Congressional representatives, opposition members, political analysts and anti-corruption organizations in the Dominican Republic have expressed deep concern respecting the misuse of public funds by the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) presidential nominee to the July 2020 general election Gonzalo Castillo. In addition, Castillo, with the backing of Dominican Republic President Danilo Medina (2012–present) and other high-ranking PLD members, has been weaponizing the coronavirus outbreak to undermine the opposition.
A former public works minister (2012–2019), Castillo has been linked to alleged corrupt activity. In July 2019, Congressman Fidelio Despradel requested a congressional investigation against Castillo for his alleged role in the approval of overvalued public works contracts during his ministerial period. The contracts were awarded to Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, which is responsible for one of the largest corruption schemes in modern history. Despradel added that Odebrecht paid approximately $55 million in bribes during Castillo's first ministerial period (2012–2016) to obtain illicit contracts in the Dominican Republic.
Political activist Sergio Carlo and political analysts Altagracia Salazar, Huchi Lora and Marino Zapete argue that Castillo has a lot to explain in court. Castillo's stint at the Public Works Ministry is said to have been plagued with corrupt activity. The former minister allegedly signed amendments to Odebrecht's contracts worth tens of millions of dollars, soaring the construction titan's profits. For example, Coral highway and La Romana beltway's construction budget increased by more than $205 million after Castillo's amendments. Investigative journalist Alicia Ortega revealed that, within his last five months as minister, Castillo allegedly signed illicit contracts of asphalt concrete for more than $200 million.
Since the PLD rose to power in 2004, Castillo has amassed a fortune estimated in the millions of dollars. Intelligence sources claim that his fortune tripled from 2004 to 2010. According to journalists Juan T.H. and Nuria Piera, Castillo ranks among the wealthiest political figures in the Dominican Republic. Born and raised in extreme poverty, however, Castillo has had a hard time explaining the origins and extent of his wealth.
Castillo's newfound wealth is often linked to a long list of government contracts awarded to his aviation company Helidosa. The Dominican constitution strictly prohibits ministers from engaging in activities that could generate conflicts of interest. Nevertheless, in flagrant violation of the Dominican constitution, Helidosa has reportedly provided services to various government institutions.
Castillo's alleged corrupt activity has even polarized its own political party. During the heated contest to become the PLD presidential nominee in the July 2020 general election, fellow presidential hopefuls Carlos Amarante Baret and Reinaldo Pared Pérez accused Castillo of using the Public Works ministry's budget to crush them. On October 6, 2019 — the PLD presidential primary election day — many voters were paid from $10 to $100 in exchange for voting for Castillo. Vote-buying was so widespread during this election that anti-corruption organization Participación Ciudadana's executive director Carlos Pimentel publicly condemned Castillo's excessive use of public funds.
After Castillo clinched the PLD presidential nomination, sources reported that two-term President Medina was behind Castillo's victory, sparking outrage amongst other presidential candidates within the PLD. Medina, who had been trying for months to modify the Dominican constitution to run for a third term, handpicked Castillo as his successor after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned him in July 2019 to respect the Dominican constitution, which only allows two presidential terms.
For the past few years, Dominicans have been expressing a strong desire for regime change; however, the PLD has demonstrated that it wants to remain in power at any cost. Since March, the PLD and Castillo, with the condoning of the Central Electoral Board (JCE), which is responsible for organizing impartial elections and enforcing electoral laws in the Dominican Republic, have been manipulating the coronavirus outbreak to prevent electors non-aligned with the PLD from voting in the July 2020 general election.
The International Community must remain vigilant of this crucial electoral process. If the PLD manages to cling to power through illicit means, the Dominican Republic could witness a bloodbath more brutal than the 1965 Dominican Civil War, in which more than 5,000 people died.
Ramon Collado is a political analyst and NYU Center for Global Affairs alumnus. Twitter: @colladoray. Read Ramon Collado's Reports — More Here.
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