Cuba, DR on very different paths
By Roland Alum
May 20, 2012
On May 20, 1902 the Cuban Republic was born, following the
Spanish-American War, or Spanish(Cuban)American War, that ended Spain's
colonial rule. Coincidentally, this May 20, the Dominican Republic is
holding its 14th presidential election since the downfall of Rafael
Trujillo in 1961.
It behooves us to compare the trajectories of the two Hispanic-Caribbean
nations in the last five decades. One, recovering from tyranny and gross
underdevelopment, took the free-enterprise path while expanding its
freedoms. The other one endures stagnation and deprivation under a
Instability characterized Cuba's republican era from 1902 to 1958.
Government corruption climaxed under Fulgencio Batista's authoritarian
dictatorship. Still, by the 1950s, the island-nation was a hemispheric
leader in agriculture, labor rights, education, healthcare, and other
With tremendous initial popularity, Fidel and Raúl Castro supplanted
Batista in power in 1959; but the pair turned Cuba into a closed society
beset by unprecedented repression and chronic inefficiency.
Video: Four arrested in after-school fight posted on YouTube, Facebook
Meanwhile, the DR progressed toward the open society model. Interim
juntas followed Trujillo's assassination on May 30, 1961. In the 1966
elections, a former Trujillo protégée, Joaquín Balaguer, won the
presidency and sponsored the constitution that created the present
three-branch government framework.
Since Trujillo's demise, notwithstanding the 1963-66 period, the DR has
elected six presidents, all civilians from three major political
parties. As different from the Castros' regime that habitually demonizes
expatriate Cubans, the DR politically enfranchises Dominicans abroad.
Recent constitutional amendments bar consecutive presidential terms in
the DR. So outgoing President Leonel Fernández backs his Dominican
Liberation Party colleague Danilo Medina. Medina's principal rival is
similarly centrist ex-president Hipólito Mejía.
In contrast, Cuba is still dominated by the unvarying
less-than-one-percent 1959 "revolutionary" elite. This militaristic
gerontocracy has engendered amongst hungry Cubans what anthropologists
call a culture of poverty.
A fair assessment of a democracy contemplates more than secret-ballot
periodic elections. The DR has become more self-sufficiently productive
The DR has a smaller population than Cuba — 9.3 million to 11.2 million
people — and a smaller territory. Yet the DR's GDP growth rate, an
average of 5.9 percent over the past five years, outperforms Cuba's 3.2
percent. The Dominican people have been enhancing their liberal
democracy paso a paso (step by step), although still imperfect, along
with socio-economic progress.
The DR enjoys a robust civil society plentiful in competing enterprises,
free press, labor unions, and uncensored Internet access. Conversely, it
lacks paredones (firing squads), political prisoners, labor camps,
exiles, censorship, neighborhood spies, or humiliating rationing.
The reverse is factual for outmoded "socialist" Cuba, in need of more
than reforms by autumnal octogenarian pseudo-patriarchs. As numerous
studies persuasively argue, the regimented mismanagement, not the
watered-down U.S.'s commercial boycott, or embargo, is responsible for
Cuba's abysmal failures.
On this May 20, it's not Cuba's 53 years of miserable totalitarianism,
but the quiet Dominican Republic's democratic development that deserves
Roland Alum, a former OAS anthropology fellow in Santo Domingo and past
Dominican elections international observer, is a consultant with Icod
Associates. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.