Dominican Republic: student killed during protest against ‘reform’

Dominican medical student Willy Warden Florián Ramírez was shot dead on Nov. 8 as police attempted to break up a demonstration by students at the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo (UASD) protesting a “fiscal reform” that the Chamber of Deputies passed that day. Police reportedly used tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition as masked students threw rocks at the agents and at passing cars. According to the human rights organization Amnesty International (AI), witnesses said police agents shot Florián and then used tear gas against people who tried to come to his aid. Police officials claim a video shows a masked protester firing at police agents. At least three other students, two police officers and a bus ticket collector were injured in the clashes. (El Diario-La Prensa, New York, Nov. 8, from correspondent, via La Opinión, Los Angeles; AP, Nov. 9, via Hoy, Dominican Republic; AI press release, Nov. 9)

Although police officials said they were waiting for the results of a forensic examination of the bullet that killed Florián, they appeared to agree with witnesses that police agents were responsible. The officials said on Nov. 9 that at least 19 of the agents at the demonstration were being investigated. President Medina called the killing a “crime” and ordered the chief of police, Maj. Gen. José Armando Polanco Gómez, to clarify the circumstances that led to the student’s death. (EDLP, Nov. 10,  from correspondent)

The “fiscal reform”–proposed by the government of President Danilo Medina and passed by the Chamber of Deputies in a 103-66 vote on Nov. 8–will raise the country’s sales tax from 16% to 18% as of Jan. 1 and will establish new taxes on some staple foods, on Christmas bonuses and on fuel. According to Medina the increases are needed to cover a budget deficit of some 187 billion pesos (about US$4.704 billion), according to one source; another source gives 148.564 billion pesos (US$3.373 billion) as the number.

The budget deficit is inherited from Medina’s three-term predecessor, Leonel Fernández (1996-2000, 2004-2008 and 2008-2012), a leader of Medina’s centrist Dominican Liberation Party (PLD). Critics charged that the shortfall resulted from spending for electoral purposes during the last two Fernández administrations and from corruption among Fernández allies, including Senator Félix Bautista, a construction contractor who has been accused of payoffs to successive Haitian governments. Ramón Tito Ramírez, a spokesperson for a coalition that protested the tax increase with a march from the UASD to the National Congress on Nov. 6, told reporters that “this disaster should be paid for by those who provoked it, enriching themselves with both hands without caring that their irresponsible actions were increasing the poverty of our people.” The protesters were also calling for 5% of the national budget to be allocated to public universities like the UASD.

Another group, the Political Action Network (RAP), is planning to try Fernández on Nov. 21 at a people’s tribunal. For eight years the public “has been paying for fiscal reforms with the promise that the funds will go to social services,” according to a RED statement, “but it hasn’t happened.” The group cited the continuing “inefficiency of the health services and the non-fulfillment of the funds designated for education.” (EDLP, Nov. 7, from correspondent; EFE, Nov. 7, via Univision; AP Nov. 9, via Hoy)

Florián’s death made police accountability an additional issue for the protesters. Holding candles, about 50 representatives of various civil organizations demonstrated outside police headquarters in Santo Domingo the evening of Nov. 9. “We’re asking the police to stop their repression, since in any case people are going to continue the protests” against the fiscal reform, Alexander Mundaray, a spokesperson for the protesters, told the Associated Press wire service. (AP, Nov. 9 via Hoy)

Amnesty International issued a statement on Nov. 9 saying that “Florián’s killing should give Dominican authorities pause to reflect on how the country’s police have been allowed to violate human rights continually with impunity.” AI said it had “previously documented soaring levels of abuse by police in the Dominican Republic, including torture and unlawful killings. An October 2011 report cited myriad cases of individuals killed by police–a tenth of all murders in the country the previous year were the result of police abuse.” (AI press release, Nov. 9)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 11.