Diplomacy

Island Of Peace

Diplomacy

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Island Of Peace

BEGINNING OF BIRTH PAINS The Samaná Bay in the north of the Dominican Republic was the last port of call during Christopher Columbus’ first voyage to the New World. Previously […]

BEGINNING OF BIRTH PAINS

The Samaná Bay in the north of the Dominican Republic was the last port of call during Christopher Columbus’ first voyage to the New World. Previously inhabited by the Taí­no people, the Spanish soon established the island of Hispaniola, which consists of modern-day Dominican Republic and its neighbor to the west, Haiti, as its colonial base in the region. However, as vast swathes of commodity-rich South and Central America came under control of the Spanish crown, Hispaniola and other countries in the Antilles became increasingly disregarded by colonial authorities. In the late 18th century, the French Revolution and the subsequent redefinition of European territories around the world led to Spain ceding control of its part of the island to France and its Haitian colony.

Arguably, the beginning of Dominican democracy began over 100 years later, with the assassination of Rafael Trujillo in 1961 and the resultant end of his dictatorship. The PRD, a dissident political party working from exile in nearby Cuba, assumed control of the country through the democratic election of noted polymath Juan Bosch. However, Bosch was soon ousted by a military junta, and he separated from the PRD to found the PLD in 1963. His leftist policies helped to redefine public service in the country after the Trujillo era, ushering in the Dominican political culture that remains today.

STRONG CONSTITUTION

The first national constitution outlined a governmental structure divided among executive, legislative, and judicial branches. Numerous amendments and the promulgation of new constitutions over the subsequent century and a half have demonstrated the multitude of competing interests present in the country. Most recently, a new constitution in 2010 delineated the role of the various arms of government, and re-established the rights and civil liberties of Dominican citizens.

The executive branch of government, the presidency, performs the roles of head of state, head of government, and commander-in-chief of the military. The current administration of President Medina and running mate Margarita Cedeño de Fernández, previously first lady under the Leonel Fernández government, has identified key strategic goals for which it will utilize its executive powers. The stated focus of all presidential policies in the 2012-2016 period is the eradication of poverty and the bolstering of the middle class, along with concerted efforts to improve education, health services, the pension and social support system, and an effective program to combat discrimination and advance social cohesion.

The legislative branch comprises two houses: the Senate, or upper house, with 32 deputies, and the Chamber of Deputies with a total of 183 members, all representing part of the country’s 32 provinces and federal district. The houses of the legislature are ostensibly equal in importance, though their duties and areas of responsibility are different. The former makes decisions related to treaties and the appointment of the president, while the Chamber of Deputies votes on a range of other bills and holds the power to impeach the head of state. The 32 deputies in the Senate serve staggered four-year terms, while congressional elections have traditionally occurred mid-way through the presidential term. As per the 2010 constitution, from 2016, elections to the presidency and the legislature will take place simultaneously. Following the 2010 congressional elections, 31 of the 32 senators are from the PLD, with a single Social Christian Reformist Party seat rounding off the total. Meanwhile, 105 PLD members, 75 PRD or PRD-allied members, and three Social Christian Reformist Party deputies were elected to the Chamber of Deputies for a final six-year term, prior to the 2016 transition to concurrent presidential and congressional elections.

The highest element of the judiciary is the Supreme Court of Justice, composed of 16 magistrates. This court selects judges for the lower courts. The Constitutional Court rules on matters relating to the constitution and oversees amendments to articles and the passing of new legislation. Judges from both courts are selected by the president, the heads of both chambers of congress, a non-governing representative from congress, and the president of the Supreme Court. Other subordinate courts include the Contentious Administrative Court, appeal courts, courts of first instance, and courts dedicated to land or labor issues.

INTRIGUING TIMES

Recent years have proven that the political system has developed to become one of the most robust and dynamic in the region. In 2012, President Medina was elected with 51.24% of the popular vote, with a turnout of over 70%. Continued widespread support for his administration bespeaks the success of the government’s official strategy for economic development, but also indicates the difficulties currently being experienced by the rival PRD.

The PRD last held power from 2000 to 2004 under Hipólito Mejí­a, though the term was marred by economic failure. The PRD continued to suffer from the effects of a widening internal rift over the subsequent decade, culminating in the September 2014 split of the party along factional lines. Mejí­a now leads the Modern Revolutionary Party (PRM), and has announced his candidature in the 2016 elections, with Miguel Vargas Maldonado remaining as chairman of the PRD. By year-end 2014, over 30 PRD deputies had officially changed allegiance to join the PRM.

Dominican diplomatic initiatives are moving from strength to strength. The key policy of encouraging FDI through the expansion of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) and the development of Free Trade Zones (FTZs) has generated largely promising results. As a signatory on several prominent international trade pacts, the Dominican Republic has embraced the interest of larger markets in the productive capacity of the Caribbean and its enviable location between North and South America, and en route to the Panama Canal from Europe or other markets around the world.

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