The Bosch Pendulum

September 25, 2007

Dominican historian Roberto Cassd,
has observed Juan Bosch for most of the
latter's checkered career. In this excerpt
from a longer interview, Cassd discusses
Bosch's evolution from a "pro-Marxist
populist," to the candidate "with the most
coherent plan for restructuring Domini-
can capitalism."
Bosch has been a key actor on the Do-
minican political scene since 1939, when
from exile in Puerto Rico he founded the
left-leaning Partido Revolucionario Dom-
inicano (PRD) to oppose the Trujillo dic-
tatorship. A year after Trujillo's assassi-
nation in 1961, he won the presidency
only to be overthrown seven months later.
When the twenty-fifth anniversary of the
1965 U.S. invasion rolled around last
April, Bosch was aspiring to return to the
presidency. But this was a Bosch for the
1990s, unlikely to offend the UnitedStates
and, according to Cassd, to the right of
even his former antagonists.
"Juan Bosch started out as a pro-
Marxist populist, during his first exile in
the early 1940s. Later, when Latin Ameri-
can populism turned anticommunist,
Bosch followed suit. By the time he re-
turned to the Dominican Republic in 1961,
after the fall of Trujillo, he was already an
cessfully applied a radical gloss to the
party's traditional populism, arguing
strongly in favor of improved wages
and living conditions for the majority of
Dominicans. As a result, he won large
sectors of the country's poorest voters
to his cause, even if the PRD was pushed
into third place for the first time in its
50-year history. Some political com-
mentators now place Pefia G6mez, 53,
as the frontrunner for the 1994 presi-
dential elections, despite the handicap
of being a descendant of Haitian immi-
grants in a largely racist society.
The Next Generation
The question of age is now upper-
most in many Dominicans' minds. It
seems unlikely that either Balaguer or
Bosch will run again, but as yet no heir
to either of the two leading parties has
appeared. The power-struggle within
the PRSC is reputed to be intense, with
Jacinto Peynado, elected senator for
Juan 5oscn: s sll campaigning, now
as a neoliberal
anticommunist, a replica of Venezuela's
R6mulo Betancourt.
"The Venezuelan elite accepted Betan-
court in 1960, but the Dominican elite
would not accept Bosch, even though there
was basically no difference between
Bosch's platform and the other currents of
Latin American populism. The Left didn't
participate in the 1962 elections because it
was still caught up in the idea of organiz-
ing a guerrilla foco like Fidel Castro's
movement in Cuba. Bosch, on the other
hand, had the skill to propose social re-
forms. He knew how to win people over
by offering immediate solutions to press-
ing problems. He won the presidency in
Santo Domingo, said to be a favorite.
Such has been the stranglehold of the
two political veterans on their respec-
tive parties that a smooth succession
appears unlikely. The PLD and the
PRSC have become synonymous with
Bosch and Balaguer and will lose much
of their identity when the caudillos are
forced to retire. Whether the PRSC will
continue to defend the role of the state
against the PLD's more neoliberal
stance remains to be seen. It is also
questionable whether the PLD will
retain its momentum with the depar-
ture of the charismatic Bosch. The
struggle between a post-Bosch PLD
and Pefia G6mez's PRD will be par-
ticularly intense, since the two parties
appeal to largely the same constitu-
ency, even if Balaguer's slim majority
does encourage a short-term tactical
At the same time, while the cast of
political characters has remained much
the same over the years, the country's
1962, but was ousted seven months later,
with the help of the army, the Catholic hi-
erarchy, and the United States.
"After his overthrow, Bosch started
to distance himself even more from the
powerful groups in Dominican society.
In 1963 he had been ready to govern on
behalf of the elites, to modernize Do-
minican capitalism. But the elites couldn't
comprehend this. They equated Bosch's
platform-social reforms, agrarian re-
form, industrialization-with commu-
nism. So they got rid of him. Bosch felt
wounded (here, we have to add a bit of
psychology to the analysis), and to re-
coup he was forced to depend on an
increasingly radical popular movement.
This is not something he decided unilat-
erally: The popular resistance to the 1963
coup generated its own momentum that
propelled it-closer and closer to the Left.
And Bosch was pulled along.
"Even so, what Bosch really wanted
was an agreement with the army, the
United States and the elites. The 1965
military revolt that he planned and di-
rected from Puerto Rico was not intended
to be a popular insurrection, only a coup
d'etat. Bosch thought the coup would go
off as planned and he would return to
power to do basically the same things he
had tried to do in 1963.
"What happened next is well known:
an insurrection and the U.S. invasion; an
immediate polarization and a flood of
0 ta
6social and economic features have
changed enormously. This dislocation
between the archaic political model,
based on paternalism, and the new so-
cio-economic realities of massive ur-
banization and emigration, the infor-
mal sector and export-led manufactur-
ing, makes the electoral ritual irrele-
vant to increasing numbers of Domini-
cans. "The main political leaders date
from the Trujillo period," observes so-
ciologist Vanna lanni, "and they hardly
appeal to voters who were born in the
1 9 70s."
If Balaguer's political style is ar-
chaic, say his critics, so, too, is his
economic policy. The Dominican Re-
public is gradually moving away from
dependence on sugar to the new foreign
exchange earners of tourism, offshore
manufacturing, and remittances from
the Dominican community in the United
States. Yet Balaguer's instincts remain
rooted in the paternalistic bureaucracy
of trujillismo. The state, formerly
support for the Left. Again, Bosch couldn't
avoid being swept along and, in fact, he
became rapidly radicalized. He had to
face the obvious truth that the United
States had shut him out of power. So,
inspired not so much by ideology as by an
intelligent evaluation of what was hap-
pening at the time (the Left was the only
force capable of sustaining him), Bosch
became its leader, gradually displacing
the leftist political parties. He lost to
Balaguer [in the 1966 elections], then
went into exile, as part of a series of
informal agreements with Balaguer.
"Once in exile, Bosch became very
theoretical and proclaimed himself a
Marxist. He went to Cuba and received an
award from Fidel. In the late 1960s, Bosch
published a document entitled "Dictator-
ship With Popular Support," aprogramto
establish himself at the head of a leftist
government. Bosch did flirt with Marx-
ism; however, he never claimed to be a
Marxist-Leninist. He admitted to accept-
ing Marxism as a tool of analysis, but he
never systematically advocated socialist
revolution. He spoke more of national
liberation than of socialism. Of course,
the Right was not that far off the mark
when it called Bosch a communist, be-
cause his discourse really was very close
to that of the communists, and he did try to
persuade communists to join up with him.
"In the early 1970s, Bosch was faced
with a dilemma: He wanted to maintain
Trujillo's private domain, is still an
important economic actor, holding in-
terests in sugar, utilities and several
large construction and manufacturing
firms. Despite its record of mismanage-
ment and financial insolvency, the
public sector remains a pillar of
Balaguer's economic program, provid-
ing ample territory for political appoint-
ments and favoritism. The president is
happy to take credit for the boom in
tourism and the Free Trade Zones dur-
ing the last twenty years, although
economists and business leaders insist
the government's Draconian fiscal
policies are a disincentive to invest-
The business community has been
openly critical of government policy,
particularly the handling of the coun-
try's foreign exchange shortage. The
tourist industry was outraged by
Balaguer's attempt to force all foreign
visitors to change $100 at the official
exchange rate, a move that was quickly
his radical discourse, but more than that
he wanted to keep control of the PRD
against an opposition sector led by [Jos6
Francisco] Pefia G6mez. By that time,
given the relative stability of the political
situation, the United States had begun to
make contact with groups outside of
Balaguer's clique. By 1971, the United
States was linking up with members of the
PRD in order to isolate Bosch, and an
intense power struggle was underway
within the party. Old leftists like Pefia
G6mez and [Jacobo] Majluta were pulled
along by the rightist drift of the PRD, and
Bosch withdrew [in 1973] to form the
Partido de la Liberaci6n Dominicana
(PLD). He remained politically marginal
for several years, and this isolation made
him even more disposed to try to create a
base among the old guard Left.
"The new, more conservative PRD
won the presidency in 1978, while Bosch
stayed in the leftist camp. Once in power,
however, the PRD lost support and was
weakened by infighting. Bosch realized
that it was the right time for a comeback,
but that the leftist option was no longer
viable. In 1981 then, with an eye toward
the 1982 elections, he veered noticeably
to the right. In 1982, the PLD was still
somewhat of a leftist party, but by 1986
there was virtually no substantive differ-
ence between the platforms of the PRD
and the PLD. And by the 1990 elections,
the PLD's program was actually to the
dropped. Policy shifts of this sort led
many industrialists to support Bosch
during the election campaign, but oth-
ers continued to be skeptical of all the
candidates. "There is no party in the
country that represents the interests of
the private sector," one leading busi-
nessman remarked. "Because of our
caudillos, a whole generation of quali-
fied and competent Dominicans has
been excluded from the political proc-
A number of organizations have
surfaced outside the discredited party
system. On the one hand, there are the
local popular movements which sprang
up during the anti-IMF protests of the
early 1980s. Generally focused on
struggles for better services in poor
barrios, they have shown a militancy
absent in the main opposition parties.
On the other, a group called Moderno,
founded in late 1989 by younger entre-
preneurs and technbcrats, provides a
mouthpiece for the modernizing cur-
right of all the other major political par-
ties, advocating economic privatization.
"There is nothing leftist anymore
about the PLD's platform: Bosch has re-
turned to his anticommunist populism,
and his electoral program is really the
most coherent plan for restructuring
Dominican capitalism. If the upper class
had any political sense, it would be behind
Bosch, but he has only been accepted
fully by a sophisticated sector of the elite.
"The PLD continues to be a social
democratic-style alternative. even with-
out the theoretical philosophy of social
democracy. Within the PLD, there are
still many people who consider them-
selves leftists. Why do they work for the
PLD, with a rightist program? Because
they believe that at the moment there is
nothing else to do. For one thing, they are
faithful followers of Bosch. Bosch is a
caudillo leader, and they trust that what
'eljefe' does is correct. Secondly, they are
looking for a way to survive politically, to
be able to form a democratic, reformist
government: privatize, but then improve
living conditions through state programs
in education, health, housing and welfare.
They see the PLD as an arena for social
action. There is another important point:
Many in the PLD, people on the Left, feel
strongly that the time has come to take
power, that they have spent too much time
out of power and that for the party to
survive it has to get back into office."

Tags: Dominican Republic, Juan Bosch, Election, neoliberal, opposition

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