El Presidente comes to El Alto
Story by Francis Rodriguez and Robin Elisabeth Kilmer
The motorcade and fleet of security personnel?
The snarl of traffic crawled to a halt?
The camera crews set up for their shots?
The throngs of residents clamoring for a camera phone shot?
Despite President Barack Obama’s visit to the city this past week, he managed to stick far south of 125th Street.
Not so the President of the Dominican Republic, Danilo Medina, who had just emerged victorious in this past May’s elections and was also in town visiting for the United Nations’ General Assembly meetings.
He had one more campaign promise to keep.
President Medina had pledged to visit with local entrepreneur and business owner Felix Cabrera to help cut the ribbon at the launch of his latest restaurant, South Beach, on West 180th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue.
“I value hard working people like Felix Cabrera, who raise the representation of Dominicans in the States,” said President Medina at the restaurant’s inauguration on Tues., Sept. 25th. “I appreciate his support, and the fact that he loves to work for his community. He’s is an important part of this neighborhood. I’m very proud to cut this ribbon.”
President Medina’s visit was also one that acknowledged a base of local support for his candidacy and for his victory. Dominican citizens residing state-side are constitutionally permitted to cast a vote for national elections in the Dominican Republic , and many in Washington Heights came out to see the President they had helped elect.
Frederick Martinez, a local Dominican radio and television personality known as “Pacha”, was one of the many in attendance who had publicly supported Medina during the campaign.
“I’m so happy to see the president [here] in all his humility and down-to-earth personality,” he said.
During his remarks, President Medina acknowledged the support.
“I’m so glad to be here,” he said. “Thank you; I won’t let you down. I want to let you all know that I’m committed to lower[ing] the class disparity, level of poverty in the country, and to increasing the standard of living.”
His appearance in northern Manhattan served also as an opportunity for other elected officials and community leaders to gather and welcome the head of state who represents approximately 10 million residents of the Dominican Republic, a country close to many in northern Manhattan and throughout New York.
At the podium, President Medina was joined by U.S. Congressman Charles B. Rangel, Public Advocate Bill De Blasio, New York City Comptroller John C. Liu, State Senator Adriano Espaillat, State Assemblymember Guillermo Linares, State Assemblymember-elect Gabriela Rosa, Councilmember Ydanis Rodríguez, and former City Comptroller William C. Thompson, among others.
“The fact that he visited Intermediate School 218, Salome Ureña de Henriquez, here in the Heights,” said Councilmember Rodríguez, “and that he has placed such an emphasis on education makes me hopeful.”
Arismendy González, who works at the Dominican Consulate in New York, observed that the visit symbolized the regard held for local residents.
“The Dominican community has responded enthusiastically to the fact that the president has participated in the inauguration of this restaurant,” said Gonzalez.
“I think it sends a message that we, the community of Northern Manhattan, are united,” said Carlos Rodriguez, noting the many shared concerns of those in the Caribbean nation and residents of northern Manhattan. “Dominicans over there and in the Heights have common issues, whether it’s poverty or education.”
Rodriguez also expressed enthusiasm for the new lounge.
This is an amazing location and place.”
José Rivera waited outside South Beach for an hour just to see the president.
While most of his family lives stateside, Rivera said he remains committed to the progress of his country, and voted for Medina in the elections.
“We help the people over there,” said Rivera. “We don’t depend on him [alone], but what we want is that he does well for the people over there.”