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DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: Children Gone, but Remittances Flow In

Diógenes Pina * Special to IPS

VICENTE NOBLE, Dominican Republic, Sep 25 2006 (IPS) - At 70 years of age she counts herself lucky, more so than when she was a child living in poverty. Aquilina de la Paz Reyes gave birth to five children in the Dominican Republic, and they all emigrated to Spain. Now she wants for nothing, she told IPS. Every month she receives money to cover all her expenses.

“I used to work in the fields, picking tomatoes to raise my children,” she said. “Now they provide my keep – they are the savings account that I deposited in all those years.”

De la Paz Reyes lives in Vicente Noble, a rural town nearly 200 kilometres southwest of Santo Domingo, the Dominican capital, where the local populace has traditionally scraped by cultivating bananas, tomatoes and other crops. However, in the last decade their economy has come to be based mainly on remittances.

Some 13,000 people have emigrated from the town to Spain since 1990, and three out of five of them have been women, according to the study “Gender, remittances and development: The case of women migrants from Vicente Noble, Dominican Republic”, released on Sep. 6 by the United Nations International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW), which has its headquarters in this Caribbean island nation.

“The money these women send has changed the face and the commercial activity of this town,” María Altagracia Suera, a promoter of social development, told IPS. As the vehicle drives along the roads of Vicente Noble, she points out the cement block houses that have been built by expatriate remittances on either side of the street.

Before the remittances transformed the town, most of the houses were thatched with palm leaves or had roofs of shingles, wood or corrugated iron.

“I think most of the money that reaches this town is from remittances,” Suera noted. In 2005, the country received about 2.7 billion dollars in remittances, 59 percent of which came from the United States, 30 percent from Spain, and nine percent from the free associated (U.S.) state of Puerto Rico, according to the study.

“My life would be very hard if my children did not send me money,” De la Paz Reyes said.

Anoris, her eldest daughter, was the first to go to Spain. Later she helped her two sisters and her two brothers, and now all five of them live there.

De la Paz Reyes had to raise six grandchildren on her own for several years, while her children in a faraway country made ready to receive their sons and daughters and reunite their families.

“I couldn’t do otherwise than help my children get ahead in life,” she said.

The INSTRAW study states that emigration to Spain from villages and towns in the southwest of the Dominican Republic “has specific traits that make it stand out against the Dominican diaspora as a whole.”

It was differentiated by a “high degree of feminisation, rural background and regional origins.” About 85 percent of those who emigrated to Spain in the early 1990s were women, a large proportion of whom took up domestic employment.

Up to 60 percent of emigrants from Latin America are employed in the domestic sector, according to the “State of the World Population 2006” report by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). In Spain, specifically, the report states that 70 percent of immigrant women are domestics.

Remittances contribute close to 10 percent of the Dominican Republic’s gross domestic product (GDP) – which amounted to 29.3 billion dollars in 2005 – and they are equivalent to 47 percent of the exports from industrial free zones, and 62 percent of tourism revenues.

According to the most recent national census of population and housing, in 2002, 10.2 percent of Dominican households receive remittances, while other studies indicate that 38 percent of the population receives money from abroad. The country has a population of 8.5 million, and 1.5 million people live overseas.

According to a survey published in the local newspaper Clave, 87 percent of respondents had relatives living in other countries. The newspaper said that the population groups who most often received monthly remittances were older adults (53 percent) and young people (52 percent).

Studies by the Dominican association of money transfer companies (ADEREDI) indicate that remittances from Europe grew from 16 to 29 percent of total funds transferred from abroad in the last three years. The trend in emigration is now also for a greater flow of people to go to Europe than to the United States.

“Remittances in foreign currency have made an essential contribution to the Dominican economy, especially over the last decade,” the INSTRAW study said.

President Leonel Fernández believes that the national economy would collapse without the remittances. “There is nothing that could substitute for them,” he told a group of students at a college conference in New York, where more than 800 Dominicans are studying.

“Migration contributes to the development of our people,” Fernández said, because it produces wealth in both the country of origin and the foreign country of residence.

In the last 10 years, remittances have grown by an average of 12 percent a year, and have almost quadrupled over that period. This year, according to data from the Inter-American Development Bank, the trend will continue and the volume of remittances will be even greater than in 2005.

The estimated amount that people from the Latin American and Caribbean region will send to their home countries this year is 60 billion dollars, mostly from the United States and Europe.

Most Dominican migrants – close to a million – live in the United States, while more than 57,000 live in Spain. At first, they travelled to Spain legally, but later this changed, and many have resorted to illegal entry.

“Some women went missing, and were never heard of again,” said Suera.

To reach Spain, many women travelled first to Portugal or even Argentina, then flew to Morocco and crossed over into Spain.

“The flow of Dominican migration to Spain was initiated by women who travelled independently as economic providers,” the INSTRAW study said.

De la Paz Reyes rocked gently in her rocking chair. She adjusted her position to a more comfortable one in the morning sun, and her gaze went off into the distance.

“Only a mother can possibly imagine how much one misses one’s children when they go away,” she said. “But there was nothing that they could do here, they had to go away.” Now they are among the more than 1.5 million Dominicans living abroad, and they send her money in token of their homesickness.

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