There has been yet another general strike in a Latin American country. There is now an endless list of countries experiencing serious social and economic crises welcoming the Dominican Republic into their ranks. Haiti’s neighbour has joined the French-speaking country that is suffering social convulsions and putting the entire island into deep unrest.
This past January 29 and 30 saw a mass two-day general strike. Eight people have died, dozens injured, and hundreds arrested as workers protested because of the peso's sharp devaluation, soaring inflation, and persistent power outages.
Mejia, the President of the country, had warned on the eve of the strike that it "comes at an inopportune moment, is harmful to business and dangerous to social order, and contributes nothing to solving the economic problems that plague us." (AFP News, Thursday, January 29). Of course for these bourgeois politicians it is never the time to fight for rights and a decent standard of living, and always the time to sell the country out to the imperialists. Not to mention that the real responsibility for the economic problems of the country rests with Mr. Mejia.
The electricity sector has become more decrepit, and the peso's depreciation pushed inflation up to 42.5 percent last year, from 10.5 percent 2002. Unemployment has reached an estimated 17 percent. These are just the official figures. Crude oil supplies have now begun to run low as the exchange rate shot to 54 pesos to the dollar, from 35 pesos at the end of 2003. Gas prices were increased by as much as 18 percent a week ago. This is making life almost a luxury for the Dominican masses. The scenes of people queuing at the petrol stations on Friday for fear of another huge increase in the price of fuel reminds one of the hyperinflation of many Latin American countries in the 80s.
Amaury Justo Duarte, president of the Dominican Petroleum Refinery - part-owned by the state and in part by the giant oil firm Royal Dutch/Shell - has said Dominican authorities were considering formal rationing of gasoline and diesel. (Reuters, Monday, January 26).
The cause of the general strike is the deal that the Dominican Government reached with the IMF as well as the demand for a decrease in the price of food, electricity tariffs, phone and petrol. The general strike was called by the Coordination of Unity and Struggle (CUL), the Collective of Popular Organisations and the Broad Front of Popular Struggle (FALPO).
The protests also demand a wage increase of 100 percent to all employees, including both public and private workers. The modification of the Hydro-carbons law, the suspension of the foreign debts repayments and the setting aside of 5 percent of the GDP to the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo.
The shade of American Imperialism
Of course the demands of the popular organisations and unions are against the interests of the IMF and the US administration, which are at the moment expanding their interests in the region. The recent meeting of MERCOSUR (the free trade area in the South of the continent) has accepted Peru. This economic agreement now includes Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile and Bolivia. But the main aspect of the MERCOSUR meeting was an economic agreement with the Andinean community, CAN, which includes Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Colombia.
This agreement received the green light from the American imperialists who see it as a back door entrance to expand their control over the Latin American economies. On the same day of the MERCOSUR agreement, the US settled an agreement with all Central American countries (except Costa Rica) as well as Chile. In this way the US is weakening the opposition of Venezuela and Brazil to an open economic agreement with the US.
Of course the Caribbean is part of the US backyard and the US President has been outspoken in trying to persuade the little country to agree with the US terms.
On January 12, President George W. Bush, during his speech at the opening of the Special Summit of the Americas, announced that the US will begin negotiations of a free trade agreement with the Dominican Republic this week. Bush said 83 percent of all of Latin America's exports to the U.S. now enter the country duty free and said this amounts to $176 billion in goods. (Wall Street Journal Elect, Monday, January 12)
As we have said, the U.S. has just wrapped up talks on a free trade agreement with several countries in Central America and also with Chile. The fact that the Dominican masses are on the streets will not make the US trade department happy, but the unemployed masses of Latin America have been forced to struggle for their living conditions.
Bush at the meeting said: "We must deny safe haven to corrupt officials and create a culture of transparency in the Americas. I urge other countries to take similar actions." Among the other steps Bush urged countries in the Western Hemisphere to take was the strengthening of private property rights. (Wall Street Journal Elect, Monday, January 12)
Of course Bush is the most appropriate person to talk about transparency. The role of US imperialism is crystal clear to the masses of Latin America. The events in Venezuela and Bolivia, where the US was organising against the revolutionary events, is a warning to those workers fighting on the continent.
And what now?
The general strike will show the way, again, to the masses in Latin America and the Caribbean. The successful action of the working class has brought the country to a stand still, but further action needs to be taken, not only to fight against IMF policies but to ensure that the demands are seriously implemented.
The strike has seen the deaths of eight people, dozens injured and hundreds arrested. The movement has to organise to ensure victory. The death and injury of the strikers cannot be in vain. The moment for action is now.
The bourgeois opposition must not be allowed to use this strike in order to take advantage in the forthcoming elections. The elections on May 16 should be used by the unions and left parties to capitalise on the successful initiative of the workers. Polls in the last six months show a substantial lead for former President Leonel Fernandez over the incompetent Hipolito Mejia, and other candidates, but the solution for the masses is not going to be found in another President with a different name who will bring the same policies. The solution will be found in a radical change in the political landscape. The model for the Dominican workers is the Bolivian model. Mass democratic action is needed to fight for the future.