By Roland Alum
On May 20, 1902 the Cuban Republic was born, following the Spanish-American War, or Spanish (Cuban) American War that ended Spain's colonial rule. Coincidentally, this May 20, the Dominican Republic (DR) is holding its 14th presidential election since the downfall of Rafael Trujillo in 1961.
It behooves us to compare the trajectories of the two Hispanic-Caribbean nations in the last five decades. One, recovering from tyranny and gross underdevelopment, took the free-enterprise path while expanding its freedoms. The other one endures stagnation and deprivation under a self-perpetuating Marxist-Leninist paradigm.
Instability characterized Cuba's republican era from 1902 to 1958. Government corruption climaxed under Fulgencio Batista's authoritarian dictatorship. Still, by the 1950s, the island-nation was a hemispheric leader in agriculture, labor rights, education, healthcare, and other indices.
With tremendous initial popularity, Fidel and Raúl Castro supplanted Batista in power in 1959; but the pair turned Cuba into a closed society beset by unprecedented repression and chronic inefficiency, a systemic hallmark of Soviet-styled “economies of scarcity.”
Meanwhile, the DR progressed toward the open society model. Interim juntas followed Trujillo's assassination on May 30, 1961. In the 1966 elections, a former Trujillo protégée, Joaquin Balaguer, won the presidency and sponsored the constitution that created the present three-branch government framework.
Since Trujillo's demise, notwithstanding the 1963-66 period, the DR has elected six presidents, all civilians from three major political parties, in 13 presidential elections. As different from the Castros' regime that habitually demonizes expatriate Cubans, the DR politically enfranchises Dominicans abroad.
Recent constitutional amendments bar consecutive presidential terms in the DR. So outgoing President Leonel Fernandez backs his Dominican Liberation Party colleague Danilo Medina. Medina's principal rival is similarly centrist ex-president Hipólito Mejía of the Dominican Revolutionary Party. The late Balaguer's conservative Christian Social Reformist Party is supporting Medina.
In contrast, Cuba is still dominated by the unvarying less-than-one-percent 1959 “revolutionary” elite. This militaristic gerontocracy has engendered amongst hungry Cubans what anthropologists call a culture of poverty.
A fair assessment of a democracy contemplates more than secret-ballot periodic elections. Despite historical disadvantages, the D.R. has become more self-sufficiently productive than Cuba.
The D.R. has a smaller population than Cuba -- 9.3 million to 11.2 million people -- and a smaller territory. Yet the D.R.'s GDP growth rate, an average of 5.9 percent over the past five years, outperforms Cuba's 3.2 percent. The Dominican people have been enhancing their liberal democracy paso a paso (step by step), although still imperfect, along with socio-economic progress.
The D.R. enjoys a robust civil society plentiful in competing enterprises, free press, labor unions, and uncensored Internet access. Conversely, it lacks paredones (firing squads), political prisoners, labor camps, exiles, censorship, neighborhood spies, or humiliating rationing.
The reverse is factual for outmoded “socialist” Cuba, in need of more than reforms by autumnal octogenarian pseudo-patriarchs. As numerous studies persuasively argue, the regimented mismanagement, not the watered-down U.S.'s commercial boycott, or embargo, is responsible for Cuba's abysmal socio-economic failures.
On this May 20, it's not Cuba's 53 years of miserable totalitarianism, but the quiet Dominican Republic's democratic development that deserves acclaim.
Roland Alum, a former OAS anthropology fellow in Santo Domingo and past Dominican elections international observer, is a consultant with Icod Associates. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published in the Sun Sentinel,
May 20, 2012