SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — After years of dictatorship, authoritarianism, and now a struggling democracy, Dominicans have grown accustomed to being skeptical about what they hear from government officials.
So when Attorney General Jean Alain Rodriguez went on live television Wednesday evening to tell his countrymen that their national hero was shot because he was mistaken for someone else, many in this nation of 11 million people were unconvinced.
David Ortiz, the Red Sox legend, cuts a distinct figure and is instantly recognizable to just about everyone here, they noted. Many people followed the news conference on social media.
“I can’t believe it,” said Leynni Billilo, 21, an employee of the Barcelo Santo Domingo hotel, shortly after Rodriguez detailed the results of the investigation at a press conference.
She had seen pictures of Sixto David Fernandez, the man who Rodriguez said was the intended victim. Fernandez was sitting at the same table as Ortiz when the retired baseball player was shot at a nightclub here on June 9.
Like others, Billilo noted that Ortiz has much darker skin than Fernandez, a different texture of hair, and is nowhere as brawny as the former slugger. Even from the back, the two would be hard to confuse, she said.
“There’s no way,” she said, shaking her head.
Diana Minier, who had come to the hotel for a family reunion, was more open than others interviewed to the government’s explanation.
“It’s true that the judicial system in the Dominican Republic is easy to manipulate,” said Minier, 34.
But she was impressed by all the evidence that prosecutors had presented to the public — videos of the suspects, photographs from the crime scene, and a host of other documents.
“I didn’t believe them at first, but I’m more comfortable now after hearing what they have put out there,” she said.
Others felt there were too many holes in the government’s story.
Overhearing Minier discuss the case, Juan Soriano, a waiter at the hotel, started to laugh. He shook his head.
“You can’t believe what the authorities say here,” he said.
He was more likely to believe some of the rumors that he had seen on social media. “I believe there’s a reason they were going after Ortiz,” said Soriano, 30.
In the lobby, Antonio Perez and a friend said they thought the government’s explanation for the shooting seemed too convenient.
Like others, he worried that powerful interests might have pressured government officials to reduce the profile of the case by saying the suspects weren’t targeting Ortiz.
“I believe they’re trying to hide something,” said Perez, 41.
Sitting beside him, a friend, Joseph Tavarez, agreed.
“I really think there’s someone more powerful manipulating the government like a puppet,” said Tavarez, 22. “There’s something they’re not telling us. We’re not getting the truth.”