if accusations against your own party comes from the opposition, you will not trust them, and if the accusations come from your own against the other party, you are likely to trust them, but not blindly. There is therefore clearly a divide between the parties here, and it might lead us to speculate whether the revelations of so-called scandals may have any effect on the vote on May 20. Clearly in this case the evidence were really poor, but a better test might be the case of Félix Bautista and his corruption schemes which are well-documented (but silenced in the media). Will people from the PLD believe these accusations? If so, will that have any effect on their inclination to switch and vote for the PRD? The answer to the latter also depends on the likeability of the PRD candidate (which is not very high). Given the tightness of the DR election, even false scandals like this may have the sufficient effect to sway the election one way or the other, but I think the number of scandals that now pop up just is overkill and make the scandals lose any effect they might have...

Another problem with such false scandals and accusations is that they for one take away attention from the real scandals (the government is right now smoke-screening the Félix Bautista scandal inventing that a close associate and proven corrupted dirt-bag, of Hipólito Mejía may be complotting to remove President Martelly in Haiti), and false scandals make the real scandals less reliable.

Therefore it is important to know how you recognize a real scandal from a false one here in the DR, here are some ground rules:

1) False announcements of scandals are never accompanied with evidence right away. More often than not, the announcer would say that evidence is hidden to protect the announcer, and threaten to reveal the evidence any moment. Real scandals are presented with evidence right away, and almost always unequivocal evidence.

2) False announcements of scandals often come from political parties or people alligned with political parties, and regards the opposing party. Real scandals are almost always presented by Nuria Piera (and occassionally local journalists, Alicia Ortega or

3) False announcements of scandals generally get more attention in the media than real scandals. If they are against the government there is no risk in publishing them since they are false. If they are against the opposition the more attention the scandal is given the more damage it may make. Real scandals are never given much attention in mainstream media such as El Caribe, Hoy, Listín Diario until the denial is out and then only the denials are given attention.

4) False announcements of scandals are more often than not met with reactions that the scandalised victim will sue the announcer for defamation. There is no risk for the scandalised victim to go to court. If the accusations were true, evidence might get out, so a day in court is to be avoided at all costs. Real scandals are met with silence and denial, no one is sued.

The Martínez case is for now, getting to an end. Martínez has been summoned to court and has met the prosecutor in Santiago for interrogation on the matter. He still holds his information to be true (who wouldn't in this part of the world, admitting a lie or that you were wrong would clearly be against the "Claro!" culture nicely described by Diego Gambetta some years back), and Martínez even put out more evidence that the First Lady had made illegal payments to suppliers here in the DR as well. Martínez's morning show was also closed down last week. Explanations for the reason why, differ according to which party you belong to. The Canal 55 owners say it is because Martínez failed to show up for a couple of shows (which Martínez explains with being "held hostage" in his own home due to the police watching/surrounding his house making it impossible for him go get out). Martínez, however, argues that his show was closed down due to political pressure from the PLD. As always there are two versions here in the DR: the official version and the anti-government version. And, as always, no one is really interested in finding out which is closest to the truth.

Martínez will get his day in court since he was sued by the First Lady. He might get sentenced, probably just fined, we'll see, but since this was clearly a blunt lie, it seems obvious that he will lose any case in court. Should, however, the PRD win the presidential elections on May 20, I will not be surprised if Martínez will be back as a journalist quite soon, or get a good job in the new government. Hipólito Mejía, for instance, said when he was in New York during Easter, that he believes Martínez's accusations to be true, which is not surprising coming from that guy. Mejía has a very interesting view and vision of reality, and has, just as President Leonel Fernández, no problems working with previously convicted persons. 

Monday, 9 April 2012

The War of the Surveys

Semana Santa is over, and the latest bulletin from COE (Centro de Operaciones de Emergencia) reports that 40 people died during Easter week this year (16 more than last year). The majority died in traffic accidents, and the majority of dead in traffic accidents are motor cyclists (probably without a helmet). The last day of Semana Santa also brought the first dead of this electoral campaign as fighting turned into gunshots between PLD and PRD supporters during campaigning in Moca. One PRD supporter died and a PLD activist was wounded. During the easter week the candidates had promised not to do any campaigning, so Mejía and Medina went to the USA to campaign there (since campaigning abroad was not mentioned in the Pacto de Civilidad the candidates signed a week before Easter). The major parties' activists, however, campaigned both on Thursday and on Easter Sunday, when traffic in and out of the cities was the highest, creating a lot of extra traffic jams and frustration among people.

Now that Easter is over, the quiet week turns into a noisy last 40 days of electoral campaigning. I am taking a lot of taxis in the capital these days, and most taxistas say that it doesn't matter who wins as long as there only is one round of elections (In fact a political cartoonist from El Día argued today that Jesus Christ's suffering only lasted the Long Friday, while the Dominican people's suffering would last until May 20, ie. election day). A particular feat of the campaigns in the DR is "la guerra de las encuestas", the war of the Surveys, and today I got to experience a little part of that when I went to a press conference organised by Benenson Strategy Group (see also Wikipedia) who wanted to publicise their latest survey. Before I get to that survey, let me briefly display this "war" between the top two candidates.

The bandwagon effect is well known among behaviouralists and within political science and electoral studies. The idea is that people feel better if they support the winner, and that makes some voters vote for the candidate that seems most likely to win the election (independent of what they think of this candidate). The opposite effect would be the underdog effect, but of the two, the bandwagon effect has gotten more attention and seems to be more solidly supported by evidence and studies. The parties in the DR must think that the bandwagon effect is particularly strong here, because both major candidates put great effort into publishing that the surveys put them on top and a sure winner in the first round. Therefore walking the streets of Santo Domingo you can see that part of Danilo Medina's strategy is basically to show that a majority supports him, see for instance this poster (even though the guy you see on the photo in the lower right corner, and his three other friends (not in the photo) playing domino on a street off the Malecón in Santo Domingo on Saturday April 7, all said they supported "Papá", ie. Hipólito Mejía).

Several places in the city you'll see the posters showing that either 52 or 56% prefers Danilo or thinks that Danilo will win the election. Both parties also pay for full page ads in the major newspapers. On Wednesday 4 of April, Danilo reports that all surveys show him as winner in the first round, referring to ASISA's survey of March 27 and 28 which as Medina as winner with 52.8% against Mejía's 45% (others 2.2%), and NEWLINK Research's survey from March 31-April 1, which has the Danilo/Margarita ticket(-s) as winner with 49.1% against Mejía/Abinader with 44%. Today, on April 9, however, Hipólitio Mejía and the PRD retaliated with a full page in El Día, El Nacional, and Hoy (and potentially other newspapers) stating "change is coming" and that the surveys confirm it. Even though Medina said that all surveys point to him as winner, Mejía could present at least four surveys that disagree with Medina. According to Mejía's ad, Bendixen and Amandi's survey from March 23-31 has Mejía as winner with 51.4% against Medina's 39.7%, JZ analytics (31 March) has 49% for Mejía, 44% for Medina, Ana María Acevedo (27-30 March) has Mejía/Abinader with 51.8% and Medina/Cedeño with 44.7%, and Greenberg-Diario Libre has Mejía with 49% and Medina with 46%. My summary of these surveys is just below, and an average of all these surveys (plus the Benenson Strategy group survey) puts Mejía just above Medina with 47.2 against 46.3% (but bear in mind that this includes four surveys used in Mejía adds, two used in Medina adds, and the Benenson survey, which for reasons I deal with below, I am sure will be used in Medina adds soon. This gives Mejía a 4-3 edge in surveys for this average calculation).

So why are the surveys so important? Well, there are reasons to believe that the Bandwagon effect should be strong in the DR, although I have never seen any evidence that substantiates this. First of all, the DR is a clientelistic society and state. Literally thousands of people are promised jobs by the candidates during the campaign, and the candidates will deliver as best as they can if they win office. If you belong to the winner you increase your chances tremendously of getting a "botella", i.e. a state-job won through clientelism, or being put on the nomina which puts you on the payroll without you having to work; and if you are with the loser you are guaranteed not to get either. If you can demonstrate that during the campaign you worked for the winner, you own a party membership card, and so on, you have a shot. The bandwagon effect could be important for everyone trying to decide the last few months and wants to become active in the campaign with the motive of winning a state job. Second, as mentioned in an earlier blog, there are virtually no ideological differences between the two main parties, which both started out on the left, but are now relatively conservative parties. The less ideology means in an election, the more likely it is that voters may be swayed by other motives, such as a bandwagon effect. Third, many do not want a second round and may vote for the likely winner according to the surveys just to avoid a round number 2 (there is a ballotage if no candidate gets 50%+1 vote in the first round), which is likely to enhance a bandwagon effect. 

Most of these surveys cannot be taken seriously, and I do not trust any of these now that election day is getting closer. Historically it is Hamilton and Gallup that have produced the most reliable surveys here, but I have not seen any of these doing surveys in March. In February Hamilton reported that Medina had 50% vs. Mejía's 45% (and given the margin of error that is a technical draw). The latest example of a non-trustworthy survey is the one from the respectable US firm Benenson Strategy group. This is a firm that does surveys, but mainly to be used to provide consults to politicians, find political solutions, etc. See their webpage: Benenson reports that Juan Manuel Santos, Barack Obama, UK Labour Party and other prominent politicians are and have been their clients. They sell information to politicians and give politicians advice (a bit like accounting firms/consulting firms doing accounting and consulting for the same companies, recent US history demonstrates that this was a bad combination). So Benenson is a serious firm, but normally hired by politicians for (among other things) survey-based advice, which in the DR context makes them unreliable given that potentially the best advice Benenson could give a candidate is to demonstrate strength in surveys, and then produce this survey.

Anyway, today, April 9, at 10 am Benenson called for a press conference at the relatively new hotel Holiday Inn in the posh area of Lincoln Avenue (fun fact is that while Holiday Inn is a moderately priced hotel/motel in the USA, in the DR Holiday Inn is a luxury, business hotel which is more expensive than the luxurious Inter-Continental hotel in Santo Domingo that belongs to the same chain of hotels). As demonstrated in the graph above, Benenson could report 48% for Medina and 40% for Mejía when all candidates were included; asked about the ticket (but excluding other candidates) 51% for Medina/Cedeño vs. 43% for Mejía/Abinader; it was pointed out that Medina/Cedeño was strong among women (55% vs. 37%); that the majority (51%) thinks Medina will win in the first round; that Mejía has the strongest rejection among voters, 39% say they would never vote for Mejía, only 27% say the same about Medina; that 77% say that the election will be decided in the first round and that among these 77%, 57% think that Danilo Medina will win (39% think Mejía would win); and that 54% were more satisfied with the Fernández government (2004-2012), while 43% less satisfied with the Fernández government compared to the Mejía government (2000-2004).

There are many things to say about the presentation of this survey, all of which convinces me that this survey is ordered by PLD, the Medina (and in particular the Cedeño) faction or companies close to the PLD/Medina/Cedeño. But, first I have to declare that since I was not a journalist I did not receive the CD with the background data material that the survey is based on, I only received the print-out of the PPT slides that the Benenson representatives showed at the press-release. Therefore these comments are based on my impression from that press-conference and from the PPT-slides. Even though I am quite confident that this survey is ordered by the PLD, or indirectly by the PLD, this does not mean that the numbers the survey shows are wrong. On that account I can only say that I have no way of knowing whether they are correct or wrong. Second, according to the PPT-slides the survey is based on 1200 respondents, which should make out a reprentative sample, and the margin is +/- 2.83 points.

There are five elements that convince me the PLD is behind this survey: 1) the questions, which all are centered around what seems to be Danilo Medina's message in this campaign; 2) the slides; 3) the presentation of the slides by Benenson; 4) the fact that Benenson would not say who hired them; 5) the type of firm Benenson is.

1) Danilo has centered his message on several key issues, most of which were covered with questions in this survey. Medina focuses on the fact that he shall win the women, and together with Margarita Cedeño he highlights the women's importance, arguing that Margarita gives Danilo a dimension that Abinader does not give Mejía. Second, as mentioned above as well, Medina argues not only that he will win, he will win in the first round, and that he is the candidate that most people think will win (in addition to being the candidate that most people would vote for). Third, Medina and the PLD works as hard as they can to link Mejía (rightfully) to his disastrous rule in 2000-2004, and that is the worst (and most disliked) politician of this century. Fourth, even though Medina offers slogans of "cambio", it is qualified as "cambio seguro", which points out the insecurity of the erratic Mejía. In addition, Medina points out that he will continue that which is good. All of these elements were covered by questions in the survey. The survey's questions thus fits Medina's message quite well, and as such, works to confirm what Medina is arguing day in and day out to the public. The survey first points out that Danilo is more popular than Mejía, then by adding the vice-presidency to the ticket (and by excluding the rest of the candidates), the survey suggests that Margarita brings more to the table than Abinader (Mejía's vice-presidential candidate), which is victory in the first round for Medina. Then it looks at gender-support for the ticket, demonstrating strong female support for Medina/Cedeño, before it builds on Medina's message that people no matter what they vote, think that he will win, and with another question asking the ones who knows who to vote for whether they think it will be decided in the first round and who they think will win (yes, Medina). Finally, supporting Medina's message of "cambio seguro" and continue what is good, it looks at the rejection rate of the candidates and compares Fernández with Medina. The questions (and sum of answers) all fit Medina's message too well.

All of this is done quite well, and are relatively weak circumstantial evidence for my hypothesis. Therefore, I turn the attention to the slides which includes a couple of, maybe, equally weak circumstantial evidence (the reader will have to judge this). First of all, the slides highlights Medina's positive results through headings, everything in the text is written as to underscore the strength of Medina instead of presenting dull, statistical survey results, and to convince us that Medina will win in the first round. Only Medina is mentioned in headings with one exception to highlight Mejía's high rejection percentage. Second, as a consequence of the first point, Mejía's name is almost never mentioned, all is about Medina and Margarita Cedeño, and strangely enough Margarita Cedeño is always mentioned with first and last name, Medina only with first name (is it because she is a woman?, or is there some other reason?). 3) On the gender-based breakdown of support for the candidates, the slide highlights and circles how more women than men support Medina, it does not highlight that more men than women support Mejía. Granted, this difference is smaller, but could have been mentioned. All in all, the slides seem created to convince that Medina is the sure bet, which fits well with a theory that you believe the bandwagon-effect is important.

The presentation in itself also supports, in my view, the tendencies I note above. The oral presentation seemed to aim to convince us Medina would win. But, given the fact that these guys are professional survey analysts, some strange corners were cut in the presentation (and on the slides) that made Medina look better. First is the strange assessment by the presenter (who I think was Giancarlo Sopo, but I am not sure, I arrived a bit late) that when including Cedeño in the question the survey demonstrates Medina would win in the first round (and implying her importance being greater than Abinader's). This is basically a white lie given the fact that this question only asked about preference of the two main tickets Medina/Cedeño and Mejía/Abinader and excluded the smaller parties. Therefore Medina reached the 50% threshold, it was not because Cedeño was added. In fact Benenson's own numbers give Medina a three point increase when adding Cedeño to the question (and excluding all minor parties/candidates), but the same is the result for Mejía/Abinader. Also, the oral presentation highlighted all the positive numbers for Medina/Cedeño and highlighted any negative numbers for Mejía without any caveats. Again, I repeat myself, my impression is that the presentation was made to convince us that Medina would win, not to present dry results.

When asked by a journalist who had commissioned this survey, Benenson answered "a group of private companies" whose identity they could not disclose. This is probably true. A group of companies may have paid for this on a promise of anonymity. For all we know these companies might be owned by Félix Bautista (see my previous blog). However, given this fact, I do not trust the survey. Surveys may be manipulated and I see no valid reason why some companies, whichever they are, should want to hide themselves if they order a survey done. Of the surveys listed above, we know who ordered one of seven. This is the one ordered by Diario Libre, and in my view is the most reliable of the ones I have registered in March (but a source in the PLD tells me that these figures were fixed before published in the Diario Libre...if that is true, I do not know, but what is clear is that Diario Libre did what they could to present Mejía in a positive light in their presentation of that survey, and that on the second day of releasing results from the survey it became clear that Mejía's lead over Medina was somewhat more qualified than what was presented the first day). Given the fact that the DR is a democracy, albeit imperfect, there is no reason to hold back who orders a survey unless you want to hide that it may have been ordered for political reasons (which I believe is the case here).

Finally, Benenson lives of giving advice to politicians and uses surveys to do so. The use of surveys is used to fine-tune politicians' message, not to report results and inform the public. Therefore I am not surprised that the questions fit Medina's message so well (this, however, is no reason for the survey company to cheat with the survey, but many results can be created by the formulation of questions, etc). Benenson in fact brags in their webpages of all the politicians they have worked for (and they are mostly politicians...can the PLD be considered a private company?), why would they suddenly want to keep this a secret now. It could be nice for Benenson to have the PLD and Leonel Fernández as clients. Fernández holds a very good name in Latin America, why not put that on their webpage? I believe this survey is made with the purpose of giving advice to Medina and Cedeño, which is what Benenson does. It is therefore not an objective survey, and I do not trust its results. It may be that the correct figures are presented, or it might be that the correct figures are only presented to the candidates to fine-tune the message, and that Benenson gave advice to "juice" the official stats to win more support. We cannot know. I can basically see no reason for why Benenson would harm their name in producing bad surveys, but then again, they will do what is best for whoever contracts them. If the presented results are false, I presume the candidates have seen the correct results. The only motive for not presenting the correct results must be the fear of not getting a contract renewal for another survey if the results are bad for the candidate. But, as mentioned, I have not seen the data material and cannot say anything about the veracity of the results presented. What I do think I have argued well for is that Benenson's message seemed like ordered by the PLD: The questions, the slides and the presentation fit Medina's message extremely well, they seem created to convince the public that Medina is a sure bet, and therefore seem biased and non-trustworthy.

I must finally add that this long story of a survey which I think is paid for by the PLD or companies that support the PLD, is only one of probably many such examples in this (and previous) campaigns. I will probably not write extensively about other politicised surveys, but I want to add that this could just as well have been a story about a survey ordered by the PRD. I happened to write about this one since I had the opportunity to go to this press-conference.