Antonio Guzmán, 1978-82

Dominican Republic Table of Contents

Guzmán's assumption of office on August 16, 1978, presented many political challenges to both him and the republic. Mindful of the fate of Juan Bosch sixteen years before, Guzmán determined to move slowly in the area of social and economic reforms and to deal as directly as possible with the threat of political pressure from the armed forces. He attacked the latter problem first with a program of military depoliticization that included the removal or the reassignment of general officers of questionable loyalty or professionalism, the promotion of younger and more apolitical officers than those who had held sway under Balaguer, and the institution of a formal training course for officers and enlisted personnel that stressed the nonpolitical role of the armed forces in a democratic society. This campaign was largely successful, and it constituted the major legacy left by Guzmán to his successor, Salvador Jorge Blanco.

Politically, Guzmán was restrained to some extent by the unusual outcome of the 1978 elections. Although the Central Electoral Board acknowledged the PRD's victories in the races for the presidency and the Chamber of Deputies (the lower house of Congress), it managed through some creative counting--apparently taking the number of ballots not used in some provinces and dividing them among the top two vote-getters--to give Balaguer's PR a sixteen to eleven majority in the Senate. This essentially granted the PR a legislative veto over any initiatives Guzmán might wish to launch, and it also became a factor in the president's cautious approach to reform.

Some observers felt that Guzmán's economic and social background--he was a wealthy cattle rancher from the Santiago area--influenced his economic policies as well. Despite his nationalization of public transportation and an increase in the minimum wage, more reform-minded politicians, even within his own party, criticized the president for his inadequate response to continued economic decline. Jorge was one of Guzmán's leading critics in this area; ironically, he too, would be confronted with the stark realities of the economy and the lack of acceptable options available to the president after his own election in 1982. Faced with the continually rising oil prices and declining sugar prices, Guzmán opted for politically unpopular austerity policies, including a steep increase in the retail price of gasoline. Compounding to the general woes of a slowed economy was the extensive damage wreaked on the country by Hurricane David in August 1979.

In retrospect, the Guzmán administration represented a bridge between lingering post-Trujillo authoritarianism and a more liberal, democratic style of politics and government. Guzmán's professionalization of the military was a significant contribution to this process. Although the Dominican economic situation plagued him, Guzmán handled matters with sufficient competence to allow for the election of Jorge on the PRD ticket on May 16, 1982. (Guzmán had pledged not to seek reelection.) Jorge's leading opponents had been PR candidate Balaguer and Bosch, who had split from the PRD and had formed his own party, the Dominican Liberation Party (Partido de la Liberación Dominicana--PLD). For reasons never fully explained, Guzmán committed suicide in July 1982; he was said to have been depressed by allegations of corruption and nepotism in his administration. His vice president, Jacobo Majluta Azar, served out the remainder of the term. Guzmán's suicide prevented what would have been a historic event--the peaceful transfer of power from one freely and fairly elected president to another. Jorge's administration also fell victim to corruption and the effects of economic austerity. With the election and peaceful return to power of Balaguer in 1986, a tradition of fair electoral competition appeared to be developing; democracy seemed to be taking root in the Dominican Republic.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress