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The Constitution provides for a popularly elected president and a bicameral congress. President Hipolito Mejia of the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) took office in August 2000 after a generally free and fair election, replacing President Leonel Fernandez of the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD). The PRD also controlled the Senate, with 29 of 32 seats, and held 72 out of 150 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, 4 short of an absolute majority. The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, interference from outside authorities remained a problem.
The National Police, the National Department of Investigations (DNI), the National Drug Control Directorate (DNCD), and the armed forces (army, air force, and navy) form the security forces. The military's domestic responsibilities include maintaining public order and protecting persons and property. The police are under the Secretary of the Interior and Police; the military is under the Secretary of the Armed Forces; and the DNI and the DNCD, which had personnel both from the police and from the military, report directly to the President. While civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces, there were some instances in which elements of the security forces acted independently of government authority or control. Some members of the security forces committed a number of human rights abuses.
The market-based economy continued to diversify. The country has a population of approximately 8.8 million, including an estimated 650,000 undocumented Haitians. Tourism, telecommunications, and exports from Free Trade Zones (FTZs) were major sources of foreign currency and providers of employment. Remittances from abroad were more than $2 billion during the year. As a result of the collapse of a large commercial bank, followed by several smaller bank failures, the economy contracted by 1.3 percent. Central Bank intervention to protect depositors sharply increased the money supply and the fiscal deficit, causing a depreciation in the peso/dollar exchange rate. According to the Central Bank, inflation was 43 percent. Unemployment was estimated at 16.1 percent but was probably higher. Income distribution in the country was highly skewed.
The Government's human rights record remained poor; although there were improvements in some areas, serious problems remained. Members of the security forces continued to commit unlawful killings. The police and, to a lesser degree, the military tortured, beat, or otherwise abused detainees and prisoners. The Government referred cases of police and military abuse to the civilian courts, instead of holding nontransparent proceedings in police or military tribunals. Prison conditions ranged from poor to harsh. Some prisoners died in custody due to negligence. Police arbitrarily arrested and detained suspects and suspects' relatives. While the judiciary continued efforts to consolidate its independence and to improve the efficiency of the courts, lengthy pretrial detention and long trial delays continued to be problems. The authorities sometimes infringed on citizens' privacy rights, and police entered private homes without judicial orders. Journalists and editors often practiced self-censorship. Police on several occasions used excessive force to disperse demonstrators. The Government restricted the movement of Haitian and Dominican-Haitian migrants and forcibly expelled some of them. Other serious problems included violence and discrimination against women; child prostitution; abuse of children; discrimination against persons with disabilities; child labor; and severe discrimination against and abuse of Haitian migrants and their descendants. There continued to be reports of forced labor. Many workers continued to face unsafe labor conditions. Trafficking in persons was a serious problem.
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