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Joaquín Balaguer

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Joaquín Balaguer

Joaquín Balaguer
41st, 45th & 49th President of the Dominican Republic
In office
August 16, 1986 – August 16, 1996
Vice President Carlos Morales Troncoso (1986–1994)

Jacinto Peynado (1994–1996)

Preceded by Salvador Jorge Blanco
Succeeded by Leonel Fernández
In office
July 1, 1966 – August 16, 1978
Vice President Francisco Augusto Lora (1966–1970)

Carlos Rafael Goico Morales (1970–1978)

Preceded by Héctor García-Godoy
Succeeded by Antonio Guzmán Fernández
In office
August 3, 1960 – January 16, 1962
Vice President Rafael Filiberto Bonnelly (1960-1962)
Preceded by Héctor Trujillo
Succeeded by Civic-Military Council
24th Vice President of the Dominican Republic
In office
August 16, 1957 – August 3, 1960
Preceded by Position abolished
Succeeded by Rafael Filiberto Bonnelly
Personal details
Born September 1, 1906
Villa Bisonó, Dominican Republic
Died July 14, 2002 (aged 95)
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Political party Dominican Party
Social Christian Reformist Party
Spouse(s) none
Occupation Lawyer, Diplomat
Religion Roman Catholic

Joaquín Antonio Balaguer Ricardo (September 1, 1906 – July 14, 2002) was the President of the Dominican Republic who served three non-consecutive terms for that office for his first term from 1960 to 1962, again for a second term from 1966 to 1978, and again for a third and final term from 1986 to 1996.


  • Early life and introduction to politics 1
  • First presidency and its aftermath 2
  • "The Twelve Years" (1966-1978) 3
  • Defeat and return to power 4
  • Third presidency 5
  • Death and legacy 6
  • Bibliography 7
  • Notes 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10

Early life and introduction to politics

Balaguer was born in Villa Bisonó (also known as Navarrete), Santiago Province in the northwestern corner of the Dominican Republic. His father was Joaquín Balaguer Lespier,[1] a Puerto Rican native of Catalan and French ancestry,[1][2] and his mother was Carmen Celia Ricardo Heureaux,[1] daughter of Manuel de Jesus Ricardo and Rosa Amelia Heureaux,[1] who was also a cousin of President Ulises Heureaux.[1][1] Balaguer was the only son in a family of several daughters.[1]

From a very early age, Balaguer felt an attraction to literature, composing verses that were published in local magazines even when he was very young. He became involved in politics due to the American military occupation (1916–24). After graduating from school, Balaguer earned a law degree from the University of Santo Domingo and studied for a brief period at the University of Paris I Pantheon-Sorbonne. As a youth, Balaguer wrote of the awe with which he was struck by his father’s fellow countryman, the Harvard graduate and political leader from Puerto Rico, Pedro Albizu. Despite the profound differences regarding their ethical and world visions, Albizu’s fiery and charismatic rhetoric captured Balaguer’s imagination and his recollection of this occasion was a harbinger of his passion for politics and intellectual debate.

Balaguer’s political career began in 1930 (before Rafael Trujillo took control of the government) when he was appointed Attorney in the Court of Properties. In later years, he served as Secretary of the Dominican Legation in Madrid (1932–1935), Undersecretary of the Presidency (1936), Undersecretary of Foreign Relations (1937), Extraordinary Ambassador to Colombia and Ecuador (1940–1943 and 1943–1947), Ambassador to Mexico (1947-1949), Secretary of Education (1949–1955), and Secretary of State of Foreign Relations (1953–1956).

There has been much discussion regarding Balaguer’s role during the Era of Trujillo, especially the relationship between the diminutive soft-spoken scholar and the boisterous Generalissimo. Throughout the three decades working as a Trujillista politician, Balaguer was seen alternately both as a mere employee or as a distinguished close counselor of Trujillo. Despite the fact that Trujillo notoriously enjoyed humiliating and insulting his "servants" in public, the dictator never tried to degrade Balaguer nor to play practical jokes on him.

Balaguer reciprocated Trujillo’s respect by spending the three decades of the Era as one of the most efficient public aides of the dictatorship, without seeming perturbed or showing the smallest gesture of disgust for the excesses and aberrations that were common at the time. Balaguer was, without doubt, a useful minister of Trujillo, although it is not entirely possible to speak of total loyalty.

First presidency and its aftermath

When Trujillo arranged to have his brother Organization of American States (OAS) 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. However, he had virtually no power, and was regarded as a mere puppet to Trujillo.

The situation was dramatically altered, however, when Trujillo was assassinated in May 1961. Trujillo's son, Ramfis, initially inherited power with Balaguer as his puppet. They initially took steps to liberalize the regime, granting some civil liberties and easing Trujillo's tight censorship of the press. Meanwhile, he revoked the nonaggression pact made with Cuba in January 1961. These measures did not go nearly far enough for a populace who had no memory of the instability and poverty that preceded Trujillo, and wanted more freedom and a more equal distribution of wealth. At the same time, even these meager reforms went too far for the hard-line trujillistas led by Ramfis' uncles, Héctor and José Arismendi Trujillo. As the OAS continued economic sanctions imposed for Trujillo's attempted murder of Venezuelan President Romulo Betancourt, Ramfis warned that the country could descend into civil war between left and right.

Although official and unofficial repression of the opposition parties (the Dominican Revolutionary Party and National Civic Union, as well as the communist Dominican Popular Movement) continued, Balaguer publicly condemned this repression and in September he pledged to form a coalition government. Hector and Jose Trujillo left the country in October but the opposition parties demanded Ramfis withdraw from the government as well. At the end of October, Ramfis announced that he would resign if the OAS agreed to lift the economic sanctions. The OAS agreed on November 14 but Ramfis’ uncles returned to the country the following day, hoping to lead a military coup. Ramfis resigned and went into exile on November 17 and rumours circulated that Air Force general Fernando Arturo Sánchez Otero would support pro-Castro revolutionaries. The United States now sent a small fleet of ships and 1,800 marines to patrol Dominican waters. The US consul informed Balaguer that these forces stood ready to intervene at his request, and would be supported by forces from Venezuela and Colombia. Air Force general Rodríguez Echavarría announced his support for Balaguer and bombed pro-Trujillo forces. The Trujillo brothers again fled the country on November 20 and Echaverría became Secretary of Armed Forces.[4][5]

The Union Civica Nacional (UCN) called a national strike and demanded the formation of a provisional government under their leader, Viriato Fiallo, with elections to be delayed until 1964. The military were vehemently against the UCN taking power and Echaverría proposed a continuation of the Balaguer regime until the elections. The American consul mediated between the two sides and in January 1962 final agreement led to the creation of a seven-member Council of State, led by Balaguer but including members of the UCN, to replace both the Dominican Congress and the President and his cabint until the election.[6] The OAS finally lifted sanctions against the country upon the formation of the council. However, popular unrest against Balaguer continued and many saw Echaverría as positioning himself to seize power. Military forces opened fire on demonstrators on January 14 which led to rioting the following day. On January 16, Balaguer resigned and Echaverría staged a military coup d'état and arrested the other member of the council. With the US supporting the UCN and a new national strike beginning immediately, Echaverría was arrested by other officers two days later. The Council of State was restored under the leadership of Rafael Bonnelly and Balaguer went into exile in New York and Puerto Rico.[7]

During those years the Dominican Republic had only seven months of true democracy, under the presidency of Juan Bosch from February 1963. When a military coup overthrew Bosch, the country began a tumultuous period which resulted in the civil war of April 24, 1965. Military officers had revolted against the provisional Junta to restore Bosch, whereupon U.S. President Lyndon Johnson, under the pretext of eliminating Communist influence in the Caribbean sent 42,000 U.S. troops to defeat the revolt in Operation Power Pack, on April 28. The provisional government, headed by Héctor García-Godoy, announced general elections for 1966. Balaguer seized his chance, and using his mother's illness as an excuse, asked permission to return from exile, which was granted. He formed the Reformist Party and entered the presidential race against Bosch, campaigning as a moderate conservative advocating gradual and orderly reforms. He quickly gained the support of the establishment and easily defeated Bosch, who ran a somewhat muted campaign out of fear of military retribution.

President Joaquin Balaguer (center) presented with a bust of John F. Kennedy from President Richard Nixon. Nixon's brother Donald is on his right and Howard Hughes business associate John H. Meier is on his left (1969).

"The Twelve Years" (1966-1978)

Balaguer found a nation severely beaten by decades of turbulence, with few short times of peace, and virtually ignorant of democracy and human rights. He sought to pacify the enmities surviving from the Trujillo regime and from the 1965 civil war, but political murders continued to be frequent during his administration. He succeeded in partially rehabilitating the public finances, which were in a chaotic state, and pushed through a modest program of economic development. He was easily reelected in 1970 against fragmented opposition and won again in 1974 after changing the voting rules in a way that led the opposition to boycott the race.

During his years as president (known popularly in Dominican politics as simply "the twelve years"), Balaguer ordered the construction of schools, hospitals, dams, roads, and many important buildings. He also presided over steady economic growth. However, his administration soon developed a distinct authoritarian cast, constitutional guarantees notwithstanding. Political opponents were jailed and sometimes killed, and opposition newspapers were occasionally seized. Despite his authoritarian methods, Balaguer had far less power than Trujillo, and his rule was much milder.

Defeat and return to power

In 1978, Balaguer sought a fourth term. However, by this time, inflation was on the rise, and the great majority of the people had gotten little benefit from the economic boom of the past decade. Balaguer faced Antonio Guzmán, a wealthy rancher running under the banner of the Dominican Revolutionary Party. When election returns showed an unmistakable trend in Guzmán's favor, the military stopped the count. However, amid vigorous protests at home and strong pressure abroad, the count resumed. When the returns were all in, Guzmán handed Balaguer the first loss of his electoral career. When Balaguer left office that year, it marked the first time in the Dominican Republic's history that an incumbent president peacefully surrendered power to an elected member of the opposition.

In the 1982 elections, the PRD's Social Christian Reformist Party two years earlier.

Balaguer ran again in 1986, and took advantage of a split in the PRD and an unpopular austerity program to win the presidency again after an eight-year absence. By this time, he was 80 years old and almost completely blind (he had suffered from glaucoma for many years).

Third presidency

Balaguer's third presidency was considerably more liberal than the previous one. He was much more tolerant of opposition parties and human rights.

He undertook massive infrastructure projects, such as the construction of highways, bridges, schools, housing projects and hospitals. Following the style of Trujillo, these highly visible projects were very publicized over government-controlled media and through grandiose public ceremonies designed to enhance Balaguer's popularity. The projects were also used as a means to reward his political supporters with lucrative public works contracts. The economy also improved considerably.

Balaguer was narrowly reelected in 1990, defeating his old foe Juan Bosch by only 22,000 votes out of 1.9 million votes cast amid charges of fraud.

For the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' landing in the Americas and the visit of Pope John Paul II, Balaguer spent millions on a restoration of parts of historic, colonial Santo Domingo, and on sprucing up the parts of the City to be transversed by the Pope, including the construction of a grand new avenue lined with modern housing blocks.
Faro a Colón (Columbus Lighthouse)

More controversial was that Balaguer spent two hundred million US Dollars on the construction of a massive ten-story Columbus Lighthouse. Completed in 1992, the Columbus Lighthouse was designed to beam the image of a Christian cross into the night sky and to be visible for tens of miles. Since completion, the Columbus Lighthouse, which supposedly houses Columbus' remains, has been a minor tourist attraction. Its light has almost never been used due to extremely high energy costs and frequent blackouts in the country. However, its symbolism and expense were the source of much controversy.

In January 1994 he decided to run again for the presidency, even when he was almost 90 years old and completely blind. This time, his most prominent opponent was José Francisco Peña of the PRD.

The campaign was one of the nastiest in Dominican history. Balaguer frequently played up Peña's Haitian ancestry to his advantage; Dominicans historically have a deep fear and mistrust of anyone with Haitian blood. For example, Balaguer claimed that Peña would try to merge the country with Haiti if elected. When the returns were announced, Balaguer was announced as the winner by only 30,000 votes. However, many PRD supporters showed up to vote only to discover their names had vanished from the rolls. Peña screamed fraud, and called a general strike. Demonstrations took place in support of the strike.

An investigation later revealed that the electoral board didn't know the total number of registered voters, and the voting lists distributed at polling stations didn't match those given to the parties. The investigation also revealed that about 200,000 people had been removed from the polls. Amid such questions about the poll's legitimacy, Balaguer agreed to hold new elections in 1996—in which he would not be a candidate. It would be the first presidential election since 1966 in which Balaguer's name did not appear on the ballot.

In the 1996 election, Balaguer's vice president, Jacinto Peynado, finished well short of making it to the runoff. Balaguer then threw his support to the Dominican Liberation Party's Leonel Fernández in an unusual coalition with Bosch, his political foe of over 30 years.

Death and legacy

In 2000, Balaguer decided to seek an eighth term as president. He won around 23% of the votes in the election, well short of the runoff. He did, however, assure the victory of PRD candidate Hipólito Mejía by hinting that his supporters might split their votes between Mejía and PLD candidate Danilo Medina in the runoff. Medina would have needed nearly all of Balaguer's supporters to overcome a 25-point deficit in the first round, and when it was apparent he would be lucky to get half of them, he pulled out of the runoff.

On July 14, 2002, Joaquín Balaguer died of heart failure at Santo Domingo's Abreu Clinic at the age of 95.

He was a polarizing figure who could incite as much hate as love from the population.

Ronald Reagan once said of him "President Balaguer has been a driving force throughout his country's democratic development. In 1966 he led democracy's return to the Dominican Republic after years of political uncertainty and turmoil. Indeed, he is, in many ways, the father of Dominican democracy" and Jimmy Carter complimented him saying "President Balaguer has set an example for all leaders in this nation in changing his own country and his own people away from a former totalitarian government to one of increasingly pure democracy."

He is one of the central characters in Mario Vargas Llosa's novel The Feast of the Goat.


Balaguer was a prolific author, who wrote many books for contemporary Dominican literature. His most famous work was his only narrative novel, called "Los Carpinteros". The most controversial of his works is perhaps "Memorias de un Cortesano en la Era de Trujillo", in which Balaguer, shielded by his political power admitted knowing the truth about the death of the revolutionary journalist Orlando Martínez. Balaguer left a blank page in the middle of the book to be filled in at the time of his death.

Balaguer explored several branches of literature. As a thorough researcher, he published many biographical books still used as reference, along with compilations and analysis of Dominican folk poets. As a poet, he was mostly of Post-Romantic influence, and his style remained strictly unchanged along his long career. Other themes, despite the sorrow expressed, are mostly noble: and idyllic view of nature, nostalgia, and memoirs of the past.

His total list of literary works is as follows:

  • Salmos paganos (1922)
  • Claro de luna (1922)
  • Tebaida lírica (1924)
  • Nociones de métrica castellana (1930)
  • Azul en los charcos (1941)
  • La realidad dominicana (1941)
  • El Tratado Trujillo‑Hull y la liberación financiera de la República Dominicana (1941)
  • La política internacional de Trujillo (1941)
  • Guía emocional de la ciudad romántica (1944)
  • Letras dominicanas (1944)
  • Heredia, verbo de la libertad (1945)
  • Palabras con acentos rítmicos (1946)
  • Realidad dominicana. Semblanza de un país y un régimen (1947)
  • Los próceres escritores (1947)
  • Semblanzas literarias (1948)
  • En torno de un pretendido vicio prosódico de los poetas hispanoamericanos (1949)
  • Literatura dominicana (1950)
  • El Cristo de la libertad (1950)
  • Federico García Godoy (antología, 1951)
  • El principio de alternabilidad en la historia dominicana (1952)
  • Juan Antonio Alix: Décimas (Prólogo y recopilación, 1953)
  • Consideración acerca de la producción e inversión de nuestros impuestos (1953)
  • Apuntes para una historia prosódica de la métrica castellana (1954)
  • El pensamiento vivo de Trujillo (1955)
  • Historia de la literatura dominicana (1956)
  • Discursos. Panegíricos, política y educación política internacional (1957)
  • Colón, precursor literario (1958)
  • El centinela de la frontera. Vida y hazañas de Antonio Duvergé (1962)
  • El Reformismo: filosofía política de la revolución sin sangre (1966)
  • Misión de los intelectuales (Discurso, 1967)
  • Con Dios, con la patria y con la libertad (Discurso, 1971)
  • Conjura develada (Discurso, 1971)
  • Ante la tumba de mi madre (1972)
  • Temas educativos y actividades diplomáticas (1973)
  • La marcha hacia el Capitolio (1973)
  • Discursos. Temas históricos y literarios (1973)
  • Temas educativos y actividades diplomáticas (1974)
  • Cruces iluminadas (1974)
  • La palabra encadenada (1975)
  • Martí, crítica e interpretación (1975)
  • La cruz de cristal (1976)
  • Discursos escogidos (1977)
  • Discurso en el develamiento de la estatua del poeta Fabio Fiallo (1977)
  • Juan Antonio Alix, crítica e interpretación (1977)
  • Pedestales. Discursos históricos (1979)
  • Huerto sellado. Versos de juventud (1980)
  • Mensajes al pueblo dominicano (1983)
  • Entre la sangre del 30 de mayo y la del 24 de abril (1983)
  • La isla al revés (1983)
  • Galería heroica (1984)
  • Los carpinteros (1984)
  • La venda transparente (1987)
  • Memorias de un cortesano de la «Era de Trujillo» (1988)
  • Romance del caminante sin destino (Enrique Blanco) (1990)
  • Voz silente (1992)
  • De vuelta al capitolio 1986‑1992 (1993)
  • España infinita (1997)
  • Grecia eterna (1999)
  • La raza inglesa (2000)


  1. ^ Ulises Heureaux’s father was D’Assas Heureaux, himself a mulatto son of a Frenchman. D’Assas has been described as a Haitian who chose to become Dominican after the Dominican declaration of independence in 1844.[3] However, concerning D’Assas' nationality, it is also relevant that his French father must have left Western Saint Domingue (present-day Haiti) before the 1804 Haiti Massacre, while that area was still a French colony. Hence, D'Assas either was born in present-day Dominican Republic, or arrived there with his French father before Haiti came into existence.


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Ancestros, descendientes y parientes colaterales de Joaquín Balaguer". Cápsulas Genealógicas. Hoy. 16 September 2006. Archived from the original on 22 February 2014. Retrieved 1 May 2014. 
  2. ^ Jorge Duany (2007). "La migración dominicana hacia Puerto Rico: una perspectiva transnacional". In Margarita Estrada, Pascal Labazée. Globalización y localidad: espacios, actores, movilidades e identidades. Mexico City: La Casa Chata. p. 400.  
  3. ^  
  4. ^ One Round for Us and Freedom, LIFE, December 1, 1961
  5. ^ In the Shadow of the United States, Giancarlo Soler Torrijos (2008), p. 52
  6. ^ Rag-tags, Scum, Riff-raff, and Commies, Eric Thomas Chester (2001), p. 27
  7. ^ The Dominican Crisis, Harry Kantor, in The Lingering Crisis (1969), p. 1-19

External links

  • Official page
  • Biography by CIDOB Foundation
  • More photos
Political offices
Preceded by
Héctor B. Trujillo
President of the Dominican Republic
Succeeded by
Civic-Military Council
Preceded by
Héctor García-Godoy
President of the Dominican Republic
Succeeded by
Antonio Guzmán
Preceded by
Salvador Jorge Blanco
President of the Dominican Republic
Succeeded by
Leonel Fernández
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