By Luis Sosa
On Wednesday, September 23, the School of Diplomacy and International Relations and the Joseph A. Unanue Latino Institute welcomed former President of the Dominican Republic, Leonel Fernandez Reyna as part of the School of Diplomacy’s World Leaders Forum.
Mr. Fernandez’s visit was marked by the signature of a memorandum of understanding between the School and Fundación Global Democracia y Desarrollo (FUNGLODE), over which Fernandez presides. The partnership looks for collaboration between the organizations through research, internships, exchange programs, and conferences.
Mr. Fernandez delivered a lecture entitled “Current Economic and Political Trends in Latin America.” The lecture covered the Dominican Republic’s ethnic diversity, political development, and important regional economic and financial points.
Fernandez stated that in order for Latin American countries to progress, they need to move from exporting raw materials to exporting products and services with added value. He also pointed out that investments in infrastructure, education, and human capital are key for the region’s growth.
Fernandez also referred to Cuba to illustrate how much the international arena has changed through the years. Pointing to the rise of the Cuban flag in Washington, D.C. and the American flag in Havana, Fernandez said, “With the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the U.S., the Cold War is finally over.”
Mr. Fernandez’s reflections on the Cuban Revolution raised eyebrows. Fernandez stated in reference to Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution, “Fidel Castro didn’t want a revolution. He wanted to be a part of the system. But the lack of democratic access to power created conditions for the revolution.”
Coincidentally, Fernandez’s visit to Seton Hall marked the two-year anniversary of the Constitutional Tribunal of the Dominican Republic’s decision to issue ruling TC/163/18, which gave rise to the DR’s nationality crisis. The ruling affected the legal status of children with undocumented parents, most of whom are of Haitian descent.
When asked about the issue, Fernandez responded with the measures the DR has taken to remedy the situation, which he said the international press has failed to cover.
In a small group conversation regarding the Dominican movement that sought to have 4 percent of the national budget devoted to public education, Fernandez commented that although structure is necessary, the real change must happen at a deeper level. He referred to the way education is catered to in Latin America, singling out that education systems should promote problem solving and application of knowledge to real-life situations as opposed to relying on memory as the main intellectual tool.
Mr. Fernandez also expressed his views on U.S. politics: “I do not like to make predictions, but I can assure you that Donald Trump is not going to win the elections” because of the Latino vote. He stressed the importance of the Latino community by acknowledging the growing purchasing power of Latinos in the U.S.
Earlier on the day of the lecture, word reached university administrators that certain groups had the intention to demonstrate on campus. As a result, security was strengthened. The protest was geared toward both the Dominican Republic and Mr. Fernandez.
The demonstrators held posters written in Spanish that read, “The Dominican Republic is committing civil genocide.” Demonstrators also called the Dominican state a racist state. Some demonstrators held Haitian flags as they shouted.
These demonstrators were countered by a group of Dominican nationalists, many of whom were supporters of Fernandez. They waved Dominican flags and sung the national anthem in response to the demonstrators that condemned the former president and the Dominican Republic.