Dominican President Luis Abinader is scheduled to come to Washington DC in early November to meet with President Biden. By all indications the White House is planning to roll out the red carpet despite a growing chorus of concerns around the Dominican Republic’s criminal justice practices, including a preventive detention crisis and wrongful imprisonment of political opponents.
Despite the ample evidence, the Biden Administration continues to laud the country as a “bright spot” for “combating corruption, improving citizen security” and “protecting human rights.” The administration awarded Abinader with millions in US taxpayer dollars to support initiatives intended to reform the criminal justice system that he himself has turned into an authoritarian tool.
Human Rights Abuses & Political Persecution
The upcoming visit follows a recent USAID-sponsored event where Biden Administration leaders praised President Abinader and the Dominican government, despite 70% of those detained in the country being wrongfully held without cause, charge or even a court date. The State Department’s own report – the 2022 Country Report on Human Rights Practices – confirms this, noting that arbitrary arrest, wrongful pretrial detention, and other violations of due process are mainstays in the country.
In addition, the thousands who are victims of Abinader’s policies are housed in abhorrent conditions, continuing a 25 year trend that has not improved despite millions in U.S. taxpayer dollars being allocated to address the crisis.
Congressional leaders have already called for the State Department to address this “long standing problem” in the country, raising concerns that U.S. citizens and U.S. permanent residents are being held without cause, without access to legal representation and so forth. To date, the State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo have been silent – suggesting acceptance rather than disapproval.
Cozying Up to Cuba
Worse yet, in recent weeks the Abinader government has signaled an intent to cozy up to Cuba.
Last month, Dominican Foreign Minister Roberto Álvarez Gil travelled to Cuba to meet with Cuban Foreign Minister Josefina Vidal Ferreiro. Following the meeting, both countries shared their intention to “continue broadening and deepening the relations of friendship and cooperation” and expressed a willingness to continue “exploring new spheres of economic and commercial exchange.”
Additionally, Minister Ferreiro even thanked the Dominican Republic for its support of a Cuban U.S. General Assembly resolution “condemning the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States.”
President Abinader’s administration is condemning U.S. policies aimed at bringing about real change in Havana and is cozying up to a Cuban regime that continues to brutalize its own citizens. The communist regime publicly thanked Abinader for his support of a resolution condemning the U.S. for denouncing Castro’s behavior. Meanwhile, President Biden ignores ongoing human rights abuses in the Dominican and is awarding Dominican support of a resolution condemning the United States with a hand-signed invitation to the White House.
Perpetuating the Crisis in Haiti
The Dominican Republic recently announced that it would close its border and all ports of entry to Haiti as an escalating canal/water dispute is increasing inter-island tensions. The new policy now only permits border traffic twice a day, in one direction: back into Haiti.
This decision is worsening the ongoing crisis in Haiti, where armed gangs rule the streets, thousands fight against the threat of starvation daily and cholera is threatening the lives of tens of thousands of children.
To make matters worse, there are reports of the Abinader government deputizing the Dominican army to break into the homes of Haitian families, in the middle of the night, and forcibly transport them to the border with little more than the clothes on their backs.
Last week, Secretary Blinken called for a solution to the border crisis between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, but has still neglected to address the humanitarian and human rights crises within the Dominican Republic itself.
Labor Violations & Human Trafficking
Adding to President Abinader’s “laundry list” of abuses, a 2023 Democracy Now! investigation revealed the widespread use of forced labor-type practices in the country – particularly against Haitian migrants. One advocate working to stop the inhumane treatment and exploitation of these workers equated the conditions to “modern day slavery”.
Workers are forced into communities with dire living conditions that lack even the most basic essentials like electricity and running water. They are then forced to work for “12 to 14 hours for less than $2 a day”, many of them for monopolistic companies who have all of the “indicators of forced labor” and who have been condemned or effectively banned by the U.S. government.
Underscoring this pattern of abuse, the Dominican Republic was downgraded to the Tier 2 Watch List in the U.S. State Departments 2023 Trafficking in Persons report. Justifying the downgrade, the U.S. State Department noted the Abinader government “investigated and prosecuted fewer traffickers” and “systematically and persistently failed to equitably screen vulnerable migrant or undocumented populations and refer identified victims to services and did not provide these groups justice in trafficking crimes.”
Time for Biden, U.S. Government to Correct Course
Despite an overwhelming body of evidence detailing human rights violations, abuses and systemic issues plaguing the Dominican criminal justice system, the Biden Administration continues to prop-up Abinader and corrupt Dominican officials – now offering them the VIP treatment in DC.
It is imperative that President Biden confront Abinader in Washington and put an end to the U.S. government’s political and monetary support of the rampant human rights abuses and corruption that are plaguing the Dominican Republic. Thousands of lives – of Dominican citizens, U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents – depend on immediate, common-sense U.S government intervention.