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DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
Corruption and impunity occupy the agenda of social movements
Gabriela Read
4/17/2015
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Judge linked to the governing party frees a ruling party senator accused of illicit enrichment from judgment and jail.

On March 27, a decision by the Supreme Court of Justice (SJC) defined the agenda of dozens of organizations that mobilized to demand the resignation or firing of this court judges. The groups reacted with indignation to the decision of Judge Alejandro Moscoso Segarra to free the governing party’s Senator Félix Bautista from going to prison and stand trial to face charges of corruption, money laundering, illicit enrichment and falsification of public and private documents.

The demand unifies into one voice the sectors that traditionally work separately.  The Catholic Church, evangelical churches, conservative and progressive groups, popular, business, feminist, sexual diversity organizations, opposition political parties and institutions that are dedicated to combat corruption gathered together on Apr. 9 in a National Day against Theft and Impunity.

The history of  Bautista, 52 years old, is that of a humble tailor in a community in the south of the country, who in a short period of time became a multimillionaire businessman with investments in Haiti and Panama and who today is involved in serious accusations of corruption involving almost 40 billion pesos (equivalent to US $890 million).

Bautista, Secretary of Organization of the governing Party of Dominican Liberation (PLD), began to amass his fortune between 1996 and 2000 when he led the then Coordinating Office of Public Works — that later was merged with the Office of Supervising Engineers for Public Works (OISOE) — during the first government of former president Leonel Fernández (1996-2000). In 2004 with the return of Fernández to power, once again he assumed the directorship of the OISOE, where he remained until 2010 when he was elected senator for the province of San Juan.

According to the prosecution’s legal documentation, with his designation as director of the OISOE, Bautista “managed to accumulate an ostentatious fortune for himself, his family and associates, acquiring numerous assets and properties, directly and indirectly opening large national and international bank accounts and maintaining a level of expenses far greater that the low income from his job.”

Ominous antecedents
However, this is not the first time that Bautista has been questioned by the judicial system: “We are facing a defendant with long antecedents, with multiple accusations of corruption, ranging from a case of irregular construction of the San Juan-Vallejuel highway or the incredible case of The Sun Land.  Also, we should point out the links and investigations of other cases and the supposed financing of electoral campaigns in Peru, Panama and Haiti, that makes him a person with corruption charges that has transcended to the international sphere”, said Carlos Pimentel, director of the Transparency Program for Citizen Participation, a civic movement that advocates for the strengthening of political institutions.

In the case of the highway, Pimentel refers to the misappropriation of more than 50 million pesos that put Bautista in prison between the years 2000 and 2001.  Regarding the US consulting business, The Sun Land Group, the issue was the contracting of an international loan for $130 million, attained in 2006 without the approval of the National Congress which is mandated by law.

The dissension of the organizations was due to the fact that Judge Moscoso Segarra is recognized for his public trajectory with the PLD. The magistrate should evaluate the evidence presented by the Attorney General, prosecute and send the legislator to prison; however, he decided that the case could not proceed arguing the evidence was inconsistent and because the Public Ministry had already judged Bautista in some of the accusations.

This is not the first corruption case that has been resolved in favor of the accused in recent years, but it has caused the largest indignation and demonstrations against it, in a country characterized by a high tolerance of corruption and impunity, ills that are usually justified, according to the report, “Political Culture of Democracy in the Dominican Republic, 2010,” published by the Americas Barometer survey.

Citizens take to the streets
The demonstrations are taking place in various provinces in the country and bring about a unity between diverse groups, even some who are antagonistic to each other.  Manuel Robles, a member of the Zero Impunity Movement, a collective formed to denounce cases of corruption and to call for real justice, explained to Latinamerica Press that “this coalition does not distinguish between parties nor political affiliations and would include even people who belong to the governing party and who understand that we should create sufficient social and political force to change the present situation in which impunity predominates.”

Robles recognizes that a “complex but essential” strategy is needed to consolidate the struggle against impunity.
However, not everybody agrees.  For Pimentel, “it is not possible to demand punishment and sanctions against corruption to the same actors that facilitate it, and it is ingenuous to align oneself with the corrupt of yesterday to confront the corrupt of today.”

Transparency International (TI), an organization that fights corruption in the world, pointed out in an Apr. 8 statement, the apparent lack of autonomy of the SJC, calling for a revision of the justice system to eliminate political interference in the judges’ decisions.  The majority of judges of the SCJ belonged, until their appointments in 2011, to the leadership of the governing party, the PLD.

“The Public Ministry presented a well-documented corruption case, showing a complete mismatch between what Senator Bautista reports in his asset declaration and what his bank accounts reveal.” states TI. “However, the case was dismissed last on technical grounds by a Supreme Court judge who is a member of the same political party of which Senator Bautista is a high ranking official. This decision has been contested by broad sections of society and has led to thousands of people taking to the streets.”

Francisco Domínguez Brito, the Attorney General of the Republic, has declared that with this controversial decision justice “has failed the country.”

Although the case is being appealed, civil society does not have confidence in the judicial system and insists in its demand for the resignation of the Supreme Court Judges and their replacement through an open and transparent process.

The Collective Women and Health called on women to demonstrate.  In a campaign carried out through social networks, the feminist group asks about specific actions that could be implemented with the money allegedly misappropriated by the legislator.

“How many day care centers could have been built with the millions robbed by Félix Bautista?  How many maternal deaths could have been avoided? How many health centers could have been built?” are some of the key messages of the campaign.
—Latinamerica Press.


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Civil society takes to the streets demanding an end to corruption (Photo: Luisa González)
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