Well, today we are confined to our home. Under house arrest. And why is that? Because today is election day in the DR, the day the people will choose their new President.
You see, like most things here, it looks a little different than what we are used to. The race has come down to two candidates, Danilo Medina and Hipolito Mejia. The former is with the current ruling party, and his running mate is the wife of the current President Fernandez. The latter is an older man at 70, with a habit of making crass comments, and who has served as President before 8 years ago. His campaign slogan is Llego Papa, or “Daddy’s Home”. His last Presidency involved a banking scandal, and locally he is well known for having taken government money intended for building a road to nearby Constanza, and using it instead to build himself a nice villa on the outskirts of Jarabacoa – then paving the roads right to his doorstep. How does a guy like that even stand a chance at re-election you ask? I’m not sure I have the answers.
The campaign headquarters for Danilo are next door to the school – they have painted an entire house in the party colors of purple and gold (see photo). Two Fridays ago the school entrance was shut down for most of the afternoon while a political parade went past – people on motorcycles, horses, 4 wheelers, cars, all adorned with purple and yellow flags and playing music and honking horns so loud that your head hurt. At the end they all would get in line to receive “gas money” for having participated in the parade – a.k.a. buying votes. This past Tuesday it was the other party’s turn, and same scene plaid out but in colors of white and blue, and with a helicopter repeatedly circling overhead. It was perhaps the first time we regretted the schools location near the center of town and on a good street. At times you could not hear your own voice in your classroom!
Today, election day, is much quieter. To vote you must have your ID, and it tells you where you must go to vote – typically the town where you were born or at least first received your ID. For some this means driving a ways to vote, but most people don’t relocated far in this society. But other than that, everyone stays in their homes for fear of violence. A paper Friday said this has been a relatively peaceful election so far, with only 2 deaths and 6 injuries from clashes between party faithful. But election day is the one people fear most, with a long history of violence. Party operatives will pay people waiting in line, which is now against the law. But to get around that law they will sometimes pay people (in money or rum) to turn over their ID’s for the day – preventing them from voting for the opposition. As the day goes on the alcohol consumption and flowing money and rising tensions have led to violence around the country, and so people just stay in their homes, and all the schools are closed on Monday. Fortunately Jarabacoa is not known for many problems on election day, and so far things have been very quiet. I actually went into town early in the morning and later in the afternoon, and all the businesses are shutdown but people were orderly. There is definitely tension and excitement in the air, but I didn’t feel unsafe.
Let’s pray for a peaceful transition of power, and for a good leader.