Dos Republicas en una Isla- the Real, the Imagined, and the Illusioned of Punta Cana
by Brittany Fulgione
I have been to the Republica Dominicana before, two years ago, in a small pueblo in the mountains near the border of Haiti. But as I arrived at the Westin Hotel in Punta Cana I realized I was arriving in a different Republica Dominicana- a modernized, wealthy resort area that controls not just the local economy, but the local narrative.
There is a distinct wall built between the two realities of the Republica, when you fly into the Punta Cana airport you may look out the window and see the bright blue water, the giant hotels and the white beaches of the coast. You are picked up in shuttles that drive through Punta Cana village, a locally constructed area with expensive gift shops and different styled restaurants. You arrive at the hotel, and workers hold your hand as you walk out of the shuttle, they carry your bags to your room for you, always with a smile on their faces.
This constructed reality was created by a few of the wealthiest families of the area- they built the airport, the hotels, the roads, the communities that workers live in. These families have built most of the infrastructure of this area which begs the question, where is the role of the government here? Did the families construct this entire area to build their luxurious economy in spite of the government, or are they supplementing the government who does not have the ability to support this grand adventure? The government of the Dominican has long since the Trujillo era been corrupted and funnels wealth into the pockets of the elite, but is this not the same model that is seen here? In Punta Cana, the lack of governmental interference has opened up space for capitalistic ventures to create an entire community, an entire economy, a new reality of the DR.
My first day here, I left the vicinity of the Punta Cana resorts, in a rental car with a man I had met that morning. We drove out past the airport, following the long road that bordered the ten foot wall, covered in barbed wire, a distinct line between the two realities. We drove down a beach covered in dead coral, barren. A few more miles down we found a small shack, it looked like a public bathroom one would see at a beach in the states, but the back wall had fallen down and there were large bricks scattered around the ground. There was a large monument, proudly proclaiming this spot as the eastern most tip of the island of Hispaniola. In front of the structure in a bed of fallen coconuts and discarded trash are six newborn puppies and their mother, nipples still large and full of milk, ripe with pregnancy. There were two men, presumably Haitian, who were sitting in plastic chairs. They didn’t speak Spanish, I didn’t hear them speak a word to each other the entire time I was there, they simply sat and watched as I played with the puppies. This is a completely different reality of Punta Cana that more closely mirrors the level of poverty that the rest of the country is drowning in.
To say that one of these are an illusion, and the other is the actuality, would be a lie. Both exist, both are here and tangible, both exist. For the people living within each this is their existence, their daily life revolves around which side of the imagined wall they are on. The differences are sharp- distinct, painful. But both are real, and display the immense disparity between the haves and the have nots in this country.