Shadows are beloved in the Caribbean. Huts, houses, mansions seek to get away from the sun and its fires. The National Palace of Santo Domingo is no exception. The rectangular, cream-colored, neoclassical building is lined with shady corridors through which the history of the Dominican Republic has passed.
In them the dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo (1891-1961) plotted his countless abominations and in one of his dependencies, President Antonio Guzmán grabbed his revolver at dawn on July 4, 1982 and shot himself in the temple. He lacked 43 days to hand over power and even today there is speculation about the motive for the suicide .
-President, aren’t you worried about meeting a ghost around here?
-As my wife told me after spending the first night in the palace, the noise that the air conditioning makes is annoying more.
President Luis Abinader (Santo Domingo, 1967) walks calmly through the shadows of the palace. Elected in the middle of the pandemic, he has been in power for exactly four months and it is still more to come than past.
A standard bearer in the fight against corruption, in his hands he has the future of a republic of 11 million inhabitants that, before the pandemic, experienced one of the greatest economic accelerations in America
But which still suffers from enormous pockets of poverty (30% population) and backlogs as excruciating as the total ban on abortion. “Here, the face of poverty is that of a woman, especially that of a single mother.”
The interview takes place in the so-called White Room. A space with drawn curtains where a huge orchid competes with two chandeliers. It’s a quarter to five in the afternoon, and Abinader has settled into an armchair.
In front of him his civil advisers sit solicitously; behind him stands an oil portrait of Juan Pablo Duarte (1813-1876), one of the Fathers of the Nation. The president responds slowly, barely gesturing and when he touches on a delicate matter he tends to raise his eyebrows.
How is it defined politically? I am from the center.
And what is that? In Spanish terms, I defend a modern social democracy, where the government’s resources are invested in those who need them most. But without forgetting that you have to let the private sector work so that it has incentives and creates jobs. The best social program is job creation.
And what is your economic plan to achieve it? The Dominican Republic has a very dynamic business sector and, in terms of free trade, we are a meeting point between America and Europe. We have social peace and we offer an acceptable infrastructure, although it can be improved.
What are we missing? We lack greater institutions and greater legal certainty, and that requires independence and the strengthening of the justice system. We also need a more modern education and overcome the digital divide, that is why our Government is currently putting out to tender to deliver a computer to all public school students.
Likewise, we seek to improve competitiveness and we want to achieve what we have called “Zero bureaucracy, efficient government”, that is, that the permits that took two years are now achieved in four months.
Well, corruption is a systemic scourge in Latin America. How do you plan to end it? Look, I’m going to anticipate a few years. If I want to be recognized for something, it is for being an honest and reforming president.
We are making changes like never before in the Dominican Republic. We have eliminated corrupted structures and opened transparency throughout the public administration. I want to give this country a shock of institutionality and modernity.
But you will agree that the fight against corruption is something that is going to take generations. It is not resolved in a mandate. Yes, but we must also admit that we are living at a time when everything has accelerated.
Many, many countries have made an impressive leap in two decades or a decade and a half. In any case, the measures must be started from now on. Because although the covid crisis is the most urgent, we have many other crises and emergencies that came from behind.
And what is the current situation of the pandemic? We have the pandemic under control. Our lethality is one of the lowest and the occupancy of the beds destined for covid is around 30%; that of ICU beds, 50%, and ventilators, 40%. And we have taken steps to increase our capacity.
When will the return to normality? That will depend on when the world returns to normal. We have a preliminary agreement with AstraZeneca-Oxford and we are awaiting any progress with the WHO. We also have all the logistics prepared for the vaccination.
What has been the impact on the economy? We are going to end the year with a 6% drop in GDP and we think that next year we can fully recover. At the moment, with the exception of tourism, it is already in the process of growth, as indicated by the fact that the tax revenues for October and November were higher than those of 2019.
With tourism, perhaps encouraged by the first vaccinations, we are seeing a rebound in reservations from the United States. In that sense, I want to say that we are the only country that gives each tourist who arrives a covid insurance to assist them if the case arises. Here, tourists will be safer than in their home countries.
The Dominican Republic, before the pandemic, experienced strong sustained growth (above 5%), but maintained its poverty and inequality rates. How do you deal with this problem? Economic growth has not been proportional to the decrease in poverty.
That will be the great challenge for this Government when we emerge from the pandemic. Our intention is to eliminate absolute poverty, which affects 6% or 7% of the population. For this, we need growth to become economic development, but direct social assistance must also be provided to those who need it most.
Here, as in other countries, the face of poverty is that of a woman, especially that of a single mother. So the statistics say.
The statistics also say that there is almost three times more unemployment among women than among men. Why? There are many reasons, for example, pregnancy in girls and adolescents is an anchor to development.
Government equity programs have also failed. A policy is needed to develop gender equality, plans are needed to help women and give them much greater participation. We hope not to fail.