By: Ariel Fornari – HaitiAnalysis –
In recent articles we have analyzed the Dominican Republic’s political scene in the lead up to the 2020 elections as well as geopolitics in the region. In this article we will look at some aspects of the country’s political corruption, and how Dominican society has reacted to what is perceived as its number one problem, above crime, unemployment and the high cost of living; which is the national scourge of corruption.
Here we focus on the control of the media as a sugar coated subject in Dominican society, in complicit connection with political corruption. While in public forums this is debated from time to time, tangible results are never seen. Regarding corruption Transparency International has classified the Dominican Republic, as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, but in spite of these scathing and credible allegations, not very long ago Dominican President Medina brazenly asked the press,
We could easily understand President Medina’s rhetorical & barbed question, inasmuch as we’re well aware that under the current political system in the D. R., all three branches of government are effectively controlled by the ruling PLD party, & the judicial branch is no exception to this rule.
In other words, there are no effective checks & balances in D. R. & the concept of the separation of powers, is all but nonexistent. This in turn guarantees impunity, especially in flagrant cases of corruption such as the festering scenarios by the Brazilian Odebrecht construction firm, which has made headlines in the hemisphere including in the Dominican Republic & caught considerable attention even in the U. S. In fact, an anecdote goes that when Jose Bono, former President of the Autonomous Region of Andalucia, Spain, visited D. R. some years ago, & after closely observing the political scene, he exclaimed,
“When the same political party controls all three branches of government, it becomes a swindle”.
Indeed the current Dominican political system as controlled by the institutionally corrupt PLD party, qualifies under this maxim.
Regarding the Odebrecht corruption scandal in particular, this is now the elephant in the living room of the corrupt & governing PLD party, since it is open knowledge during his 2016 electoral campaign President Medina falsely promised that by 2017 power blackouts throughout the country would end, with the activation of the scandal driven Punta Catalina coal-fired power plant. However by 2019, there has been constant news that the Dominican business sector stands to lose upwards of 3 million Pesos in any given 30 day period, due to the constant power blackouts affecting the country, notwithstanding Medina’s false promises during his 2016 electoral campaign.
As the 2020 pre-electoral & electoral campaigns evolve, some sectors of Dominican society postulate that recent media censorship incidents have not occurred in a vacuum.These sectors maintain, the control over the media by powerful sections of the elite is directly linked to the issue of corruption.
CRITICAL JOURNALISTS TAKEN OFF AIR
To put all this in proper perspective, we will go back in time to what we consider was the genesis of the current controlled media climate in the Dominican Republic, to wit, the arbitrary and capricious firing of renowned TV journalists Marino Zapete and Edith Febles from the highly rated morning news program of the SIN Network ¨El Despertador¨,towards the end of 2015.
The flagrant and sudden termination of these two prominent journalists, was explained away by SIN management, under the pretextual and spurious caveat of ¨financial considerations¨,however Mr. Zapete´s incisive explanation claimed otherwise, persuasively rebutting that his firing was for his refusal to tow the SIN’s complicit line, that a recent media activity in Panama by President Medina was a bona fide press conference, when in fact it was a paid political activity.
This flagrant and arbitrary termination case if analyzed on its face, could produce the inference that complicit collusion between D. R. mainstream media and the institutionally corrupt PLD government, is a salient & easily camouflaged reality, producing in turn a flimsy freedom of the press, subjecting in turn the Dominican masses to an Orwellian reality as packaged by complicit mainstream media, as the Zapete termination case was disdainfully written off by the SIN Network. If the firing of a journalist were to have taken place under similar circumstances in the U. S., as happened with the Zapete case of 2015, it would have been an open and shut First Amendment case in Federal Court, since an overt nexus existed between the protected activity of professional journalistic freedom and its subsequent retaliation; the arbitrary and capricious firing of TV journalists Marino Zapete and Edith Febles by the SIN network, at the end of 2015.
As some of us know very well, Mr. Zapete is not your run of the mill Dominican journalist, unlike the many“bocinas” or parrot-like so-called journalists that plague the airwaves & printed press in D. R.,subsidized “under the table” by the corrupt PLD ruling party, in order to sway public opinion & maintain an aura of freedom of the press, while bombarding daily the neurons of the hapless population. Mr. Zapete can boast of an honest journalistic career going back thirty years, including during the nefarious era of President Joaquin Balaguer, when extrajudicial killings, disappearances, and a brutal persecution of leftist and progressive movements took place in Dominican Republic, at the height of the Cold War.
One egregious disappearance case during the infamous Balaguer Era, was the still unresolved case in 1994 of Dominican journalist Narciso Gonzalez, popularly known as “Narcisazo”. This disappearance case was so particularly egregious, that his surviving widow took up this case before the Inter-american Court of Human Rights, which ruled in her favor that the Dominican state should continue with its investigation, although to this date no suspects have been named, and the case remains a riddle, similar to the internationally renowned Galindez disappearance during the infamous & bloody Trujillo Era.
Among the persecutions that took place against Mr. Zapete during & after the nefarious Balaguer Era, he was detained by police and interrogated in 2003, for a whistleblowing article against then President Hipolito Mejia who capriciously ordered his arrest, and typical of his unorthodox and anachronistic “caudillo” style of governing, Mejia confessed recently he was unrepentant of ordering Zapete’s arrest. [Also as we have discussed in this outlet prior, Mejia as well as other corrupt officials in the PRD & PLD played a covert role in facilitating rightwing Haitian paramilitary death squads that helped to spark the 2004 coup d’état and its violent aftermath in Haiti].
Mr. Zapete’s extensive journalistic experience involves work in radio, TV & the printed press, & includes extensive academic studies in D. R., Spain & the U. S. His uncompromising & whistleblower style has earned him the ire of ultranationalist and rightist paramilitary groups in the D. R., which have unleashed death threats against him. He doesn’t mince words when denouncing government corruption on the air, & in all likelihood this is what finally got him fired from SIN’s “El Despertador” morning TV show, towards the end of 2015.
For the sake of presenting a media censorship case to our readers, & its plausible connection with government corruption, the Zapete/Febles termination incident of 2015, would have been enough for a case study approach to reasonably persuade anybody. However this is only the tip of the iceberg & as we postulate, the Zapete case was the genesis of the current way in which critical views are erased from Dominican media, since other prima facie retaliation cases have occurred more recently in D. R., involving journalists & media celebrities, which seem to portend a pattern, that indeed a climate of media censorship exists in D. R. Our premise here is buttressed by a recent hemispheric meeting of the “SIP” (Interamerican Press Society), in which extremely serious charges were leveled by the Dominican press represented there, including murder for hire acts against Dominican journalists, as well as draconian laws by the Dominican government, which in effect muzzle the ability of journalists to denounce corrupt politicians during the electoral campaigns.
SILENCING TV PARODY AIMED AT THE GOVERNMENT
Going forward, we shall proffer to our readers some more recent media censorship cases, which we reasonably concluded are also connected to government corruption denunciations in D. R. The next in this series, is the glaring & highly controversial case of the removal of the high ratings variety TV show “Chevere Nights”, produced by Dominican celebrity Milagros German. This highly popular TV show was running on weeknights on the Telesistema Channel 11 Network for fifteen consecutive years, & its termination was announced in September, 2018. To begin with, the word “Chevere” could be loosely translated as “ultra cool”, in our Caribbean Spanish dialect, & indeed “Chevere Nights” lived up to its ultra cool name, employing a rather wonky & variety format in its programming, with music, interviews, & parody skits resembling somewhat the popular American TV show Saturday Night Live. It was in all probability due to one of these parody skits, that perhaps rubbed the wrong way some institutionally corrupt PLD party officials, that Chevere Nights got canned by the Telesistema Channel 11 network.
In this particular case, instead of being completely banished from the air, like in the Zapete/Febles termination by the SIN Network in 2015, Chevere Nights was conveniently whisked away from its high ratings weeknights spot, to a more sedate Sunday nights slot, keeping the same format of its original program. As in the Zapete case, the Chevere Nights affair also drew an inference of media censorship, inasmuch as it occurred soon after one of its scathing anti-corruption skits, which no doubt upset the apple cart of some corrupt PLD officials, that always “cover their tracks” ever so gingerly in D. R., ensuring that no public reference to this incident was made by the ruling PLD party circles, so as not to alarm the public that censorship is official party policy, though we’re well aware that the opposite is true.
This scenario was similar to what happened in the Zapete termination, when the government kept its mouth shut, letting instead the powers that be at the SIN Network, explain away the spurious circumstances. Thus as we see, an emerging pattern is taking place in D. R., whereby a “sugarcoated” media censorship climate is becoming the norm rather than the exception, in turn creating a chilling effect upon journalists & celebrities, which might so much as dare to tongue lash the institutionalized corruption that permeates political life in D.R., & the subsequent impunity of this environment is guaranteed by the PLD’s de facto ownership of all three branches of government, creating in turn the “estafa” as we say in Spanish, or “swindle”, like the well respected & honest President of Andalucia, Spain remarked upon visiting and closely observing D. R. years ago.
Milagros German is a very dynamic, outspoken, & charismatic celebrity in D. R, & for fifteen years she had successfully produced Chevere Nights, which became a cultural icon on TV screens in D. R. And very typical of Ms. German’s maverick style of TV production, in 2018 during one of Chevere Nights’ weeknights presentations, a highly controversial musical skit was played out by her talented staff, poking fun at a recent activity by the sister of President Medina, Mrs. Lucia Medina, and guess what? She also just happens to be a congressional deputy. Among other things, the parody about Mrs. Medina was literally blowing the whistle on a recent activity by her, handing out bunches & bunches of new school backpacks to kids. Apparently the parody skit must’ve made fun somehow, about the use of public funds for an activity that in any other country, would’ve been considered an electioneering type of function.
Needless to say, this went off like a lead balloon with Mrs. Medina, as she in turn shed a few crocodile tears, whining something to the effect that she was a….”human being”… as though her confused audience would have no clue of this assertion. And sure enough, it wasn’t very long after the musical skit parody affair, that the plug was yanked by the powers that be, & similar to the Zapete/Febles case of 2015, Chevere Nights was shown out the door, having to be content with occupying afterwards, a more sedate once a week spot on Sunday evenings, at the Telesistema Channel 11 network. In actuality, Ms. German had already established her public reputation, as an ardent critic of the corrupt PLD government which for years has had the exclusive franchise of all three branches of government, & in this 2017 video she’s seen on the air denouncing the “dictatorship of the PLD party”, so obviously she had been in the crosshairs of the PLD for some time now, & the time for her removal from the air came to a head in 2018, as we have already explained.
For the sake of social & media civility, it would’ve been enough that the whisking away of Chevere Nights from its prime time high ratings weeknights, to a more hum drum Sunday evenings spot would’ve been the happy ending of this story. But typical of the rough & tumble “barrio” environment of Dominican politics & the media, a public donnybrook ensued afterwards in the media about the hullaballoo that had just transpired concerning the Chevere Nights unexpected termination. Even though the well informed public, & some journalists & activists reasonably suspected that the Chevere Nights termination affair, was another of the corrupt ruling PLD party’s doings, a certain folksy and unique character of Dominican news media known as Roberto Cavada, who has his own nighttime news program known as “Telenoticias” in the Channel 11 network, jumped with almost fanatical frenzy into the fray and crossfire, involving the Chevere Nights controversy.
First of all, we will share our own scoop of Cavada’s (as he’s commonly known) incursion into the unfolding media skirmishes about Chevere Nights. Cavada first of all is not even a Dominican born citizen, but it is our understanding he is a nationalized Dominican of Cuban origin. Cavada’s amusing on camera style could be loosely described, as a 21stCentury Caribbean P. T. Barnum, affecting a rather bombastic style of journalistic oratory, which we thought had disappeared entirely from our common culture, back in the 1950s or perhaps by the early 1960s. Of course no one has to take my word for it, to this brief description of Cavada’s anachronistic TV journalistic style, but in this video, lo & behold, you will witness for yourself Cavada’s somewhat odd mannerisms, deorbiting eyeballs, electrically raised eyebrows & spasmodic body language, as he tries his darned best to convince his mesmerized audience, that neither the D. R. government nor any of its officials, had absolutely anything to do with the recent termination of Chevere Nights’ popular weeknights programs.
One would think, that with the colorful & bombastic gratuitous feedback that Cavada offered us in his frenzied & devious analysis, of the Chevere Nights termination affair, this would’ve brought closure to this zany script. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, as our knight in shining armor, to wit, a journalist by the name of Mr. Marino Zapete has been chosen by the gods of our Caribbean Mt. Olympus, in order to shed some further light to us mere mortals, about the Chevere Nights affair, & more specifically about our Caribbean P. T. Barnum otherwise known as Cavada, & his esoteric interpretations of this affair. Yes, dear faithful readers, Mr. Zapete again comes out of the woodwork to shed some light upon us, as to the misdeeds of our Caribbean P. T. Barnum, improvised staunch defender in this script, of the institutionally corrupt PLD party, which is our main suspect in the Chevere Nights termination affair. In this video, Zapete as usual, “reams him a new one” to borrow a rather vulgar military jargon expression, & rebuts Cavada’s spurious arguments in detail, as to who the real culprit was, behind the demise of Chevere Nights’ weeknights programs. Zapete explains in detail in the video, the profitability of year by year of Chevere Nights during recent years, thus completely dismantling & bringing to ashes Cavada’s spurious statements, that this program was terminated from its weeknights spot due to its unprofitability.
Again, we have seen in the Chevere Nights affair, a pattern of media censorship synchronized to denunciations of government corruption, which is sugar coated to the general public, in this case the opportunistic intervention by a crony journalist friend of the corrupt PLD party, Mr. Roberto Cavada, misusing the boombox of his own prime time nightly TV news program, to fanatically defend his saintly patrons of the corrupt, governing PLD party.
JOURNALIST TERMINATED FOR UNCOVERING JUDICIAL CORRUPTION
It is my belief though that the key piece in this scheme of impunity perpetuating corruption is the ineffectiveness of the Dominican Republic’s prosecutorial & judicial system.
In this final section of this exposé, we focus on judicial corruption, but regarding the office of prosecutors and how this connects with corporate media censorship inside the country. In mid-2018 the renowned journalist Edith Febles whom we mentioned earlier, in the arbitrary termination of Marino Zapete & Ms. Febles, towards the end of 2015 at the SIN Network; at this time Ms. Febles was being employed in 2018 by the CDN Channel 37 Network, in their prime time morning news program “Enfoque Matinal”. Ms. Febles, embarked on a whistleblowing disclosure about the rigged & pre-programmed selection of about thirty three new prosecutors that were competing in a selection process for these prosecutorial positions of the “Ministerio Publico” or the national state attorney’s office.
Parenthetically, Ms. Febles is one of a select group of whistleblower Dominican journalists, working primarily on TV, who has also gravitated towards social media, with very active Twitter& YouTube accounts. Her YouTube brand hashtag is #LaCosaComoEs (the way the thing is). She has collaborated with Marino Zapete in the past, as we witnessed from the 2015 arbitrary termination by the SIN Network. She also is pinch hitter for Mr. Zapete, when he is on vacation from his Teleradioamerica Channel 45 afternoon shows, & in the past was also co-host with Zapete in the same show.
Ms. Febles’ style might have a soft feminine touch on camera, with her very unique folksy Dominican ways about her, but she is very detail oriented when she tackles her assignments, & in the particular case of her whistleblowing on the rigged selections of prosecutors she left no stone unturned. For instance, she highlighted the fact that out of the thirty three prosecutor positions, there were at least two very prominent rigged selections, for key prosecutor positions in Santiago & Santo Domingo. Another blatant detail she pointed out in her investigative findings, was that in the so-called competitive questionnaire for the candidates, some of the questions were prepared by two of the candidates themselves. It wouldn’t take much imagination to think what would transpire, if say, some similar shenanigans took place in the U. S. Perhaps some of our readers that might know something about federal law, could cite to us the section of the U. S. criminal code, that might be applicable in a rigged selection for U. S. Attorneys, or worse, congressional oversight being invoked for the impeachment of the applicable officials. In the case at hand however, we’ll have to be content enough with Ms. Febles fearless whistleblowing disclosure of these rigged prosecutor selections. But as usual, our story doesn’t end here.
Following the pattern of retaliation, after openly denouncing an act of official corruption, Ms. Febles suffered the same fate as Mr. Zapete & herself, back in 2015, as well as that of celebrity Milagros German in 2018. And true to form indeed, very soon after Ms. Febles blew the whistle about the rigged selection process of the prosecutors, she was summoned by management of CDN 37, informing her about the obvious consequences of her whistleblower disclosure, that her services wouldn’t be needed by the network thereafter.
We have attempted here to expose our readers to the festering pus which has been ongoing now for quite some time, concerning the climate of big business media control in the Dominican Republic & its plausible connections with the institutionalized corruption of the ruling PLD party. But as some of us are well aware, history does not function in a total vacuum, & what we see today being played before our eyes, has some historical implications that take us to the past. What we’re trying to say is, that the present political system of D. R., can be directly traced back to the U. S. invasion of 1965. That was the year that the venerable Texan, Lyndon Baines Johnson, who used to delight journalists at the White House, by lifting his beagle dogs by their ears; “LBJ” as he was more commonly known, ordered the U. S. invasion of D. R. & to this day, the dark specter of history still haunts the Dominican Republic. And unless deep institutional reforms take place, & there’s a truly functioning system, where all three branches of government are co-equal & independent of each other, the Dominican people will continue to carry their heavy cross of institutionalized political corruption, coupled with impunity, & media censorship will be an accepted social norm, instead of an exception. It is our sincere hope, that the day will come when the Dominican Republic will have an accountable government, and where media platforms can be democratized and no longer under the thumb of corrupt elites.