SANTO DOMINGO – Photographs, videos and copies of old newspapers make up an exhibition in the Dominican Republic’s capital to honor journalists who bravely conducted their work during 12 years of repressive rule by President Joaquin Balaguer, considered one of the last Latin American strongmen.
The exhibit was inaugurated Thursday and will be installed through December at the Memorial Museum of Dominican Resistence (MMRD), located in Santo Domingo’s old city, the museum’s director, Luisa de Peña, told EFE.
The intention of the late Balaguer (1906-2002), who governed the Dominican Republic off-and-on for over 22 years, was to install a totalitarian dictatorship in the Caribbean nation, but he encountered brave journalists who are responsible for the freedom of the press the country enjoys today, she added.
According to various criminal complaints, political opponents, journalists and human rights defenders were imprisoned or killed during “the 12 years,” a 1966-1978 period in which Balaguer was elected three times in balloting the opposition said was repeatedly marred by fraud.
One of the most emblematic cases of that era was the 1975 murder of journalist Orlando Martinez Howley, whose death is considered a “crime of state” due the circumstances surrounding it.
Two soldiers and a civilian were convicted of murdering the journalist, who headed up a magazine – Ahora – that took a tough editorial line against politically motivated killings and arrests and deportations of Balaguer’s opponents.
One exhibition room is dedicated to eight journalists killed during those 12 years: Guido Gil, Enrique Piera, Plinio Diaz Vargas, Abraham Rodriguez, Frank Cruz Berges, Gregorio Garcia Castro, Orlando Martinez Corporan and Orlando Martinez Howley.
“The government said there was freedom because the journalists denounced different things, but that wasn’t the case. They make denunciations but then they had to go into hiding,” De Peña said, adding that it was regrettable that decades later impunity reigns in the majority of the cases.
The goal of the exhibit is to “recognize the prominent role the press played during ‘the 12 years’ but also to recall Balaguer’s abuses,” De Peña said.