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October 1, 2021

Foreign Minister Roberto Alvarez Discusses Dominican Republic as Success in the Americas

In a September 27 event, one of the first hosted by the Georgetown Americas Institute, Foreign Minister of the Dominican Republic (DR) Roberto Alvarez (L'76) spoke about the DR as a case of democratic success, economic growth, and strategic geopolitics amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and other challenges facing the Americas.

Foreign Minister Roberto Alvarez speaks in Riggs Library.
Foreign Minister Roberto Alvarez speaks in Riggs Library.

Over the past decade, the Americas have witnessed an increasing tide of populism and disillusionment with democracy. In his opening remarks, Minister Alvarez noted that the 2020 presidential election in the DR was the eleventh consecutive election since 1978, showing a strong belief in the democratic process.

“There is a certain consensus that the third democratization wave in Latin America started in the Dominican Republic in 1978,” he said. “This election led to a consolidation of democracy and to a certain amount of protection of human rights.”

Democratic Success in the Dominican Republic

Even with this strengthening of democracy and the rule of law, the DR faces the challenge of corruption, and impunity in particular. President Luis Abinader made impunity a central issue in his winning 2016 campaign and captured the imagination of Dominican society by providing hope that there could be a change in the country.

“This is an unwavering commitment of President Abinader,” Alvarez said. “We must stamp out impunity, and so far, he has been able to deliver, appointing independent prosecutors and independent judges in the high courts of the DR.”

COVID-19’s Impact on Economic Growth

Alvarez described how the DR’s economy has experienced development both in terms of its GDP and diversification over the past 15 years. Although the Dominican Republic is most well-known for agricultural exports like tobacco and tourism, its top exports from January to August 2021 were medical and pharmaceutical devices, as well as electronics and electronic devices. Alvarez attributed this economic development partly due to the influence of the United States.

Our strategic relationship is with the U.S. In 2019, the DR was the sixth largest trading partner with the U.S. in Latin America and the Caribbean, and the U.S. has been essential to the recovery of the tourist industry in the DR during the pandemic.

Foreign Minister Roberto Alvarez and Professor Erick Langer in conversation.
Foreign Minister Roberto Alvarez and Professor Erick Langer in conversation.

While the Dominican Republic has recovered all jobs lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Alvarez acknowledged that the Americas still face the burden of indebtedness. “One of the great challenges today is where to find access to liquidity,” he said. “Latin America needs to recover in such a way that doesn’t lead it to an indebtedness that will end up in another lost decade.”

Geopolitics Near and Far

Pandemic challenges also pushed the country to strength foreign relations through vaccine diplomacy. After receiving a donation of vaccines from India in January 2021, the DR purchased 10 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine from the Chinese government and began to receive 10 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in June 2021. The timeline left the DR with extra vaccines on hand, and in response the country chose to donate 820,000 doses to five countries in the Americas in recent months.

The desire to increase the Dominican Republic’s visibility in global geopolitical conversations has led to efforts like a recent informal alliance between the presidents of Costa Rica, Panama, and the DR.

We wish with this informal alliance to reach out to similar democracies in the hemisphere and continue to join forces. The tide that was going from dictatorships to democracy in the 1980s is now going in the opposite direction, and that is one of the issues that we must resolve today.

Turning to the DR’s nearest neighbor, Alvarez noted that recent political instability in Haiti creates barriers to a free, fair, and transparent election. He outlined why a reduction in violent gang activity and implementation of an economic development plan must come first. In spite of this instability, Alvarez remains hopeful.

“This moment will pass, because in the end, democracy and human rights will prevail,” he said. “I have no doubt about it, but it won’t happen by simple good wishes. We must strive for it every single day relentlessly.”