If you haven’t seen the news lately or have been in a cave since 2015, ODEBRECHT is a Brazilian company, with extensions in various countries in Latin American, North America, Europe, Africa and the Middle East. It’s dedicated to various fields from engineering, construction, petrochemicals and chemicals. It was founded by Norberto Odebrecht in 1944 in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil.
Dominican Republic is a small island between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea; home to Sammy Sosa, Amelia Vega, Manny Ramirez, Junot Diaz and Maria Montez. Dominican Republic has its own records, being the first settlement of the New World in 1492, having the first university of the New World in 1518, being the deadliest place to travel by road in 2010 and having five students read aloud for 300 hours straight in 2011.
In all of our +500 years of history, we’ve have our fortunate and unfortunate events, like having Rafael Trujillo as dictator for around 30 years, being occupied by the United States TWICE (1916 and 1965), having our first metro railroad in 2013 (being the most extensive in all central America and the Caribbean) and having received ODEBRECHT in our country with open hands in 2001.
The United States department of Treasury had announced that the Dominican Republic had received approximately 92 million dollars in bribes from ODEBRECHT to obtain 17 contracts for the construction of highways, dams and thermoelectric plants. Brazil started investigating into the bribes made in their own country way back in 2014; the year in which ODEBRECHT decided to “relocate” ODEBRECHT’s department of Structured Operations to Dominican Republic. Their director at the time, Hilberto Mascarenhas Alves Da Silva, claimed back then that the “relocation” was due to “Business Security”…something that the Dominican government didn’t even bother looking in to.
Dominican Republic is the third country that most received bribes, right after Brazil and Venezuela. It’s funny that we have received 92 million dollars in bribes that go straight to the pockets of greedy businessmen and politicians, when our average income per family is barely 200 dollars. From the 17 contracts made by ODEBRECHT, 15 were done during the ongoing, never-ending corrupt presidential periods of the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD), which has been on the presidential stand since 2004.
You may have a lot of questions reading so far, so let’s start addressing them.
- How the hell did ODEBRECHT start their corruption bribe in Dominican Republic?
Ok so, the whole mechanism of the bribes is pretty easy to explain. Let’s say I sell apples. It takes me about 1.00 US dollars to produce an apple, so a dozen of apples will cost me 12.00 US dollars. If I’m growing apples to profit, I’ll have to have a financial gain in order to invest in the apple production and produce more apples. The Dominican law of purchasing and contracting allows me to rise 25% of the original price. This means, I’m allowed to sell a dozen of apples at 15.00 US dollars. What ODEBRECHT was doing was raising the original price up to 100 times of its worth. They were selling a dozen of apples at 1,200.00 US dollars.
A couple of examples are the Hydroelectric of Palomino, that was initially valued in 225 million dollars, and it ended up costing 400 million dollars; that’s 175 million dollars above the initial costs. Another example is the Pinalito Hydroelectric, that was initially valued in 131 million dollars and it ended up costing 300 million dollars, which is 169 million dollars more representing an increase of 129% of it’s pricing. Remember that the Dominican constitution allows a 25% rise, when ODEBRECHT had rises up to 129% of its valued price.
- Who were the ones that received or benefited from these bribes?
We Dominicans all know that our politicians were up to this bribery scandal. The bribes has intentions to make the politicians to vote in favor or to approve the constructions to be made by ODEBRECHT, even if they were overpriced…they would be receiving their cut anyway. The Attorney General of the island, Jean Alain Rodriguez and member of the Central Committee of the Dominican Liberation Party (DLP…the one who has 13 years in the Dominican political spotlight) received disclosed information of the involvement of Dominican figures in the corruption bribery made by ODEBRECHT. In May 29th of 2017, 14 people were arrested to involvements tied to the ODEBRECHT bribes. They are:
-Alfredo Pacheco; current deputy
-Julio Valentin; current senator
-Angel Rondon; buissnessman
-Maximo D’oleo; ex-official of the CDEEE
-Bernardo Castellanos; engineer
-Porfirio Bautista; ex-deputy and current president of PRM
-Cesar Sanchez; ex-administer of the CDEEE
-Ramon Segura; ex-vicepresident of CDEEE
-Conrado Pittaluga; notary and lawyer
-Ruddy Gonzalez; ex-deputy
-Juan Rodriguez; ex-deputy, ex-senator and ex-director of INAPA
-Tommy Galan; current senator
-Juan Montas; current minister of Industry and Commerce
-Victor Diaz; ex-minister
- What has been done with ODEBRECHT so far?
Not much really. Jean Alain Rodriguez made an agreement with ODEBRECHT executives on January 2017, in which ODEBRECHT can continue its operations in the Dominican Republic while the current executives wouldn’t be charged of bribery, in exchange of information on the 14 current accused and a penalty fee of 184 million dollars that should be paid in a period of 8 years.
The surprising fact is not only that they can keep working in the country, it’s the fact that they are currently working on a project called Punta Catalina. Instead of wiping the Brazilian company out of the country, our politician geniuses think that a penalty and “exchange of information” would be enough. And the curious part of it is that it has been widely discussed that Punta Catalina is another work of political bribery valued in 2,000 million dollars, with the purpose of being a thermoelectric generator based on carbon. Punta Catalina had various offers from diverse companies, in which ODEBRECHT, in spite of being the most expensive proposal, had a value of 500 million dollars more than the limited imposed by the same congress that approved the proposal.
The president, Danilo Medina, due to the comments of the possible corruption in his idealistic “solution to the energy problem” created a commission to investigate ODEBRECHT’s bidding. This supposedly commission determined that the price was “fair” and “adequate”…of course, who would doubt the president and his party who have had corruption in the government since 2004?
- What has happened with the 14 people arrested?
Well, not much either. Angel Rondon and Victor Diaz received preventive prison for 1 year and 9 months respectively, while Conrado Pittaluga and Roberto Rodriguez remain in house arrest for 9 months. The rest have received bail of amounts from 106,000 to 300,000 dollars conjoined with impediment of departure and a periodic presentation before the authorities for 9 months to some. Bernardo Castellanos has an international arrest warrant, since he hasn’t returned to the country, upon allegations that he was never quoted by the Public Ministry.
- What the people expect?
We expect justice of course…in an imaginary perfect world. Dominicans have grown up learning corruption schemes since we were in kindergarden. The history of Christopher Columbus tricking the Tainos into exchanging mirrors for gold makes us think that Dominicans have corruption in our veins. We want justice! We want to see these people pay for their corruptions and to make it as an example for future corruption acts. Of course it’s not that we don’t have faith, but we have been immersed in corruption in the past and nothing has been done to punish those responsible. It’s not that we gave up, it’s that although we have identified the supposed people involved in the ODEBRECHT bribes, we know that corruption is still at its large in the Dominican Government especially when it comes to Nepotism and Malversation of public funds and property. While corruption outside of ODEBRECHT is well known and has been investigated by various reporters and journalists, we still await for justice.
- How are The People responding?
Various independent organizations and concerned citizens have joined forces to start the “Marcha Verde” (Green March), having its first march on January 22nd of 2017. These marches take place in various cities within the Dominican Republic and gather together for the Great March in the city of Santo Domingo. It was created after the bribery scandal of ODEBRECHT in Dominican Republic.It’s members and citizens that support the “Marcha Verde” have 4 main demands which are: Taking the corrupt people involved in the bribery scandal to jail, the return of all the money that was robbed from the state to go to these briberies, cancellation of the contracts with ODEBRECHT (including the ongoing one for the construction of Punta Catalina) and an independent investigation made by a special commission with the accompaniment of the United Nations to investigate the bribes and the actions during the government of ex-president Hipolito Mejia, ex-president Leonel Fernandez and the current president of the Dominican Republic, Danilo Medina.
Currently, the “Marcha Verde” has an ongoing series of marches through 150 municipalities across the Dominican Republic, where thousands of citizens gather around to protest against corruption. Various personalities, reporters and politicians have accused the “Marcha Verde” to receive funds from the United States to perpetuate their marches, being communists, to be anti-democratic and to intend to make a coup against the actual president Danilo Medina…all of which haven’t been confirmed or proven to the moment. To me, it’s just a boycott to our freedom of expression, freedom of speech and freedom of association.
We’re ending the month of August and we still await the alleged investigations to go through. Dominicans seek justice and plead for it to happen to set it as an example and important milestone in the history of our country for the years to come. We don’t want to be only known as a vacation paradise or Caribbean dream; we want to be known as a country with a just and honest government; we want to set a different era in our country. An era that brings justice to citizens, economical stability, security and a better standard of living.
We want people who rationalize and understand that change isn’t something that’s promised by a guy that already had a presidential period and did nothing; that change isn’t having the same political party in the government for 13 years; that change isn’t giving out 11 dollars and Chinese fried chicken to vote for a political party; that change isn’t being offered as a political position or job after voting for a political party; that change isn’t giving out social aids masked behind a certain political party. Change is progress, change is having a better outcome, change is having no corruption, change is having a better healthcare, change is being able to walk in the streets without fear of getting killed or mugged, change is being able to buy food at an average cost at a supermarket, change is being able to buy food because the minimum wage allows you to do so.
To this day I hope to enjoy our Dominican beaches, palm trees and cocktails without the bribes and political corruption.