Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1985

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC



The Dominican Republic is a pluralistic, constitutional
democracy with an elected president and a bicameral congress.
The Supreme Court heads an independent judiciary whose members
are appointed by the Senate. President Salvador Jorge Blanco
is in the final year of a four-year term which began in August
1982 following fair and competitive elections. Political
parties representing the political spectrum from left to right
freely participate in the political process and are actively
engaged in preparations for national elections scheduled for
May 16, 1986. The military is fully responsive to the
civilian governmental authorities and committed to
constitutional order.

The Dominican Republic is a middle to lower income, developing
country with a mixed economy based primarily on agriculture
and services. Partly as a result of the 1930-1961
dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo, the Government still accounts
for 20 to 25 percent of the gross domestic product and
controls several major industries. The national income is
unevenly distributed, but there is a significant middle
class. Historically, sugar has been the Dominican Republic's
principal export. Faced with the prolonged depression of the
world sugar market and low prices for its other agricultural
exports, the country has confronted a serious economic crisis
since 1982. To address these problems, the Government has
undertaken difficult economic austerity and financial
adjustment measures based on agreements with the International
Monetary Fund (IMF). As a result, living standards have
fallen, especially for the poor and lower middle class
majority.

During 1985, Dominicans continued generally to exercise and
enjoy the broad range of human rights guaranteed them under
the 1966 Constitution. The political environment remained
unrestricted, and individuals and political groups freely
debated and criticized the policies and programs of the
Government. Preparations for the May 1986 elections moved
forward. While opposition to the Government's economic
austerity measures led to periodic protests and strikes, there
was not a repeat of the violent disturbances which occurred in
April 1984. On several occasions the Government temporarily
detained Communist and other leftist political leaders as well
as some labor leaders on the grounds that they were preparing
illegal protest actions that would disrupt the civil peace.
Although they have charged harassment, those detained were
routinely released within the 48-hour constitutional limit for
detention without charges.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
Freedom from:

a. Political Killing

There were no known politically motivated killings in 1985.
However, there have been allegations that government and
police authorities may have- been involved in the murder of a
foreign exchange trader. Hector Mendez, and his chauffeur in
January 1985. The Government has made arrests and charged
that the murders were perpetrated by terrorists seeking to
raise funds for radical leftist political activities. The
trial is pending. Also, a youth was apparently shot and
killed in March during clashes between police and students
demonstrating in favor of a larger budget for the Autonomous
University of Santo Domingo.

b. Disappearance

There were no credible reports of politically motivated
disappearances in 1985. A local, private human rights
organization. The Dominican Human Rights Committee, and the
International League for Human Rights issued reports in June
which denounced 58 alleged disappearances between 1981 and
1984. Also, Haitian refugees resident in the Dominican
Republic have asserted that Israel Valmy and two other Haitian
refugees disappeared after being arrested by government
security forces in May. There is no reliable evidence to
suggest that these alleged disappearances were politically
motivated or involved the Government.

c. Torture and Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or
Punishment

The Constitution prohibits torture, and it is not practiced.
In 1985 there was a series of reports of police and security
force abuse of prisoners, including the well-publicized death
of popular band leader Tony Seval while in custody. The press
routinely reports cases of police abuse. Prisoners and their
families have access to the press which contributes to
deterring cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment and
encourages the Government to take corrective action. In most
instances, government and police officials have indicated a
concern to redress improper behavior by police, but they have
not always effected the needed changes. Members of the
National Police on the northern coast who abused tourists and
extorted money were punished and removed from the force.
However, other reports of extortion continue.

The individual arrested and charged with the January murder of
the local foreign exchange trader, Mendez, has since asserted
that he confessed to the crime only after the police had
threatened him and his family and tortured him. The case is
still pending trial.

The inadec[uately financed prison system suffers from
unsanitary conditions and overcrowding. The overcrowding
results in part from the slowness of the judicial process
under which many prisoners remain in custody while awaiting
trial. Financial constraints continue to handicap the
Government's ability to improve the prison situation.
Judicial authorities are studying measures to modernize the
trial process and otherwise reform the administration of
justice.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

There are no known instances of arbitrary arrest, illegal
detention, or exile of individuals for expressing views
contrary to or critical of the Government.

On several occasions in the first half of 1985, the Government
detained members of radical leftist parties, labor
organizations, and populist groups who were instigating or
preparing to instigate public disturbances to protest economic
austerity measures. Those so detained were usually released
within 48 hours, which is the maximum period stipulated by the
Constitution for holding suspects for investigation before
arraignment. On February 5, for example, the Government
arrested 14 leftist political and labor leaders who were
involved in preparations for a nationwide general strike set
for February 11, and charged them with activities prejudicial
to public peace and constitutional order. The Attorney
General issued a release order for the 14 on February 12, in
response to a writ of habeas corpus ordered by the courts.

There appears to be no evidence of policies or practices of
forced labor, although isolated incidents may occur involving
seasonal Haitian canecutters employed in the country's sugar
industry. The Haitian canecutters can quit their jobs and are
free to leave the plantations, but those who are illegal
residents and those under contract to the State Sugar Council
who have abandoned their jobs are subject to deportation.
They are not forcibly returned to the fields.

An agreement concluded in October 1984 between the Government
of Haiti and the Dominican State Sugar Council (CEA) provided
improvements in the situation of Haitian agricultural workers
in the Dominican Republic. Among other provisions, the
agreement reduces the possibility of forced labor by: (1)
providing that Haitian workers be informed of the location
where they are to work upon their arrival at the Dominican
border; (2) abandoning the practice of transferring workers
from one sugar plantation to another; (3) permitting Haitian
workers to retain their own travel documents; and (4)
providing vehicles equipped with loudspeakers to inform the
workers in Creole of their rights and obligations.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

There are no known political prisoners.

The Constitution guarantees a public trial. No special court
for political or national security cases exists, and civilians
may not be tried by a military court. Members of the armed
forces are not tried by civilian courts, except under
specified circumstances and only after a military board has
reviewed the case and decided to permit the case to pass to
the civilian courts. The appeals procedure, which includes
appellate courts and the Supreme Court, is widely utilized.
Court-appointed lawyers are usually provided at public expense
to indigents only in criminal cases. They are seldom provided
in criminal misdemeanor cases where their provision is at the
court's discretion. Prosecuting attorneys are appointed by
the executive branch.

Judges at all levels are selected by the Senate and are
independent of the executive branch, subject to removal or
transfer by a majority vote in the Senate. Their terms of
office correspond to that of the President and other elected
officials, ending on the last day of the incumbent
administration regardless of date of appointment. Judges have
displayed independence in their actions and are not known to
persecute opponents of the administration. However, judges
earn a relatively low salary, and the fairness and quickness
of some trials have been subject to influence and
manipulation. There is a widespread public belief, buttressed
by some concrete reports, that judges and prosecutors at the
lower court level accept bribes.

Judges engaged in a nationwide strike between July and
October, demanding higher salaries, better working conditions.
and more resources for the judicial branch. During this
period the administration of justice came to a virtual
standstill. The strike was resolved when the Government
raised the salaries of judges, promised additional financial
resources for the courts, and agreed to permit the judicial
branch to administer its own budget.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or
Correspondence

There have been no reports of arbitrary governmental
interference with the private lives of individuals or
families. Constitutional safeguards against invasion of the
home are normally observed. A residence may not be searched
unless the search is made in the presence of a prosecutor or
an assistant prosecutor, except in cases of "hot pursuit" or
when there is a probable cause to believe that a crime is
actually occurring within the residence. Because of theft
within the postal department there is little public confidence
in the mail system.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Rights, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

These liberties are guaranteed by law and respected.
Dominican newspapers are privately owned and freely reflect
opposition points of view and criticism of the current
Government. The numerous privately owned radio and television
stations air all political points of view. Moreover, there
are frequent exchanges of views between government officials
and all media elements.

There is no government censorship on political grounds.
However, there have been cases in which the Government has
taken action against media elements. For example, during
strikes and protests which followed the Government's January
23 announcement of economic austerity measures, some
journalists were temporarily detained by security forces and
removed from the scene of disturbances. Also at this time,
the Government acted to prohibit mobile radio units from
entering areas of Santo Domingo where strikes or disorders
were occurring, ostensibly to avoid inciting further
disorders. This restriction was subsequently lifted.

In addition, there have been charges, denied by government
spokesmen, that the Government sought to pressure the media
against actively covering all aspects of the Hector Mendez
murder case. Concern has also been expressed by some
newspapermen and opposition politicians that the Government
seeks to pressure and influence the media through its large
advertising budget and the manner in which it distributes paid
government advertisements to the newspapers, television, and
radio stations.

In December, the media and political opposition criticized the
Government for ordering a privately owned television station
to remain off the air and for allegedly playing a role in the
cancellation of a talk show on another channel. In the first
case, the station was owned by a prominent political figure of
an opposition party. In the latter, the show's host had
scheduled an interview with the leader of a rival faction
within the ruling party. The Government has stated that the
Station was ordered off the air for technical irregularities
in its transmissions and has denied any role in the talk
show's cancellation.

While customs authorities from time to time confiscate
Communist literature, books of all political persuasions are
readily available for public sale. University autonomy and
academic freedom are respected by the Government.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Freedom of peaceful assembly and association is guaranteed by
the Constitution. Outdoor public marches and meetings require
official government permits which are routinely granted.
Throughout 1985 there were numerous such gatherings of parties
and groups of diverse political orientations. Likewise,
indoor gatherings of political parties, labor unions, and
other associations are unrestricted.

Labor unions have not historically played a significant role
in the Dominican Republic, and less that 15 percent of the
labor force is organized. The trade union movement is highly
fragmented — there are eight national labor confederations — and
very politicized. Moreover, the confederations exercise only
a limited degree of control over their affiliates. Between
October 1983 and mid-1985, however, over 250 new unions were
officially recognized. Many of the confederations are
affiliated with regional and international labor organizations.

Approximately one-third of Dominican organized labor is
Communist controlled or influenced. The politically
affiliated labor organizations frequently pursue partisan
political objectives rather than workers' economic demands.
The Government has on occasion briefly detained labor union
leaders in order to stop strikes or other labor actions it
considered illegal. Rising unemployment and the continued
deterioration of the nation's economy have hampered the growth
of organized labor. Unions have the right to negotiate and to
strike, even though they operate under the handicap of a dated
labor code written during the Trujillo dictatorship that gives
unions few rights vis-a-vis management. For example, there is
no effective protection for organizers or union officials.
The current administration has, however, given unions more
leeway under the existing legislation than previously and has
proposed legislation to modernize the labor code and enhance
universally recognized labor rights.

Professional organizations of lawyers, doctors, journalists,
and others function freely. Like the unions, these
organizations are free to maintain relations with counterpart
international bodies of diverse political philosophies.

c. Freedom of Religion

Discrimination on racial, religious, or ethnic grounds is
prohibited by the Constitution. There are no religious
recjuirements to hold public office, no restrictions on the
practice of religious faiths, and no social discrimination
based on religion. However, approximately 95 percent of the
population is Roman Catholic, and the Church's preeminent
position is accepted by the populace at large and is
recognized in the Concordat between the Dominican Republic and
the Holy See.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign
Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

There are no unusual restrictions on travel within or outside
the country. Many political exiles returned after a 1978
amnesty, but a legal ban on the return of certain members of
the Trujillo family still exists.

The status and treatment of Haitians living in the Dominican
Republic has been criticized by the press and the public, both
in the Dominican Republic and abroad. The Haitian community
of approximately 500,000 is composed mainly of illegal
immigrants seeking employment and better living conditions.
This figure also includes between 400 and 450 individuals,
most opponents of Haitian President Duvalier, who have
received "political refugee" status from the Dominican
Government. Illegal immigrants are routinely deported under
Dominican immigration law, while those seeking poltical refuge
are not repatriated if the Government determines that they
have a legitimate fear of persecution. There are restrictions
against foreigners engaging in political activity directed
against another country.

In September, several Haitians with political refugee status
in the Dominican Republic, who maintained that they were
politically persecuted, were freely permitted to depart the
country for Costa Rica. In October, two groups consisting
respectively of six and seven Haitian residents of the
Dominican Republic occupied the Venezuelan Embassy and the
Italian Ambassador's residence in Santo Domingo. The
Haitians, recognized as political refugees by both the
Dominican Government and the United Nations High Commission on
Refugees, charged that they were being politically persecuted
by Haitian security forces in the Dominican Republic and
requested asylum. The Dominican Foreign Ministry issued a
communique rejecting the Haitians' charges, guaranteeing the
safety of the refugees, and noting that the Haitians were
completely free to leave the Dominican Republic if they
desired. Subsequent Dominican government declarations stated
that neither foreigners nor Dominicans are allowed to
intimidate residents of the Dominican Republic and denied that
Haitian intelligence agents operate inside the country.

At the request of the concerned embassies, Dominican police on
November 2 removed all those Haitians who had not previously
departed the premises: three in the Venezulean mission and six
in the Italian residence. The Haitians were not detained by
Dominican authorities.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government

The Dominican Republic is a fxinctioning multiparty democracy
in which governments are freely elected by the citizenry.
Opposition groups of the left, right, and center are allowed
to operate openly. The change in ruling parties brought about
in the 1978 elections, and the free ai.d fair elections held in
1982, demonstrate the established right of citizens to change
their government via the ballot box. The ample participation
of the opposition Social Christian Reformist Party and the
pro-Cuban Dominican Liberation Party in the independent
Dominican legislature underlines the climate for pluralism and
political participation. Political parties and other
political movements are freely engaged in organizational
efforts and in campaigning for the national elections
scheduled for May 16, 1986. l.\ addition, the Central
Electoral Board, an independent government body charged with
administering the elections, has begun preparations to assure
open, honest elections.

In November, the internal nominating process of the ruling
Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) was marred by
irregularities and violence. Vote counting to determine the
PRD presidential candidate was interrupted by a violent
confrontation between rival bands inside convention
headquarters the day after the party's convention and primary
election. The official vote count had not resumed by the end
of the year.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and

Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations
of Human Rights

The Dominican Republic participates actively in international
and regional human rights bodies and supports human rights
issues in international forums. International human rights
organizations have been allowed free access to the country.
The Government has cooperated fully with the investigation
into the sensitive subject of the treatment of Haitian
refugees and migrant workers. At the June 1985 meeting of the
International Labor Organization (ILO) Conference Committee on
the Application of Conventions and Recommendations, the
Dominican Government submitted a report identifying the
changes it had introduced to improve the working conditions of
Haitian sugar canecutters in the country. The report, which
was generally well received, responded to criticisms contained
in a 1983 ILO report on the situation of Haitian seasonal
agricultural workers.

Private organizations which freely report and comment on
alleged human rights violations include the Dominican Human
Rights Committee (CDH) and the Dominican Union for the Defense
of Human Rights (UDHU) . The major allegations of these
organizations in 1985 were that the detention of leftist and
labor figures was a means of harassment rather than
investigation, and that the public order was not threatened by
the actions or plans of those detained. The CDH also charged
that there were 58 disappearances between 1981-1984, although
the group did not assert that the majority of the
disappearances were politically motivated or
government-instigated. Rather, the CDH seemed to fault the
Government for its failure to investigate adequately the
disappearances. The Government has not harassed these
organizations for their criticism of official actions or
policies.

In June the U.S. -based International League for Human Rights,
drawing on information provided by the CDH, presented a report
to the United Nations Working Group on Involuntary and Forced
Disappearances which denounced 58 disappearances in the
Dominican Republic. The report failed to present evidence
that these were political disappearances.

Amnesty International Report 1985 (covering 1984) expressed
concern about "numerous short-term arrests of individuals,
some of whom it believed may have been held on suspicion of
non-violent opposition to the government." Freedom House
rates the Dominican Republic "free."

ECONOMIC, SOCIAL, AND CULTURAL SITUATION

The Dominican Republic is a poor country with a population of
approximately 6.6 million and an estimated annual population
growth rate of 2 . 5 percent. Half of the population is under
16 years of age. Since the early 1980 's the low international
price of sugar, the country's principal export, and the high
cost of petroleum and other imports have seriously hurt the
economy. Per capita income is estimated to be about 1370
pesos per year. At the floating exchange rate of
approximately 3 pesos to $1 (December 1985), per capita income
is less than $460 per year. Unemployment, now estimated
between 25 and 30 percent, is on the increase as economic
growth has slowed and more individuals enter the labor
market. At least another 20 percent of the labor force is
believed to be underemployed. Poverty is widespread.

Per capita calorie consumption barely meets minimum
rec[uirements, and only 59 percent of the population enjoys
access to potable water. Health conditions are poor,
particularly in the rural countryside. In 1985 major
vaccination campaigns were continued by the Government to
address some of these problems. In 1985, life expectancy at
birth was 63.7 years, and the infant mortality rate was 73.8
per 1,000 live births. Primary school enrollment is claimed
to be over 90 percent, but some observers estimate the rate is
closer to 75 percent. The literacy rate is 67 percent.

Throughout the long and difficult negotiations with the
International Monetary Fund in 1983 and 1984, the Government
remained continually conscious of the impact of adjustment and
austerity on the Dominican people. Although some offsetting
measures taken by the Government may have been ill-advised in
the eyes of some economists, they have doubtless made the
adjustment process more socially and politically tolerable to
the average Dominican.

The Dominican labor code prohibits employment of youths under
14 years of age, and restricts the nighttime employment of
youths ages 14-18. The labor code also provides that
employees under 18 work no more than eight hours a day, and,
in addition to other limits on youth employment, specifies
that those 18 years and younger will not be employed in
dangerous or unhealthy jobs. In practice many of the
restrictions in the labor code are ignored. Young people,
including minors less than 14, engage in a wide variety of
work which technically violates the labor regulations. For
example, the labor code's provisions regulating vendors and
shoeshine boys are not enforced.

In 1985 the Government, recognizing the hardships entailed by
the rising cost of living, took steps to raise the basic
minimum monthly salary from 175 to 250 pesos (approximately
$58 to $83) for both public and private sector employees (with
some smaller businesses exempt from the new pay scale) . At
the same time, the minimum daily wage for agricultural workers
was raised from 5 to 6 pesos. The labor code establishes that
all workers are entitled to 24 hours of rest after six days of
work; in practice, a typical work week is Monday through
Friday plus half a day on Saturday. Safety and health
conditions at the workplace do not always meet acceptable
standards. The existing social security system is inadequate,
although legislation to expand and improve it is before the
Congress .
Sexual and racial discrimination are prohibited by law and
women's political rights have been recognized in legislation
since 1942. Forty-seven percent of registered voters are
women, and women hold both elective and appointed offices in
the Government. The Jorge Blanco administration has
established an office to encourage the advancement of women,
and in 1983 the United Nations International Research and
Training Institute for the Advancement of Women set up its
headquarters in Santo Domingo. Divorce is easily attainable
by either spouse, and women can hold property in their own
names apart from their husbands. Nonetheless, women
traditionlly have not shared equal social and economic status
or opportunity with men.

There is subtle social discrimination against darker skinned
Dominicans, although this has not prevented their success in a
variety of fields, including elected political office.
Dominicans, for historical reasons and because of sharp
cultural differences, are generally prejudiced against
Haitians. This prejudice carries over to the minority in the
population who are Dominicans of Haitian descent. These
prejudices, social tensions, and historical enmities sometimes
result in violence which affects the Haitian migrant workers
who enter the country under contract to cut sugar cane. In
June, at least one, and possibly seven, Haitian canecutters,
as well as one or more Dominicans, were killed during
disturbances at a Dominican State Sugar Council plantation at
Triple Ozama near Santo Domingo. The exact circumstances of
the deaths are unclear, but it appears the incident stemmed
from Haitian frustration at delays in the repatriation
process. Although the conditions of the migrant Haitian
workers have improved over the situation which existed several
years ago, the incident underlines the fact that problems
remain.