8 killed in Dominican general strike

Eight people were killed during a general strike that shook the Dominican Republic for 48 hours on Jan. 28-29. The general strike, which was organized by the National Coordinating Body of People’s Organizations and Labor Unions, was called to protest the Dominican government’s signing of a new agreement with the International Monetary Fund.

The Coordinating Body said the government offered weapons to its followers in order to attack the strikers. Besides those killed, more than 100 people were injured, and over 600 were arrested by government forces.

Ramón Pérez Figuereo, spokesperson for the Coordinating Body and a trade union leader, said that the strike, which had the support of labor unions, the left parties and the Catholic Church, was a success, with 97 percent participation. He explained that people are getting poorer, and the Hipólito Mejías government has no viable alternative to offer to put an end to the crisis that is lashing this Caribbean nation.

The Dominican Republic is suffering under an inflation rate of more than 40 percent. The official unemployment rate is at 17 percent, even though many say that this figure is far too low.

The economic crisis has prompted thousands of citizens to leave the country for Puerto Rico or the U.S. In January, the U.S. Coast Guard reportedly detained 1,474 people trying to enter Puerto Rico, the overwhelming majority of them Dominicans. The Puerto Rican police report the arrest of 1,019 undocumented Dominicans during the same one-month period.

Leaders of the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) in Puerto Rico say that Dominicans are fleeing their country because of the “ungovernability” of the Mejías administration. Since the PRD is divided over the country’s crisis, it is expected that the PLD presidential candidate, Leonel Fernández, will win the upcoming elections. At the same time, however, critics of Fernández hold out no real hope that he will change the situation, because it was under his presidency from 1996 to 2000 that the PLD applied a neoliberal economic policy of globalization.

The author can be reached at j.a.cruz@comcast.net.