The Dominican Republic shares with Haiti the island of Hispaniola, where Christopher Columbus and his murderous conquistadores first landed in 1492. Ever since, the country has been run by a wealthy elite who serve imperial interests, currently the U.S. There is such extreme income disparity that the poorest half of the population gets one-fifth of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), while the richest 10 percent take nearly 40 percent of GDP.
Yet in the worldwide depression, that rate of robbery is evidently not enough. The government, in league with the Roman Catholic Church, is on the offensive, launching a draconian revision of the country’s constitution. If successful, the changes will impoverish those on the bottom even more and gut the rights of women, sexual minorities, immigrants, and labor.
In response to this onslaught, women are hitting the streets in protest. They are supported by the Socialist Workers League (LST), a Trotskyist organization that recognizes the importance of defending the most vulnerable workers. The LST also calls for widening opposition through uniting all those affected.
Targeting the most oppressed.
The constitutional revisions are a combination of political attacks, economic assaults, and divide-and-conquer ploys designed to weaken working-class solidarity. The net effect of the measures is to make it easier for the rulers to impose further austerity on workers, who already suffer unemployment of more than 15 percent and steep inflation.
The revisions include: criminalizing abortion under all circumstances, including rape or to preserve the life or health of the mother; restricting the definition of families to only those headed by a heterosexual mother and father married in the Catholic Church; denying citizenship to native-born children of immigrants (primarily Haitians); and penalizing any strike or labor action that slows production.
The total ban on abortion strikes at women’s autonomy and political power, and attempts to force them back into the traditional home. Women also face the double whammy of a restrictive family definition. Both revisions were championed by the Catholic Church.
The reactionary family article openly hits at lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender (LGBT) families; female heads of households, who are 45 percent of the total; and extended families, many of which are headed by grandparents.
Such “nontraditional” families are the norm partly because two million Dominicans – one-fifth of the population – have emigrated out of economic necessity.
The survival consequences of this change will be severe. The redefinition of the family will exclude the majority of the population from social services!
Then there are the “savings” the rich intend to make by taking from Haitian immigrants what little they now have.
Haitians – a super-exploited labor force.
The same economic pressure that drives many Dominicans from their homeland also forces Haitians to cross the border into the Dominican Republic. Haiti is even more impoverished than its neighbor – with 80 percent of the population poor, and 54 percent abjectly poor.
Dominican politicians and media are scapegoating and demonizing Haitians to justify taking away their access to citizenship. This campaign has unfortunately found fertile ground. Haitians are suffering more frequent assaults, murders, and house-burnings.
Racial bigotry and national hostility are involved. Only 11 percent of Dominicans are Black, while 73 percent are of mixed race and 16 percent are white.
Haitians are already among the lowest-paid workers in the Dominican Republic. Without access to citizenship they will be excluded from social services and government pensions, and disenfranchised politically.
Labor as a whole is also under fire. While the new constitution gives lip service to the legality of strikes, it bars any action that results in reduced output. This, of course, is the whole point of any strike or slowdown!
Women take the lead in fighting back.
The process of constitutional change is completely undemocratic. The president, a member of the Dominican Liberation Party, waited to announce his plan for a constitutional rewrite until after his re-election in 2008. The changes are being considered and passed by the Revising Assembly, which is made up of the two houses of the Congress and the president. The people get no say.
Two-thirds of the proposed articles have passed an initial vote, but there will be a second consideration. Opponents are using this time to organize against the constitutional juggernaut.
In May, women’s groups turned out several thousand people for a mass demonstration against the anti-abortion Article 30. The protest included LGBT activists, doctors, and medical organizations. Several left groups attended the march, although the LST was the only one to help with organizing.
Article 30 has attracted international attention, including criticism from Amnesty International and the regional director of UNICEF. National Radical Women in the U.S. has sent a solidarity statement to the women-led ComitŽ de Lucha Contra el Retroceso.
Women’s groups are spearheading the demand for a popular vote to replace the current high-handed process.
The LST supports this call for a referendum, and is reaching out to other affected groups, including labor unions, Haitian immigrant organizations, and the Left. It has been the only radical organization to highlight the importance of supporting women, sexual minorities and Haitians. The LST stresses the need for a united front of all the groups under attack to beat back the government barrage.
The best hope for stopping this steamroller is the organized opposition of workers. And building solidarity among specially oppressed groups – women, LGBT people and Haitians – will advance the whole labor movement regardless of the outcome.