June 12th, 2024

Dominican Republic President Luis Abinader heads to reelection as competitors concede early

By Martín Adames Alcántara & Megan Janetsky, The Associated Press on May 19, 2024.

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) – Dominican Republic President Luis Abinader is headed to a second term following Sunday’s general elections, declaring victory after his top competitors conceded early in the night as he held a strong leader in early vote tallies.

The outcome reinforced both Abinader’s anti-corruption agenda, the government’s crackdown along its shared border with Haiti and the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of migrants fleeing the Dominican Republic’s violence-stricken neighbor. Such policies are only likely to continue in his next term.

Abinader, one of the most popular leaders in the Americas, and the early results showed him with nearly 60% of the votes. His competitors, former President Leonel Fernández and Mayor Abel Martínez, conceded early in the night.

Abinader supporters in his campaign headquarters started celebrating early on, blowing horns and cheering. In his victory speech, Abinader delivered a nationalistic message promising change and anti-corruption measures. He notably spoke little about of the government’s harsh measures on Haitian migrants and the crisis in its island neighbor.

“The message from the results is clear, the changes that we’ve made are going to be irreversible,” Abinader said. “In the Dominican Republic, the best is yet to come.”

While opposition parties reported a number of small irregularities, voting largely ran smoothly. Many of the 8 million eligible voters are still traumatized by an electoral authority decision to suspend the 2020 municipal elections due to a technical glitch, prompting what appears to be high voter turnout.

The president’s Modern Revolutionary Movement was also expected to win a majority in the Dominican Republic’s congress, which would allow him to push through changes to the constitution. It also would allow him to further his anti-corruption and economic agendas, which have earned him the approval of many in the Caribbean nation.

Willy Soto, a 21-year old economics student, was among those in the crowd. He said Abinader’s anti-corruption measures and economic and educational reforms gave him hope for the future of the country long plagued by political corruption.

“We young people, we see a different kind of government,” Soto said.

Much of the president’s popularity, however, has been fueled by the crackdown on Haitian migrants.

The Dominican Republic has long taken a hard line with Haitian migrants, but such policies have ramped up since Haiti entered a free fall following the 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. As gangs have terrorized Haitians, the Dominican government has built a Trump-like border wall along the 250-mile (400-kilometer) border. He has also repeatedly urged the United Nations to send an international force to Haiti, saying such action “cannot wait any longer.”

Soto also voiced approval for the migrant crackdown. While saying he knows “the policies against (Haitians) are very strict” and many migrants worried Abinader would win, he said the steps the president has taken are important in guaranteeing the security of Dominicans like him.

“This isn’t a problem that gets resolved one day to the next,” Soto said. “The policies he’s implemented, how he’s cracked down, closed the border and built a wall, I feel like it’s a good initiative to control the problem of Haitian migration.”

While the policy is popular among Dominicans, it has drawn sharp criticisms from human rights groups that call it racist and a violation of international law. The government has rejected calls to build refugee camps for those fleeing Haiti’s violence, and it conducted mass deportations of 175,000 Haitians last year, according to government figures.

“These collective expulsions are a clear violation of the Dominican Republic’s international obligations and put the lives and rights of these people at risk. Forced returns to Haiti must end,” Ana Piquer, Americas director at Amnesty International, wrote in an April report.

Now, as Abinader enters his second term, the president has promised to finish the wall dividing the two countries. He is also likely to continue deporting people back into Haiti at a time that violence has spiked.

The thought of continued crackdowns has stirred fear in many Haitians, both those who have recently fled the crisis and those who have long called the Dominican Republic home.

Dominicans like Juan Rene said they, too, have been left suffering the consequences.

Rene and his cousin sat at the gates of a detention center on the outskirts of the country’s capital this past week, pleading for authorities to help his partner, Deborah Dimanche.

Dimanche, a Haitian who has been living in the Dominican Republic for two years, was detained by immigration officers while on her way to work. She was taken to the detention center and has not been allowed to communicate with her loved ones as she faces deportation.

Trying unsuccessfully to talk with camp officials, Rene spoke with an increasing sense of helplessness.

“They said they won’t hand her over, that they’re going to get rid of her and send her to Haiti,” Rene said. “There’s no one to even talk to.”

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Janetsky reported from Mexico City. Associated Press photojournalist Matias Delacroix in Santo Domingo contributed to this report.

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