Dominican Families Hampered by Ban on Shipping Used Clothes

On Aug. 1, the Dominican Republic restored a decades-old ban on importing used clothing, a law from 1973 that critics claim is being “distorted” by the government. The prohibition will put a dent in care packages sent by Dominican New Yorkers to their families on the island, as those packages often include used clothes and shoes. Find the reactions of Dominicans in New York in the translation below of an El Diario/La Prensa article by José Acosta, published on the day the ban went into effect.

Máximo Padilla, president of the Committee of Dominicans Abroad, disputes that the customs agency in the Dominican Republic can prohibit a person from sending used clothing to a family member.” (Photo by José Acosta / El Diario/La Prensa)

Like many Dominicans, Andrés Castillo, 72, gathers the used clothing around his house several times a year, packs it up in a box or a container, and sends it to his family on the island as a way to lighten the burden of some of their economic needs.

“I send shirts, pants, and used shoes to my three kids who live in Santo Domingo, as well as to many of my cousins,” said Castillo. “It’s very expensive to live there and it’s very difficult for a poor person to spend what little money they have, even just to buy a shirt,” he said.

Castillo will have to find another way to send clothing to his native country. According to owners of shipping companies, starting today, the Dominican Customs Department will prohibit used clothing from being imported to the island. Law 458, which was passed 39 years ago, will once again go into effect.

In a letter signed by Carlos Blanco Fernández, director of Customs, the agency made the following announcement to shipping companies: “Starting on Aug. 1, 2012, used clothing and shoes that are found in different packages will be confiscated.”

Charles Canaan, president of Salcedo Cargo Express, who received the notice from Customs, affirmed that some merchants in the shipping industry have gone to Santo Domingo to protest the law, which will affect commerce.

Complaints from abroad

According to Máximo Padilla, president of the Committee of Dominicans Abroad, Customs “is distorting” the original law from 1973.

President Joaquín Balaguer established Law 458 during a period when the country received large imports of clothing and other paraphernalia that were no longer needed by clinics and hospitals. Alternately, they came from an unknown source and were brought into the country to be sold. Many people viewed these imports as a vehicle for contagious diseases.

However, the old law excluded “articles of clothing, toiletries, bed linens, kitchen linens, household furniture, china, and cutlery that was for travelers’ or family members’ personal use.”

According to Padilla, Customs “cannot stop a person from sending used clothing to a relative because that clothing is not of unknown origin.”

“Packages that are contaminated have already been stopped from entering the country, so it doesn’t make sense for this legislation to exist,” said Padilla. “If Customs applies this law according to its current language, it will affect everyone who sends used clothing to their relatives as a form of humanitarian aid.”

The amount of clothing imported to the Dominican Republic increased from 1,887 tons in 2005 to 22,515 in 2012.

Unfair competition

Law 458 was re-established at the request of merchant groups on the island – among them the National Organization of Trading Companies, the National Union of Businesspeople, and the Dominican Association of the Textile Industry – who argue that the sale of illegal clothing creates unfair competition with their sector.

These business entities emphasized that, furthermore, used clothes “are a threat to public health; they can transfer diseases and even pests like lice, fleas, mites, and bedbugs, among others.”

Business people who support the legislation have calculated that their industry currently moves 1,000 shipping containers a year that carry 25,000 tons of textile products, which could contain all sorts of contraband.

Below is a video in Spanish of reactions from Dominicans on the streets of New York. The first three reactions are translated into English below the video.

First woman: “It’s a ridiculous law that you can’t send used clothing to family members. It’s a tradition from our culture to send hand-me-downs to other relatives, to the youngest ones or whoever needs them.”

Second woman: “It’s a bad thing because there are many poor people that need this clothing which is sold at very cheap prices. To tell the truth, it shouldn’t be like that.”

Third person, man: “I was at the store where people send money transfers and I was talking to the woman who works at the cash register. They told her nothing used, no shoes, no clothing, nothing. That’s what they’re telling her.”

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