Friday, April 20, 2012

Introduction to Dominican Politics - the caravana

There will be an election for a new President of the Dominican Republic on 20 May - only a month away, and there is no one living here who is not aware of it. I thought, therefore that those who read the blog and who are not up to date with the ins and outs of Dominican politics might like to learn a little about it, so every so often over the next month I will post on different aspects.

Just as a little background first, there are several political parties but only two main ones, so I will concentrate on those, with apologies to the rest. The two parties are the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) and the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD). Excuse my ignorance but I am not sure what the PLD were/are being liberated from nor the PRD having a revolution against.

Luckily I do not have to explain the manifestos to you, nor which party is more left or right, as it appears there are no manifestos as such and no clear political direction. Both say they will help the poor - which neither have done before, sort out the electricity, again neither party have ever managed to do that, stop corruption, which both parties appear to excel in, etc etc.

So what is the main difference between each party? I think it is the colour - the PLD is purple, with a little gold sometimes, and the PRD are white. If you support either party you have to wear the appropriate colour. If you support the PLD you are called a Peledeista and the PRD a Peredeista. Simple really.

Danilo Medina from the PLD, fetching in purple. Is his security guard texting?
 Given the lack of manifesto, they don't really have a lot to say, so instead of television debates or long speeches or rallies, as far as I can see the major form of campaigning is the caravana and at the moment these are happening nearly every day.

The PRD, white party, caravana
A caravana is basically a long line of cars and motorbikes, which travels through the towns. The front car has the presidential candidate sitting on the roof with his legs through the sun roof. In the case of the PLD it is Danilo Medina and in the case of the PRD, Hipolito Mejia also known as Papa (Daddy). The rest of the front car will be covered with bodyguards hanging off the side. You can tell the bodyguards as they wear baseball caps, sunglasses and are usually very large.  They wear a hat to minimise the risk of being sunburned as these caravanas can go on for hours. Hipolito sensibly wears a cowboy hat, although I have often seen photos of Danilo without a hat so I assume he wears lots of sunscreen.

Hipolito and his sensible hat
Behind the first car are a whole string of other cars, with important people such as Senators, Deputies, Governors and Mayors also perched on the roof of the car with their legs through the sunroof. The person sitting in the back seat of the jipeta (SUV) will usually be charged with holding onto the ankles of the important person when driving fast or over bumpy terrain.

The motorbikes
Following that are even more cars and along side the whole caravana and bringing up the rear are thousands of motorcycles. Most motorcyclists will be holding a flag of the appropriate party and often a bottle of rum as well. There will also be large trucks covered with speakers blasting out the appropriate party song or slogan. The slogan for the PRD is "Llego Papa"  translated as "Here comes Daddy". Apologies but I don't know which slogan the PLD are using this year.

The streets will be lined with thousands of supporters dressed in the appropriate colours, wearing party baseball caps,  and waving party flags, hoping that something worthwhile will be thrown out of the jipetas in the convoy - be it salami, chickens, even money. It is amazingly noisy, hot, dusty, totally chaotic and great fun.

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Caravanas are not cheap to organise as the local party activists will have to pay for all the flags and hats to issue to the people, plus their transport to get them to the appropriate route, fuel for the jipetas, cars and motorbikes which take part, cold drinks for everyone.

At the end of the route the presidential candidate will usually say a few words and then slither back inside the vehicle and go home ready for the next one the next day. Whilst I can see that they are good fun, although hot and tiring, I haven't yet worked out how they persuade the voters to vote for one particular party.


  1. I spoke to several business owners and they say their businesses are hurting during these political times Everyone is putting their money for the politicans and none left to spent. Also when they have their little "parade" I call it the streets are blocked and no one is or able to shop. Frustrating times for the shop owners. I pesonaly can't wait for this to end.
    On TV I only see advertisement either they are dissing each other or claim what they can do. The parties do have meetings in their district but you have to be invited to them as far as I know.

  2. I agree that many want it to end. Imagine what it will be like in four years time when the elections will be for the President, Senators, Deputies and Mayors all at the same time!

  3. Hi Lindsay, I just found your blog via Monaga and I must say that I stayed up all night reading your wonderfully, witty and informative articles that have evoke laughter, sadness and nostalgia at times. It is interesting seeing the view of the country through the lens of a woman and also a non bias person.
    I have been visiting the DR for the last 10 years and have developed a fondness of the island unlike any other place I have visited even with all of its contradictions and corruption. I Have often thought about moving there in the past but many things concern me especially safety as a gay man.
    Also after reading your shooting experience and the number of times I have been muscled by the military and police for money for apparently committing some fictitious driving infraction, which we all know is a joke considering that none of the local people obey red lights or traffic signs, my reservations about living there are even more profound.
    I still love the island and the good people but I have honestly seen it become a more violent and unsafe Society in recent times especially towards tourist. Seems like everyone is out to take advantage of you financially and emotionally. I found that learning Spanish have been beneficial to avoiding been over charge in my more recent visits.
    Keep up the good work, I will be reading. Saludos

    1. Thanks so much for posting and I am glad you enjoy the blog. I can't say I know that much about the gay scene here but one of my best friends who lives here is gay and I don't think he has any more problems than I do! And he hasn't been shot! As far as I can tell the Dominicans are very tolerant about sexuality so I wouldn't think it would be a major issue. Crime is becoming more of a problem across the whole island, but I have found that the further away you live from the tourist and traditional expat areas, the safer it is. Keep on with the Spanish as it will make a big difference. Thanks again for reading.

  4. Hmmm looks like a carnival :)Politics, politicians they are all full of shite :)