Tourism and Social Exclusion in the Dominican Republic

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Tropical Blues : Tourism and Social Exclusion in the Dominican Republic Amalia L. Cabezas Latin American Perspectives 2008 35: 21 DOI: 10.1177/0094582X08315765

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Tropical Blues Tourism and Social Exclusion in the Dominican Republic by Amalia L. Cabezas

Tourism development is the backbone of many Caribbean economies, and its advocates argue that it contributes to sustainable development, the alleviation of poverty, and integration into the globalized economy. Scholars and activists, in contrast, point to tourism-related ecological deterioration, profit leakage, distorted cultural patterns, rising land values, and prostitution. They suggest that tourism perpetuates existing disparities, fiscal problems, and social tensions. Examination of tourism development in the Dominican Republic indicates that it deskills and devalues Dominican workers, marginalizing them from tourist development and sexualizing their labor. The majority of people are relegated, at best, to positions of servitude in low-paid jobs in the formal sector, unemployment, or unstable activities in the informal sector that include the commoditization of sexuality and affective relations. Keywords: Tourism, Caribbean, Dominican Republic, Capitalism, Social exclusion

In A Small Place, the Caribbean writer Jamaica Kincaid elaborates on the inequities of tourism (1988: 18–19): “Every native of every place is a potential tourist, and every tourist is a native of somewhere. But some natives—most natives in the world—cannot go anywhere. They are too poor. They are too poor to go anywhere.” In international tourism, only some people are able to travel and experience a respite from the crushing banality of their lives; others, too poor to go anywhere, are relegated to servicing the needs of foreign travelers. Travel and tourism are among the most important economic activities of the global economy not just for the transnational monopolies that control them but also for those who dream of traveling and perhaps being able to turn someone else’s commonplace reality into the source of their own pleasure. This is the reality of the tropical blues. Tourism development is the backbone of many Caribbean economies. For the small island nations, tourism today represents what sugar was a century ago: a monocrop controlled by foreigners and a few elites that services the structures of accumulation for global capitalism.1 Can tourism change the economic context of small nation-states in the Caribbean by creating possibilities for the population to improve its standard of living? Tourism promoters, policy makers, experts, and development officials certainly think so. They Amalia L. Cabezas teaches at the University of California, Riverside, and is a coordinating editor of Latin American Perspectives. She thanks the Centro de Promoción y Solidaridad Humana (a nongovernmental organization working in Sosúa, Puerto Plata, and the surrounding communities) and the Movimiento de Mujeres Unidas for research assistance. LATIN AMERICAN PERSPECTIVES, Issue 160, Vol. 35 No. 3, May 2008 21-36 DOI: 10.1177/0094582X08315765 © 2008 Latin American Perspectives

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