A Conversation with President Luis Abinader of the Dominican Republic
Luis Abinader’s victory in the Dominican Republic’s July presidential election handed him a daunting series of challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic has crippled the tourism sector, which accounts for more than 10 percent of the country’s economic activity and had seen steady growth. The economy is expected to contract by 6 percent this year. Close to 120,000 Dominicans have contracted the coronavirus, resulting in over 2,000 deaths.
Abinader, however, has important advantages as he begins his four-year term. His party controls both houses of congress, raising hopes for progress on his pro-business, pro-transparency agenda. Despite economic challenges, Dominicans living abroad sent home $5 billion in the first eight months of 2020, an increase over last year. The new president has extensive private sector experience, which he will draw upon as he navigates the COVID-19 economy and post-pandemic recovery.
The Wilson Center’s Latin American Program and the American Chamber of Commerce of the Dominican Republic (AmChamDR) hosted a conversation with President Luis Abinader of the Dominican Republic on Friday, October 30, from 10:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. EST. In our discussion, we explored the public health and economic impacts of COVID-19 on the Dominican Republic, and the prospects for economic recovery, including through a resurrection of the critical tourism industry and the new government’s plans to promote the Dominican Republic as a “near-shoring” opportunity for U.S. manufacturers exiting China. We also addressed the consequences for the Dominican Republic of Haiti’s prolonged political challenges.
This webinar is the second of the Latin American Program’s “Crisis Conversations,” a new series of dialogues with Latin American leaders about overcoming policy challenges during this pandemic. Our previous conversation was with President Lenín Moreno of Ecuador.
Luis Abinader, President of the Dominican Republic
“I can tell you right now, today, that COVID is under control in the Dominican Republic [...]. We have doubled the amount of tests or possibility of doing tests and people are no longer going because at this moment, as I said, COVID is under control in the country and it’s in a much better circumstance than most of the countries in the region. We have 80% of the COVID beds free, we have 70% of the [ICU] beds free, we have 65% of the ventilators just for COVID free. COVID is almost nonexistent in the tourist areas.”
“We need to prioritize the relationship with the United States and we need a special relation with the United States. The relationship has to be of respect and with our government. They know that we share the same values of democracy, the same values of working for transparency and fighting corruption, so this is not something that they have to work with me to try to establish in the Dominican Republic because I am the one that is convinced that we have to fight for democracy in the region and also for good government for transparency and respecting the dignity and independence of the nation.”
“The Haitian situation is one of the major problems that the Dominican government has. It creates a lot of problems because there is no stability in Haiti, there have been a lot of crises, people are on the streets, and it is a country that has a lot of fraud. It’s the poorest country in the western hemisphere and the government doesn't have the strength to control the situation that is causing that. So the Dominican Republic has to protect the borders [...]. We will be the speaker to the whole Americas, to the whole region, and also to countries like France (who historically have been tied to Haiti) so that we can work on a development plan for Haiti that will also help the Dominican Republic. Our country cannot continue to maintain the cost related to the situation in Haiti.”
“I believe that we should continue the Free Trade Agreement that we signed in 2004 but I believe that we should have a more fair balance [...]. What we have to do is have more export-mentality and promotion in our country and we are preparing to [...] launch our project ‘pro-export’ in the country with a lot of finance from the government and other international organizations to promote exports. I believe that the Free Trade Agreement has been good for our country and I will promote that we continue to be on the Free Trade Agreement.”
Latin American Program
The Wilson Center’s prestigious Latin American Program provides non-partisan expertise to a broad community of decision makers in the United States and Latin America on critical policy issues facing the Hemisphere. The Program provides insightful and actionable research for policymakers, private sector leaders, journalists, and public intellectuals in the United States and Latin America. To bridge the gap between scholarship and policy action, it fosters new inquiry, sponsors high-level public and private meetings among multiple stakeholders, and explores policy options to improve outcomes for citizens throughout the Americas. Drawing on the Wilson Center’s strength as the nation’s key non-partisan forum, the Program serves as a trusted source of analysis and a vital point of contact between the worlds of scholarship and action. Read more