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 alliance. 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 NACLA REPORT ON THE AMERICAS E 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- ment. 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- ess." 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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