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  • Punta Catalina industrial complex with docking facilities in background, Dominican Republic.

    Punta Catalina industrial complex with docking facilities in background, Dominican Republic. | Photo: Twitter/ @ElCaribeRD

Published 15 August 2020
Opinion

The Dominican Republic’s current status is a balkanized capitalist-consumerist model, rife with institutionalized corruption in tandem with impunity.

Strategically located in the central Caribbean, rich in natural resources, ideally positioned with the Mona Passage on its eastern side, funneling about eighty percent of maritime traffic the ‘entrails of Mother Earth’ to its native Taino peoples, seemed destined to play a key role in the region known as the “Imperial Frontier”, by Professor Juan Bosch.  

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Dominican Republic’s relationship with the ‘Colossus of the North’ was tortuous from its beginnings, during the era of Gunboat Diplomacy, with the first occupation by the U. S. from 1916-1924.  During the second U. S. invasion and occupation of 1965, some sources maintain less than 50 U. S. servicemen died, while as many as 5,000 Dominicans perished, many of them civilians, in the armed conflict known as the “Constitutionalist Revolution.”   The political system installed today in the Dominican Republic, hails back to the aftermath of that second occupation, with the election of U. S. puppet President Joaquin Balaguer, whose first campaign in 1966 was secretly financed by the State Department’s 303 Committee.   There’s a line of revisionist thinking within the Dominican Republic, claiming Balaguer was ‘the father of modern Dominican democracy.’ Still, New York Times journalist Tim Weiner who wrote a book on the FBI made a FOIA request disclosing that Balaguer was actually an FBI informant, who was escorted from New York City to San Juan by an FBI agent, and later brought to Santo Domingo after the 1965 Revolution, groomed as a key U. S. puppet in the Caribbean at the height of the Cold War.  

The neoliberal and institutionally corrupt “Partido de la Liberación Dominicana” (PLD) party government, which ruled the country almost continuously since 1996, originated from an electoral alliance that year, fostered by the cunning Balaguer.  

The Dominican  Republic today is at another historical crossroads through its recent elections, compared to the latest hemispheric crises; in Venezuela, Bolivia, Haiti, etc.  According to some claims, it enjoys an apparent political and economic stability, boasting the highest GNP growth regionally.  But typical of its contradictory history, we could define the Dominican Republic’s current status as a balkanized capitalist-consumerist model, rife with institutionalized corruption in tandem with impunity, guaranteed by a judicial branch mostly beholden to the outgoing PLD party.   

The country is unable to resolve its myriad deep challenges, due to this rampant corruption.  Some of its grim statistics are:  Over 700,000 youth which neither work nor study (known as the "ninis"), a spine chilling high rate of murders of women by their partners which the government mostly ignores, an endemic rate of child marriages, rampant poverty in large sectors of society, a public health system on the edge, and large sectors of the population without running water, as well as constant blackouts which particularly affect the commercial sector.  But since the outgoing PLD government had an impressive media propaganda machine, including many colloquially known "bocinas,” or parrot journalists especially on TV, these stenographers constantly bombarded the neurons of the hapless population, with corporate media connected to big business in the country, and some financed ‘under the table’ by the outgoing government; the ruling PLD party's image of Dominican society, had been utopic bliss and relative progress, while underneath the rot of corruption bled the country dry.

The Dominican Republic has the dubious honor of being the second most corrupt country in the hemisphere, scoring 137 out of 180, in Transparency International's race to the bottom in corruption.  (Though Transparency International, funded by the U. S. State Department, has come under serious criticism itself.)   The country’s tailor-made judicial branch has further helped to reproduce the country’s corrupt political scene, granting immunity, especially in cases of flagrant violations of corruption laws, and even gross violations of electoral campaign finance. 

The most festering to date, of all the corruption cases in the country, is the one by the internationally renowned Brazilian Odebrecht construction firm.  A household name throughout Latin America on government corruption, Odebrecht was fined a cool US$2.6 billion by a U. S. federal judge in 2017, in a plea deal with U. S., Brazilian, and Swiss authorities, with US$93 million going to the U. S., US$2.39 billion going to Brazil, and $116 million to Switzerland.  In Latin America, Odebrecht has been involved in corruption cases in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, Venezuela and Panama, and even crossing the pond into Portugal. 

"Punta Catalina Dominican thermoelectric plant will operate in 2019."

The Punta Catalina coal-fired power plant, was built by an Odebrecht consortiumin the southern coastal town of Bani.  Among the most egregious findings, (by no means exhaustive) of Dominican Republic’s Odebrecht/Punta Catalina dossier are the following:  A bribes scheme of at least US$39 million dollarsinvolving government officials.  Since the trial started in September, 2019, the scope of the bribes has widened to $92M.  The Punta Catalina highly unorthodox contract award procedure in 2013, which Dominican Republic’s state power monopoly the “Corporación Eléctrica de Empresas Eléctricas Estatales” (CDEE)approved in a sizzling 48 hour period, awarding an eye-popping U. S. $2.040 billion contract to Odebrecht, was particularly shocking. 

In this YouTube interview of whistleblower journalist Marino Zapete’s TV show past 6:00, the rigged bidding process could reasonably be inferred.   President Medina’s central role in the project’s mismanagement was likewise highlighted  while he was campaigning for reelection in early 2016, when he virtually perjured himself in public, by making the demagogic claim that Punta Catalina would be operational by late 2017, as shown in this video past 3:00, further stating after that…’ the entire country would have power service 24 hours a day.’  Journalist Ariel Fornari’s tweet below denounces President Medina’s false electioneering promise of early 2016, which he never kept.

Not content with lying profusely in the early 2016 campaign regarding Punta Catalina, President Medina pronounced a bombastic speech at the country’s version of the State of the Union, on February 27, 2017.  Medina’s demagogic rant past 1:38:00 above, before the Dominican Congress, commenced with a dramatic …”You have my solemn promise,”… he went on to say…”I will decide according to the interests of our Fatherland and no oneelse”….” If it’s demonstrated beyond any doubt, that the price was lower than the average,and that all international firms acted as it was expected of them, with responsibility, if that is so, I’m not going to allow that the progress of this country is halted, to feed the interests of a few, to whom it’s convenient that chaos and backwardness will ensue in Dominican Republic.”…After those euphoric remarks by Medina, the joint PLD-majority Congress seemed electrified, and gave Medina a standing ovation, as though struck by the gods that their leader had spoken like Moses from Mount Sinai.

Medina’s mention of “chaos and backwardness”in D. R., in his speech to Congress on February, 2017, was a veiled reference to the recent massive anti-corruption popular protests, of the civil society Marcha Verdemovement, which had gained headlines in Dominican media, worrying the power structure of the corrupt ruling PLD party, to the point where some party leaders were designated as media boom boxes, attempting to discreditMarcha Verde, with all sorts of conspiracy theories.  In the summer of 2017 Interior Minister Carlos Amarante Baret, made spurious comments to the press, alleging Marcha Verdewas being used by ‘leftist radicals,’and that the protest movement would turn into a ‘political party,’and that they would ‘face-off’ (with the PLD) ‘in the 2020 elections’, and as we now know all those bizarre allegations fizzled out into thin air.  

As part of its labyrinthine Odebrecht plot, the institutionally corrupt PLD party knew, that without a demonstration trial, it couldn’t whitewash what seemed like one of the worst corruption cases in the region, besides Haiti’s notorious “Kot kób Petro Caribe A?”scandal, which helped propel recentpolitical convulsions.  Staging a sort of ‘demonstration trial,’ of some token suspects of the Odebrecht/Punta Catalina corruption and bribes scheme,seemed like the ideal PR theatrics.  It could help assuage the transnational business community’s concerns, about Dominican institutional corruption, which has been a disincentive for direct investment in this country.  In fact, U. S. Ambassador to Dominican Republic Robin Bernstein, a Trump friend and campaign fundraiser, and Mar-a-Lago founding member, who helped Trump with the South Florida vote in 2016; in a public speech on February, 2019, commented that ”Public procurement processes of the Dominican state must be done in a democratic manner.”  This was diplomatically couched language, referring to Punta Catalina’s apparently rigged contract award procedure.  Ambassador Bernstein’s predecessor, James Brewster, on the other hand, delivered a more scathing speechduring a seminar on corruption in the Dominican Republic, on April, 2015, mentioning among others that corruption "discouraged foreign investment.” 

The Odebrecht/Punta Catalina demonstration trial,was carefully choreographed, to appease the U. S. Ambassador,and present a façade to international businesses, that the Dominican Republic is a modern state that can redress complex corruption cases within its national territory, and is stable enough for direct investment.   However, even the most cursory observations of this so-called anti-corruption trial, reveal some highly unusual features that stick out like a sore thumb.  

There are six accused figures on this trial,but we’ll focus on two particular defendants, which are emblematic not only of the trial, but also offer us a glimpse of the complexities of the country’s social fabric.  Undoubtedly the most picturesque and folksy character in this trial, is none other than Mr. Angel Rondon, a typically Dominican rags to riches living legend, who hails from the rugged and destitute province of La Altagracia, on the east of Hispaniola; the same area where the last of the feared “gavilleros” or bandits, as they were derisively called by the U. S. Marines, operated in guerrilla groups during the first occupation.  Mr. Rondon’s extremely precarious childhood, forced him to get up daily before dawn, to obediently toil in the family’s tree-cutting charcoal business, as their only means of sustenance.  Seemingly chosen and anointed by the Taino gods of his ancestors,Mr. Rondon appeared supernaturally endowed, with a Caribbean Midas touch early in life, when as a teenager he moved in with an aunt in Santo Domingo, where he underwent university studies, and later became financially independent, after buying some farmlands in his hometown area. 

A few years back, before his pre-trial confinement at the dreaded La Victoria prison, (where inmates can choose between an occasional deadly riot, and the currently deadlier COVID 19 pandemic, for a common inconvenience);  Rondon would at times visit his depressed hometown of Macao in La Altagracia province,escorted by a handful of bodyguards, warmly socializing with relatives, and in keeping with old family traditions, he would generously hand out some cash to his less fortunate relatives, and by one account, he wouldn’t think twice about financially assisting his extended family, whenever they were ill and were stuck with medical bills.  With the passage of time, Rondon became a very adroit political campaign financier, whose career began in the latter Balaguer era, evolving through the eighties.  A capsule photo collection of Rondon,shows him with such Dominican powerbrokers as former President Fernandez, former Vice-President Jacobo Majluta, and outgoing President Medina.

Senator Galan’s convoluted twist in this odd case, are allegations by his defense attorney, that the presiding judge in the Odebrecht corruption trial, Supreme Court of Justice President Luis Henry Molina, had been Galan’s campaign manager during the 2016 electoral campaign.  If this wasn’t sufficient cause for recusal of the presiding Odebrecht trial judge, as Galan’s attorney raised in a procedural motion, it was also openly known that both Molina and Galan worked jointly in President Medina’s campaign in 2016, and Molina was provincial coordinator in San Cristobal for Medina’s reelection bid, thus compounding the ethical and conflict of interest questions,which overtly tainted Molina’s key role as presiding judge, in what is arguably the most complex corruption trial, in contemporary Dominican history.    

"Tommy Galan and Luis Henry Molina during the inauguration of the LDP campaign command."
 
Regarding President Medina’s possible role, in the Odebrechet/Punta Catalina corruption scandal, let’s remember that Dominican Republic’s Attorney General Jean Alain Rodriguez named legendary Dominican political financial wizard Mr. Angel Rondon, as the main defendant in those proceedings, and that Rondon’s close relationship with President Medina goes back years, as the below photo shows, sternly reminding us of President Truman’s historic motto for ultimate political accountability ”The buck stops here.”
"Why does the Attorney General not question President Medina's intimate friendship with Angel Rondon and Joao Santana, the main people involved in the bribes from Odebrecht?"

There are a plethora of photos, where President Medina and Mr. Rondon happen to coincidein public, including one in particular where Medina is awarding a medal to Rondon, in connection with Rondon’s activities in the cattle industry.  In addition, the civil society anti-corruption movement Marcha Verde, requested before the Dominican Republic Attorney General’s office in 2017, that an investigation be conducted into President Medina’s campaign finances.  Obviously, since the institutionally corrupt PLD party, virtually controlled all the legal instrumentalities of the nation, up to and including the Attorney General’s office (“Procuraduria General de la Republica”), instead of conducting serious oversight and investigations of corruption, the Dominican Republic Attorney General’s office would instead allow a dark ominous cloud to hang over President Medina, regarding his campaign finances and his possible connection with corruption and bribes, in the Odebrecht/Punta Catalina scandal.  In this regard, in June 2019, D. R.’s local chapter of Transparency International, Participacion Ciudadana, publicly requested an explanationabout the Odebrecht/Punta Catalina bribes, further charging that the Attorney General’s office was suppressing evidence, on the rigged Punta Catalina bidding process, as well as other questionable government projects by Odebrecht.  Participacion  Ciudadanaemphasized President Medina’s sepulchral silence, regarding this widespread scandal, pointing out that notorious Brazilian political campaigns consultant Joao Santana, was one of those implicated in distributing the bribes, and Santana had also been Medina’s campaign advisor, operating from an office at the National Palace in Santo Domingo. 

Joao Santana, the internationally renowned Brazilian political consulting guru, known as the James Carville of Latin America,was a political advisor of President Medina’s campaigns in 2012 & 2016, who in 2014 alone received in his Swiss bank account, $5 million dollars for his services to Medina. In 2017 Santana & his wife were declared innocent of corruption in Brazil, but sentenced to four years of house arrest for money laundering.  Regarding Santana’s consulting services to Medina, a scandal broke out whenPRM party deputy Faride Raful, while in the opposition, publicly denounced in a TV interview, irregular disbursements of about RD 1,400 Million Pesos (over U. S. 24 Million dollars), to Santana & his wife Monica Moura, for services rendered to the Dominican government from 2012-2017, which Deputy Faride was quick to point out, such disbursements to Santana & Moura occurred after both had been declared guilty in Brazil.  The tweet below from Vladimir Vargascontains Deputy Faride’s disclosure, which in Faride’s typically detail-oriented and finely researched methodology, contains copies of official government documents, which proved by the standard of beyond reasonable doubt, that such disbursements occurred,implicating an instrumentality directly under President Medina.  Notice specifically the two names mentioned in the tweet…”Roberto Rodriguez Marchena”and “Jose Ramon Peralta,”the Director of Communications and Presidential Spokesman, and the Minister of the Presidencyrespectively, which D. R.’s Comptroller’s Office certified, that they both authorized the contracts & disbursements to Joao Santana, as per Faride’s whistleblower disclosure, and after being convicted of money laundering in Brazil.

"Roberto Rodriguez Marchena and Jose Ramon Peralta should be investigated for the $1.4 billion payments that the comptroller's office said they paid to Joao."

An issue even more ominous and dangerous, than the extensive corruption schemes surrounding Punta Catalina, recently surfaced impacting the safety and lives of personnel, operating inside the plant.  On June 23, videos surfaced of a “class bravo fire,”igniting inside unit 2 in Punta Catalina.  The official cover-up story was…” unit 2 was taken offline, in order to remove a rubber gasket which controls gases and air”. However, the videos clearly contradicted this cover story, as black smoke was emanating from inside the plant, clear evidence of a “class bravo fire,” meaning some type of fuel ignited inside unit 2’s facilities. As a result of this serious industrial accident at Punta Catalina, Dominican Republic’s National Committee for the Struggle Against Climatic Change (CNLCC),delivered to the President of the “Confederacion Nacional de la Unidad Sindical” (CNUS), the labor organization which the majority of Punta Catalina workers union belonged to, a request urging an investigation into this incident.  The letter from the CNLCC, mentioned that the black smoke came from the boiler.  The CNLCC further stated, that “Punta Catalina’s workers are at risk to be affected by a grave event, which would be the explosion of the boiler, which could cause the loss of life.”  CNLCC went on saying, they had received eyewitness accounts from workers, disclosing they had seen a fire break out in the area of the accident, contradicting the plant management’s pretextual version of the event.  CNLCC concluded, …“that what was at stake, was not just money, or corruption, or a scam, but the loss of human lives, which would be irreparable.”…

Adding to life-threatening issues, impacting Punta Catalina’s workforce by an apparent boiler fire (pretextually denied by plant management), the firm which conducted the operational restrictions verification test (known as “VEROPE” in Spanish), also revealed some disconcerting findings, regarding Punta Catalina’s purported maximum power generation capacity.  Grupo Canario SRL, a reputable Dominican firm, with extensive experience in this field, was contracted to perform the VEROPE test for Punta Catalina’s units 1 and 2, but due to discrepancies with plant management, only unit 1’s test was conducted.  Canario pointed out to Punta Catalina’s General Manager, Jaime Aristy Escuder, that “the plant could collapse if both generator units were operated at a gross output of 386 megawatts (MW)”.  Canario further warned, that if the “irrational decision” was put into practice of operating at that power level (386 MW), that the power plant “could collapse in less than 15 days”.-  Canario further stated that Punta Catalina did not pass the VEROPE tests, & that the real gross capacity of each unit was 356 MW each.

Amply known for fanatically following in his fearless leader’s footsteps, outgoing President Medina, & himself a bright luminary in Dominican academic and entrepreneurial circles, Jaime Aristy Escuder,was appointed General Manager of the corruption-plagued Punta Catalina coal-fired power plant in 2017.  Among the blinding stars in Escuder’s luminescent resumé, was his participation, in the de facto rubber stamp commission, which had recently granted a perfunctory thumbs up,  to Punta Catalina’s aforementioned rigged bidding process.  The PRM party, while in the opposition, in July 2017, gave a press conference, pointing out among others, to the violations in selection criteria of the bidding process, which unduly favored Odebrecht.  Regarding the infamous Punta Catalina commission, of which Aristy Escuder was part of, before his assignment as the plant’s General Manager, renowned Dominican TV and radio journalist Andres L. Mateo, eloquently criticized the cosmetic findings of the commission, manifesting that “the commission didn’t investigate anything,” thus confirming public opinion, reflected in the mass social protests, & the many other prominent critics of the Punta Catalina scandal. 

 After running a tough anti-corruption campaign, Luis Abinader, a U. S. - trained economist, won Dominican Republic’s presidential elections on July 5, and his PRM party won the majority in both the Senate and Congress of Deputies.  It remains to be seen, If President-elect Abinader and the PRM-controlled legislative branch, will have the political will to institute the requisite reforms and changes of the judicial branch, and the renewal of the prosecutors’ corps, which have perpetuated Dominican Republic’s institutionalized corruption, and has aroused deep social discontent, like never seen in recent history.  

An avowed social democrat, President-elect Abinader will apparently continue Washington’s diktat, recognizing coup mongering and unpopular Juan Guaidó, as self-proclaimed President of Venezuela, which the Dominican delegation subserviently supported at the neocolonial OAS meeting, in January, 2019.  By exchanging a cordial tweet with Guaidó,Abinader has sent an early signal before assuming power on August 16, 2020, where he stands on U. S. regional policy, disregarding the historical memory of the Dominican nation, and the two bloody U. S. interventions of the Twentieth Century. 

"Thank you for the greetings, which we accept as a gesture of goodwill and friendship towards the Dominican people."
 

The cavalcade of stars, of Abinader’s diplomatic skills with regional coup mongers, however, wouldn’t be complete without an exchange with the notoriously self-proclaimed President of Bolivia, Jeanine Añez, whose government is attempting to disqualify the popular & leftist MAS movement in the impending “democratic”Bolivian elections.   

"Thank you very much, Mrs. President, for your good wishes. Our countries will once again walk the path of democracy."
The Empire’s Caribbean Democracy and Corruption Showcase,will thus merit continued close study and observation, transitioning into a new evolutionary phase with a recently elected congress, and an avowed “social democrat”President who will hold hands with the hemispheric coup-mongering right, maintaining close ties with anEmpire in Decline,the onetime “Colossus of the North,” with which it has had a historically tortuous relationship, and was once the undisputed master of the entire hemisphere, but is now slowly agonizing with its own internal crises in the Trump Era. 
  
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