USAID director Samantha Power: “I am thrilled about the direction of Dominican democracy”

Samantha Power, the administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), had praise on 7 October 2021 for Dominican President Luis Abinader. Power spoke at the Presidential Palace and remarked that since day one, Abinader has taken steps to strengthen the rule of law “and show that democracies can deliver for their people”.

She announced a US$7.9 million assistance to support the reform of oversight bodies, strengthen the transparency of the public procurement process and the energy sector, and advance the implementation of the government’s new National Citizen Security Strategy. She said the DR also has access to the US$1 million in funding from the new Anti-Corruption Response Fund, designed to back countries that are taking encouraging steps towards fighting corruption, improve transparency and accountability and fight public theft. “This is the first such investment this new anti-corruption fund has ever made—that is how encouraged we are about the Dominican Republic’s progress,” announced Power.

She stressed that what is most outstanding is that the tackling of change is happening in the Dominican Republic when democratic backsliding, or moving away from the rule of law, is more common among governments around the world.

Power says the US government is participating in a high-level dialogue that seeks to turn words into actions in police reform, anti-corruption, advancing transparency, human rights, and anti-discrimination. “Like our partners here in the Dominican Republic, we recognize that corruption not only undercuts democratic processes, it slows economic growth, it actually scares away private investment. And that is why President Biden has actually made fighting corruption a priority of the United States. He is the first American President to make corruption a national security priority.”

Power acknowledged that Operation Falcon, the drug trafficking and money laundering offensive, is one of the first the two countries have to show for the new joint effort to fight corruption. “After a wide-ranging investigation that included assistance from the United States, President Abinader’s Administration launched Operation Falcon,” she said, pinpointing how the operation has also implicated members of Congress in the Dominican Republic.

Power announced the US Government backs local efforts to show that “crime does not pay.” She said the US is backing the creating of a civil asset forfeiture system, so the state can recover stolen assets and place them back in the hands of the people, where they belong. In the past, drug traffickers that were extradited to the United States signed deals with US justice and returned in a short time to enjoy their large fortunes in the Dominican Republic.

Power also said that the US is assisting the government in reforming the country’s government procurement process to help limit backroom deals.

She also mentioned support to strengthen police practice and police reform, “so that marginalized populations are not taken advantage of and that citizens don’t have to pay officials a bribe just to seek help or stay out of jail, for a trumped up, made up charge.”

She spoke of support to a process of accreditation “so that the Dominican Republic can hold its officers accountable, according to international standards.”

She acknowledged the difficulties. “We know first hand in the United States, that issues of police violence and impunity can be pervasive, and progress definitely does not come easily; entrenched institutions can be resistant to change. But here in the Dominican Republic, as in the United States, it is a campaign that must be waged,” she said.

She said USAID is also underway to strengthen the local Camara de Cuentas, making it an independent watchdog office.

In her closing remarks, Power stressed that “the future of the Dominican Republic depends on the Dominican people.”

Power was here to co-chair the second High-Level Dialogue on Institution Reform under the leadership of President Luis Abinader, 7 October 2021. During the dialogue, the group evaluated the progress made in the different work areas agreed upon during the first high-level dialogue held on 28 April 2021, which was co-led by President Abinader and Chargé d’Affaires, a.i. of US Embassy in Santo Domingo Robert Thomas. The US and Dominican officials also reviewed next steps for each subject, discussed the Summit for Democracy announced by President Biden, and considered additional work areas to be included in future high-level dialogue meetings. During the sessions, President Abinader reiterated his commitment to the implementation of a series of institutional reforms that will advance human rights, democracy, and transparency for Dominicans everywhere, as reported by the US Embassy.

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8 October 2021