BY VAL REYNOSO
For decades, Dominican migrants have been forced to flee their homeland in pursuit of better living conditions.
Responding to the effects of imperialist plunder, they almost always move to First World countries like the United States that house all of the conquered loot from Third World nations, including the Dominican Republic.
Upon arriving to their destinations, however, they are yet again forced to flee because of another capitalist phenomenon: gentrification.
Imperialism and gentrification — both of which are based on private property, class hierarchy and racism — are inextricably connected. The connections between U.S. imperialism in the Dominican Republic and the subsequent displacement of Dominican immigrants in the First World attests to this.
Let’s start with the former.
In 1965, U.S. President Lyndon Johnson initiated a military coup consisting of 42,000 U.S. soldiers in the Dominican Republic. He justified the coup by saying it would not only protect U.S. interests in the region, but would also prevent the island from developing a government under former President Juan Bosch similar to that of Fidel Castro’s Cuban Communist Party.
On April 28 of that year, U.S. marines invaded the Dominican Republic and allied with the army of former dictator Rafael Trujillo, resulting in the division of the island into two areas occupied by opposing armies. Following the second wave of U.S. invasion, Joaquín Balaguer and his Reformist Party won the elections with the support of the U.S. military and the Trujillo’s army officers.
They were the ones who encouraged a terrorist campaign against Bosch and his Dominican Revolutionary Party, known as PRD. This resulted in the murders of over 350 PRD-sympathizing activists between January and May of 1966.
Bosch was also banned from campaigning and the U.S. military threatened to kill him if he were to leave his home. Soon after, Bosch went into exile in Spain for three years. The U.S.-backed Balaguer government was in power for 28 years — it was a regime that was essentially an extension of Trujillo’s fascist government.
As a product of Balaguer’s rule, the Dominican Republic experienced decades of terrorism at the hands of the military and paramilitary forces, which systematically suppressed what they thought were opposing leftist parties.
These forces also brutally persecuted the left wing of the PRD between 1966 and 1970, especially since many of their members were closely connected to the Dominican Popular Movement. It was a far-left group that advocated for armed struggle with the hopes of achieving a revolution.
Balaguer used paramilitary groups like La Banda (The Band), which was composed of former members of the military and professional assassins, to suppress the left.
Meanwhile, he referred to these paramilitaries as “uncontrollable forces” in his public speeches in order to deflect his connections to them. Between 1966 and 1974, over 3,000 Dominicans were killed by terror attacks initiated by military and paramilitary forces. The leaders of countless leftist parties were murdered.
The rampant violence, restrictions, mass murders, censorship and other oppressions at the hands of the Balaguer regime resulted in Dominicans fleeing political turmoil in waves. Most of them moved to the United States, especially New York City.
Balaguer’s final term ended in 1996.
Between 1990 and 2000, the rate of Dominican migration to the United States increased by 90 percent, with approximately two-thirds of Dominicans in the U.S. having been born in the Dominican Republic. Washington Heights in New York City is home to the second-largest concentration of Dominicans in the diaspora.
During the same time period, the number of Dominicans increased from 88,000 to 117,000. However, that number decreased between 2000 and 2005, with Dominicans making up 73 percent of the Latinx population with a population of 113,000 in 2005. Simultaneously, the number of whites rose from less than 29,000 to over 30,000.
The decline of the Dominican population and rise of the white population in Washington Heights, and other predominantly Dominican neighborhoods in New York City, is due to gentrification. Poor and working class Dominicans are being displaced as a result of skyrocketing prices of rent alongside the construction of luxury apartment complexes they cannot afford.
Dominican City Council member Fernando Cabrera, a Democrat, has encouraged gentrification in Kingsbridge Heights, which also has a significant Dominican population. The cost of rent for new studio apartments there is about $1,865 per month, even though the majority of people in that neighborhood have an average annual income of about $30,000 a year. After taxes, they have just a few hundred dollars to spare on groceries and essentials.
Cabrera’s endorsement of gentrification policies that drive out impoverished Dominicans from the community is exemplary of how people sell out their own community in order to cater to a wealthier settler-imperialist economic class.
Given said policies, many Dominicans moved to other neighborhoods in New York City. Between 2007 and 2009, 40 percent of Latinx people who moved to The Bronx due to higher rent prices in Manhattan were Dominican. South Bronx consists of a predominately Latinx working class population, but is also known for having the highest overall poverty rate in the country: 41 percent.
Numerous studies have showed that a majority of South Bronx Dominicans distrust their local governments, which, ironically, is the primary reason why many working class and poor Dominicans mass migrated from the island in the first place.
Gentrification in Dominican communities in New York City is also aggravated by the greed of landlords, who can increase rents from 20 percent to 250 percent if fixtures are made to apartments. These landlords are also notorious for harassing tenants through methods such as refusing to turn on heat during the winter or taking a long time to make repairs.
New York City politicians are also complicit in gentrification and displacement of Dominicans, such as Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has housing plans for the city which emphasize the construction of market-rate developments. This would inevitably result in higher rent prices and the elimination of affordable housing only to be replaced with luxury apartments that only white wealthy gentrifiers can afford.
Overall, Dominicans are continuously fleeing harsh conditions or being displaced due to imperialism at home and gentrification abroad. Both of these phenomena are the direct result of the parasitic and racist capitalist system that remains entrenched in the world in today.