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Dominican Republic: Internal Security and Public Order
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > Internal Security and Public Order


A domestic austerity program, begun in the mid-1980s, and falling prices for agricultural commodities, principally sugar, combined to produce a serious economic downturn in which unemployment rose steadily and wages failed to keep pace with inflation. As living standards declined, unrest manifested itself in the form of demonstrations, strikes, and illegal occupations of publicly owned lands. Most marches, mass assemblies, and demonstrations were relatively peaceful, but a few such events turned violent, resulting in numerous arrests and injuries and in a number of deaths. The decade's most violent protest took place in April 1984, when at least sixty people were killed in riots that followed the announcement of austerity measures and price increases for basic foodstuffs and fuel. Another series of riots, provoked by further price increases, left four dead and more than fifty injured in February 1985.

Among the groups most frequently involved in protests that turned violent were Marxist and radical leftist parties, populist agrarian organizations, organized labor, and students. Dominican Marxist parties, illegal under Trujillo, emerged from the underground after his death, and they supported Bosch and the Constitutionalists during the civil war. After Balaguer was elected president in 1966, several of the leftist parties unsuccessfully attempted to launch guerrilla warfare against his regime. During the 1980s, most of these groups operated as legal political parties. Some contested both the 1982 and the 1986 elections, but they failed to win any seats in the legislature.

Communist party organizations were badly fragmented by dissension over leadership and policy issues. The oldest and largest of the Marxist parties was the pro-Soviet Dominican Communist Party (Partido Comunista Dominicano -- PCD). As of 1988, there were fifteen to twenty additional Marxist organizations in the nation, their orientations ranging from Maoist to pro-Cuban, to pro-Albanian, to pro-Soviet; some of these parties had fewer than twenty members.

Despite being weak, divided, and poorly supported, Marxist and leftist parties continued to be closely scrutinized by the police and the military. The government regularly detained members of such groups, as well as members of labor organizations and populist groups, who were believed to be preparing to instigate public disturbances. Such detentions were particularly prevalent during political campaigns. For instance, in May 1986 police detained four PCD candidates; their arrests brought to some 6,000 the number of communist militants detained during the campaigns. Those detained were usually released within fortyeight hours, which by law was the maximum period a person could be held without charge.

Organized labor and populist agrarian organizations staged several strikes, demonstrations, and other work-related actions during the late 1980s. These were generally peaceful events, designed to protest social conditions, low wages, and deteriorating public services. There were a few exceptions, however. Labor officials, for example, called a one-day nationwide general strike in July 1987; violence was isolated, but one man was killed during clashes between police and protesters in the capital.

Students frequently staged demonstrations in support of labor protests, or they joined directly in those protests. Student groups also mounted demonstrations concerning purely educational issues; some of these protests ended violently. In March 1985, for instance, students called for demonstrations to support increased funding for a university in the capital; these resulted in clashes with police that left one student dead. Students protesting the United States attack on Libya in April 1986 also clashed violently with police, forcing suspension of university classes for several days.

Political violence associated with campaigning and voting also broke out at times during the 1980s. Campaigning was for the most part free, open, and peaceful, but on a few occasions when rival political groups held competing campaign events, violence resulted. In November 1985, factionalism in the then-ruling PRD degenerated into violence as supporters of rival candidates for the party's presidential nomination engaged in confrontations that left two dead and caused the PRD convention tally to be delayed several weeks. In the months that followed, there were thirteen additional deaths related to the May 1986 elections; these occurred at polling places and during demonstrations over vote counting. Many of these deaths were caused by members of the security forces, who fired on demonstrators. Nine officers were either retired or dismissed as a result of one incident.

The treatment of Haitians living illegally in the Dominican Republic was a subject of controversy. Several Haitians were killed in 1985 during disturbances at a sugar plantation. The exact circumstances of the deaths were unclear, but it appeared that the incident was triggered by Haitian frustration over delays in the repatriation of cane cutters who had come to the Dominican Republic on temporary contract. After 1985 the government halted the practice of contracting for Haitian cane cutters, but this did not end the problem. The Roman Catholic Church, several political parties, labor groups, and several human rights groups charged that the government had forced illegal Haitian residents to engage in cane cutting by picking them up and giving them the choice of cutting cane or being forcibly repatriated. The government denied such charges, as well as allegations that some Haitians were forcibly removed from their homes and involuntarily repatriated.

Data as of December 1989

Last Updated: December 1989

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Dominican Republic was first published in 1989. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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