House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul’s letter to Secretary Blinken has set off a firestorm of debate in the Dominican Republic. The public conversation on preventive detention in the Dominican Republic has reached a critical juncture.
This week, Dominican Justice Initiative Founder Mario H. Lopez sent a letter to Chairman McCaul thanking him for his leadership on this critical issue and raising the “important question as to whether the State Department is doing enough to protect Americans in the Dominican Republic.”
As Lopez states, the Dominican Justice Initiative was founded to raise awareness on preventive detention, due to it being widely ignored by Congress, human rights observers, and even lawmakers within the Dominican Republic. In the wake of Chairman McCaul’s letter, officials from the Public Ministry attempt to distort the facts and minimize the seriousness of this desperate humanitarian crisis.
Yet Dominican judges, civil servants, and politicians across the spectrum are pushing back:
- Dr. Milton Rey Guevara, President, Dominican Constitutional Court (TC), “We are very aware that preventive detention in the Dominican Republic was a real problem, which has increased over the years and we must look for mechanisms that are efficient to overcome these difficulties.”
- Henry Luis Molina, President, Supreme Court of Justice, “The situation of the penitentiary system is a constant concern for the Judiciary, as it should be for the entire State and society in general.”
- Rodolfo Valentín Santos, Director, National Office of Public Defense (ONDP), “There really is an increase in the imposition of preventive detention in the country, we firmly assure it, since the Public Defense handles 80 to 87% of criminal cases at the national level , without any particular interest in inflating or decreasing data.”
- Servio Tulio Castaños Guzmán, Executive Director, Institutionality and Justice Foundation (FINJUS), “The fact that the Public Ministry permanently requests preventive detention, that is its nature to ask for that as a measure of coercion; but judges also have to evaluate thoroughly because they are there to preserve guarantees,”
- Senator Valentín Medrano, PLD, “It is a lasting challenge where 70% of prisoners are incarcerated under preventive detention.”
- Senator Pedro Catrian, PRM, “I am in favor of the fact that preventive detention is an exception, it really cannot be the generalized rule and this is established by our criminal procedural system.”
- Rubén Puntier, Dominican lawyer, “Prison is made for the convicted, not for the innocent. Only in exceptional cases are innocent people given prison terms. Only for very exceptional cases, but here it has become a rule.”
Despite the best efforts of the Public Ministry’s minions Wilson Camacho and Yeni Berenice to spin the truth, these prominent voices of the Dominican Republic’s legal society are confirming what Chairman McCaul has thrust into the daylight. At the end of the day, there is no debate. Preventive detention is an endemic problem in the Dominican Republic and this crisis needs to end.