The Dominican Republic
Change After The UK! Part 3
|By Malcolm Couch
|This is the
final part of my exploration of life as an expatriate in the Dominican
Republic, and in it I will muse on some of the bigger issues affecting
the country and cover some odds and ends.
that the economy of the Dominican Republic is having a rough time.
This is a real shame, because the country has rich natural resources, especially
agricultural and a strong tourism sector. Earlier this year, a bank merger
was on the cards and, during the accountancy and legal work before the
deal serious issues were uncovered. The target bank, BanInter, was
found to have parallel off-accounts structures. When the news leaked out,
the bank effectively collapsed and senior officers were arrested.
|At the same
time, in order to protect the Dominican Republic’s economy, the
Government got involved and underwrote the financial problems stemming
from the BanInter collapse. It also seized certain companies, most notably
a major newspaper, ostensibly to protect them.
designed to cause stability did not have the desired effect, and the
economy has become very ill. At the time of writing part 3 of this article
in mid-August 2003, the exchange rate of the Peso with the dollar is officially
31.9, but is more probably in the region of 35. When my wife and
I moved to the Dominican Republic only two years ago, the rate was
considered stable in the long term at between 16 and 17!
If you are
an expatriate, and your savings and income are in major currencies like
the pound, euro or dollar, many aspects of life in the Dominican Republic
have become much less expensive. For example, the average salary
paid to a maid is in the region of 3,000 Pesos per month. In foreign
currency terms, this cost has halved in two years. As basic grade
police officers earn the same level of salary, one aspect of the turmoil
might be a return of police in the streets looking for “spot fines”
had pretty much been stamped out by 2001, after being commonplace for years.
defensive technique is not to put any stickers etc. on your car that
would identify you as a foreigner – and therefore easy pickings.
Being a small
island-based country, however, means that many imports, particularly
of economically vital supplies like oil, are sold in dollars. The
knock-on effect of the devaluation crisis will be rapid inflation,
and misery for the country’s population. We have seen corporate scandals
several times in the developed world over the last few years, but the size
of European or US economies means that they are knocked onto the ropes
and then shake their heads and carry on. For the Dominican Republic,
this level of damage is hard to sustain, and although the country has proved
itself to be a good fighter for many years, the casualty is heading for
intensive care at the moment.
is free in the Dominican Republic, and if you can read Spanish you can
learn a lot about the nation’s views of its politicians and business people
(for English news abstracts and a whole lot more, try looking at http://www.dr1.com
despair that their leaders appear unable or unwilling to steer the country
out of its current problems. My take on all this, for what it is worth,
is that most of the politics in Latin America is straightforwardly populist.
Policies are vague and often designed to offend nobody. Alliances
change to suit circumstances. There is rarely an election where someone
will stand on the platform of a vision to work to improve the lot of country
and its entire people, because that is seen as “radical”, and therefore
suspect. You will hear, “We don’t want another Chavez here”. Whilst
there may be some truth in that sentiment, my observation is that the personality-based,
populist politics of the Dominican Republic and the region do not
fit them well to meet crises, which in the modern world are all too frequent.
I hope that
this isn’t making you all feel like you are reading a school lecture or
a church sermon!
the key reasons for becoming an expatriate is
to experience another
culture in depth. You cannot avoid exposure to the political life of your
in the Dominican Republic have been enjoyable, for the most part, and
have made me more humble. So many of the things that we take for
granted in countries like the UK or US are not shared by a large part of
the world, such as adequate housing, safe water and reasonable incomes.
When our maid, the wonderful Miguelina, first invited us to lunch, we came
away almost in tears after seeing for the first time in our lives with
our own eyes what life in a shantytown is like. But, and this is so important,
Miguelina is a bright woman and a very proud Dominican. As an example;
she delights in making us good local food, because our Western stuff is
so bad (in her opinion). She has raised beautiful children
to be self-confident and happy.
|This is one
of the key themes for me. Dominican people are resourceful, supportive
and resilient. Maybe we in the developed world are losing some of
If you visit
the Dominican Republic as a tourist or an expatriate, get off the beaten
track. There are fabulous, high-quality places to see like the swanky
hotels of Punta Cana, the brand-new Iberostar Hacienda Dominicus at
Bayahibe, or the famous Casa de Campo (Michael Jackson married there)
La Romana. We have had great times at places like these. But
there is a beauty in watching fishing boats putter past you at Las Terrenas
or spectating at a dominos match played by the old men on a street corner
in any of the country’s towns.
a meal of habichuelas (beans), arroz con pollo (rice and chicken)
and mangu (mashed plantains and avocado) washed down with ice-cold
Presidente beer and you are getting closer to the heart of the country.
Add to the end of your meal a glass of one of the many types of rum made
in the country, a Platino cigar (Dominican cigars are now just about
the best in the world) and play some beautiful, sad bachata music and
you will feel contentment hard to beat.
For those of
you who are brave, you could trek to the top of Pico Duarte, the highest
mountain in the Caribbean. The trip can be on foot, taking
three days from start to finish and camping at night, or you can arrange
to have porters and mules to ride.
range of habitats in the Dominican Republic could keep you occupied
every weekend for a couple of years. To the North East of the country
is Los Haitises National Park with spectacular rock formations and mangrove
swamps. Also in that part of the country is Samana Bay, where you
can go whale spotting in the bay in the spring. At the North you
could watch the surf rolling in on Playa Grande or stroll through the coconut
forests at Puerto Plata. The largest lake in the Antilles, Lake Enriquillo,
in the center of the Dominican Republic, has twice the salinity of seawater!
In the South West, Las Salinas has cactus-filled desert.
If you want
a slightly easier way to see nature, you can try out the National Aquarium,
Zoological Park or Botanical Gardens, all in Santo Domingo. The
entrance fee to these places is virtually nothing and each in its own way
has a lot to offer. The Botanical Gardens, in particular, are a
dream, and are reckoned to be in the world top ten for such places. You
are taken round the enormous grounds in a little train, with an explanatory
commentary from a guide in English and Spanish.
can I summarise what living in the Dominican Republic has been like for
my family and me?
the country is a mixture of beauty and squalor, calm and energy, commonsense
and craziness. Once you get used to ‘how things are’, the experience
very positively life enhancing.
from a highly developed country to the developing world has forced us to
examine some of our beliefs and behaviour patterns, and we feel that that
process has made us better rounded individuals with a more balanced form
of personal confidence.
we have enjoyed ourselves and made good friends!
that you try it yourselves.
Index ~ Dominican
Republic Index ~