Joaquín Balaguer


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(b. Villa Bisonó, Dominican Republic, 1 Sept. 1906; d. Santo Domingo, 14 July 2002)

Dominican; President 1960–1, 1966–78, 1986–96 A poet and historian, Balaguer served as a diplomat in Spain and Colombia before becoming Education Minister under the dictator Rafael Trujillo in 1950. He was subsequently Foreign Minister and Vice-President before assuming the titular presidency in 1960. When Trujillo was assassinated in 1961, Balaguer tried to remain in power, but was ousted by a military coup in 1962 and sent into exile.

In 1964 Balaguer founded the Partido Reformista (PR), returning to the Dominican Republic after Juan Bosch's brief presidency and the 1965 US invasion. In the 1966 elections he defeated Bosch, beginning a twelve-year period of unbroken political power. During that time Balaguer presided over an impressive economic boom but was also accused of involvement with paramilitary forces which murdered thousands of Bosch's supporters. Finally, in 1978 he reluctantly handed the presidency over to Antonio Guzmán of the Partido Revolucionario Dominicano (PRD), but not before Balaguer loyalists in the military had threatened to annul the election result and stage a coup.

In 1986 Balaguer returned to power, having merged his PR with the Partido Revolucionario Social Cristiano (PRSC). The hallmark of his presidency was a taste for extravagant public works and construction schemes, the most controversial being the Columbus Lighthouse, built to commemorate the 1992 quincentenary. Despite considerable opposition and allegations of fraud, he was re-elected in 1990 at the age of 84. The 1994 elections were again tainted by accusations of cheating, and Balaguer was forced to agree to curtail his term from four to two years. In 1996 he grudgingly retired from the presidency, having ensured that his favoured candidate, Leonel Fernández, succeeded him. He stood again for the presidency in 2000 but came third. He remained active in Dominican politics right up until his death.

Balaguer dominated Dominican politics for forty years and was largely responsible for perpetuating the authoritarianism and caudillismo of the Trujillo period. He invariably outmanœuvred his eternal rival and contemporary, Juan Bosch, and was reputed to have a Machiavellian survival instinct within the country's labyrinthine political system.

Subjects: Politics — Contemporary History (Post 1945).

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