AGUA NEGRA, Dominican Republic--Between 1956 and 1959, 1,319 Japanese immigrated to this Caribbean country in response to their government’s offer of free fertile farmland to each household.
However, those 249 families never received their promised respective 18 hectares of land. Facing difficulties in making a living here, most of them returned to Japan or relocated to Brazil. Only 47 families remained in the Dominican Republic.
Several decades have passed since then.
“Now, I prefer coffee to Japanese tea,” said Hajime Tabata, 94, the oldest among the remaining Japanese immigrants.
Tabata, who immigrated from Kagoshima Prefecture in southern Japan, lives here in the town of Agua Negra, about six hours from the capital of Santo Domingo by car near the border with Haiti.
When he arrived in 1958, the area was a jungle. He cut trees and planted coffee and beans in spaces between the stones that dotted the soil. It took five or six years to make a living.
Since then, he purchased more property little by little. Now, he is cultivating coffee on a 20-hectare mountain.
Life without electricity or a water supply was hard for his family. His eldest son and eldest daughter returned to Japan soon after they immigrated. In the past several years, his wife and second son died due to diseases. He now lives with the 56-year-old widow of his second son and a 23-year-old grandchild who took over the farming.
Tabata’s legs have weakened, preventing him from working on the mountain.
Since immigrating to the Dominican Republic, he visited Japan only once.
“As I made efforts, I can now enjoy an average standard of life. (Since I immigrated to this country in 1958), 56 years have passed quickly,” he said.
Over the years, the 47 families that remained in the Dominican Republic continued to ask the Japanese Embassy there to fulfill its promise of farmland. In the 1990s, their representatives frequently visited Japan and directly asked the Foreign Ministry to do so, but in vain.
In 2000, a total of 126 immigrants and their family members filed a lawsuit with the Tokyo District Court against the Japanese government, demanding compensation.
In 2006, the court issued a ruling that acknowledged the government’s responsibility. However, it rejected the request for compensation, saying that the plaintiffs have already lost their right to request for compensation as more than 20 years have passed since the immigration started.
The plaintiffs appealed to the Tokyo High Court, but later withdrew the case on the condition that the government would express an apology to them in the name of the prime minister. The settlement also offered livelihood assistance of 220,000 yen ($2,100) to each household a year, or 550,000 yen for households in extreme poverty. They were also allowed to join the national health insurance program with financial aid from the government.
“The livelihood assistance and the health insurance program are both helpful,” said Harue Kasahara, 78, who immigrated from Fukushima Prefecture along with her elder brother’s family.
When she came to the Dominican Republic, she was troubled by the big leeches as well as the needles of plants that were rampant in farmland. However, she eventually got married and gave birth to a son and three daughters. But unable to make a comfortable living, she returned to Japan and worked as a restaurant worker or a cleaning woman day and night for seven years.
“There are few good places to live in. This (my hometown in the Dominican Republic) is the best place. Though I had hardships, my life was interesting,” she said with a smile.
Kurato Kimura, 87, who served as the head of the plaintiffs, said the lawsuit has benefited his current life.
“The health insurance program is helpful. I cannot make a living unless I receive the livelihood assistance. If we did not file the lawsuit, we would not have been able to obtain anything,” he said.
Asked whether it was beneficial to have immigrated to the Dominican Republic, he said, “I cannot immediately say, ‘Yes.’ ”
Then, as he recalled more than a half-century as an immigrant, his eyes welled up with tears.
AS GALERAS, Dominican Republic — Have rubber, will travel.
Large numbers of the New York City-branded condoms that are distributed for free across the five boroughs under a city Health Department program are being smuggled into the Dominican Republic and sold for cash.
The distinctively labeled NYC Condom can be found in stores across this Caribbean country — even in this tiny beach town on the Dominican east coast.
At the Las Galeras Pharmacy, they are sold for about 50 cents each — a better deal than Durex condoms, which sell for more than a dollar.
A few dozen of the NYC Condoms are displayed in neat rows alongside other condoms, pregnancy tests and lotions in a glass display case at the front of the store.
“We buy them from a provider here in the Republic,” said pharmacist Francisco Pallano. “They distribute them to any pharmacy that wants them.”
He claimed he did not know the distributor’s name.
The New York City Health Department gives away 38 million NYC Condoms a year in an effort to stop the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, especially HIV, and limit unplanned pregnancies.
The NYC Condoms come in a chic wrapper stamped “Not for Resale.” They are manufactured for the city at taxpayer expense by Ansell, the same company that makes LifeStyles condoms.
The Health Department provides the NYC Condom, in bulk, to 3,500 nonprofit groups and businesses, including bars, restaurants, nail salons, barbershops and hospitals, for free distribution.
Health Department officials acknowledged they’ve caught some businesses shipping the free condoms out of the country.
At least five businesses have been booted from the program since it began in 2007, including one caught sending the rubbers to the Dominican Republic.
A department spokeswoman declined to name the businesses. “We estimate that the lost condoms are a very small percentage of overall distribution,” she said.
But the NYC Condom is so popular in the Dominican Republic that it turned up in a 2012 report from market researcher Euromonitor International.
The researchers found them at corner stores and pharmacies in Santo Domingo and smaller cities such as Mao and Esperanza.
“The NYC brand is intended for free distribution to high-risk populations in New York City and is increasingly smuggled into the Dominican Republic and resold illegally,” the report found.
The city has a pair of five-year contracts with Ansell, at a total cost of $5.7 million, to manufacture the condoms — which come in an assortment of varieties, including extra-large and ribbed — as well as lubricant packets, according to documents filed with the city controller’s office.
“These are supposed to be free for New Yorkers,” said City Councilman Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan), chairman of the Health Committee.
“We should ensure that no one is taking condoms from places in New York City where they are needed and selling them for profit out of the country.”
But if the condoms are leaving the country, he hopes they’re doing some good.
“If they’re ending up in the Dominican Republic, I hope people are using them,” he said.
It was in December in French St. Martin that the first Caribbean cases with regard to a mosquito-borne virus were detected. Since that time, the virus known as chikungunya has spread quite rapidly in the Caribbean.
It has now been revealed that the virus has arrived in the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Health Ministry said the blood samples of suspected cases taken by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control have confirmed the disease.
The revelation has led health authorities in the Dominican Republic to announce the first outbreak of chikungunya. The CDC has confirmed the presence of virus in the southern province of San Cristobal.
Chikungunya, majorly found in Africa and Asia, is not considered fatal. It leads to fever, rash, fatigue and severe muscle and joint pain. Some symptoms of chikungunya match symptoms of dengue, therefore, there are chances to misdiagnose the condition in areas where dengue is common. There is no cure for the disease.
Health Minister Freddy Hidalgo Nuñez said about the Health Ministry, "Maintains and will intensify across national territory the measures of prevention and containment of outbreaks of this disease transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito".
More than 20,000 confirmed and suspected cases of chikungunya are present in the French Caribbean and parts of South America. As per the ECDC, there are 3,366 confirmed and 17,896 suspected cases of the disease in 11 islands/ countries that brings the total to 21,262.
(There is now a full-on outbreak in San Cristobal region, where 767 cases have been confirmed. Click here for the latest in the Dominican press. It's also expected to spread to the southern United States.)
The first gay marriage in the Dominican Republic? According to some published reports, yes. Of course, it is still not legally recognized, but congratulations to the happy couple. As you can imagine, everyone is NOT happy for the couple.
It has been a hard and tough decision, but I am moving back to the States. I have been thinking long and hard about what my next move should be. I have been feeling like I should be acting more like an adult. To start taking my future seriously. I need to go and get a 'real' job and have a steady income, and save for retirement. God knows this journey has been life-altering. But it is now time to be serious. With the job situation as precarious as it is in the states right now I didn't think it would be possible. But I have a job offer from a good friend who is a lawyer. I think I have also secured an apartment. I will know for sure about the apartment this week. And now is just the time. The weather is starting to get warmer and this will allow me to slowly adjust instead landing there in the dead of winter.
What makes this change bearable is that I have been able to get a visa for my Dominican boyfriend to live with me and attend school. I have been working on it for two years and it finally came through. I know what some of you are thinking. Is this wise? I never thought this would happen, but I am deeply, truly in love. It is time to settle down and be committed to one person. I also believe you just have to take chances in life and step out on faith. If we are meant to be together we will be. I know that he loves me. He told me so. He is different. He comes from a good family and has traveled to other countries. I wish everyone could be as happy.
The blog will still continue. I have recruited another foreigner who lives here, who wishes to remain anonymous. Along with a local gay Dominican to keep the blog running. I may even contribute some items here and there. But for the most part I will be passing the torch and moving on. This way you can still find out what is going on here and keep up with the latest this, that and the other.
I am leaving on May 1, 2014. So on April 30, I will have a party at the old Jay Dee's venue. For one night only Jay Dee's will be open and invitation-only. Everything will be free. We will be having a sit-down dinner for 100, and afterward a spectacular show with all the male strippers of the Dominican Republic in attendance. To close the night there will be a small fireworks display. I want to go out with a bang.
I want to thank everyone who has been supportive and helpful to me over the many years of the this journey. If you would like to join me for the final party please send me an email. For those of you who can't make it I hope you have a great April Fools' Day.
A New York woman has died getting discount cosmetic surgery in the Dominican Republic.
Beverly Brignoni was seeking a less expensive way to enhance her appearance and she did what many other people are now doing: travel abroad for cosmetic surgery.
But it went horribly wrong. The 28-year-old died February 20 from what the doctor told her family was a massive pulmonary embolism while getting a tummy tuck and liposuction at a clinic in the Dominican capital recommended by friends.
Family members have serious questions about her death and want local authorities to investigate.
'We want to know exactly what happened,' said Bernadette Lamboy, Brignoni's godmother. 'We want to know if there was negligence.'
The district attorney's office for Santo Domingo says it has not yet begun an investigation because it has not received a formal complaint from Brignoni's relatives. Family members say they plan to make one.
Shortly after Brignoni's death, the Health Ministry inspected the Vista del Jardin Medical Center where she was treated and ordered the operating room temporarily closed, citing the presence of bacteria and violations of bio-sanitary regulations. The doctor who performed the procedure and the clinic have not responded to requests for comment.
Brignoni's death is unusual, but it is not isolated.
Concerns about the booming cosmetic surgery business in the Dominican Republic are enough of an issue that the State Department has posted a warning on its page for travel to that country, noting that in several cases U.S. citizens have suffered serious complications or died.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control issued an alert March 7 after health authorities in the United States reported that at least 19 women in five states had developed serious mycobacterial wound infections over the previous 12 months following cosmetic procedures in the Dominican Republic such as liposuction, tummy tucks and breast implants.
There were no reported deaths in those cases, but treatment for these types of infections, which have been caused in the past by contaminated medical equipment, tend to involve long courses of antibiotics and can require new surgery to remove infected tissue and drain fluid, said Dr. Douglas Esposito, a CDC medical officer.
'Some of these patients end up going through one or more surgeries and various travels through the medical system,' Esposito said.
'They take a long time typically to get better.'
The Dominican Republic, like countries such as Mexico, Costa Rica and Thailand, has promoted itself as a destination for medical tourism, so-called because people will often tack on a few days at a resort after undergoing surgery.
The main allure is much lower costs along with the promise that conditions will be on par with what a patient would encounter at home.
In 2013, there were more than 1,000 cosmetic procedures performed in the Dominican Republic, 60 percent of them on foreigners, according to the country's Plastic Surgery Society.
The Internet is flooded with advertisements and testimonials from people who say they have had successful procedures in the Dominican Republic, and an industry of 'recovery houses' has sprung up to serve clients, along with promoters who canvass for clients in the United States.
The price is often about a third of the cost in the United States.
Dr. Braun Graham, a plastic surgeon in Sarasota, Florida, says he done corrective surgery on people for what he says were inferior procedures abroad.
He warns that even if a foreign doctor is talented, nurses and support staff may lack adequate training.
'Clearly, the cost savings is certainly not worth the increased risk of a fatal complication,' said Graham, past president for Florida Society of Plastic Surgeons.
Brignoni was referred to the Vista del Jardin Medical Center by several acquaintances in the New York borough of The Bronx where she lived, said Lamboy and Lenny Ulloa, the father of the 4-year-old daughter she left behind.
'Supposedly, it was a high-end clinic, one of the best in the city,' Ulloa said.
The doctor who performed Brignoni's procedure, Guillermo Lorenzo, is certified by the Plastic Surgery Society, but there are at least 300 surgeons performing cosmetic procedures who are not, said Dr. Severo Mercedes, the organization's director.
He said the government knows about the problem but has not taken any action. 'We complain but we can't go after anyone because we're not law enforcement,' Mercedes said.
The number of people pursuing treatment in the Dominican Republic doesn't seem to have been affected by negative reports, including a previous CDC warning about a cluster of 12 infections in 2003-04.
In one recent case, the Dominican government in February closed a widely advertised clinic known as 'Efecto Brush,' for operating without a license. Prosecutors opened a criminal case after at least six women accused the clinic of fraud and negligence.
The director, Franklin Polanco, is free while awaiting trial. He denies wrongdoing.
There was also the case of Dr. Hector Cabral. New York prosecutors accused him of conducting examinations of women in health spas and beauty parlors in that state in 2006-09 without a license, then operating on them in the Dominican Republic, leaving some disfigured.
Cabral pleaded guilty to one count of unauthorized practice of medicine in October 2011 and returned to the Dominican Republic, where he still practices.
In 2009, Dominican authorities charged Dr. Johan Tapia Bueno with illegally practicing plastic surgery at his apartment after several women, including a local television personality, accused him of malpractice that left them with infections. Awaiting trial, he has pleaded innocent to charges that include fraud.
Juan Linares, a lawyer hired by Brignoni's boyfriend, said he is still awaiting an autopsy report.
Because she arrived in the country late at night on a delayed flight and was on the operating table early the next morning, a main concern is whether she received an adequate medical evaluation before the procedure.
Graham, the Florida surgeon, said sitting on a plane for several hours can cause blood to stagnate in the legs and increase the risk of an embolism.
Brignoni paid the Dominican clinic $6,300 for a combination of liposuction, tummy tuck and breast surgery. Lamboy said she had decided not to have the work done on her breasts and was expecting a partial refund. The woman, who worked as a property manager, had lost about 80 pounds about a year earlier after gastric bypass surgery.
Brignoni was clearly excited about the procedure. Her final post on Facebook was a photo she took of her hands holding her passport and boarding pass for the flight from New York to Santo Domingo.
'She wanted it so bad,' her godmother said. 'It felt like she was going to have a better outlook on life, getting this done.'
Businesses in the Dominican Republic (most, not all) just don't understand the power of the internet. If you wanted to find out when the ballet is performing, you couldn't go to the official cultural websites, because they haven't been updated in years. This website is trying to change all that. You can find out who is having 'happy hour' drink specials today, restaurants specials, along with cultural performances. It is sad, because the Dominican Republic (and Santo Domingo in particular) has soooo much going on. But it is difficult to find out about it beforehand. This site is only in Spanish, but you click here for the English translation.
Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc. (NYSE: HOT) today announced that its global powerhouse Sheraton Hotels has returned to the Dominican Republic with the opening of Sheraton Santo Domingo Hotel. Formerly known as Melia Santo Domingo, the newly renovated hotel offers 255 luxurious rooms and suites with breathtaking ocean views. Hoteles Nacionales, owner and operator of the property, completed a comprehensive $12 million renovation to implement all the Sheraton brand's signature services and amenities prior to flying the Sheraton flag. Sheraton Santo Domingo Hotel is Starwood's third property in the Dominican Republic, joining the recently opened Four Points by Sheraton Punta Cana Village and The Westin Punta Cana Resort & Club.
"By joining Starwood, we will also connect with more travelers via the powerful Starwood network, including the award-winning Starwood Preferred Guest program."
"We are thrilled to reintroduce the Sheraton brand to the Dominican Republic following this strategic conversion in Santo Domingo, the 'Gateway to the Caribbean,'" said Hoyt Harper, Global Brand Leader, Sheraton Hotels & Resorts. "A gathering place for both travelers and local residents, Sheraton Santo Domingo Hotel offers all the brand's signature comforts and amenities, as well as breathtaking water views and proximity to leading attractions."
Sheraton Santo Domingo Hotel is ideally located on Avenida George Washington, the city's luxurious waterfront avenue lined with palm trees, hotels, casinos and boutiques. Just five minutes from the heart of downtown Santo Domingo, the hotel is walking distance to the city's Colonial Center, 15 minutes from the business district and a 30 minute drive from Las Americas International Airport (SDQ). Highlights of the hotel include a large casino, an outdoor swimming pool and five-star dining.
The hotel's renovated lobby features the signature "Link@Sheraton(R) experience with Microsoft®" – a relaxed space with complimentary wireless broadband where guests can socialize and connect with friends, both old and new. All guest rooms were refurbished and outfitted with the all-white
"We are proud to partner with Starwood Hotels to open the FirstSheraton in the Dominican Republic and invite travelers to enjoy the hotel's recently enhanced amenities in our spectacular, waterfront location," said Paula Lama, Vice President of Hoteles Nacionales. "By joining Starwood, we will also connect with more travelers via the powerful Starwood network, including the award-winning Starwood Preferred Guest program."
An ideal choice for business meetings, weddings and social functions, Sheraton Santo Domingo Hotel offers 22,500 square feet of state-of-the-art meeting space including 11 conference rooms. Additional amenities include the hotel's freshly renovated fitness facility, featuring the brand's revolutionary health and fitness program, Sheraton Fitness by Core Performance, as well as steam rooms, massage facility and a sauna.
Sheraton Hotels & Resorts, like all brands within Starwood's robust portfolio, is proud to offer the Starwood Preferred Guest® program, which made headlines when it launched in 1999 with a breakthrough policy of no blackout dates on Free Night Awards. SPG® offers members the ability to redeem awards at more resorts, more luxury properties, more European hotels and more golf properties than any other hotel program.
Michael K. Lavers, a reporter for the Washington Blade, was here last week interviewing many sectors of the gay community. I have been corresponding by email with Michael for a few years, and finally got a chance to meet him on his visit. He has just published his article:
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic – Dominican LGBT rights advocates remain hopeful that gay U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James “Wally” Brewster will continue to generate more visibility around their nascent movement in the Caribbean country.
“In reality the Dominican LGBT community is not a rather large community,” Cristian King of Trans Siempre Amigas told the Washington Blade on March 7 during a meeting with nearly a dozen Dominican LGBT rights advocates at the home of Deivis Ventura of the Amigos Siempre Amigos Network of Volunteers in the San Carlos neighborhood of the Dominican capital. “[Brewster] is a person from our community. It is a big impact.”
King spoke with the Blade alongside Amigos Siempre Amigos Executive Director Leonardo Sánchez, radio host Franklyn Sánchez, Edward Tavarez da Silva of the website Zona VIP, Lorena Espinosa of the Woman and Health Colective, Marinela Carvajal of Republika Libre, Anyi Fermin of the Metropolitan Community Church of Santo Domingo’s Women’s Ministry, Pedro Mercedes, Stephanía Hernández of Gente Activa y Participativa, Dominic Rincon of University Students for Diversity and Marta Arredondo of Amigos Siempre Amigos. Ventura is among the seven Latin American LGBT rights advocates who visited the U.S. earlier this year as part of the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program.
Espinosa told the Blade that Brewster “helps us a lot.” Carvajal added the gay U.S. ambassador has brought more visibility to the Dominican LGBT rights movement.
“There is more discussion of [LGBT] issues,” said Carvajal. “There has been an opportunity to highlight our issues.”
The U.S. Senate last November confirmed Brewster as ambassador to the Caribbean nation.
Finally, got a chance to check out another mall that has opened, Galeria 360. It has a the new Fuddruckers and other stores I have not seen here, like Elizabeth Arden and Perry Ellis. The mall is beautiful and clean, but not many customers.
There are now so many malls within a few miles radius. Interesting to see who survives. Then went across the street to Ikea for some Swedish Meatballs. Yummy!
It seems every time I turn on CNN nowadays, there is another story about snow (and COLD temperatures) in the U.S. Particularly the Northeast. Thank God, spring starts Thursday! And summer and beach weather will soon follow.
On the highway to Santiago, you pass through the towns of Piedra Blanca and Bonao. You know you are there because there are colorful rugs lining the highway for sale. If you don't see anything you like, just wait, because you will see other artisans who will be showing rugs of all colors and designs. Now, there are some rug-makers from Bonao plying their trade on El Conde in the colonial zone.They make great gifts to take home!
After many LONG years of gestation, Ernest Montgomery is now in labor. His book is going to be available on May 1, 2014. Regular readers of this blog know that Ernest is a great friend and I am so proud and happy for him. Knowing all that went into this labor of love, I want to offer my heartfelt congratulations on his accomplishment. This 128 page (beautifully laid-out) coffee table book can now be pre-ordered on Amazon.
A lot of construction going on around the colonial zone. Independence Park has been given a facelift, and it looks great. Though I am partial to the brick showing. Looks better. But they did a great job with the refurbishing. Now, the photos below are from a section closer to the colonial zone. And I just don't get it. I understand what they were going for. They want to make the street more conducive for tourists walking. But what about deliveries for businesses, to say nothing about parking, for clients or people who live there. Oh well, at least something has been done. Now, if they could just fix all the lighting at night.
The horrible winter has brought a lot of people to make last-minute trips. So I have been on a couple of day trips recently. Also, took some snaps of new things I've seen. One is this new bakery on the Conde. Very nice. Several smaller businesses are have opened recently. God knows El Conde needs them. It is dying a slow death. Hopefully, these new businesses can help turn the tide.
One of the streets being remodeled in the colonial zone is starting to come together.
Went to the Dreams Resort in La Romana, for the day. It was great, but I had 5 margaritas and woke up 4 hours laters when it was time to go. Didn't get a chance to see much. Next time.
On Saturday night went to Esedeku to wish the owner, Julio, a happy 40th birthday! And then I confirmed that NYC Bar is now a lesbian bar. Though everyone is welcome. The white party was cancelled until further notice.
Also got a chance to go back to the restaurant Lulu's Tasting Bar and it is very good. I found out it is owned by the same owners of Pat'e Palo. Which speaks to the great service and food. Next door is a wine store, so they have an extensive wine/champagne list. They have a special of 50% (!!!!) off food & drinks (wine list not included) everyday from 6 - 8 pm. for any American Express cardholders. Highly recommended. And this week is independence day and the craziness of carnaval.
The United States ambassador, and his husband, met with leaders of the local LGBT community at the American Embassy. It is nice to see that he is not shying away from talking about gay issues and meeting with leaders from the community. Click here for more informamtion and photos.
Former New Yorker (Harlem!) living in Santo Domingo since January 2004. The person I was when I arrived is a totally different person today. I still love living in the D.R. Even with all its obvious contradictions. This blog is where I write about things I find interesting with the gay community, news, gossip, culture, and of course, men. Strictly from my point-of-view.