Feb 16, 2004
On January 28 and 29 there was a general strike in the Dominican Republic, the Caribbean country of eight million people, in response to a disastrous economic situation. The strike paralyzed industry and the tourist areas. It shut down public transport and the schools, while small shop owners shut their doors. There were 600 arrests, a hundred wounded and at least eight deaths over the two days. Three of them were leaders of political parties, unions and community groups, who were assassinated by the police and military. Men wearing camouflage paint on their faces and bearing heavy arms – these are the forces used by the ruling class to put down a population which refuses to pay for the crisis.
The Dominican Republic has been suffering from a severe economic crisis. Over the last three years, the currency has declined by a third in relation to that of other countries, especially the U.S., which has most of the trade with the country. As a consequence, prices in the nation which depends heavily on imports rose by 40%, while wages lagged far behind. Last year, a major bank failed, leading to a widespread financial crisis. The debt level is so high that the government is spending 46% of its entire budget in interest payments to foreign banks and governments, including the U.S.
In order to pay this fantastic amount, the government has been squeezing the population. The general strike was in response to this.
The strikers demanded that the price of basic necessities be lowered and that wages be doubled. They demanded the end of the new fuel tax, which was the final blow that led to the strike. They demanded the end of power failures, the lowering of the price of medicine, the re-nationalization of privatized energy companies, the end of the austerity agreement mandated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and a moratorium on paying the foreign debt.
Despite the repression and the arrests of 150 leaders of the opposition, the workers and the poor seem determined not to give in. During the strike, demonstrators stood up to the police and military with showers of rocks and occasional gun shots.
The Dominican Republic is on the east of the island of Hispaniola, and in Haiti on the west. There is more than an island that unites them. They share poverty and misery, and violent repression. They may speak different languages, French in Haiti and Spanish in the Dominican Republic. But they could find a way to unite their fights for a common struggle all across the island.