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#3646: Dominican-Election (fwd)
From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>
By ISMAEL TORRES
SANTO DOMINGO, May 15 (AP) -- Immigration officials backed by troops
seized voter and ID cards from hundreds of dark-skinned people Monday, the
eve of a crucial presidential election. The opposition claimed the
government was trying to block their support and keep them from gaining
Immigration director Danilo Diaz said cards were being confiscated from
Haitian guest workers who acquired them improperly.
But the center-left Dominican Revolutionary Party, whose candidate
Hipolito Mejia was leading in polls ahead of Tuesday's vote, noted the
seizures took place in its strongholds, especially northwestern towns near
the Haitian border.
"This is part of the government's campaign to taint the election," said
Tony Raful, acting president of the party, which has the support of many
dark-skinned Dominicans -- including citizens of Haitian origin who are
allowed to vote.
International monitors on the scene were cautious. "It strikes us that
the timing is not the best, but we think it's something very localized,"
said Santiago Murray, chief of the Organization of American States
Some 4.3 million people were registered to vote as of Tuesday. Planes
were packed with Dominicans coming from the United States to vote.
Stores and businesses closed at noon Monday -- amid a heavy police
The election comes with the economy growing about 40 percent over the
past four years, but average income still hovers around $2,000 a year.
Mejia, a 59-year-old agrochemical business owner is capitalizing on the
resentments of those left behind in the economic increases, promising
social programs and small community-level public works projects.
That worries a business community that has thrived under the current
government's trade- and investment-friendly policies, boosting trade with
the United States and attracting ever more tourists.
"We need to keep going the way we're going because this growth will be
good for everyone," said Juan Collado, owner of a small market in downtown
Santo Domingo who supports the centrist governing Liberation Party's
candidate, Danilo Medina.
But Medina, a 48-year-old career technocrat, ran a lackluster campaign,
insisting with little passion that benefits eventually will trickle down.
After a hectic and sometimes violent campaign, Medina trails in polls
behind Mejia, who has never held elected office, and Joaquin Balaguer, a
93-year-old ex-strongman who ran the country as his personal fiefdom during
seven stints as president.
But polls suggest Mejia may fall short of the majority needed to win
outright, forcing a second round against either Medina or Balaguer on June
Balaguer, who has served seven terms as president, was forced from power
under pressure from the United States after international observers accused
him of stealing the 1994 election.
Just before the 1996 election, Dominican troops rounded up and deported
thousands of people they said were Haitians, stripping them of all
The election-eve actions harken to historic animosities in the
race-conscious Caribbean island of Hispaniola. The people of poorer Haiti,
comprising its eastern third, are black, Creole-speaking descendants of
African slaves colonized by the French. Most Dominicans are of mixed
European and African heritage and speak Spanish.