Written by: Indhira Suero
“With the Dominican, nobody can,” were the first words I heard from someone in the Dominican Republic when that person was asked about the coronavirus pandemic. It’s curious to see how — even in the middle of a global catastrophe — Dominicans keep the same ideas and beliefs.
In one part, positive, but in another, extremely negative.
Some people say that this nation is divided into Punta Cana, República Dominicana, “y los barrios.” I agree. The prevailing inequality in the country is especially evident in moments of disgrace.
The coronavirus crisis highlights our failures as a country, as well as our virtues. Unfortunately, the most challenging part is suffered by the poorest. And in the Dominican Republic — despite being classified in 2019 with the highest economic growth in Latin America, Central America, and the Caribbean — people with lower incomes have a worse time in situations like these.
I’ve been afraid ever since I saw the virus spreading and growing closer to our island. How would the government keep us isolated? In quarantine? In order?
On Thursday, March 19, President Danilo Medina declared a state of emergency in the Dominican Republic, ever since the government has taken a series of measures to try to slow the spread of the disease. Some measures celebrated, sending people over the age of 60 to their homes. Others were widely critical, in particular of the provision of sending members of the Police, the National Guard, and Public Health, to citizens’ homes to instruct them about the plague.
As of April 6th, 1.828 confirmed cases of coronavirus have been registered in the country, a figure that indicates the increase in people infected with the virus. So far, there have been 86 fatalities due to COVID-19.
“Ahora hay que esperar que la gente cumpla, usted sabe cómo somos los dominicanos.”
Medina decreed a curfew throughout the Dominican Republic to contain the advance of the coronavirus in the territory. In many places, citizens have not respected it. More than 2,000 people have been detained for failing to comply with the curfew measure, according to a report released by the National Police: “A total of 2,102 people were detained for circulating on the streets between 8 p.m. on Saturday, and 6 a.m. on Sunday 22th, representing 388 more than on the first day”.
Ignorance is bold.
I always thought that if it reached the Dominican Republic, the coronavirus would face a deathmatch with the coconut vendor, the sugar cane worker, el motorista, and the seller of old stoves and refrigerators. A massive battle with the thousands of young people who neither study nor work. A fight with the harsh reality that consumes our daily existence.
In a way, the uncertainty with which we live leaves many people without hope for a better future, or even the existence of a future. I remember a song I once heard my schoolmates sing, in one of the many walks we took outside the classroom.
“To drink, and to smoke, that the world is going to end.”
The goofy song hides a great truth: Why save food for today if I don’t even know if this is the only meal I’ll eat all week?
The Dominican Republic receives the coronavirus with realities that characterize a developing country, and in which there are high levels of corruption. According to the National Survey of Multiple-Purpose Homes, “only 54% of households in the country receive potable water service within the home.”
Even worse: “Nationally, 44.9% of households receive water service 2 to 3 days a week, and of households with drinking water service, 30.7% receive it – on average – less than 5 hours, the days they receive it.”
Also, “of every 100 households in the Dominican Republic, about 27 have a sink or a bowl with soap and water.”
How can you stay in your house if you have no water if you live in a very small space, crowded with other family members?
How do you say #StayInYourHouse to someone living in extreme poverty conditions?
On March 18, at 10 a.m., just 12 hours after Medina’s address to the nation, more than 40 families in La Ciénaga neighborhood received an eviction notice. After several complaints, the Unidad Ejecutora Para La Readecuación de la Barquita y Entornos, the entity that would carry out the evictions, announced in a brief statement on social networks that the transfers would be suspended until free movement was allowed again.
“With the Dominican, nobody can.” It may be accurate, but it can also be a pure illusion. We have endured corrupt governments, hurricanes, earthquakes, and dictatorships, but the lack of order and discipline might be our greatest enemies.
Indhira Suero is a cultural journalist, columnist, broadcaster, press analyst and university professor. She created Negrita Come Coco, a character that promotes popular Dominican culture through social networks. She’s also an Ambassador for SembraMedia, a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing the diversity of voices and content quality in digital media in Spanish in Latin America.