Dominican Republic Legislation Seeks More Civilian Control Over Military
By Dialogo August 09, 2013
Dominican lawmakers are considering a bill that aims to reform the country’s Armed Forces for the first time since the 1960s — transferring the military to a Defense Ministry model with vastly increased civilian involvement.
The measure, approved June 26 by the Dominican Senate, would restructure a military that dates back to the regime of President Rafael Trujillo. It’s now under consideration by the Chamber of Deputies, which is the lower house of Congress.
Upon taking office in August 2012, President Danilo Medina pledged to reform the military. Barely one year into his four-year term, Medina and members of his ruling Partido de la Liberación Dominicana (Dominican Liberation Party, or PLD) appear poised to do just that.
The bill slashes the number of generals from the current 130 to 40 (20 in the Army, 10 in the Navy and 10 in the Air Force), including brigadier-generals and vice-admirals. The reduction — to be completed within six years — pegs the number of generals at one per 1,000 soldiers in order to keep pace with expected increases in the size of the military.
Espinosa calls law ‘revolutionary’
At 44,000 active-duty personnel, that makes the Dominican Republic’s armed forces the second-largest in the Caribbean; only Cuba’s military is bigger.
“It’s a revolutionary law, in line with times,” said PLD Sen. Orlando Espinosa during debate on the senate floor. “Now, if you speak with 10 citizens on the street, 11 of them are generals.”
Even though lawmakers agree that the military has too many generals, Nelson Arroyo, a legislator from the opposition Partido Revolucionario Dominicano (Dominican Revolutionary Party, or PRD), warned of likely opposition to the plan.
“There are generals who will resist being forced to retire, and the government should look for ways compensate them,” Arroyo said.
Among other things, the bill would require soldiers to serve 28 years before reaching brigadier-general or vice-admiral, and 32 years before becoming a full general or admiral. Proponents of the reform say this measure is necessary in order to institutionalize merit-based promotions.
Also, officers would only be eligible for promotion with the “proper advice” of their commanding officers, which would effectively end the practice of politicians and civil servants interfering in military personnel decisions.
Promotions, eligibility emerge as key issues
The bill also proposes renaming the navy from “Marina de Guerra” to “Armada Dominicana” and the army from “Ejército Nacional” to “Ejército Dominicana.” The air force — known as “Fuerza Aérea Dominicana” — will retain its current name. On the Senate's official website, a press release said the name changes were necessary to “be in accordance with nomenclature commonly used internationally.”
The bill also proposes that the defense minister be appointed to a two-year term that can be extended by a second two-year term at the discretion of the president.
At a news conference following the Senate vote, Sen. Adriano Sánchez Roa — the bill’s sponsor and a close ally of President Medina — said lieutenants would only be eligible for promotions after four years, while captains, lieutenant colonels and colonels would be eligible after five years. He added that “all institutional promotions will be made on Feb. 27 of each year.”
The reform bill takes aim at the Armed Forces Ministry, which is charged with managing the country's three military branches. This ministry has been under the control of the military leadership dating back to the Trujillo era, but under the reform it will be transferred into more of a defense ministry model with increased civilian involvement.
However, the extent of that growing civilian involvement has yet to be determined. At least one prominent lawmaker, PLD Sen. Julio César Valentín, argued that the 2010 Constitution — which was approved by former President Leonél Fernández — prohibits military officials from serving in ministerial positions.
Survey: Reform bill likely to pass
Valentín said constitutional language stipulating that ministers and their deputies be able to fully exercise their civil and political rights means members of the military were excluded as they lacked “full political rights.” Because soldiers lack political rights such as the right to vote, he said, they are constitutionally prohibited from serving in a ministerial capacity.
Countering Valentín were two other PLD senators, Sonia Mateo and Prim Pujals, who insisted that the Dominican Republic is “not prepared” to have a civilian lead the Armed Forces Ministry. Sánchez Roa, meanwhile, pointed out that many neighboring countries — even those with histories of military dictatorships — have had defense ministries led by civilians for many years.
Ultimately, Senate President Reinaldo Pared Pérez, also of the PLD, resolved the issue by proposing to leave it up to President Medina whether to appoint a civilian to be defense minister.
Still, as the bill awaits consideration in the lower house — where the PLD also holds a majority — the issue of civilian control of the defense ministry could arise again, say analysts, indicating just how divisive the issue of civil-military relations remains, even within a single party.
Although the reform bill awaits final passage, support from the PLD’s party leadership and Medina — whose approval rating of 71 percent makes him one of Latin America’s most popular leaders — makes it ultimate ratification likely, according to an April 2013 poll conducted by Gallup and the Dominican newspaper Hoy.