On Sunday, February 16, the municipal elections in the Dominican Republic were suspended across the country by the Central Electoral Board (JCE) due to technical difficulties with the electronic ballot machines. This is the first time in the country’s voting history that elections have been suspended. Julio Cesar Castaños Guzmán, the president of the Central Electoral Board, said that the voting was haltered three hours into voting at about 50 percent of the polling places that used electronic ballot machines. Electoral authorities claim that they are investigating what could have caused the technical problems but Dominicans are not convinced and believe this is all a result of a very corrupt government. Opposition parties even complained that some of their candidates didn’t even appear on the electronic ballots and Dominican protestors have taken to the streets and are demanding that all of JCE’s board members step down. If you don’t live in the Dominican Republic or aren’t familiar with their politics, this whole scandal can be a little overwhelming to follow. This is why Dominican artist and illustrator Aimée Mazara decided to create an illustrated thread breaking down exactly what’s happening in the DR, that has since gone viral.
“The protests currently happening in DR (and other parts of the world showing solidarity) is the buildup of months — years even — of political corruption and tension,” Mazara exclusively tells HipLatina. “The events surrounding the municipal elections were — to most — the last straw. We are protesting corruption at all levels: from the serious lack of funding for our health system and education, the privatization/selling of public and protected areas, violence committed by the national police, the poor use of the national budget to favor politicians and their family members, and much more. However, this specific protest is currently demanding three main things: Investigation and clear answers as to what went wrong during the municipal elections, sanctions and consequences for those responsible, [and], electoral transparency for the upcoming elections set to take place next March, 15th, 2020.”
Mazara who was born and raised in the Dominican Republic — and still lives there — created an illustration thread to help folks understand what is happening on her island. “I am in the United Kingdom on vacation, and unfortunately, cannot physically attend the protests, which prompted me to do what I can with what I have from here, which is to spread the word,” she says.
Initially, hundreds and then eventually thousands of Dominicans began holding peaceful protests earlier this week outside of The Central Electoral Board (JCE). Protestors chanted things like “Zero dictatorship, we want democracy,” in Spanish, which later lead to hashtags on Twitter like #JusticiaParaRD, #SabotajeElectoralRD, and #JCErenunciaYa. Many believe the electronic issues were intentional and actually implemented by the JCE. Police officers showed up the protest site and threw tear gas bombs at the crowds but protestors remained.
— Andrés😎Rodríguez (@MrAndrews30) February 19, 2020
Like many folks, Mazara felt confused and disappointed when she learned about the election suspensions. “I was feeling incredibly hopeful and excited the days leading up to election day, seeing the youth actively engaging and the general excitement over the voting process,” she says. “People seemed fed up, and I assume the government could sense that as well.”
Being away from home while the protests were going down and not being there with her friends and family, inspired Mazara to create the famous illustrations that have since gone viral.
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Day 5 of peaceful protests in Dominican Republic — 🇩🇴 This is for the international community; for the Dominican diaspora that wish to share information with their non-Spanish speaking friends & family; for mine, who’s asked what is it I’ve been sharing about DR in my stories these last few days. This is an incredibly summarized and easily digestible recap of events. Trying to be as impartial as I can as there are still a lot of questions to be answered. However, I’ve excluded events that have exacerbated the situation because it’s still “alleged” (pero uno sabe klk), like the assault of a telecom technician under National Police custody for conversations he had about a possible election sabotage the day before, or the extended power outages being experienced after elections were suspended prompting some to assume it’s on purpose. Government says they had nothing to do with either, leading to more questions & confusion. This is just to open curiosity/dialogue. Stay informed, read the news, and draw your own conclusions. In the meantime, DR is still fighting the good fight.. on the right side of history. Huge shoutout to the youth for leading a whole movement. 🇩🇴 —— Está en inglés porque hay demasiado información siendo compartida por personas que están viviéndolo en vivo, y prefiero dirigirlos a ellos, amplificar su voz; como @josemariacabral @carosantanas @altagraciasa @somospueblord y muchos más. Esto es para visibilidad extranjera, que también viene bien. #sevan #eleccionesmunicipales #manifestacionpacifica
“The illustrations explaining the situation back home was from a feeling of powerlessness all the way here, seeing my friends and family back home — through my little phone screen — out in the streets, protesting and letting their voices be heard. I came on holiday to draw pretty views and everything that I was drawing seemed empty or lacking. The night before sharing it, a friend at the protest back home sent me the photo that I used for the main illustration and decided to draw that instead. When I finished it, I got the idea to illustrate the whole situation, as people here in England seemed to be completely unaware of what was going on and I wanted them to be able to share as well.”
Quite a few people have since shared Mazara’s illustration thread on Instagram, in an effort to explain to folks what’s happening on the island. In fact, Dominican-American writer and poet Elizabeth Acevedo is one of the many people who shared it and shouted Mazara out.
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Thank you to @aimeemazara for this amazing English-language graphic that breaks down the current protests and civil unrest in the Dominican Republic. It’s not easy to distill all the events that have taken place this week, and I’m glad that the information being dispersed has not been privileging the American/anglophone gaze—but it helps to have coverage of all kinds, and Aimee looked out in ensuring folks are informed. I’ve been trying to follow closely what’s happening on the ground and listening to the communities most affected by this current government’s corruption, the folks who were the first to rise up. While I’m being quiet (I’m not in DR, so I’m trying to listen and learn from the folks at the front lines), I am being attentive. The United States has always had a vested interest in DR and they’ve always supported whatever leader would be most favorable to said interest; I don’t doubt the US will try to get involved if the unrest continues and I hope those of us in the diaspora and living in the states are ready when it’s time to support what the PEOPLE of the Dominican Republic want & need and not what our governments have told us we must accept. The concept of nation is a wild one, and the Dominican Republic is far from perfect, but I’m here for this movement led by young people, supported by righteous elders. The demand for justice and fairness is what the definition of patriotism should look like and it’s a beacon of hope, a beacon for fundamental change. Pa’lante! Folks to follow who are either on the ground, or covering the developments: @somospueblord @josemariacabral @carosantanas @altagraciasa @yosoy_amanda @inculturedco @revoltiao
“Thank you to @aimeemazara for this amazing English-language graphic that breaks down the current protests and civil unrest in the Dominican Republic,” she wrote. “It’s not easy to distill all the events that have taken place this week, and I’m glad that the information being dispersed has not been privileging the American/anglophone gaze — but it helps to have coverage of all kinds, and Aimee looked out in ensuring folks are informed…”
“I’m still very much surprised and humbled this has gotten the reach it has. I originally made it for my little online community that didn’t speak Spanish and were asking what it was I was posting about DR,” Mazara says. “Most importantly, I feel as if I just drew some pictures. It’s been the people — the power of social media and activism — of sharing for a greater good, for transparency, and clarity. People everywhere made all this possible.”
Mazara who has been painting all her life didn’t always know she’d be an illustrator. She actually went to medical school for three years before realizing she wanted to pursue a more creative career path. She studied at the Altos de Chavón School of Design while working a number of side jobs to pay for her education. She graduated twice — first in Communication Design — and later in Fine Arts and Illustration. While a lot of her works centers around celebrating women’s bodies and beautiful landscapes, she has recently gotten into editorial illustration and graphic journalism, which is essentially what the DR illustration would fall under. Mazara wants to use her art for social good. In fact, she quit her job as an Art Director at a creative ad agency late last year to become a freelance illustrator and designer.
“I would say 95% of my artwork is inspired [by] being raised as a female on the island. Lately exploring my identity through the immense privilege I had growing up the way I did and how I can use all of it for social good,” she says. “For example, I saw a lack of information being shared about the situation in DR for the international community and using my art and the fact I know both languages seemed like the best thing for me to do at the moment.”
Protestors in the DR want answers and they want to see consequences for the corruption that’s been happening in the government, with the hope that many of these politicians will be removed from office.
“My hope for Dominican Republic has always been for people to wake up to what’s going on and let their voices be heard, to let the government know we will not be silenced,” Mazara says. “Social media has made it possible for people to share what’s happening, to draw their own conclusion and to think critically and elect those who genuinely want the best interest for ALL and not just the super 10%. An empowered and educated nation is a difficult thing to mess with.”
The whole election suspension has inspired Mazara to revolve more of her work around activism and social issues.
“[I] was just talking about it to a friend on how I’ve spent the last few years frustrated over what I wanted my illustrations to be used for — this is it! Not all of it, as I’ll still enjoy just sitting somewhere and drawing the view or illustrating old family photographs which I do a lot of, but in general, I’ll be moving a lot more towards using my work to communicate things that I feel must be said or wished somebody had told me about in engaging ways,” she says. “I believe the real power of artivism and illustration is not the artwork itself but what you get to say with it and the dialogue you are able to open. And I can only hope that whatever I make in the future has at least part of the impact this last one has generated.”
Mazara encourages folks who are interested in keeping up with what’s happening in the DR, to follow folks who are active on the ground.
“I don’t have all the answers, nobody does at the moment. I only know from what my family and friends are sharing and made a very summarized series of events. For live updates and impartial documentation/footage on the current situation in DR, I encourage you to check the accounts of @carosantanas, @josemariacabral, @somospueblord, and many others,” she says.
You can also check Dominican-American journalist Amanda Alcántara over at @yosoy_amanda, who is on the ground and covering the developments and anthropologist, writer, filmmaker, and activist Saudi Garcia @tingo_taught_me.
Peaceful protests in the Dominican Republic are set to continue with a few scheduled outside of the island, including in NYC, Miami, Florida, Toronto, Canada, Puerto Rico, and London, UK.