“What do Dominicans think of Donald Trump?” asked my mom, or aunt, or friend, when I was back home in Boston for winter break. Honestly, I hadn’t asked anyone here about it, and nobody came up to me, representative voice of the right-wing USA, as I am, and told me their two cents on him. Since coming back, I have asked some people–all whom have told me more or less the same thing: that he is crazy, racist against Latinos and brown people, and only has power because he has money. They don’t like him, as much as they care about US politics (which some people here really do–considering they have family in the US or have lived there themselves). Despite this, they have their own elections to worry about, coming up in May of this year.
I’ll start with my impression of the election season here, and mind you, I don’t think it’s very different from the US cycle, at its core. First, are the faces. Every street post, road-side tree, and cement wall is taken up by some candidate’s face. Usually, presidential races and house races fall on separate years, but 2016 is an overlapping year, so you have Alcades, Senedores, Presidentes all up there. You don’t realize how much you’ve come to recognize a candidate until she is sitting right next to you at an independence day event, and you can’t for the life of you figure out where you’ve seen her before…(yeah, that happened yesterday to me. Candidate for Alcadesa, which is the mayor position).
Then begin the publicity events. They’ll build a stage or two in the middle of one of the main roads of town and come through, give a speech, get Mozart La Para to perform a song or two. These are fun, and I’ve gotten a free hat out of attending one.
Then the caravans. These are like parades of trucks and cars plastered with candidate signs, party flags, and supporters hanging out of car windows. People stand on the side of the road, cheering them on as they roll slowly through town. This weekend, I found myself on a public guagua (a small bus) waiting in traffic for an hour, while the caravan passed slowly through the single main highway in San Francisco de Macoris (the closest big city to me, where I was going to meet my friends). Despite the minor annoyance (my friends would wait for me) it was really interesting. The bus driver would stop to shake hands with fellow party-supporters on the street, as a woman sitting behind me leaned out the window to yell “Se van los comesolos” (Literally: They’re leaving, the ones who eat alone/feeds themselves”) referring to the incumbent and opposing party.
After some discussions with friends and bus drivers, it is apparent to everyone, that politics is a money game. Politicians are infamously corrupt, or it’s the government in general. The incumbent party buys off poor voters by paying them to wear their party’s hats in caravans and giving them free bottles of Brugal rum. This afternoon, my friend was joking that he could win a local election by leaving 2 bottles of beer on the doorstep of every voter. In the past, candidates have bought everything from chickens to sacks of potatoes for their constituency.
This is just meant to be a short post about what is going on around me here, and two conversations I had in the past 48 hours. I find it fun that at the same time as they are participating in the island politics, my friends can make fun of it. They will bash the corruption that they say occurs all the time in this government, yet can appreciate what a social system based on favors and social capital can do in situations where survival depends on sharing and helping others out.
Meanwhile, I try to think about the underlying similarities between elections here and there. Appearances are important, money is a player, and a change of individuals in office does not really mean any revolutionary change is happening. One huge difference, however, is the scale of impact of the elections outcomes. Whoever wins in the DR will absolutely impact life here and in neighboring Caribbean countries, but the outcome of the US elections will absolutely affect life in the entire world. It’s a fact steeped in historical imperial power, and I don’t like it, but it is true. People here, in the DR, don’t want Donald Trump to win there in the US, because they know what it means for them and their families.
Nobody wants a comesolo in the white house.