September 25, 2007

In the eastern urban sprawl of Santo Domingo, a vast concrete cross-shaped structure is rising steadily into the capi- tal's skyline. A ramshackle and over- crowded barrio was torn down, and thousands of families were evicted to clear the way for the so-called Colum- bus Lighthouse. According to the gov- emment, each was rehoused in a mod- em apartment; organizations working with the ousted communities insist the families were lucky to receive $50 each before seeing their houses bulldozed. Santo Domingo is being beautified for the forthcoming celebrations of the quincentenary, the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus to what is now the Dominican Repub- lic. Old colonial streets have been re- stored, while modern apartment blocks have gone up along the main avenues to James Ferguson is the author of Grenada: Revolution in Reverse and Far From Paradise: An Introduction to Caribbean Development (Latin Amer- ica Bureau, London). and from the airport. But while the building continues relentlessly, the infrastructure is visibly cracking. Many areas of the city and most rural regions receive no more than three or four hours of electricity per day, and potable water is a precious commodity. Vast potholes have appeared in the capital's streets, while uncollected garbage lies rotting on the sidewalks and rats are seen in broad daylight even in "good" neigh- borhoods. Typhoid broke out in July. The contrast between grandiose public works and neglected services is to many Dominicans the hallmark of President Joaquin Balaguer's admini- stration. Now 83 years old and blind, Balaguer has dominated Dominican politics since the assassination of the dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo in 1961. Once Trujillo's secretary and acting president, Balaguer has ruled the country since 1966, with only an eight- year hiatus (1978-1986). Both authori- tarian and paternalistic, his style of government inspires loyalty from many of the rural immigrants who have flooded into the capital in recent years. But many more Dominicans view Balaguer as an anachronism, a hold- over from a previous generation. The Columbus Lighthouse, say critics, is characteristic of the president's mega- lomania: a monument as much to him as to Columbus. Balaguer's sixth term in office be- gan in August on an inauspicious note of disarray. A gathering of the National Assembly on July 18 was intended to hear the official declaration of his elec- tion victory. Unfortunately, due to a boycott of the ceremony by opposition parties, the Chamber of Deputies failed to reach the required quorum. The Assembly waited seven hours while helicopters were sent to fetch absent deputies from outlying districts. Not until late in the afternoon were enough elected members of Balaguer's Partido Reformista Social Cristiano (PRSC) present to hear what everybody already knew-that the ruling party and vet- eran president had won yet another four years in power. The response in Santo Domingo was perhaps best described as resigned and cynical. After the May 16 elec- tions, it was apparent that the PRSC would be credited with victory, albeit by a very slim majority. What was less apparent was the extent to which the widespread accusations of electoral fraud would undermine the govern- ment's credibility. As soon as the pre- liminary results were announced by the Junta Central Electoral (JCE), the two main opposition parties rallied behind calls that Balaguer had cheated. Juan Bosch's historically left-leaning Par- tido de la Liberaci6n Dominicana (PLD) maintained that Balaguer's Reformis- tas had conspired with the JCE to per- petuate the fraud. The social-demo- cratic Partido de la Revoluci6n Dom- inicana (PRD), headed by Jos6 Fran- cisco Pefia G6mez, also complained that the PRSC had cheated in order to secure an edge in the Senate. The most common accusations were that the PRSC had falsified voter regis- tration lists and identity cards, allow- ing thousands of Balaguer supporters to vote at least twice. The PLD also alleged that 10,000 military personnel, constitutionally barred from voting, had taken part in the poll. With Balaguer's lead over Bosch put at only 24,000, the NACLA REPORT ON THE AMERICAS 4C LL t U C cc Once the mansion of former dictator Trujillo, this building is now occupied by 92 squatter families: Political leaders still hail from the Trujillo period PLD claimed that these tricks-together with computer fraud-were enough to settle the contest in Balaguer's favor. And there were damaging rumors sur- rounding the JCE: According to one PLD official, the electoral council turned a blind eye to the fraud because its president, Dr. Froilin Tavares, owed a special debt of gratitude to Balaguer, who had once helped Tavares' son evade drug charges. Playing by the Old Rules Allegations of fraud and bureau- cratic incompetence, of course, are part and parcel of the four-yearly Domini- can electoral process. Every election since the end of the 30-year Trujillo dictatorship has been clouded by accu- sations of cheating, long delays in announcing results and even military intervention. Thus, the PLD's latest allegations raised few eyebrows. After the provisional results were announced, an incensed Bosch called on his supporters to take to the streets, but he withdrew the call the following day. When the final figures were made public two weeks later, the PLD organ- ized a two-day general strike in "na- tional mourning," though, except for the national university, there was scant response in Santo Domingo. Many smaller towns and villages, however, were effectively closed down for 48 hours, and several clashes with security VOLUME XXIV, NUMBER 3 (NOVEMBER 1990) forces were reported. But this was only a symbolic show of strength, with no clear objectives and little coordination. Fraud aside, Balaguer's victory re- flected substantial but declining sup- port among sectors of Dominican soci- ety. Those benefitting from the PRSC's pork-barrel politics and from the con- struction boom voted for Balaguer, as did traditional conservatives and the older land-owning elite. His election slogan--' un camino sin peligro" ("a safe path")-played on fears that an administration headed by Juan Bosch would return the country to the instabil- ity and civil war of the 1960s, when Bosch spent a rocky seven months as president before being ousted in a U.S.- inspired coup. Yet Bosch's program contained little that was radical and hardly differed from Balaguer's in its emphasis on tourism, agribusiness and export-led manufacturing as the basis for economic recovery. Choosing a well- known businessman as his vice-presi- dential running mate, Bosch presented himself as an ally of local and foreign investors and tried to capitalize on the growing rift between Balaguer and more progressive elements within the Do- minican business community. Speeches emphasizing the PLD's commitment to private enterprise and a deregulated economy confirmed Bosch's conspicu- ous rightward drift since the early 1980s. Bosch's defeat was partly due to a number of well-publicized controver- sies during the run-up to the elections. Remarks concerning the influence of the Catholic Church and the armed forces in Dominican life were inter- preted by the pro-government media as proof of the 80-year-old contender's atheism and anti-militarism. More worrying for large numbers of workers in the extensive state sector were the PLD's pledges to deregulate and pri- vatize public utilities and companies as part of its modernization campaign. Even so, Bosch scored an achievement by raising the PLD's voting percentage to 34%, from 10% in 1982 and 18% in 1986, ousting Pefia G6mez's PRD as the country's main opposition party. The principal factor in Balaguer's victory was undoubtedly the division within the opposition. According to the JCE's figures, the victorious PRSC and its allied parties (notably the small right- wing Partido Quisqueyano Dem6crata) received a mere 35% of the vote. The PLD won its 34%, while Pefia G6mez's PRD confounded pollsters with 23%. Abstention was estimated at half of all eligible voters. While high abstention is not unknown in Dominican elec- tions, the split vote was unprecedented, making this the first truly three-party contest since 1966. The political malaise affected the Left, too, still traumatized by the sectar- ian splits of the early 1980s. Most groups, including the Partido Comunista Dominicano (PCD) boycotted the elec- tion. The Bloque Socialista, led by Rafael "Fafa" Tavares, however, sup- The Columbus Lighthouse: A monument as much to Balaguer as to Columbus ccported Pefia G6mez's presidential campaign, having earlier and unsuc- cessfully campaigned for a wide anti- Balaguer alliance. Tavares' electoral alliance with the PRD was condemned by other left-wing groups as opportun- istic, and the Bloque Socialista received a mere 0.14% of the vote, but gained one seat in the Chamber of Deputies. The Partido de los Trabajadores Dom- inicanos (PTD) also backed Pefia G6mez with the same results: 0.14% of the vote and a seat in Congress. Compared to the two aged caudil- los, Pefia G6mez ran a vigorous and ef- fective campaign. The PRD was forced to compete against a dissident faction, led by conservative former president Jacobo Majluta, whose new Partido Revolucionario Independiente (PRI) won almost 7% of the vote. The PRD had also to overcome a negative image of corruption and incompetence inher- ited from its eight years in office (1978- 1986). Nevertheless, Pefia G6mez suc- THE BOSCH PENDULUM INTERVIEW WITH ROBERTO CASSA BY ROBERT FOX & MICHAEL KAMBER 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." VOLUME XXIV. NUMBER 3 (NOVEMBER 1990) 7 VOLUME XXIV, NUMBER 3 (NOVEMBER 1990) 7rent within the Dominican business community. Neither Moderno nor the popular movements, however, have articulated a coherent national program, and neither sector intervened notably during the election campaign. Meanwhile, as President Balaguer begins yet another term of office he faces unprecedented political and eco- nomic problems. If the opposition par- ties unite in Congress, the Reformista government will face difficulties in pursuing its program of anti-inflation- ary austerity. This program was un- veiled before Balaguer's inauguration and consists of devaluing the peso, removing certain food subsidies and raising gas prices by 80%. In the first of a threatened series of general strikes, an unusually united bloc of trade unions and community groups protested against the package of measures during the first week in August. Rioting and retaliation by security forces resulted in eleven dead and more than 1,000 arrested. It was an IMF-approved package of this sort which provoked widespread rioting and 100 deaths in 1984 during the last PRD government, and the memory of that upheaval has deterred Balaguer from further negotiations with the IMF. But the remorseless deteriora- tion of living standards means that more such explosions are by no means un- likely. With the Persian Gulf crisis pushing oil prices higher, the govern- ment's room to maneuver is limited. Repayments on an $800 million debt to commercial banks have already been suspended, and the Dominican Repub- lic owes over $4.5 billion to bilateral and multilateral lenders. Inflation esti- mated at 80% in 1989 has been fueled by Balaguer's extravagant building program, while unemployment may be as high as 40%. Balaguer's main priority, it seems, is to stay alive long enough to preside over the Columbus anniversary cele- brations. The climax of these events will be the inauguration of the Light- house, which, it is boasted, will project a beam visible all over the Caribbean. According to a Dominican joke, though, when the Lighthouse is switched on, the blind president is unlikely to notice its most dramatic effect: the final col- lapse of the capital's creaking electrical system and Santo Domingo's plunge into darkness.

Tags: Dominican Republic, Joaquin Balaguer, fraud, poverty, pork-barrel spending

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