On Sunday, the streets of Washington Heights, a neighborhood in upper Manhattan known for being home to many Dominican-Americans, became flooded with over a thousand protesters demanding punishment for the Dominican government officials who allegedly received bribes from the Brazilian company Odebrecht.
“In reality, the people have gotten to a point of consciousness and saying that it’s enough,” said Lourdes Batista-Jacab, 44, a resident of Long Island and member of Dominicanos Unidos Contra el Fraude, one of the organizations behind the march. “You have a scandal after a scandal after a scandal, but what happened with Odebrecht was the last straw,” she added.
According to U.S. Department of Justice documents, Odebrecht paid about US$788 million dollars in bribes, US$92 million of those going to Dominican officials. As a result of those illegal deals, the company made a profit of about US$163 million dollars. The company has participated in the 17 main infrastructure projects since it began operating in the Dominican Republic in 2001. According to official investigation reports, some of these projects were overvalued.
Batista-Jacab expressed that she was happy to see so many mobilized. “This is a moment in which the people are awake, and we have actually been coordinating this protest for months with other organizations,” she said.
"Por bandido y por ladron, los queremos en prisión! (For the bandits and thieves, we want them in prison)" and "El pueblo dijo ya, el PLD se va (The people said enough, the PLD has to go!)" were some of the many chants that Dominicans traveling from all around the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut sang amidst drums, loud horns, and a strong call for overall change and justice.
The protest in New York was scheduled at the same time as a protest in Santo Domingo which garnered hundreds. Other protests took place in Massachusetts, Florida and other cities. Dominicans in New York shared that it was important to protest because many in the diaspora contribute financially to the livelihood of their families back in the Dominican Republic.
“We contribute to the economy by sending our earnings there, so we’re also tired of so much corruption,” said Marcia Brito, 40, of Yonkers.
“It’s just a pity that a country that is so desperate to have resources and solutions to their problems have politicians who are stealing money from us ... That’s why we’re marching, to raise our voices,” said Jose García, 28, of Washington Heights.
The protesters were not only demanding an end to corruption, but also an end to the stronghold in the government by the Dominican Liberation Party, or PLD — the party that the two aforementioned government officials accused of corruption are involved with. Many of the signs specifically targeted Danilo Medina and the PLD.
Ana Ventura, 62, of Brooklyn, says that she attended the protest precisely to stand against the PLD. “I’m here for many reasons, the first is that we must end with the PLD, the second is to end the corruption … like this sign says 'No to impunity.'"
The PLD was originally considered a leftist party, started by Juan Bosch (1906-2001), a Dominican leftist revolutionary who became president only to be taken out of power almost immediately by the United States via a military intervention that lasted about 4 years. The party completely shifted over the last decades, with Danilo Medina pushing for neoliberal reforms. The PLD has been in power since the year 2004, with some claiming that the country is still in a condition reminiscent of the Trujillo dictatorship days. This is a claim that Danilo Medina has publicly denied though some of the protesters present disagreed.
“We got rid of Trujillo who kept us under a dictatorship for 31 years, and now we’re in a PLD dictatorship, but the people will not accept it,” said José Valdez, 47, of Washington Heights. “The popular struggle will begin here,” he added.
Organizers put out a call to wear green as a symbol of hope and to have a march that was strictly non-partisan.
“I came to show my support for the Dominican people and to stand against corruption, against impunity, against injustice and theft,” said Lucia Camilo, 65, from the Bronx. “I came so that we can have equality, and so that the government does more for the people.”