Freedom in the World 2016 - Dominican Republic

Freedom Status: Partly Free
Aggregate Score: 70
Freedom Rating: 3.0
Political Rights: 3
Civil Liberties: 3

Status Change:

The Dominican Republic's political rights rating declined from 2 to 3, and its status declined from Free to Partly Free, due to the decreased space for independent media, the implementation of a law preventing Dominicans of Haitian descent (as well as Haitian migrants) from exercising their civil and political rights, and an agreement between two leading parties to amend the constitution and allow consecutive presidential terms.

Quick Facts

Capital: Santo Domingo
Population: 10,508,000
GDP/capita: $6,147.30
Press Freedom Status: Partly Free
Net Freedom Status: N/A


The government of the Dominican Republic continued to struggle to address the crisis resulting from a 2013 Constitutional Court ruling that revoked citizenship from tens of thousands of Dominicans of foreign descent, many of whom were born to undocumented Haitian migrant workers. Under a 2014 law passed in response to the 2013 decision, the government established pathways for people affected by the ruling to regain their citizenship, as well as for undocumented individuals born in the Dominican Republic to acquire residency and apply for naturalization. Only a small portion of those eligible for the two mechanisms had submitted applications by the appropriate deadlines in 2015, however. Under a parallel plan for the regularization of migrants born outside the Dominican Republic, the government reported that it had received applications from more than 280,000 individuals by the June deadline. A large number of individuals were unable to apply or meet the registration requirements, fueling concerns about potential statelessness and deportation.

Increased threats as well as the murder of a journalist strongly affected the environment for free and critical reporting. Separately, ahead of presidential, legislative, and local elections scheduled for 2016, the country's two main parties entered into an agreement to cooperate and support common candidates, substantially harming the level of competitiveness in the political sphere.


Political Rights: 29 / 40 (-1)

A. Electoral Process: 10 / 12

The Dominican Republic's bicameral National Congress consists of the 32-member Senate and the 183-member Chamber of Deputies, with members of both chambers elected to four-year terms.

The Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) captured 31 of 32 seats in the 2010 Senate elections; the Social Christian Reformist Party (PRSC) took the remaining seat. In the Chamber of Deputies, the PLD secured 105 seats, the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) and allied candidates won 75, and the PRSC took 3. The opposition presented allegations of electoral fraud to the Organization of American States (OAS), and international observers noted that campaigning resources were not equally distributed between government and opposition candidates. The OAS noted other irregularities, including vote buying, but certified the final results. Legislators elected in 2010 serve six-year terms, rather than four, in order to allow legislative, local, and presidential elections to be held simultaneously in 2016.

The PLD's Danilo Medina was victorious in the 2012 presidential election, winning 51 percent of the vote and defeating PRD candidate Hipólito Mejía. Former president Leonel Fernández of the PLD, who served three terms from 1996 to 2000 and 2004 to 2012, was barred by the constitution from seeking a consecutive term. Medina won on a platform focused on reducing poverty, improving the educational system, fighting corruption, and expanding infrastructure projects.

The country's 38th constitution, promulgated in 2010, removed restrictions on nonconsecutive presidential reelection but prohibited the president from being elected to consecutive terms. In June 2015, the legislature passed amendments to the constitution permitting consecutive presidential reelection but limiting time in office to eight years. The change will allow Medina to run for the presidency in 2016.

B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 10 / 16 (-1)

There are many active political parties, and they are able to freely participate in debate and discussions. Dominican politics was defined by competition between the PLD, the opposition PRD, and the smaller PRSC since the mid-1990s. In 2014, however, the Modern Revolutionary Party (PRM) split off from the PRD. The PRD supported the constitutional changes that would allow Medina to run again, and in September 2015, the party entered into an alliance with the PLD to back Medina and common congressional and municipal candidates in 2016. The agreement substantially weakened the potential of the PRM to gain traction ahead of the vote, and decreased competitiveness on the political arena.

The military, economic oligarchies, and organized crime continue to have undue influence over people's political choices.

A 2013 Constitutional Court decision stripped Dominican-born descendants of Haitian migrants of their citizenship. Under pressure from international organizations, in 2014 the Dominican government adopted legislation to allow the reissuance of citizenship to those affected by the ruling, and to open a path for undocumented Dominican-born individuals to register and apply for naturalization. The United Nations and other international organizations urged the Dominican Republic to ease the registration processes, and voiced particular concern about the approximately 200,000 individuals who could be left stateless because of difficulties meeting registration requirements.

Naturalized citizens are barred from running for president or vice president and must wait ten years after naturalization in order to be eligible for a position in the Senate or cabinet.

C. Functioning of Government: 9 / 12

Corruption remains a serious, systemic problem for the country at all levels of the government, judiciary, and security forces, as well as in the private sector. Despite active anticorruption campaigns, largely led by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the media, corrupt officials are able to continue their practices with impunity. Corruption is linked to a sharp increase in drug trafficking, as the Dominican Republic has become a major transit point for drug shipments from South America to the United States.

Measures to increase government transparency are ongoing, but implementation remains a problem. In 2010, the government launched the Anticorruption Participatory Initiative, aimed at increasing access to government information. Although state agencies generally respond to information requests, they often provide inaccurate or incomplete information.

Civil Liberties: 41 / 60 (-2)

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 14 / 16 (-1)

The law guarantees freedoms of speech and press for all, but journalists face serious intimidation and violence when investigating sensitive issues, particularly drug trafficking and corruption. In February 2015, four journalists who had spoken out against discrimination against Haitians reported being harassed and receiving death threats. Separately, Blas Olivo, press director of the Dominican Agribusiness Association, was found murdered in April. In June, police reported that members of a drug trafficking gang were the primary suspects, but were unable to provide conclusive evidence; the case was ongoing at year's end.

Several national daily newspapers and a large number of local publications operate in the country. There are more than 300 privately owned radio stations and several private television networks alongside the state-owned Radio Televisión Dominicana (RTVD). Internet access is unrestricted, and roughly 48 percent of the population is online, although telecommunications infrastructure is still lacking in rural areas. According to the Dominican Association of Journalists, concentrated media ownership and influence from owners and advertisers fuels job insecurity and encourages self-censorship among journalists.

Freedom of religion is unrestricted, but the Catholic Church receives special privileges from the state. Constitutional guarantees regarding academic freedom are generally observed, and private discussion is unhindered.

E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 10 / 12

Freedom of assembly is generally respected, though some violations occur. In May 2015, police shot and wounded several environmental activists protesting a nickel mining project at the Loma Miranda mountain. In September, police in Moca shot and killed a man who reportedly had a mental disability amid demonstrations for improvements in municipal services. Freedom of association is constitutionally guaranteed, and the government upholds the right to form civic groups.

Workers, excluding military and police personnel, can form and join unions and have the right to bargain collectively. Labor unions are well organized. The National Council of United Trade Unions (CNUS), the Domestic Workers Association (ATH), the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), and other Haitian and Dominican unions have participated in protests against the 2013 citizenship ruling. As part of the migrant regularization plan, the government in 2015 began to issue residence permits to Haitian workers in the sugar cane industry.

F. Rule of Law: 8 / 16

The judiciary is politicized and plagued by corruption. The legal system offers little justice to those without the resources to offer bribes.

The Dominican Republic ranked 124th most dangerous out of 141 countries surveyed in the 2015 Gallup Law and Order Index, which takes into account perceptions of personal safety and experiences with crime and police. Authorities reported a decline in the murder rate in the first six months of 2015 as compared to the same period in 2014, particularly in the province of Santo Domingo. Extrajudicial killings by police remain a serious problem.

Prisons have been undergoing reform for the past decade to correct serious problems of overcrowding, poor sanitation, and violence. Some prisons have attempted to focus on inmate rehabilitation, education, and reintegration; by 2014, 18 of the country's 35 prisons reported focusing on this model in order to empower inmates to succeed after release. While the costs of running rehabilitation-focused facilities are much higher than those of conventional models, the new system boasts a 5 percent recidivism rate, compared to 50 percent for traditional prisons.

Dominicans of Haitian descent as well as Haitian migrants face persistent systematic discrimination, including obstacles to attending school and university, obtaining legal employment, and securing legal documents such as identification, birth certificates, and marriage licenses. In February 2015, a Haitian man was found lynched in Santiago. Local authorities dismissed the likelihood that the incident was a hate-crime, but the status of investigations remained unclear at year's end.

While same-sex sexual activity is legal in the Dominican Republic, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people face discrimination and even violence. Members of the LGBT community are often blamed for high levels of HIV/AIDS in certain areas of the country. Same-sex relationships are considered taboo, and gender identity remains a sensitive topic. LGBT individuals are barred from working in certain public sectors, such as the police and armed forces, but efforts are underway to draft antidiscrimination legislation to provide critical protections to LGBT people and others.

G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 9 / 16 (-1)

The mistreatment of Haitian immigrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent continues to mar the country's international reputation in the wake of its 2013 Constitutional Court ruling that 2010 legislation limiting Dominican nationality to children born to legal immigrants could be retroactively applied. In response, the government enacted a law in 2014 to reinstate the citizenship of individuals affected by the ruling, while also providing a process for Dominican-born individuals without documentation to acquire residency and become eligible for naturalization. In 2015, however, individuals who were able to apply for a restoration of nationality continued to report problems accessing their citizenship documents, and watchdogs estimated that only a small portion of individuals eligible for the two mechanisms applied by the appropriate deadlines.

The deadline for a parallel process to regularize the status of undocumented migrants, the National Regularization Plan, expired in June 2015. Close to 240,000 applicants – out of an estimated half a million people living undocumented in the country – were able to receive provisional residency, according to the government. Uncertainties about the regularization plan and fears of discrimination and harassment propelled thousands of immigrants of Haitian descent to cross into Haiti during the year, with many settling into camps along the border. In August, the government resumed deportations of undocumented migrants, which had been temporarily suspended in early 2014 to allow for the implementation of the regularization process.

Private business activity remains susceptible to undue influence by organized crime and even government officials.

Women occupy only 21 percent of seats in the Chamber of Deputies, and violence and discrimination against women remains pervasive. In 2014, President Medina signed a law that decriminalized abortions in some situations, including in cases of rape and incest as well as when the pregnancy posed dangers to the mother's life. In December 2015, the Constitutional Tribunal found the new law to be unconstitutional, effectively reinstating a complete ban on abortion.

Trafficking in women and girls for sexual exploitation remains a major concern, as does forced labor in the domestic and agricultural sectors. Those left without legal status after the 2013 Constitutional Court ruling are thought to be particularly vulnerable to trafficking. According to the U.S. State Department's 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report, the government does not meet the minimum international standards for combatting trafficking but has made efforts to increase investigations and prosecutions in recent years.

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