Dominican Republic: Elections

September 25, 2007

By the early morning of May 17, 1978, it had become clear that the Revolutionary Dominican Party (PRD)-populist, social-democratic and reformist was building to a substantial
victory over President Joaquin Balaguer and his Reformist Party in balloting in the Dominican Republic. Clear, that is, to everyone but those members of the Dominican police and military who clung tenaciously to Balaguer, disbelieving that their Jefe could have been so soundly rejected by the Dominican people.

Far from accepting the popular verdict, military troops appeared at the headquarters of the National Election Board in
Santo Domingo at 4:00 AM on May 17, halting the tabulation
process and seizing the ballots. This apparent coup d'etat -
affirmed and denied many times during the tense days of May 17-19 - created a situation in which, weeks after the initial balloting, no one could say who would finally occupy the chair of honor for the August 16 Presidential inauguration.


In many ways, the Dominican electoral crisis of May 1978 is a
direct outgrowth of the U.S. military intervention in the Dominican Republic thirteen years earlier. The principal contending forces arose directly from the invasion of 20,000 U.S. Marines. They had been sent by Lyndon Johnson to crush a popular rebellion designed to return to office the popular President, Juan Bosch, who had been ousted by the military two years earlier. The United States became the major force behind the reconstruction of both the Dominican police force and its military services. The head of the new police force-rebuilt under the direction of Dan Mitrione-was Enrique Perez y Perez, one of the two top generals in the Dominican military today.

The United States also directed and disciplined the post-invasion Dominican Army through its Military Aid and Assistance Programs and by providing the new Dominican generals the opportunity of forcing the pro-Constitutionalist members of the military out of Santo Domingo. These pro-Bosch military forces were guaranteed reintegration into the Army under the terms of the October 1965 "Peace Treaty" which concluded the Constitutionalist uprising. The U.S. Consulate, however, provided them instead with special visas, and many soon found themselves in exile on the upper West Side of Manhattan. Similarly, the United States personally groomed Joaquin Balaguer to head the Dominican government in 1966. One of Balaguer's early acts after taking office was to open the doors of the country to the Gulf & Western Corporation. Less than 10 years later, Gulf & Western had become the country's
largest foreign investor, privage landowner, and employer. It accounted for over one-third of the sugar produced in the country and was the island's only private manager and operator of an industrial free zone.

Ironically, while U.S. aid insured Balaguer's control over
the country, it also allowed Balaguer to create a new military
leadership more beholden to him than to the Pentagon. The commander of the National Police who ordered the intervention of the polls on May 17, Major General Neit Nivar Seijas, was
placed in power nine years ago by Balaguer to counter the
powerful pro-U.S. General Perez y P6rez. Although both generals have greatly benefited from their years in power they continue to mistrust each other.

A few years ago, Balaguer, fearing P6rez's power, forced
him into retirement. When he brought him back ;nto active duty
last year to consolidate the military during his crucial test of leadership in the current elections, it was as Commander of
the First Brigade, the most powerful force in the country-
next to that of Nivar Seijas.

Here, then, was a major source of tension on May 17- whether these two military forces would challenge each other. They did not. The electoral intervention has put Nivar Seijas out on a thin limb, however, as many have since suggested he should be dismissed for such action. If he goes, then General Perez once again becomes the top military official, and the Pentagon retains its man in the central position of power in the country.


To a large extent, the recent history of the Revolutionary Dominican Party (PRD), the major opposition force, was also fashioned by the U.S. Marine invasion of 1965. Founded in
1961 by Juan Bosch, the early PRD developed-and tried to
implement-a number of radical reforms. The 1963 Constitution,
the high point of Bosch's seven-month presidency, blocked
foreign takeover of Dominican assets, provided for profit sharing by workers in agriculture and industry, prohibited large landholdings and restricted the right of foreigners to acquire Dominican land. When Bosch was ousted by the military, the Constitution went with him.

In the years following the 1965 pro-Constitutionalist rebellion, the PRD drifted to the Right, traumatized to a certain extent by the massive military power of the United States and demoralized by the expulsion of their military
cadre to New York. More than before, the PRD became a party
of the liberal bourgeoisie even though it maintained a following among poor workers and the peasantry.

Bosch himself left the party in 1973 to form the Partido de
Liberaci6n Dominicana (PLD), and Jose Francisco Peha Gomez
took over as Secretary General. Even though, to Bosch's dismay, few PRD members followed him out of the party, from that point on it increasingly lost its ideological clarity and the remnants of its radicalism evaporated. Its unity derived more from constant harassment and repression by the police and military than from party discipline and political clarity.

In recent years the PRD has turned increasingly to European
social democrats for economic assistance and ideological
orientation. At the same time, its remaining progressive programs (agrarian reform, nationalization of foreign corporations) have deteriorated to the point where one critic labeled it a "zero program." Similarly, its political leadership-as exemplified by its 1978 candidates-is increasingly drawn from the Dominican bourgeoisie Antonio Guzman, the victor in the presidential race, is a wealthy landowner and cattle rancher. The Manchester Guardian reported that he was, in fact, Washington's first choice, over Belaguer, for president in 1966. Jacobo Majluta, the vice presidential candidate, is an economist and businessman with a history of close ties to foreign corporations. He reportedly is well connected with Sacha Volman, a key CIA-labor operative in the Dominican Republic who now serves as labor advisor to Falconbridge Nickel.(See NACLA's Report, April 1975,p.26-27.) Jorge Blanco, who ran on the PRD ticket for senator from Santo
Domingo, is a lawyer for transnational corporations. Only Pelna Gomez, a black with working class roots, retains the image of a rank-and-file leader. And Guzman has already said that Pena Gomez would take no post in the government and would leave the country for at least one year following the inauguration. Simply put, the PRD has become moderate enough for it to be acceptable to Dominican capitalists and the multi-national leaders.


Why, then, did the military step in to halt the elections? One
element in their decision was the sheer size of the PRD's lead
which represented a strong opposition to Balaguer and the
military. There are strong indications that Belaguer's party foreseeing this eventuality, had obtained thousands of illegal ballots through the use of identification cards issued temporarily to Haitian cane cutters and through other fraudulent means. What became apparent by the early hours of May 17 is that the gap between the two parties both in the cities and the country-side was too great for Balaguer
to counter, even with thousands of fraudulent votes. Options,
short of military intervention, had run out.

While the first vote aged the military to step in to save Balaguer, the "second vote"-a public rejection of the
military's action by members of the Dominican bourgeoisie-
forced Balaguer to recognize that his time had come. On May
18 and 19 leading members of the Dominican bourgeoisie placed in all the newspapers of the country a series of public letters, paid announcements and open declarations denouncing
the military intervention. In addition, prestigious institutions and associations such as the Professional Association, the Patriotic Movement for National Unity, the
Dominican Medical Association, etc., also registered their opposition to the military action. This second vote forced Balaguer out of his self-imposed hiding in the early hours of May 19. On a national TV broadcast he viciously attacked those of his own class who had abandoned him, but he promised to respect the final electoral results.


A month after the election, the maneuvering had not yet ended.
The National Election Board had 30 days in which to declare a
winner, but June 15 passed with no official victor. This led to speculation that Balaguer was still trying to reverse the results in some congressional districts so that his party could retain a majority in the nation's Senate even though it lost the presidency.

The speculation was confirmed as this Report was going to press. On July 8 the Electoral Board accepted the victory of
Guzman and Majluta but ruled that four contested seats in the
Senate would go to Balaguer's Reformist Party. This gave the
Reformists a 16-11 majority in the Senate enabling them,
according to the Washington Post, "to block Guzman's legislation or possibly bring down his government." The Senate
appoints all judges in the Dominican Republic including the chief justice of the Supreme Court who would assume the presidency if the president and vice president were deposed.

Although the future remains cloudy, this much is certain: The
Balaguer regime has been soundly rebuffed by a large majority of Dominicans in the first honest elections since 1962. In protecting the electoral victory with discipline in the face of enormous provocations and intimidation, the Dominican people have demonstrated that 12 years of Balaguerista rule have not crushed the sparks of the Constitutionalist rebellion.

Tags: Dominican Republic, election crisis, Joaquin Balaguer, PRD, Military

Like this article? Support our work. Donate now.