White House political advisor who previously spoke about human rights turns a blind eye to rampant human rights abuses in the Dominican Republic

The White House Director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs (IGA) Tom Perez made a high-profile trip to the Dominican Republic last week. Ostensibly a state visit, the trip had nothing to do with Perez’s official duties. Instead, Perez joined the growing roster of Biden administration officials who turn a blind eye the Dominican Republic’s systemic human rights abuses.

The U.S. Embassy claimed that Perez came to meet with President Luis Abinader to “discuss efforts with a view on fighting climate change” and “regional security and economic development.” Neither of these international issues are handled by Perez or his office, which “serves to engage State, local, and Tribal governments”. The White House readout on Perez’s trip noted that Perez discussed “the robust international support for the Kenyan-led Multinational Security Support Mission to Haiti” and visited a clinic that has received funding from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Perez’s office has nothing to do with either issue, but for some unknown reason Secretary of State Antony Blinken allowed it.

Perez, the son of Dominican immigrants to the U.S., previously served as Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. His current role as Director of IGA is focused entirely on domestic U.S. politics.

Perez Remained Silent on the DR’s Human Trafficking Problems and “Modern Day Slavery”

When Perez was Secretary of Labor in the Obama Administration, he could not have been clearer about the problem of human trafficking and forced labor. In a 2015 press conference, Perez stated:

“I think I speak for everyone here when I say that trafficking is a blight on our shared humanity — a contemptible, unspeakable act worthy of condemnation and prosecution.  The Labor Department is committed to working with its federal partners toward the eradication of human trafficking – in the name of human rights, the rule of law and the dignity of work.  I’m excited to be a member of this team and optimistic about our continued success.”

In contrast, Perez has failed to publicly denounce the widespread use of forced labor, particularly against Haitian migrants, which progressive labor advocates compare to “modern day slavery.”

Nor did Perez raise the dire living conditions for these exploited workers, often without electricity and running water, when they’re forced to work for 12 to 14 hours for less than $2 a day. In fact, the DR was recently 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.”

Perez Ignored Litany of Human Rights Abuses in the DR

Surely, as a former U.S. Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Perez could have raised the documented human rights abuses in the Dominican criminal justice system, where over 70% of all those in the country’s jails are under preventive detention orders that last years and many never see a courtroom. Nothing put out by the White House or the Embassy indicates that this topic came up.

Perez also apparently failed to discuss the recent opinion from the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) which determined that Dominican prosecutors are practicing arbitrary detention in violation of binding international human rights agreements. The WGAD concluded that prosecutor Yeni Berenice Reynoso denied the “right to a fair trial” to a political opponent and was the “protagonist” of a “public discredit campaign” that she “orchestrated” from the Public Ministry, and “systemically interrupted” the right to a defense.

What was the real purpose of Perez’s visit?

If Tom Perez was making a political trip to the DR this week, what was the political objective for the Biden Administration?

It wasn’t to promote workers’ rights and humane living conditions for them, or to denounce the worsening levels of human trafficking in the DR.

It wasn’t to speak out against widespread violations of human rights in the justice system or the intolerable racial profiling of African Americans and other people of color.

It wasn’t to denounce unlawful detention or public discredit campaigns by officials designed to silence critics and deny the right to a fair trial.

While Perez enjoyed a U.S. taxpayer-funded visit to the DR, thousands there continue to suffer under the yoke of oppression and injustice.