Joaquin Balaguer y Ricardo

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Joaquin Balaguer y Ricardo

An author and politician, Joaquin Balaguer (born 1907) served seven nonconsecutive terms as president of the Dominican Republic between 1960 and 1996.

Joaquin Balaguer y Ricardo was born on September 1, 1907. He received most of his education in the Dominican Republic, graduating with a law degree from the national university in Santo Domingo. He also did advanced studies in France.

Gains Prominence during Trujillo Regime

During the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo Molina, Balaguer gained recognition both as a scholar and as a government official. His particular fields of scholarly research were history and international affairs, and he wrote a number of books on these topics.

Soon after completing his education, Balaguer went to work in 1932 for the Dominican government, rising through the ranks. By the 1940s he was in the diplomatic service and served as ambassador, first to Colombia and then to Mexico. Following these appointments he became secretary to the president.

When Trujillo arranged to have his brother Hector reelected to the presidency in 1957, he chose Balaguer as vice-president. Three years later, when pressure from the Organization of American States convinced the dictator that it was inappropriate to have a member of his family as president, Trujillo forced his brother to resign, and Balaguer succeeded to the post.

The position of Balaguer in the Trujillo regime was unusual. Mild of manner, soft-spoken, and short of stature, he had a reputation for being honest, which was rare among high officials of the dictatorship. It was also well known within the administration that he had used his limited influence to save a number of individuals from the vengeance of the dictator. Balaguer himself described his situation as president during the last months of the Trujillo dictatorship as that of being "the most important prisoner in the republic." He was kept under strictest surveillance by Trujillo's various police forces and was given little opportunity to wield effectively the theoretical power of the office he occupied.

Political Turmoil and Exile in the Early 1960s

With the assassination of Rafael Trujillo in May 1961, Balaguer's role changed dramatically. During the remainder of the year he devoted himself to dismantling the dictatorship which he had inherited. He used the influence of Trujillo's son Rafael, Jr., to disarm private armies of the dictator's brothers but subsequently cooperated in exiling Rafael and his uncles. At the end of January 1962 the air force chief Rodriguez Echeverria ousted Balaguer and established a short-lived dictatorship.

Balaguer went into exile, and during most of the next three years lived in New York City. After the outbreak of civil war in April 1965 and intervention by U.S. troops, Balaguer returned home. With the establishment of a provisional government under President Hector Garcia Godoy and the calling of elections, Balaguer and former president Juan Bosch became the principal opponents for the presidency. Balaguer defeated Bosch by a substantial majority.

Elected to Presidency Six Times

The second Balaguer regime was turbulent. He sought to pacify the enmities surviving from the Trujillo regime and from the 1965 civil war, but political murders were frequent during his administration. He succeeded in partially rehabilitating the government's finances, which were in a chaotic state, and pushed through a modest program of economic development. Attempting to rehabilitate his reputation, Balaguer sought to maintain a democratic regime, but he was impeded by remnants of the Trujillo government, by left-wing extremists, and even by elements of the Partido Revolucionario Dominicano of Juan Bosch, who had lost all faith in democratic procedures in the Dominican Republic. Balaguer won re-election in 1970 and 1974, but he was defeated by Antonio Guzman in 1978 amid national economic strife and allegations of corruption within his administration.

Although in his mid-seventies, Balaguer continued his engagement in political life with an unsuccessful bid to regain the presidency in 1982. The candidate of the Social Christian Reform Party, he was returned to office in the election of 1986 and held the presidency through subsequent elections in 1990 and 1994. Labor unrest, violent anti-government protests, and calls for Balaguer's resignation followed his 1990 victory, when food and fuel shortages plagued the country, and Balaguer initiated a program of tight economic controls in an effort to limit inflation and reduce the government deficit. Ultimately, charges of election fraud led to the shortening of his seventh term to two rather than four years. In a special election held June 30, 1996, Lionel Fernandez Reyna emerged as Balaguer's successor with an international delegation that included former U.S. President Jimmy Carter monitoring the ballot procedures.

In November of that same year, Balaguer was named in a suit charging the misappropriation of more than $700 million in government funds during his time in office. Two additional suits named Balaguer as a conspirator in the murders of opposition journalists in 1975 and 1994. Balaguer's History of Dominican Literature (1955) was issued in English translation in 1978. His memoirs of the Trujillo era were published in 1996.

Further Reading

Because his career in public life extended over several decades, information on Balaguer may be found in such surveys as Frank Moya Pons, The Dominican Republic: A National History (1995), Emelio Betances, State and Society in the Dominican Republic (1995), Jan Knippers Black, The Dominican Republic: Politics and Development in an Unsovereign State (1986), and G. Pope Atkins, Arms and Politics in the Dominican Republic (1981). □

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Joaquin Balaguer

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