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Vincentians studying in the DR worried about social unrest there

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Editor: Vincentian students studying in the Dominican Republic were extremely shaken up on November 8, by the death of a medical student at their school, the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo.{{more}}

At about 11:00 that morning, word spread about a riot at the university. Though it may sound strange, we were not at all scared or surprised, as there is always some sort of unrest at our school. That Thursday, however, was different.

In less than two hours, the university had been taken over by masked men throwing tear gas. The streets had been blocked with burning piles of garbage and the police had invaded the school to bring the situation “under control”.

By about 1:30 that afternoon, we received news that a student had been shot and killed by the police in efforts to pacify the situation. What made this news even more discomforting was that this particular student had not been taking part in the riot and had been only trying to get out of harm’s way. It makes me cringe to think that it could have been any one of us at school that morning who could have been dead now.

The civil unrest can be attributed to the current political and economic climate in the Dominican Republic. In August of this year, a new president was elected to office (from the same political party) and during the course of the last two months, in analysis of the economic situation of the country, there were more than a few discrepancies, with a $4.6 billion deficit in the budget. Corruption has been alleged. It is said that millions of pesos have gone into pensions, country houses and all other kinds of luxuries for the members of the past government, as well as ridiculous funding of the campaign for the newly elected government and ridiculous salary increases for some government officials and ministers. This situation has put the country into a state of economic despair. To further aggravate the situation, the government recently began speaking, as a means of salvaging the economy, of implementing fiscal reform of the consumer tax, increasing it from 16 to 18 per cent. This was met with much defiance by the Dominican population and on October 30, many persons wore black to work to show their disapproval, dubbing this day “black Tuesday”. This was followed up by a protest on Tuesday, November 6, which resulted in all classes being suspended at our university.

Another cause of the unrest, which has been festering for months, was the failure of the government to increase the amount of money dedicated in the annual budget to education; as it stands, they only dedicate three per cent and the Dominicans want to see it increased to at least five per cent.

On Thursday morning, what caused unrest to escalate to riot was the passing of the bill to increase the consumer taxes to 18 per cent in less than twenty minutes in the house of parliament, without debate, or any allowance of dissenting arguments from the Opposition. Furthermore, the passing of another bill which does not allow persons to speak badly of the president or any of the government officials in public, with punishments of up to two years in jail, and withholding of salary for eight to nine months.

We may not be in the Dominican Republic fearing for our lives, but we do feel uneasy, especially as this is not the first instance of a student being shot at our school (for totally unrelated reasons, but which still show there are obviously problems with the security system at our university.) We are all thankful to be safe and in good health, and will continue to focus on our studies. Please keep us in your prayers.

Kimeisha Bailey

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