Balaguer, Joaquín (1907–2002)

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Balaguer, Joaquín (1907–2002)

Joaquín Balaguer, born in Villa Bisonó on 1 September 1907, was a Dominican author, lawyer, politician, and three-time president of the Dominican Republic (1960–1962, 1966–1978, 1986–1996). He studied law at both Santo Domingo and Paris, receiving a doctorate of law from each. In 1930 he became involved in the conspiracy of Rafael Estrella Ureña against president Horacio Vásquez, which brought Rafael-Leónidas Trujillo Molina to power. Balaguer served the Trujillo regime in important ambassadorial posts abroad and as minister of education, vice president (1957–1960), and president (1960–1961) at home. Whereas most members of Trujillo's government used their positions for personal enrichment, Balaguer continued to lead his modest bachelor existence.

In the wake of Trujillo's assassination in 1961, Balaguer served as an important transitional figure between the end of the era of Trujillo and the presidential elections in 1962. He initiated a number of reforms that were designed to persuade the Organization of American States to lift its sanctions against the Dominican Republic. Balaguer opposed the attempt of Trujillo's brothers José Arismendi and Héctor Bienvenido to resurrect Trujilloism without Trujillo. He presided over the Council of State that ruled the country until the inauguration of the new president in February 1963. As the nation's political situation became volatile in late 1962, Balaguer decided upon exile in New York City. Thus he was absent from the Dominican Republic during Juan Bosch's ephemeral presidency (1963); the military coup and subsequent triumvirate headed by Donald Reid Cabral, and the 1965 revolution, civil war, and foreign intervention.

During the presidential elections of 1966, Balaguer was the candidate of the Reformist Party (PR), which he founded during his years in exile. He won 57 percent of the vote. Thus began the twelve-year era of Balaguer, which witnessed his reelection as president in 1970 and 1974. The era was marked by massive aid from the United States, an economic boom triggered by the rise in world sugar prices, and a large building program that included the restoration of the colonial part of Santo Domingo.

After an interlude of presidents belonging to the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) from 1978 to 1986, Balaguer was elected president in 1986 and reelected in 1990 and 1994. During these years, he engaged in an extensive public works campaign that included building schools, housing projects, roads, libraries, sports complexes, and museums. However, the Dominican economy was too weak to support such projects, and his final legacy was one of heavy debts and economic stress. By 1996, international pressure against him caused him to voluntarily leave office two years before his term was up.

In the 2000 election, he ran again for president but was defeated. That same year, he refused to testify in a trial resulting from a 1975 incident involving a left-wing journalist, Orlando Martínez, who criticized his presidency and was later executed by a death squad that included Dominican Republic military officers. In 2000, the death squad members were sentenced to the maximum possible jail time for their crimes.

Balaguer, blind and frail, died on 14 June 2002, at the age of ninety-five. His political career had spanned seven decades, with twenty-two years as president. Despite the many controversies that surrounded him, Balaguer is remembered as the Dominican Republic's outstanding statesman of the twentieth century. His contributions to Dominican literature are significant, especially his critical history, Historia de la literatura dominicana (1956), other works of literary criticism, historical works on the Trujillo era, including Memorias de un cortesano (1989), and his work on Dominican relations with Haiti, La isla revés: Haiti y el destino dominicano (1983). Balaguer's intense rivalry with Bosch extended to literary as well as political pursuits.

See alsoDominican Republic; Trujillo Molina, Rafael Leónidas.


Balaguer's writings also include La política internacional de Trujillo (1941), Semblanzas literarias (1948), Entre la sangre del 30 de mayo y la del 24 de abril (1983), La voz del capitolio (1984), and Memorias de un cortesano de la "era de Trujillo" (1988). See also James Nelson Goodsell, "Balaguer's Dominican Republic," in Current History 53, no. 315 (1967): 298-302.

Additional Bibliography

Bosch, Brian J. Balaguer and the Dominican Military: Presidential Control of the Factional Officer Troops in the 1960s and 1970s. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2007.

Estrella Veloz, Santiago. Tres maestros de la política. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic: Editora Callado, 2005.

Gómez Bergés, Victor. Balaguer y yo: La historia. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic: Cuesta-Veliz Ediciones, 2006.

Infante, Fernando A. 12 años de Balaguer: Cronología histórica, 1966–1978. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic: Editorial Letra Gráfica, 2006.

Rodríguez de León, Francisco. Trujillo y Balaguer: Entre la espada y la palabra, 1930–1962. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic: Nostrum, Letra Gráfica, 2004.

                                  Kai P. Schoenhals