News Archive

posted 06/03/04

Conference on Dominican-American Relations: Building Bridges for Development

Former President of the Dominican Republic Dr. Leonel Fernández with Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute.

Former President of the Dominican Republic Dr. Leonel Fernández (left), with Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute.

On October 13, Columbia University hosted a day-long academic forum called "“Dominican-American Relations: Building Bridges for Development, which examined the Dominican-American relationship and economic development in the Dominican Republic from the perspectives of global partnerships, trade relations, democratic political transitions, capital flows and transnational cultural development.

In his opening remarks, Dr. Leonel Fernández, former President of the Dominican Republic and the current President of the Global Foundation for Democracy and Development, put the day's events into the context of the many years of effort invested in establishing ties between the Dominican Republic and institutions of higher education in the United States. Dr. Fernández said he wished to continue to build on the research done by Jeffrey Sachs at Harvard University, where Sachs presided over a group of investigators that focused on tourism, free trade zones, the education system, technology, small and medium enterprises and venture capital in the Dominican Republic.

Other speakers included Dr. Albert Fishlow, Director, ILAS at Columbia University, and Mr. Bernardo Vega, Former Ambassador of the Domincian Republic to the United States, who discussed the environment for trade agreements in Central America and the Caribbean following the failure of the WTO ministerail in Cancun. Lenora Suki and Dr. Joaquin Vial, both of the Center on Globalization and Economic Development, a unit of the Earth Institute, discussed indicators of human, social and economic development in the Dominican Republic and the value of using the UN Millennium Development Goals as a framework for evaluating progress in key areas.

With more than 300 active participants from the public sector, the business and finance community, the civil society, the media and academia, the presentations and discussions sparked fruitful and provocative interchange about development challenges both in the Dominican Republic and in the Dominican community overseas.

During his closing remarks, Jeffrey Sachs looked to the rapid and tremendous progress of the 1990s in the Dominican Republic as proof of its capacity, but warned that social conditions as they stand now are insufficient to guarantee this. He expressed concern about malnutrition, too high rates of infant mortality, too many children not finishing school and "dangerously low" levels of attainment of secondary education - in his opinion, one of the greatest challenges to be faced in the Dominican Republic.

Professor Sachs also highlighted the comments of Dr. Fernandez on political economy in agreeing that development would assume not only economic but also political and social dimensions. Governments must ensure that even seemingly stable countries do not fall prey to divisions based on class, race and ideology. As these risks remain, the need to institutionalize the norms of democracy is pressing. Though Sachs added that there was a need to "realize the tremendous opportunities of the vibrant Dominican diaspora in areas such as trade, investment, and tourism," he added that the Dominican Republic must achieve political progress in order not to fall into the tragic situation that has befallen Bolivia and other countries.

Sachs concluded by expressing his gratitude to Dr. Fernandez for many years of partnership and warm hospitality, his desire to continue to help face the challenges of the future and his expectation that the future would hold many such events to celebrate the country’s and the community’s successes in overcoming their challenges.

This conference was co-sponsored by the Center on Globalization and Sustainable Development (CGSD) at the Earth Institute, ILAS, and the Fundación Global Democracia y Desarrollo in the Dominican Republic.

For more information, please visit

The Earth Institute at Columbia University is among the world’s leading academic centers for the integrated study of Earth, its environment, and society. The Earth Institute builds upon excellence in the core disciplines—earth sciences, biological sciences, engineering sciences, social sciences and health sciences—and stresses cross-disciplinary approaches to complex problems. Through its research, training and global partnerships, it mobilizes science and technology to advance sustainable development, while placing special emphasis on the needs of the world’s poor.