The Path Less Traveled : The high price for doing the right thing.

At some point along the way, I began to see the world differently.  This new perspective was the result, in large part, to having lived and worked to the Dominican Republic.  There are two distinct sets of rules in the world, and which set you are expected to abide by depends on where you live.

Working in the DR can be very different than working in more developed contexts.  Corruption can flagrant and often, little attempt is made at covering up un-ethical practices.  In general, this corruption des not directly affect the average person going about their lives, however, in certain realms of business, one is still required to confront this stark reality.  This disregard for ethics is generally accepted by the public and seen as a necessary evil in getting things done.  The DR is a very different country than it was when we moved here in 1995.  Our current president, Luis Abinader, who was just re-elected for a second term, has run on an anti-corruption platform.  Abinader and his administration have made tremendous headway in calling out bad actors and cleaning up corrupt practices in government at the national level.

Government corruption at the local municipality is a totally different animal and has yet to be confronted.  Stakes are often much lower and the back-room dealings are relatively benign, albeit dishonest none the less.  One of the purposes of the Doulos Discovery School, the international leadership academy that Krista and I founded in 2003, was to equip young adults to confront injustices at all levels of society.  We lead by example as we navigated life and business by not succumbing to the status que of utilizing un-ethical practices to get things done.  Our ethics often cause significant delays, and we are often criticized by our friends because we hold so steadfast to this ideal.     

Today, we are facing the greatest challenge we’ve ever come up against in our almost 30 years of doing business in the DR.  If you are reading this blog, you are likely a part of the Spirit Mountain community and are well are of our commitment to the environment and adhering to sustainable development practices.  3+ years ago, we decided to move forward with our plan to add a small residential and hospitality component to the 335 acre coffee farm.  The area to be developed is approximately 50 acres or 15% of the total area of the farm.  The remainder of the farm will continue to be managed as a coffee farm and protected tropical forest.  Spirit Mountain has become an important habitat for most of the endemic and native birds found on our island as well as many of the migrant birds flying South for the winter.

There is no other development project on the island that has dedicated anywhere close to the 85% we’ve set aside as protected green space.  It is important to also take into account, that of the 50 acres that will be developed, less than 5% of that space will be built on, leaving 47.5 acres as open space.  We are committed to creating what will become the platinum standard for sustainable development in the Dominican Republic. 

During the past three years, we’ve done everything by the book with regards to permitting and licensing.  We hired a renowned environmental consultant to perform an 18-month environmental impact study and submitted the 300+ page report to the Ministry of the Environment.  In August of 2023, Estancia Natura at Spirit Mountain received the coveted Environmental License, signed by the Minister of the Environment himself.  We were applauded for the exceptional commitment to the environment and for preserving the remarkable forest that we planted cared for these 20+ years.  Spirit Mountain is often referred to by the locals as the ‘Lungs of Jarabacoa’ for it’s incredibly dense and diverse forest.  Throughout the entire permitting process, we’ve not succumbed to doing anything un-ethical or dishonest, letting the project’s exceptional caliber speak for itself.

After receiving the Environmental License, with full approval to execute the project, in August, I anticipated we would be enjoying out first finished A-Frames by Christmas.  That could not have been further form the truth.   Here is it the end of June and we were just denied approval by the local city council.  We waited 10 months for the city council to put our project on the public hearing agenda, just to get denied.  I am not so naïve to think that this process was going to be a cake walk, but with our three decades of history working in Jarabacoa, I did not anticipate coming up against such blatant corruption and disregard for the rule of law.  Most of the Regidores (city council members) are basically kids, who could have easily been students at Doulos, (none of which were). These kid politicians are the local remnant of a broken and corrupt system that fails miserably at leading a local community towards progress.  Few reasonable people would ever think about entering politics in the developing world context.  Salaries are miserably low (which is a key contributing factor leading to bribery and extortion).  Decent people who do enter politics to make a difference often throw in the towel after a short time, disgusted by the whole system and saddened by how ineffective efforts to make a change are.  It can easily feel like the political machine just has too much inertia to change direction.

That being said; there may be some change in the wind for Jarabacoa.  The new Director of Urban Planning, Benjamin Pena, is one of those rare humans committed to doing the right thing, even when it costs him professionally.  Benji, as his family refers to him, has been a good friend of our family since the late 90’s. Benji was the first board president for the school we started in Jarabacoa, which means he understand the revolutionary spirit.   Benji, by profession, is a Civil Engineer, which strategically equips him to lead his department.  Even though the new administration has only been in office for a couple months, he is already at odds with the elected officials due to his public support of our project.  Jarabacoa’s mayor, Joselito and Manabao’s mayor Anyolino are both vocal supporters of the project.

What is ultimately holding up local approval of Estancia Natura at Spirit Mountain is my steadfast refusal to pay exorbitant bribes to City Council members in order to push the project through.   I’ve watched countless projects get approved over the last 9+ months, all because of under the table bribes paid to elected officials.  Maybe I’m being unreasonable or a bit too naïve and idealistic?  Or maybe I’m just being suborn?  What ever the root cause, I can’t stand when leaders abuses their places of power and lord it over the very people they have been tasked with serving and protecting.  There are few things that get me as riled up as this.  I apologize to the people, who have entrusted us with their confidence and resources, for this delay.  I hope that you will see this as a guarantee that our word is our word and that our family will go to great lengths to protect and serve you.        

Next steps in this process will be to continue to apply public pressure through our friends with influence, politically and in the media.  We are also bringing he full weight of the law, for what that is worth. Officially, protocol forbids us from re-applying for 6 months. We are not waiting and will continue to push for the right outcome.  We will eventually get this project approved, and will not bow to the extortion of some local corrupt politicians.  Our hope is that somehow this painful delay and process with Estancia Natura will work for the good and open up a path for a new way to do things in Jarabacoa.   In the meantime, everyone pray for your leaders and for freedom from the abusive injustices happening to the most vulnerable people around the world. 

Written by

Chad Wallace

Our founder and lead architect, Chad is at his best when he’s bringing people together.