Tag Archives: Dominican Republic

Uganda’s anti-gay law has roots in USA

Sometimes finding a local-global connection is not hard.

Today Uganda President Yoweri Museveni signed a law into effect that threatens jail terms up to life for anyone having gay sex. The law also allows authorities to toss into jail anyone failing to report any knowledge of gay activity. (Uganda’s Museveni signs anti-gay bill, defying donors, Washington)

On the bright side, the new law does not threaten death, as the first iteration in 2009 did.

And where did this great idea come from?

Well it seems that the religious right from the United States have moved their fight against “the gay agenda” from the States — where they are losing their bigoted/homophobic battle — to Africa, where already conservative societies are ready to show how tough they are.

Back in 2010, Jeffrey Gettleman reported for the New York Times on the influence of the U.S. religious right in creating  the atmosphere for the original legislation — that provided the death penalty for gays — to the version just signed into law. (Americans’ Role Seen in Uganda Anti-Gay Push)

There is even a documentary of how the religious right pushed their agenda in Uganda: God Loves Uganda.

The BBC has a great piece from December 2013 about the law along with a map showing the dismal state of gay rights in Africa. (Ugandan MPs pass life in jail anti-homosexual law)

Besides activities of individual churches in Uganda, one of the main driving forces in setting the atmosphere for the legislation is a group known simply as The Family. One less kind term is The Christian Mafia(C Street politics: The Family sponsors death for homosexuals in UgandaThe Family is based out of a C Street house in Washington, DC and includes many of the power brokers in the city. 

And there is Jeff Sharlet’s account in his book The Family and in articles. (HarpersStraight Man’s Burden: The American roots of Uganda’s anti-gay persecutions)

Once the scope of the legislation was fully realized — and most likely the political fallout at home — The Family and many of its members came out against “Kill Gays” legislation. But did nothing to stop the legislation that is now law.

A major player in the religious right in the United States used its contacts and influence to promote an agenda that is the antithesis of peace and understanding — items I was taught are the foundations of Christian belief. I have seen hundreds of Christian organizations work in Honduras, Brazil and the Dominican Republic. It is true in some cases the individuals seemed to care more for passing out bibles than providing for the physical well-being of the people served. But by and large these are good people providing housing, medical care and education to people denied the basics by their own societies.

And The Family will say they also provide help to the poor. And they do. But they — and their followers/supporters — also bring hate and fear.

The link between what is happening in Uganda and the United States is direct. And it is a shame that an organization based in the United States with many members of Congress listed as members/associates has helped create an atmosphere of persecution that has now led to a law that could jail hundreds — if not thousands — for just being human.

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Filed under Africa, Connections, International News Coverage

Connecting corruption and traffic lights

I really like it when experts (and journalists) take a complicated issue and connect it to something John and Jane Doe on Main Street can understand.

And Alejandro Salas, Regional Director for the Americas at Transparency International, has done just that: CPI 2013: TRAFFIC LIGHTS IN THE AMERICAS – LIFESAVERS OR URBAN DECORATIONS?

Salas notes that in Latin America there are some pretty tough traffic laws and really draconian laws against corrupt practices. And yet in most of Latin America a red light is a suggestion to stop rather than a command. Likewise, business and government officials see the need to engage in corrupt practices because, “it is the way to get things done” thus making the anti-corruption laws suggestions rather than anything that should be enforced.

If you look at the Transparency International Corruption Index for 2013, you can see a correlation between corruption and traffic deaths, granted not a perfect 1:1 but enough to draw some useful conclusions.

Country TI Ranking Deaths per 100,000
Canada 9 6.8
United States 19 11.4
Uruguay 19 21.5
Costa Rica 49 12.7
Brazil 72 22.5
Peru 83 15.9
El Salvador 83 21.9
Ecuador 102 27.0
Argentina 106 12.6
Dominican Republic 123 41.7
Honduras 140 18.8
Venezuela                160 37.2

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Decriminalize libel movement has legs

A while back I posted a piece on how the congress of the Dominican Republic was pushing through a packet of bills that would make it publishing or airing offensive expressions against the top government leadership  and members of congress a criminal offense with imprisonment of two to three years and large financial penalties.

And I cannot believe the response it got from journalists in the DR. It confirms what I said about how the journalists in the Dominican Republic fight fiercely for their rights.

The comments also showed the frustration with some of the media outlets and the frustration of waging a battle against entrenched interests in a country known for its corruption. (Ranking at Transparency International of 129 of 186 countries rated. BTW, that is the same ranking as Honduras, the Philippines, Syria and Armenia. All countries well-known for high levels of corruption.)

The comments were interesting:

  • If that bill goes through they will have to start building new jails, many more and prepare for what’t to come, because we won’t fighting, This is something that they are doing out of fear, but this time, for the first time in decades we will not let them pay us with circus and bread.
  • WE WILL NEVER BACK DOWN! THEY CAN TRY WHAT THEY WILL ; THEY WILL HAVE TO BUILD NEW JAILS TO FIT ALL OF US!!!
  • I live in Dominican Republic, plenty of local groups are protesting against this and the new huge taxes the government has just approved, but it seems that most of the local press is being paid and pushed by the government to avoid commenting about what’s happening.
  • The local press appears to be ran by the same people governing this poor country. They can’t keep educated young professionals from speaking our minds and for trying to defend ourselves from the abuse of this outrage.

The last comment offers hope. Young people are using new media to demonstrate and push back against the government and its attempts to silence criticism of the government.

The legislation in the Dominican congress has the country moving in a direction opposite of its Caribbean neighbors and with democracies around the world.

Unfortunately the issue is not resolved. The Committee to Protect Journalists and the International Press Institute have campaigns against criminalizing libel.

The battle in this area can directly affect journalists from other countries. The way I read the proposed DR legislation, ANY criticism of government leaders (as listed in the bill) could lead to criminal charges. That means anyone from anywhere who wrote of  possible corruption or poor performance by a Dominican official in any publication (or website) could be arrested if he/she stepped foot in the DR.

Not exactly a law that helps support a fragile democracy.

The journalists in the DR — and in the other struggling countries — could use some statements of support from more journalism groups. It would be nice to see the SPJ, the NABJ, the NAHJ and the AAJA speak out on this issue and offer support.

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Filed under Censorship, Connections, Corruption, Harassment

Dominican Congress Moving in Wrong Direction on Freedom of Expression

A bill is working its way through the legislative branch of the Dominican Republic that will severely restrict freedom of expression — and by extension — press freedom.

According to the InterAmerican Press Association (SIP in Spanish), the proposed bill is a series of amendments to the criminal code  of the DR. One of the changes will make publishing or airing offensive expressions against the President and the Vice President, senators, congressmen, judges, election officials or the attorney general a criminal offense with imprisonment of two to three years and large financial penalties.

Claudio Paolillo, Chair of the SIP Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information said the bill moves libel into the criminal category at a time when the rest of the world is decriminalizing libel.

He added, that if the Dominican Congress continues down this path and just punishing definitely this reform, “set a precedent enormously negative, not only for that country but for the entire region.”

Dominican media are fighting back by pointing out that the proposed changes violate the new Dominican Constitution and Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights. The press association said the legislation is comparable to a government “censorship.”

Ever since the end of the Trujillo and Balaguer dictatorships, the Dominican media have been fiercely defending their right of press freedom. It would be terrible for that country to slide back into the dark days of government controlled media and people afraid to speak out against the nation’s leaders.

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Filed under Censorship, Connections, Freedom of Information, Press Freedom

UPDATE: Defamation laws in Latin America

Thanks to the International Press Institute for this update:

One step forward, two steps backward on defamation in Latin America

VIENNA, Oct. 2, 2012 – One step forward, two big steps backward in the fight against criminal defamation in Latin America: while a judge in Paraguay acquitted a journalist on defamation charges on Friday, reporters in the Dominican Republic and Cuba continued to face prison terms for libel.

In Asunción, ABC Color columnist Alberto Candia had been the target of a defamation complaint filed by Delgado Von Leppel, the one-time lawyer of former Paraguayan dictator Alfredo Stroessner. In a column published last November, Candia had callen Von Leppel an “accomplice, accessory, and tenacious supporter of the barbarities committed by the Stroessner government,” news reports said.

On Friday, Judge Héctor Capurro determined that the libel charges against Candia, which could have resulted in a fine, were unproven. Prior to the ruling, Candia said Von Leppel’s efforts amounted to a “stupid complaint that seeks to instill fear in journalists who work and report under the protection of the National Constitution, which protects freedom of expression and of the press.”

Much different was the scene in the Dominican Republic, where a judge gave journalist Melton Pineda 10 days to appeal his criminal defamation conviction. Should an appeal fail to be lodged within that term, Pineda will be ordered to fulfill the three-month prison sentence handed down on Sept. 13.

Rest of report.

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DR criminal defamation case example of bad law

A Dominican Republic court sentenced a journalist to three months in jail for libeling another journalist. (Many thanks to Roy Greenslade for reporting this at The Guardian. For a more detailed look at the case read the story at the International Press InstituteDominican Republic journalist sentenced to prison for defamation

The case arose when journalist Melton Pineda accused fellow scribe Marino Zapete of knowing and covering up crimes allegedly committed by a police captain. At the time Zapete was serving as national police spokesman.

Zapete sued Pineda and asked for a jail term of six months and a RD$50 million. (US$1.3 million) fine. The judge settled on a three-month sentence and a fine of RD$100 (US$2.55) . The judge further ordered Pineda to pay the RD$50 million to Zapete in civil damages.

Pineda is appealing the decision.

The whole issue here is the use of criminal law to deal with what should be a civil matter.

Article 19 puts it best on this issue: “Criminal defamation laws are especially problematic from the point of view of free expression.”

The idea of imposing criminal penalties for defamation is not something most countries are willing to accept. Especially democracies with a strong tradition of freedom of speech, press and expression. The use of criminal prosecution to deal with libel cases means that journalists can face serious jail time for reporting on the foibles and abuse of political or community leaders.

The United States about two dozen states have “criminal libel” going back to the earliest founding of the country. But there are some legislators who are trying to remove these last vestiges of the 16th century Star Chambers. (Criminal libel: a bad idea in a free society)

Still in the U.S., truth is an absolute defense against libel. Not so in other countries. And working through that international minefield is something journalists around the world need to take seriously.

The Dominican case is another example of how different countries deal with the issue of press freedom and libel.

Fortunately there seems to be a movement in the Caribbean to do away with criminal defamation laws.

In simple terms, the use of criminal prosecution for libel means the government is the final arbiter of the media. And if the government can do this in libel cases it can easily extend its reach to other forms of communication.

In some cases the anti-defamation laws are called “insult” laws. Some countries — even democracies — have legal provisions that make it a crime to insult the dignity of the country’s leaders. The World Press Freedom Committee notes: “Public officials deserve less — not more — protection from public commentary than ordinary citizens”.

The Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe has a handy guide to the defamation laws in more than 50 countries. Any journalist getting ready to work in or report on any of these countries should look this document over carefully.

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Filed under Censorship, Connections, Harassment, International News Coverage, Press Freedom

DR-NJ ink deal on child support. That old local-global thing again

There was a quick short story on the AP about a new arrangement between the State of New Jersey and the Dominican Republic on the enforcement of child support payments. The New Jersey Herald carried it: NJ to collect payments in the Dominican Republic

Good for them, but there is more to the story than what the AP did.

The article pointed out that the DR was the latest addition to agreements with 21 other countries. And “the agreement will immediately affect 536 active cases in the state’s Child Support System in which 1 of the people involved resides in the Dominican Republic.”

The move by the state is important. And while this new agreement only affects 256 out of how many hundreds or thousands of cases, I have a few questions (just for starters) that should be answered:

  • How many children are affected by all 21 agreements?
  • What are the success and failure stories in enforcing the agreements?
  • Are there any countries that New Jersey would like to have an agreement with but so far have not been able to?
    • And why those countries and what are the problem?

New Jersey learned of the importance of enforcing international agreements in the much-publicized Goldman kidnapping case where a New Jersey resident fought for years — with the help of the State Department — to get his son back from Brazil successfully.

These international child-support agreements are part of ongoing issues that dramatically link local concerns with international ones.

I hope that the New Jersey Herald – or some other publication — will spend the time to look into the agreements and discuss how and why they are important and what the benefits have been for New Jersey residents. I would bet that the people of New Jersey would like to learn more about how their government protects the rights of the children of the Garden State through international agreements. (And maybe even learn that the efforts  of U.S. diplomats to enforce these agreements have a direct connection to their lives.)

And this wouldn’t be such a bad idea for other news outlets around the country to see what agreements their states have as well.

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