Dimanche 21 Avril 2019  
 

N°91 - Troisième trimestre 2010

La lettre diplometque
  Éditorial
République Dominicaine
  Les perspectives d’avenir des relations entre la France et la République Dominicaine : un nouveau départ
 
  Des liens anciens au renforcement actuel de la coopération interparlementaire franco-dominicaine
 
  Tourisme : une coopération dominico-française prometteuse
 
  Tourisme, infrastructures, services : les atouts du marché dominicain
 
États-Unis d'Amérique
Géorgie
Nigéria
Mongolie
Événement
émergence & développement
 
La lettre diplometque
Partenaire Lettre Diplomatique
La lettre diplometque
  CITROEN
IDS
 
La lettre diplometque
La lettre diplomatique Haut
     République Dominicaine
 
  S.E.Mme / H.E. Laura FAXAS

A strategic kingpin in the Greater Caribbean

The Dominican Republic is one of the American continent’s crossroads and its prominence on the Latin American diplomatic scene has grown fast in recent years. On the domestic front, President Leonel Fernández has led his country further down the road to its “democratic revolution” with its new Constitution. H.E. Laura Faxas, its Ambassador to France, is playing an active role spurring fresh momentum in Dominican-French relations, and told us about the deep-reaching metamorphosis that her country has embraced in recent years.  


The Diplomatic Letter: Your Excellency, President Leonel Fernández was re-elected for his second consecutive term on 16 May 2008, and had served as the Dominican Republic’s President from 1996 to 2000. What are the top priorities on his agenda?

H.E. Laura Faxas: Indeed, President Leonel Fernández was re-elected in May 2008, by 2,199,734 people, i.e. 54% of voters, in the first round. The Junta Central Electoral (Electoral Commission) organised and supervised the election process and the international community acknowledged that it was a transparent and institutionally valid election. It has demonstrated the Head of State’s determination to cement democratic institutions and the rule of law in the Dominican Republic.
Those results first of all mean that people have commended the way in which he tackled the banking crisis that hit in 2003 and he had to deal with as soon as he was back in office in 2004. He swiftly took action, and put the Dominican Republic’s macroeconomic stability, GDP growth and solid exchange rates back on track, i.e. back on the healthy trend that they had been on since the early 1990s. Those results also show that his measures to revive the economy and bring back trust made a lot of sense.
In 2008, when the banking crisis was behind us and growth was back – to 9.5% on average from 2005 to 2008 –, President Fernández decided to tackle petroleum prices and their effect on the economy with a very no-nonsense approach. He also analysed the ripple effects that the global economic downturn and international financial debacle that started with the subprime crisis in the US would have across Latin America and the Caribbean – and reached relatively optimistic conclusions. During his inaugural speech, President Fernández also mentioned the end of the role that Bretton Woods institutions had been playing until then, the need for an international financial system, and a U-turn back to a multilateral approach.
With this national and international situation in the backdrop, the programme that he mapped out in 2008 and has been rolling out since is built on three fundamental pillars: the economic, institutional and social agendas.
The government’s economic agenda includes a full set of measures to limit our country’s vulnerability to shocks from the international crisis, maintain business confidence, continue to attract foreign investment and revamp our country’s production capacity to build up its competitive edge. This programme was also backed by awareness of the need to consolidate the Dominican government’s institutions as a critical step towards securing genuinely sustainable development.
That was how introducing novel mechanisms to reform the government system became a top priority. A constitutional reform was enacted on 27 February 2010 paving the way for mapping out the National Development Strategy for 2010-2030 and thereby rolling out the programme over the long term. These two processes entailed organising seven round tables to discuss the specific issues in the country’s seven strategic areas. I would like to point out that these initiatives do not reflect one representative’s or a given political elite’s views: they encapsulate the vision that the majority of the Dominican Republic’s people share.
This strategy also focused on social objectives. It did not get much press but the Dominican Republic’s second most important institutional revolution took place on this front. By creating and consolidating the social security system, our government managed to significantly stem the most deprived people’s vulnerability. Today, two of the three healthcare insurance systems for families – one run on subsidies, the other on contributions – provide access to healthcare for millions of Dominicans who did not have social security cover before.
Education is another top priority on the programme for 2008 to 2012. Efforts, here, are focused on training teachers, upgrading infrastructure and opening technology centres around the country. Illiteracy rates were already on a downward trend, from 9.9% in 2004 to 8.9% in 2008. Given the harsh budget cuts we had to make due to the 2003 crisis and economic crunch, that is a remarkable achievement.
Last but not least, the top priority on the sustainable-development agenda is to build the institutional backbone and technological resources we need to effectively enforce Law 57-07 on renewable energies, which was passed in 2007. On this front, we are also encouraging ecotourism, i.e. reconciling environmental concerns and our country’s main industry.

T.D.L.: The deep-reaching constitutional reform on 26 January 2010 crowned the “democratic revolution” that the Dominican Republic’s President has been driving. How exactly has it reshaped your country’s institutional architecture? As you were on the Presidential Committee to reform and modernise the State, how has it improved public affairs in general and curbed corruption in particular?

H.E.L.F.: This constitutional reform was dubbed a “democratic revolution” precisely because of the new, more horizontal policymaking processes that it has ushered in. In that sense, the Dominican Republic’s new Constitution, which was enacted on 26 January 2010, is driving deep-reaching reforms to address the changes that the world is negotiating today. The pivotal article is Article 7, which states that the Dominican Republic is a social and democratic State that enforces the rule of law, is organised as a unitary nation and is rooted in respect for human dignity, fundamental rights, work, the people’s sovereignty, and the separation and independence of public powers. It is completed by a chapter about people’s fundamental rights, responsibilities and guarantees.
Building rule of law also involves organising the State more efficiently to gradually turn equal opportunities into a tangible reality for all. That is what the chapter dealing with the Public Ministry is about: that ministry is in charge of making sure that the balance of power within the government structure remains sound. The Constitution also enshrines functional, administrative and budgetary autonomy. The creation of the Constitutional Court (art. 184), which is now functionally independent from the Supreme Court, is another momentous reform.
The Constitution has also introduced far-reaching changes in our country’s planning, and political and administrative division (articles 12, 193, 194, 195). And, in response to the expectations and requirements it created, it introduces a revision of the State structure taking into account certain basic principles of public administration such as human resources.
Lastly, I would like to add that the Constitution rationalises the way in which the State works from two angles. First, it genuinely involves society as a whole in efforts to achieve the same goals. As our Head of State recently pointed out, the Constitutional Court has opened up a single – and singular – forum to ensure legal instruments abide by the spirit of the Constitution. Second, the referendum gives the people the power to decide on issues that by definition warrant their consideration. This mechanism, combined with the “popular initiative” entitling citizens to submit bills to Congress, guarantees the people’s sovereignty.
From a broader perspective, I would also like to highlight three aspects of this reform:
- This comprehensive overhaul puts us in a position to deal with the challenges in a situation that has changed radically since the first Constitution was originally drafted. This reform was not like previous ones: it was not rushed through to suit the Constitution to particular interests. To the contrary: it reflects a genuine shift in the principles that underlie the Dominican Republic’s Constitution.
- The nature of this reform explains its importance: as opposed to previous ones, it was adopted by referendum combining and distilling the aspirations of the various components in the Dominican Republic’s society. This process was an authentic experience of debate based on dialogue, open-mindedness and pluralism that should define any modern democracy.
- Under it, the Constitutional Assembly is the only body that can legitimately introduce any revisions. It actually mirrors the way in which democracy itself is changing. It breaks away from the notion of delegation that defines traditional representative democracies, and tenders deliberative democracy as the alternative. This reform used new participative mechanisms to enable the various components of our society to effectively uphold their interests. It introduces new players, such as mediators.
- These developments have inter alia led to acknowledging and including what we call third-generation and fourth-generation rights.
Looking at my own experience on the Committee to reform the State back in 1996, I can say that we have come a very long way, especially when it comes to curbing corruption. There are now several institutional bodies in charge of monitoring the State and how it manages public property. But we still have to push ahead with efforts to wipe out this scourge.

T.D.L.: Its 8% growth in the first half of 2010 ranks the Dominican Republic’s economy among Latin America’s liveliest – in spite of the 2009 slowdown. Why, in your view, is your country’s economy bearing up so well despite the international financial crisis? Tourism is still the main driver but what is your government doing to tap into the farming and mining resources there?

H.E.L.F.: Indeed, our country’s economy is clearly robust and growing at a healthy pace in spite of the worldwide downturn that dealt the more developed economies a fierce blow. That was due to the consistent macroeconomic policy, which entailed a tight rein on government policy, especially as regards exchange rates.
The government did not devaluate its currency overnight despite a lot of pressure from the tourism and industrial sectors. And, in spite of the colossal budget deficits that it had inherited from the previous administration, it curtailed public expenditure and kept a grip on its working capital by refinancing the debt it had inherited. It stabilised its currency, concurrently plugging the capital drain, rebuilding business trust and retaining foreign investors.
To answer your second question, our government is actively involved in efforts to reengineer our country’s productive capacity. Competition from textile industries in Central America and China has prompted us to start finding new options. President Fernández has defined technology as the cornerstone of his economic policy for a long time now, by endowing almost every locality with technology centres and by building up IT capabilities.
The Dominican Republic’s farming sector ranks among the Caribbean market’s leaders for a variety of organic products from coffee to chocolate and on to mangos. Our country also recently broke its own sorghum production record. And, last but not least, the fact that Barrick Gold has decided to settle in our country has kick-started a revamp in our mining industry. All that, of course, combined with the plans we are working on to develop sustainable tourism.

T.D.L.: Under the new Constitution, your government has also mapped out a national development strategy through 2030. What does that strategy involve and how will it tackle environmental challenges? Besides recent plans to build a Metro line in Santo Domingo, what are you planning to do to upgrade infrastructure in general and deal with your country’s energy deficit in particular? What are you doing to promote a fairer distribution of wealth?

H.E.L.F.: Under the national public investment and planning systems, which are described in detail in laws 496-06 and 498-06, our country has set out to hone a national development strategy that will guide everyone who has a role to play in our country – in particular, the public sector. The 2010 Constitution upgraded this planning tool by affording it a constitutional mandate.
The environment is one of the four aspects of this national strategy. The goal is to “achieve sustainable environmental management and adequately adjust to climate change.” Sustainable development is included as public policy, and cuts across plans, projects, programmes, and efforts to promote and regulate production.
Article 67 roots sustainable development in the “collective interest” and enshrines “the conservation of the ecological balance, fauna and flora”, as well as preservation of the environment as constitutional. The State’s responsibility in this area, and its responsibility for curbing pollution, are defined in Article 68. The National Development Strategy specifically sets four major objectives:
- Natural-resource protection and stewardship, and improving the quality of the environment;
- Efficient and sustainable water resource management;
- Developing a national risk management system involving communities;
- Mitigating the causes of climate change.
As regards infrastructures, the Dominican government is aiming to step up investment in rural and suburban areas. It is doing that by focusing on production potential and on measures to “integrate urban and rural areas”. Tourist and transport infrastructure are also on the list of priorities. The public sector national plan for 2010-2013 sets aside 54% of public investment for transport infrastructure. The second Metro line is being built as we speak, and the transport sector is undergoing a full reshuffle. This plan also involves building and refurbishing roads and motorways around the country, and building infrastructure to make the entire road network more efficient. Plans also include heavy investment in healthcare, education, energy, water and sewerage.
Curbing poverty and inequality is the National Development Strategy’s second aim. It prescribes “social cohesion, with equal opportunities and limited levels of poverty and inequality.” This policy is rolling out through initiatives spanning education, healthcare and social security, and investment in human resources and territorial cohesion.
One of our country’s main development challenges is in the energy sector. Unfortunately, the previous administration did not push ahead with the capitalisation process that had begun during President Leonel Fernández’ first term in office. That neglect, combined with the crisis we had to negotiate in 2003, dealt this reform a severe blow and jeopardised its success. The government is now working to solve this problem with support from the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and similar institutions.
Given the situation, the National Development Strategy is aiming to secure “reliable electricity supply at competitive prices, for the long term, with no conditions”, and “dependable, diversified and environmentally-friendly sources of fuel.” The national plan for the energy sector for 2010-2013 allocates 9% of public investment to the energy sector, focusing in particular on renewable energy and production.
The goal is therefore to limit our reliance on foreign energy and to promote renewable energies by diversifying electricity production. By 2007, President Fernández had taken a big step when Law 57-07 was enacted to encourage renewable energies. Several major agreements in this area, however, fell through when the global economic slowdown hit. But the government is trying to resume those talks now that the economy has embarked on an upswing. We have also started working on projects to build wind farms and save energy. If you look at the bigger picture, you will see that the electricity sector is in the middle of an overhaul, and that several hydroelectric and natural-gas plants have been built.

T.D.L.: The fact that the Dominican Republic is Haiti’s neighbour probably explains the spontaneous drive to help the people hit by the earthquake there on 12 January 2010, and the fact that you hosted a summit to discuss that country’s future on 2 June 2010. The Dominican-Haitian mixed commission got back to work in July 2010. How, in your view, has this ordeal kick-started a fresh new start in relations between your two countries? What are you planning to do to consolidate bilateral cooperation on migration flows?

H.E.L.F.: What happened in Haiti on 12 January 2010 has fundamentally reshaped relations between our two countries. The need to develop relationships based on friendship, cooperation and solidarity is self-evident. The solidarity that the Dominican Republic’s people showed in the wake of that disaster has indeed helped to mitigate some of the mistrust between both countries. Our country’s instant support also showed the world that we are serious about our commitment to build ties with Haiti. President Fernández provided full support at all Dominican State facilities, including hospitals, to help relief operations, and provided substantial food aid. He was also the first Head of State to visit devastated Port-au-Prince to support Haitian former President René Préval. In addition, to provide an institutional framework to that commitment, a "technical team for the reconstruction of Haiti" was set up, under the leadership of the Ministry of Economy and Planning.
The Dominican Republic wants to be the key partner of Haiti for its reconstruction. The first international meeting designed to organize and structure the mobilization of resources for the reconstruction of Haiti was held on 18 January 2010 in Santo Domingo, under the leadership of both Presidents. In that sense, the World Summit on the Future of Haiti (dubbed “Solidarity beyond the crisis”) in Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic, on 2 June 2010, opened the door to a lasting commitment to support this country shattered by the earthquake – and by the extreme poverty and isolation that it has endured for the past 200 years – enabling it to actively join the regional and international community.
In response to this solidarity drive, the Haitian Government has pledged to build new trust-based institutional ties between our countries. In line with that, former President René Préval and Prime Minister Jean Max Bellerive have asked the Dominican Republic to take part in Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC) discussions, as a way of acknowledging the strategic role that we could play in that process. President René Préval has also visited President Fernández to coordinate work to reopen the Dominican-Haitian bilateral mixed committee. This committee is the forum for political dialogue between our two countries, so we have an opportunity to build the institutional foundations we need to start working on initiatives to promote sustainable development based on harmonious relations, and a shared aim to nurture integration and cooperation, on the island.
The Dominican-Haitian bilateral mixed committee was officially reopened during a ceremony presided by both Heads of State, on the border between the two countries, on 30 July 2010. The goal was to open a forum for dialogue and consultation to strengthen our bilateral ties, while providing a suitable regulatory framework and formally administrating cooperation efforts. This commission’s strategy covers two fronts:
- Coordinating initiatives to facilitate top-level political dialogue on structural as well as specific issues, under the Haitian Prime Minister’s and the Dominican Foreign Affairs Minister’s responsibilities;
- Devising a roadmap for each sector, including scheduled meetings for committees and subcommittees in charge of running joint initiatives, and of programming, organising and following up on operations in a wide variety of fields.
During the first subcommittee meetings, representatives agreed to draw up a list of previous agreements in order to adapt the new framework for bilateral and international discussions as required. Managing migration was one of the issues on the list of priorities in the Joint Declaration. From that perspective, the bilateral subcommittee in charge of migration flows is working to the meeting schedule I mentioned to come up with and clear the various proposals in its field.

T.D.L.: Your country is in the heart of the “Greater Caribbean” and took a significant step towards regional integration when it signed the CAFTA-DR free-trade agreement with other Central American countries and the United States. That was three years ago. How has that agreement helped to develop the Dominican Republic’s economy since then? You have also signed an economic partnership agreement with the EU. What do you tell foreign investors when they ask you about the advantages of the Dominican market?

H.E.L.F.: It isn’t easy to measure the effect that CAFTA-DR has had on trade because it took effect in January 2007 and the crisis hit the US late that same year – and isn’t over yet. It has nevertheless had a positive effect in other areas, where it has triggered internal reshuffles to adjust to institutional principles, helped domestic markets to work smoothly and made us more competitive.
Our country’s open-trade policy over the past decade actually reflects a radical metamorphosis in the Dominican Republic’s economy. It has broken away from its traditionally much protected domestic markets and started focusing on sharpening its competitive edge in foreign markets.
The Dominican Republic has all the attractive features that foreign investors look for. It is in an enviable geographic location, near one of the world’s largest markets, and on a very busy trade route. It has signed trade agreements with the US and EU, which have opened the doors to major, extremely competitive markets. Over and above that, the sustained growth that local manufacturers serving the export have enjoyed (in free ports) means that a considerable number of workers are now familiar with the industrial culture and discipline, and that a large number of professionals are now familiar with the modern organisation techniques used in manufacturing processes. People around the world acknowledge the quality of our country’s telecommunications system. We have seven international airports and a vast road network.
As regards potential in the tourism sector, the Dominican Republic is a destination that has built a solid reputation around the world, and there are still many opportunities there waiting to be tapped.
The legislation on foreign direct investment is very liberal. Our government is still working hard to provide a business environment that is ever more competitive in line with international standards.

T.D.L.: President Leonel Fernández’ diplomatic drive has boosted the Dominican Republic’s prominence on the Latin American and Caribbean political scenes. In the light of its mediation between Venezuela and Colombia, how do you view the tension between those two countries and its impact on regional stability? From a broader perspective, since your country hosted the regional summit on drugs and security in Santo Domingo in 2007, what regional cooperation mechanisms is your country hoping to build on, in particular to curb the drug trade?

H.E.L.F.: The risk of armed conflict between Venezuela and Colombia has clearly subsided since Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ election, as he is visibly more open to dialogue with the Venezuelan government. If there were an armed conflict, however, it would be dreadful news for regional stability. The consequences would be impossible to predict – not to mention the human losses and destruction.
One of the consequences would be a cut in Venezuela’s support for various Latin American countries through its Petrocaribe programme and similar initiatives. It could also kick-start ruinous spiralling inflation in both countries. From a geopolitical perspective, it would hurt the region’s fragile and relative independence vis-à-vis global powers, including the US. And yet, back in the 1990s, nobody would have said that three Latin American countries – Argentina, Brazil and Mexico – would be in the G20 today. The fact that there is a G20 is actually a sign that there are more, and more diverse, key players on the international scene, probably as a result of several regional consultation forums such as UNASUR for South American countries.
If tension between Venezuela and Colombia took a turn for the worse, it could shatter cohesion within those organisations. Peru and Chile, for instance, would most probably side with Colombia, and Brazil and Uruguay would throw their weight behind Venezuela. And that would undermine the consensus that they need to work together on the bilateral and multilateral initiatives that they have to push ahead with in order to secure development across Latin America’s nations for the future. President Leonel Fernández is aware of that threat, and is willing to encourage conciliation and overcome differences through dialogue. That is why he has stepped in several times to keep the chances of a conflict between these two sister nations at bay.
You also mentioned the drug trade. Our country’s stance on this major issue is clear. President Fernández said it during his opening address at the Regional Summit on Drugs, Security and Cooperation that we hosted. In his view, the measures to curb this problem have to stem from the obvious correlation between drug trafficking and an increase in violence and crime in most countries in this region. In the Dominican Republic, government statistics reflect a significant increase in crime between entre 2000 and 2005 (the number of murders rose from 15 to 25 per 1,000 inhabitants). That figure has started dropping over recent years, as authorities have started playing a much more active role in efforts to fight crime and to promote institutional cooperation. In that sense, the different agencies in charge of stemming the drug trade of each country has to do their best to cooperate.
The National Drug Control Department (NDCD), Police, National Drug Council (NDC), Army and Interior Ministry have been working hand in hand on the prevention agenda (in line with the spirit of the National Council on Public Security, under the Democratic Security Plan). The fact that they are working together has for example increased the number of drug seizures.
But we are worried to see that drug flows in the Dominican Republic are increasing – meaning that drug consumption is increasing with it. Our country has traditionally been seen as a drug-trade junction. The drugs come from Colombia, through Haiti, into the Dominican Republic, and on to Puerto Rico, the United States and Europe. But the trend we started seeing recently suggests that the Dominican Republic has started becoming a consumption market. Some of the drugs, in other words, are staying there, opening up a market that cuts across several social categories (high and low incomes). This means that we have to deal with a new phenomenon: micro-trafficking on the most marginalised fringes of our society.
This is of course not only happening in the Dominican Republic. It is happening around the world, as globalisation collateral damage, so to speak. Broaching it effectively from regional, hemispheric and global angles will involve cooperation between the players in the region, governments, civil society, the media and anyone else who can make a difference on that front.
As President Fernández said at the summit on security and drugs, the US has been leading efforts to thwart the drug trade in the region for decades – which is logical, as it is one of the countries where the drugs go.
Taking on the drug trade therefore involved cooperation with the US, multilateral cooperation with the agencies playing a very active role on that front, and bilateral cooperation with each country in the region.
President Fernández’ analysis is based on research by Miami University professor Bruce Bragley, who argues that the September 11 2001 events have shifted the US’ focus to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and away from their contribution to fighting the drug trade in the Caribbean. Over the past four years, Professor Bragley’s report continues, US air surveillance over the Caribbean has dropped by 62%. The US has also cut its budget for this war over the past few years, which probably explains the increase in traffic in the region.
The point, of course, is not to point fingers at anyone but it is important to make it clear that this move is jeopardising stability, democracy, security and development for the people in our region. Our country, in that sense, is aiming to identify cooperation spheres or channels to curtail drug supplies, and to counteract demand. The objectif is to create a climate of security, progress and prosperity, and an atmosphere or friendship and fraternity, for our people. In the current context in which Europe is increasingly affected by the phenomenon of drug trafficking, it is desirable for a more assertive cooperation between the EU and the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean on this issue.

T.D.L.: The crisis in Honduras brought back the spectre of flailing democratic values precisely at a time when Latin America is taking a leap forward. In the light of your country’s move to put out that fire, how do you feel about lingering disagreement and the chances of solving that crisis, especially in the Organization of American States (OAS)? Do you think that the creation of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States in February 2010 will entail revamping consultation forums in the region?

H.E.L.F.:
The coup in Honduras showed that democracy is still fragile in the region and that we still have to watch out for authoritarian tendencies, and that fact that our countries and multilateral organisations such as the OAS and the UN only hold limited sway and only have so much power to enforce their decisions. Recent developments in Ecuador also show we have to watch out, because we have a duty to protect democracy.
The consequences of the coup in Honduras have fallen beyond repair. Former President Manuel Zelaya was unable to organise the elections that the countries in the region were determined to back, behind President Fernández. Elections were finally called however, and a new President was elected.
If we can argue about whether those elections organised by a government that had staged a coup were legitim, it is important to point out that the international community’s observers were present for that election and that the results reflect a reality we must not underestimate. And, furthermore, continuing to refuse to recognise the new government in Honduras is tantamount to running the risk of deepening the divide among a people already torn by the traumatic coup.
The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States is the natural result of a regional integration and polarisation process, which is in turn a natural upshot of globalisation. I am aware that sounds apparently oxymoronic. But that social phenomenon is undeniable: large multilateral blocks are forming, and regional players are thriving.
These coalitions are coming together around a wide variety of common denominators, ranging from economic interest to cultural identity. You have to understand why this new block has come together in that light. It is not about Hegelian dialectics. This new organisation is not the antithesis to the OAS: it complements it. They are not at odds. They represent new forums to redefine common interests and overcome differences. The intercultural rationale underlying it first and foremost embraces plurality. It does not rank one rationale above any other. Or, in other words, it is about union in diversity and the plurality of possible configurations to achieve it.

T.D.L.: Over two-thirds of Dominican Republic’s exports go to the US, which is still your country’s leading business partner. Since President Leonel Fernández met President Barack Obama in Washington on 12 July 2010, how are the two countries planning to deepen cooperation ties? How can your country contribute to bringing Cuba back into the regional integration process now that Latin American and the US have rekindled relations in the wake of the Trinidad and Tobago summit in 2008?

H.E.L.F.: During their meeting, President Leonel Fernández and President Barack Obama focused mainly on the need to consolidate cooperation on the security front. It is a critical issue for both countries. The US’ security policy has been more aggressive since September 11, 2001. It has often been criticised but it is no doubt a necessary measure to protect its integrity.
In that light, President Fernández insisted on the risks associated with the drug trade in the continent, and on the dreadful consequences it could entail, in particular in countries with notoriously fragile institutions. The rule of law could suffer, and they could see parts of their countries become fertile soil for any of a wide variety of criminal operations, including terrorism. Our President argues that concerted regional policy is the only way to go to minimise those security risks. The US will of course have a strategic role to play on this front, because the human and technological resources it has are often scarce in the rest of the region.
The US, as an aside, still prefers development aid. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said that her country would step up cooperation on energy, in particular on our drive to revamp our electricity sector. During the meeting between the two Heads of State, she confirmed that the US wants to see our country become the benchmark for clean energy in the Caribbean.
It is also important to point out that the US and the Dominican Republic see eye-to-eye on the need to promote dialogue to solve national and international disputes. President Obama commended President Fernández’ mediation in efforts to solve the crisis in Honduras, and the role he played after the earthquake in Haiti. I would also like to clarify that, according to recent statistics on the first eight months of 2010, Haiti has become the main destination for Dominican exports.
Cuba, I have to point out, has excellent relations with most countries in the region. This has gradually paved the way for its integration in the various blocks there. Cuba has been an official member of the Rio Group’s Permanent Mechanism for Consultation and Political Coordination, for example, since 2008.
The trust he has earned in Havana and Washington and his conciliatory approach prompted President Fernández to volunteer to open up new channels for dialogue between those two countries. As President Obama has clearly expressed his interest for closer ties with a view to lifting the embargo, the Dominican Republic’s President seems to be the right person to back this stance. Developments in that direction would corner the OAS into reviewing its stance on Cuba. I think that has more and more chances of happening and that President Fernández could play a pivotal role to make it happen. He has shown that he has a very keen understanding of contemporary geopolitics and of the dynamics shaping the balance of power at regional and worldwide levels. And our little country’s position in the heart of the Caribbean is in the perfect spot to promote any ties.

T.D.L.: Your President’s trip to the Middle East in June 2009 showed that your country is keen on diversifying and building partnerships beyond Latin America. What effect has that had on your economy, and as regards political consultation on global governance? Where does South-South cooperation fit into the Dominican Republic’s development strategy? What are you hoping to see as a result of a closer partnership with the EU?

H.E.L.F.: During his first term in office (1996 to 2000), President Fernández was very active on the foreign-policy front to open up the economy and to join international markets. The Dominican Republic joined 27 international organisation executive committees, inter alia at the World Health Organization (WHO), World Tourism Organisation (WTO) and UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
When he returned to office, President Fernández revived the Dominican Republic’s foreign policy, focusing on developing and cementing ties with countries in other regions around the world, such as Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe, which had been relegated to second place before. Over the past few years, our government has opened embassies inter alia in Russia, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Qatar and India. The number of Dominican diplomatic missions has practically doubled.
In that same vein, our President has focused in particular on consolidating the involvement capabilities of a number of players that have traditionally been on the fringes of the international scene. In 2009, for example, he took part in the 15th Summit of the Non Aligned Movement (NAM) as Rapporteur-General. This group of countries played a fundamental role during Doha Development Round discussions organised under the WTO’s aegis, consolidating its influence on an international scale.
The NAM has become a key player in efforts to step up South-South cooperation. That is why, as an aside to this meeting, President Fernández recommended setting up a mechanism to supervise cooperation for development within this framework, arguing for the need to monitor developments beyond regional frontiers. The Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Petrocaribe energy cooperation agreement, among other regional mechanisms, are examples of why multilateral cooperation is fundamental for projects on a national scale.
In President Fernández’ view, the international system has lost legitimacy au yeux de public opinion since it failed to forestall the economic crisis with institutions that could effectively regulate financial markets. This shattered the people’s sovereignty – and not only in developing countries: it was not only a problem for poorer countries having trouble competing with more development countries – by WTO standards. Today, there is no option but to admit that the neoliberal policies dictated by financial power exacerbate the dissymmetry between the poorest and the most industrial countries.
Countries such as France, Spain, Greece and the UK had to undertake structural reforms that jeopardise the benefits that the Welfare State has built to plug huge budget deficits, which deepened when governments had to take out colossal amounts of money to bail out banks after the credit crunch.
Certain intellectuals, such as Zygmunt Bauman, a Polish sociologist, have gone as far as saying that forgoing global governance based on pluralism and dialogue is endangering nothing less than the human race. Global warming and the ecological disasters that have occurred in several parts of the world such as the Gulf of Mexico and Hungary are only a few examples of why it is so important to agree on and enforce a pact on environmental issues and sustainable industrial development. Warnings are no longer paranoid doomsday soothsayers pushing alarm buttons: they are real threats today.
And the challenges that globalisation has put before us will involve concerted efforts by determined nations that can roll out genuinely transnational policy. Needless to say, multinational companies very often hold more sway than national authorities, so they can pressure lawmakers, even in powerful countries such as the US, and imperil action. Now, more than ever, political leaders have to start talking about creating new coalitions to defend their political agendas.
Organisations such as UNASUR and NAM are playing a pivotal role building a global governance system based on pluralism and dialogue. The countries have understood that. That is why, for instance, the G8 is losing power and the G20 is gaining prominence. The Dominican Republic’s President had already called for a G192 back in 2009, and upheld this proposal at the Summit of the Rio Group Latin American and Caribbean Unity Summit.
The World Summit for the Future of Haiti is an example of tangible progress. The sheer size of the international drive to help this devastated country was like nothing we had seen before. This summit was a key step towards understanding the active role that the international society has to play vis-à-vis the most vulnerable countries’ fates.
The Dominican Republic has had close ties with Europe since its independence – especially with countries such as Spain, France and Italy. Europe has shown a great deal of solidarity towards our country. Several European countries have sponsored many cooperation programmes in the Dominican Republic in that vein. The National Office at the European Development Fund (EDF) is running these programmes today.
Our country, however, does not intend to enroll in a dependent relationship. Much to the contrary: President Fernández wants to see our country become one of the EU’s strategic partners in its efforts to further its agenda in that region. Our central position and the excellent relations we have with other States there – in particular in the Caribbean and Central American – make the Dominican Republic a suitable ally to cement ties between these two blocks across the Atlantic. Another thing we have in common with Europe is a political and institutional tradition rooted in the values of democracy. That is why we can and should build a strategic partnership with Europe on the road to an institutionalised global market.

 T.D.L.: The bilateral consultation mechanism was one of the highlights during President Leonel Fernández’ visit to Paris in December 2009, which indeed brought fresh momentum to Dominican-French relations across the board. Besides top-level academic cooperation, how would you like to see relationships between these two countries deepen? You are already working together on transport projects but what other business sectors could tap into thriving, long-term bilateral opportunities?

H.E.L.F.: Indeed, France and the Dominican Republic mapped out most of their new cooperation agenda during President Fernández’ visit to France, more precisely during the inter-ministerial meeting during that visit, on 3 December 2009. About 15 top-level delegates from both countries took part in that meeting, which led to a list of “Conclusions from the first meeting of the French-Dominican consultation mechanism”.
Two specific agreements were signed during that visit. The two Ministers of Higher Education and Research, as you said, signed the agreement on top-level academic cooperation. The other agreement, on transport, will enable bilateral cooperation in that sector. French delegates confirmed that French companies are extremely keen on getting involved in building Santo Domingo Metro Line 2, and the railway line between Santiago and Haina, and discussed public financing for those projects.
They also defined other sectors as top-priority. One of them was tourism, where we are planning to build exchanges on and work together on topics such as cultural, ecological and multi-destination tourism. This commitment recently became an “administrative agreement on tourism, when French Trade, Crafts, SMEs, Tourism, Services and Consumer Affairs Minister Mr Hervé Novelli and Dominican Tourism Minister Mr Francisco Javier García signed it on 21 September 2010. This agreement will spell new momentum on an issue that we are particularly keen on in the Dominican Republic – but which France is also interested in: our widely acknowledged leadership on the tourism front in the Caribbean.
Delegates discussed other opportunities for economic development, especially in the aviation, basic infrastructure, water supply, waste management and renewable energies sectors. Our two countries underlined their shared determination to promote French investment in top-priority sectors touching on the Dominican Republic’s economic and social development, and Dominican investments in France. On that issue, we would like to commend the work of the French Development Agency (AFD) on protecting and promoting natural resources and supporting the private sector, and its subsidiary Proparco in the infrastructure, banking and SME-credit sectors.
Lastly, there are two more areas that our country ranks as priorities in its cooperation relations with France. One is legislation, justice and governance. Cooperation in this area, based on our shared legal culture, is well worth updating and developing. Relations between schools under the French Justice Ministry and Dominican law schools have to be strengthened. France, as an aside, is pushing ahead with its programme supporting governance in Elias Pina province and will be supporting cross-border projects by the EU under the EDF. The other is sustainable development and involves resuming the French Development Agency’s work in the water, environment and other sectors (the Plan Sierra, which is leading the way on that front, is one example), and microcredit in rural areas. Protecting the environment and promoting renewable energies will rank high on our bilateral-relations agendas during the coming years. France has stated that it hopes to take part in the Caribbean Biological Corridor connecting the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba, via the French departments on the American continent. Besides acknowledging the Quisqueya Verde plan’s achievements, we will be cooperating on reforestation projects to complement it.
However, during President Fernandez’s visit to France, the special partnership between the Dominican Republic and France in the Caribbean and Central America - a subregion grappling with enormous changes - was highlighted as the keystone of the new ties being forged between our two countries.

T.D.L.: Even though most Dominicans speak Spanish, the Dominican Republic became an observing member of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) at the 13th Francophonie Summit in Montreux on 23 October 2010. What was the point of that initiative? What are your views on this forum for cooperation and solidarity?


H.E.L.F.: We are proud of joining the OIF as observing members. We decided to apply to join this important organisation for three reasons.
The first one is geopolitical. In the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic is near important parts of the French-speaking world. The main one is Haiti, a preferential partner and sister nation, on the same island as us. We feel closer than ever to Haiti today. And we are near the French Republic, i.e. three of its overseas departments (Guadeloupe, Martinique and French Guyana) and two overseas territories (Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy).
Besides that natural environment, President Leonel Fernández is intent on lastingly broadening our relations with French-speaking countries (our Latin American neighbours, of course, and our European African and Asian friends).
The second reason is historical. People sometimes forget that France’s presence and the French language on this Island of Santo Domingo date back four centuries, as the French buccaneers and filibusters landed there practically at the same time as the Spanish colonisers. Spain transferred the western part of the island to France in 1697, in the Ryswick Treaty, and relinquished the eastern part in 1795, under the Basle Treaty. France governed the entire island for a short period of time as a result. Haitian domination lasted 22 years: from 1822 to the proclamation of the Dominican Republic on 27 February 1844.
The French and Haitian presence considerably influenced the new Dominican Republic’s organisation. It shaped its institutional architecture and – especially, adopted the French legal system. So the Napoleonic civil and penal codes were used in all Dominican courts – in French and indeed completely unaltered – for 40 years after our independence! That has not happened anywhere else in Latin America. Our civil code today is still based on its French precursor, and aspiring French lawyers have to study Moliere’s and Victor Hugo’s language as soon as they start university.
The third reason is political: the values that we believe in match the values that the French-speaking world stands for. One of the main values, of course, is peace. And, as I have already mentioned it, President Leonel Fernández has shown that by personally playing an influential role in the conflict between Colombia and Venezuela, and in the conflict in Honduras. Our country has also embraced the UNESCO Convention’s pledge to uphold cultural diversity and officially joined that drive on 24 September 2009. Our new Constitution has stepped up measures to protect and promote cultural diversity to remain consistent to that pledge.
In 2009, we opened a very active centre to study French culture and the French language at the Global Foundation for Democracy and Development (GFDD). Our country is also chairing the Americas group at the Forum Francophone des Affaires (FFA). These two organisations can provide prominent platforms to promote the French language and its values, as much as economic development in our region.
As part of our membership application, we agreed to work on the four action fronts that the OIF ranks as top priorities: language diversity; peace, democracy and human rights; education and research; and sustainable development.
By joining the OIF, we are hoping to start working on tangible cooperation projects to promote the French language and culture in our country, and to build solid exchanges with other French-speaking countries to build the Dominican Republic’s presence in the francophone world.

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