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“The victims and the families of the victims need answers”
Gabriela Read
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Interview with Laura Pérez Díaz, Deputy Director of the Memorial Museum of Dominican Resistance

The project for the creation of a Truth Commission to investigate the crimes committed during the dictatorship of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo (1930-61) is waiting for its official start, hidden within the National Human Rights Plan 2015-2020 in which the state invested considerable effort during the pre-election year, and that was forgotten soon after the elections of May 2016.

The commission has been promoted single handedly since 2013 by the Memorial Museum of Dominican Resistance (MMRD),when the gathering of signatures to promote the idea in Dominican society was started. The draft legislation was presented publicly after having collected some 113,000 signatures. In 2015 it was included in a much larger initiative that looked to become an instrument of human rights guarantee in the country, particularly among the most vulnerable groups.

The National Human Rights Plan proposal, under the responsibility of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was prepared in 2015 after previous consultation with hundreds of civil society organizations, something that the government of President Danilo Medina Sánchez (2012-2016) — reelected in 2016 — did not complete, as was denounced by Amnesty International (AI) in its Report 2016/2017on the situation of human rights in the world, published this past February.

The Dominican Republic is one of the few countries that, having lived through a bloody dictatorship, never had a Truth Commission to investigate the crimes of the Trujillo regime that took the lives of at least 50,000 people, according to records of MMRD, without including in this figure the victims of torture and disappearances.

Gabriela Read, correspondent for Latinamerica Press, talked with Laura Pérez Díaz, Deputy Director of the MMRD, regarding the project for the creation of the Truth Commission.

How can be explained the fact that more than 50 years after the dictatorship of Trujillo, the country has not pushed forward the creation of a Truth Commission?
There never was a transition process here. The dictatorship was beheaded with the death of Trujillo, but the body itself continued on and it was recycled with the dictatorship of Joaquín Balaguer [1960-62, 1966-78 and 1986-96]. Many of the perpetrators during the dictatorship of Trujillo continued within the circles of power: the military power, the economic power … there was no transition, because the first free elections took place at the time of the transition, then comes a coup d´état [1963], followed by April’s War [1965], and then the last puppet president of the Trujillo dictatorship [Joaquín Balaguer] returned. A process starts in 1978 in which President Antonio Guzmán [1978-82] retired many of the military members of Balaguer and that was the most that was done here as a transition process. There was no transitional justice here, something that in the rest of Latin America, especially in the Southern Cone, did take place.

Why do it now?
Because the victims and the families of the victims need answers; society needs to know what happened and why it happened. With these answers “not let it happen again” can begin to be built. Many of the things that we want to include in the National Human Rights Plan hinge on having a Truth Commission. An example of this is the reform of the National Police. The police that we have now is the same police that Trujillo created; there has not been any type of reform: the same structure, the same process to enter, the same process to move up in the ranks, etc.

Is it possible that the paralyzation of the National Human Rights Plan is linked to the fact that it includes the creation of a Truth Commission?
The plan was ready for an election year and that brings everything to a stop. The Truth Commission was not the only politically sensitive issue in the plan. The plan gave ample visibility to the LGTBI [Lesbians, Gays, Transsexuals, Bisexuals and Intersex] groups; it established the reproductive rights of it was somewhat complicated because there are all types of interests. The Truth Commission was not the only lurid issue. women, rights to immigrants and, naturally, the reform of the National Police. The truth is that it was a very broad plan; in general the groups that worked on it were very satisfied with the result; we wanted to work on it some more, but great progress was considered, and that type of progress is not easy to be  released. During times of campaigning and so on,

What difficulties can the functionality of the commission face, 50 years after those crimes took place?
As this is not a judicial investigation, what we are looking for is to establish what happened, that is, the mechanisms: how was that human rights violation machinery organized … obviously each day that goes by there are fewer people who lived through it and who can testify… but since it is not judicial, this is not to judge the perpetrators. Above all, it is to provide answers to those questions and to help in the closing of that wound.

Can be considered that there are structures of human rights violations that have not been made visible yet?
Have you ever asked yourself how it is that they controlled 48,000 km² of our territory? That has always called my attention. Everything was known, and one who lived in the last hill did not dare to do anything, not even think. How did they achieve that? It was possible because if you betrayed someone who did something, it was a way to move up socially, politically or economically. As far as the military forces, when they had the famous special services, usually murders, they got immediate promotions. It was an organized machinery used to control and to spread state terrorism. It was not documented in an organized manner, but there are references. That must be the work of the commission and that will serve as a learning tool because it is always possible to regress.

Although the investigation is not judicial, a victim can rely on it to file a complaint and get a criminal process started because there is nothing that can prevent a victim of human rights violation to start a legal process.  —Latinamerica Press.


Laura Pérez Díaz / Memorial Museum of Dominican Resistance (MMRD)
Latinamerica Press / Noticias Aliadas
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