Dominican Republic | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Dominican Republic

Dominican Republic

Freedom in the World 2003

2003 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


The political debate in the Dominican Republic was dominated in 2002 by partisan wrangling over the creation of an electoral board handpicked by the ruling party. The dispute erupted in September when the Senate, which is controlled by the center-left Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD), appointed seven members to the board, which runs all elections. The move caused opposition parties, which control the Chamber of Deputies, to announce that they were abandoning the lower chamber, paralyzing its work.

After achieving independence from Spain in 1821 and from Haiti in 1844, the Dominican Republic endured recurrent domestic conflict. The assassination of General Rafael Trujillo in 1961 ended 30 years of dictatorship, but a 1963 military coup led to civil war and U.S. intervention. In 1966, under a new constitution, civilian rule was restored with the election of the conservative Joaquin Balaguer. The constitution provides for a president and a congress elected for four-year terms. The congress consists of the 30-member Senate and, as a result of a recent census, a House that in 1998 went from 120 members to 149.

In the May 16, 2000, presidential elections, Hipolito Mejia, a former agriculture minister and a PRD outsider, struck a chord among those who felt left out of the economic prosperity, particularly the 20 percent who live below the poverty level. Mejia won 49.87 percent of the vote, compared with 24.9 percent for ruling party candidate Danilo Medina and 24.6 percent for Balaguer, who was running for his eighth term in office.

In 2002, electrical blackouts and an ailing economy topped the issues of governance confronting Mejia, who also faced problems of increasing street crime. Enron, the failed U.S. corporation, had a stake in a power plant in the Dominican Republic that was in serious financial trouble.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Citizens of the Dominican Republic can change their government through elections. At the end of 2001, the Dominican legislature approved constitutional changes allowing presidents to serve consecutive terms, as part of a package of electoral changes that also included reducing from 50 percent to 45 percent the minimum vote required to win presidential elections in the first round. The reforms also established direct election of the president, eliminating an electoral college system in which representative sectors chose the president based on popular votes.

Constitutional guarantees regarding free expression, freedom of religion, and the right to organize political parties and civic groups are generally respected. Civil society organizations in the Dominican Republic are some of the most well organized and effective in Latin America.

The media are mostly private. Newspapers are independent and diverse but subject to government pressure through denial of advertising revenues and the imposition of taxes on imported newsprint. Dozens of radio stations and at least six commercial television stations broadcast. In 1997 the National Commission on Public Events and Radio Broadcasting shut down dozens of programs with religious-magical content.

The judiciary, headed by the Supreme Court, is politicized and riddled with corruption, although significantly less so in recent years. The courts offer little recourse to those without money or influence, although reforms implemented of late show some promise in increasing citizen access to the courts. Prisons, in which 9 out of 10 inmates have not been convicted of a crime, are grossly overcrowded, with poor health and sanitary conditions, and violence is routine. Police salaries are low, and there is a high level of corruption throughout the country's law enforcement institutions.

A major transit country for South American drugs to the United States, the Dominican Republic serves local, Puerto Rican, and Colombian drug smugglers as both a command-and-control center and a transshipment point, mostly for cocaine. The government estimates that some 20 percent of the drugs entering the country remain there as "payment in kind." This phenomenon has contributed to increasing drug abuse and street crime.

Labor unions are well organized. Although legally permitted to strike, they are often subject to government crackdowns. Peasant unions are occasionally targeted by armed groups working for large landowners. Haitian migration to the Dominican Republic has long been a source of tension between the two countries. Violence and discrimination against women is a serious problem, as are trafficking in women and girls, child prostitution, and child abuse. The Dominican Republic is primarily a source country for trafficked women between the ages of 18 and 25, and girls as young as 15.