271. National Intelligence Estimate 86.2–691 2

[Page 1]

(Supersedes NIE 86.2–67)

Prospects for the Dominican Republic

[Page 2]


A. President Balaguer is likely to run for a second term in the May 1970 election. Some opposition parties will probably seek to unite around a single anti-continuismo candidate. Others are likely to boycott the election and might even join revolutionary groups in efforts to overthrow the government. Even under these conditions Balaguer would probably win, and his military supporters would probably see to it that he takes and holds office after the election.

B. If Balaguer were confronted in the coming months with prolonged violence, a decline in his popularity, and especially the prospect of a military coup, he might at some point withdraw his bid for reelection. In this case any other strong candidate who received his backing would have a good chance of winning.

C. Whoever wins the election will probably find it more difficult to keep his political opposition at bay and the military placated than has been the case over the past several years. Demands for better living conditions will probably stimulate wider political conflict. Personal ambitions and antagonisms, and political jousting over narrow and venal issues will also be significant. These developments are in turn likely to prompt a greater role for the military, and might even lead it to another seizure of power.

D. Barring major political upheavals, the Dominican economy seems capable of growing at a moderate pace over the next few years. But this will depend upon a steady increase in foreign investments, an expansion of exports, and continuation of tight fiscal and budgetary controls. Above all, it will depend upon the maintenance of US aid programs at present high levels—supplemented by further special allocations of the US sugar quota.

[Page 3]

E. No constitutionally-elected successor to Balaguer is likely to adopt policies which would cause major changes in US-Dominican relations. The onset of prolonged strife or of an authoritarian military regime during the election or succession period would of course confront the US with difficult policy choices. Over the longer term, moreover, contending groups will probably turn to more radical and more nationalistic solutions and make it increasingly difficult for the US to reconcile its interest in maintaining political stability with its effort to promote social reform and political maturity in the Dominican Republic.


1. Eight years ago Trujillo was assassinated by a small band of conspirators on a lonely road outside Santo Domingo. After 30 years of tyranny, the Dominican people were left totally inexperienced in the peaceful political arts. In the years since, the country has been plagued by endemic political violence, the military has cut short attempts to establish constitutional rule, and democratic institutions have remained weak and unruly. Throughout this period the US has been directly or indirectly involved in efforts to curb Dominican political disorder. In 1965 a bloody civil war further weakened the fabric of Dominican society and brought US military intervention. The divisions and bitterness engendered by this conflict remain a very important factor in Dominican politics.

2. The election of Joaquin Balaguer to the presidency by a sizeable majority in 1966 has been followed by a period of relative stability. Balaguer has brought about a substantial degree of political order and his program of economic recovery has been relatively successful. Now, as the country approaches another test of its still fragile constitutional system in the May 1970 presidential election, the prospects for continued stability and progress have again come into question.

The Balaguer Administration

3. Most Dominicans probably feel that, all things considered, Balaguer has done a good job as president—even though many chafe under the political restraints and economic restrictions he has imposed. Many remember Balaguer’s close association with dictatorial repression (first as Trujillo’s vice-president and later as his figurehead president) and resent his tendency to retain former Trujillo henchmen in his government. There is, however, after the 30-year Trujillo dictatorship, a persisting inclination to accept the man in power. This is especially true among the peasantry. The memory of Balaguer’s Trujillist connections is, moreover, probably outweighed by his proven ability to maintain order, his record of personal honesty, and his reputation—again especially among the peasants—for being both simpatico and a scholar.

[Page 4]

4. Balaguer, an active and resourceful politician, has drawn his political support mainly from the conservative peasantry (about 70 percent of the electorate), from women who appreciate his attention to their role in society (the governors of all 26 provinces are women); and from businessmen and landowners who have benefited from his efforts to expand industrial and agricultural production. Most important, he has retained the backing of the military establishment which feels he has given them general support and likes his firm opposition to “communism” and to radical leftist groups generally. Balaguer, moreover, has kept his opposition off balance and his options open by shrewd recruitment of members of the opposition for government service, by judicious political appointments, and by a calculated policy of remaining aloof from day-to-day squabbles among subordinates. A congress controlled by Balaguer’s personal political vehicle, the Reformist Party (PR), has generally facilitated his strong exercise of executive power.

5. Balaguer’s economic policies have enabled the country to recover from the disruptions of the April 1965 revolt, despite severe drought in the crop year 1967–1968. “Austerity” controls on prices, wages, imports, and government expenditures have held inflationary pressures in check and have kept the trade deficit at manageable levels. These policies have been accompanied by government investment programs which have increased the productivity of the sugar industry (largely state-owned), promoted light industry, improved highway systems, and encouraged private investment. In addition, the government has received financing from international lending agencies for major power and irrigation projects.

6. US aid programs have contributed greatly to economic recovery. Since 1965 the Dominican Republic has ranked second among Latin American countries in US economic assistance per capita.3 In addition to loans from the US Agency for International Development and deliveries of agricultural commodities under Public Law 480, generous special sugar quota allocations have raised Dominican sugar sales to the US by one-third since 1965 and accounted for most of the gain in export earnings.

7. Backed by external aid, Balaguer’s economic policies have maintained price stability and increased the availability of goods and services somewhat, but they have not improved conditions for the bulk of the population. Burdened by what is probably the highest population growth rate in the hemisphere, per capita income remains 10 percent below the level reached in 1964. And social pressures appear to be mounting as a consequence of expanding city slums, a high rate of unemployment and underemployment, large numbers of landless peasants, maldistribution of the country’s wealth, and limited opportunities for personal advancement.

[Page 5]

The Opposition

8. Sustained by the political rivalries of the post-Trujillo years and exploiting social and economic problems and grievances, opposition parties continue active and hostile; yet their power to threaten Balaguer is small. On the left, drawing support from professional elements, urban workers, and slumdwellers, Juan Bosch’s Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) remains the most important opposition force in the country. Since Bosch’s removal from the presidency by military coup in 1963, the PRD has nourished hopes of regaining power. Its power to do so, however, has waned since the 1965 civil war.

9. Bosch, living in self-imposed exile in Europe since his defeat by Balaguer in the 1966 election, is still the dominant influence over the shaping of PRD policy. But his shift toward a doctrine of revolutionary opposition in recent years has divided the party. A moderate faction favors electoral participation and a traditional “democratic left” course. On the other hand, a generally stronger radical faction, following Bosch’s lead, holds that the only way to achieve power is through revolution leading to a “dictatorship with popular support.” Torn between these divergent positions, the PRD’s ability to unite its ranks and to win new popular support remains seriously handicapped.

10. The Revolutionary Social Christian Party (PRSC) is a small but potentially significant force on the left. Though badly defeated as an ally of the PRD and Bosch in the 1966 elections, the PRSC has since gained strength in municipal electoral contests. It now appears to be in position to win further support among moderate and leftist opponents of the Balaguer government, especially if the PRD abstains from the coming presidential election. In contrast to the PRD, the PRSC has maintained a position of “constructive opposition” to Balaguer, despite pressures for revolutionary action from radical elements in its affiliated labor and youth organizations.

11. Several opposition groups are the personal vehicles of ambitious politicians and thus tend to move erratically between political issues. General Wessin y Wessin, leader of the anti-Bosch military forces in the April 1965 revolt and recently returned from exile, heads the Democratic Quisqueyan Party, a loose collection of conservative elements opposed to Balaguer. In the moderate left sector, Hector Garcia Godoy, the former provisional president who recently resigned as Ambassador to the US, has formed a Movement of National Conciliation to support his own presidential candidacy. Thus far, however, he has found few allies and little popular support. More recently, Balaguer’s own vice president and a leader in the Reformist Party, the conservative Augusto Lora, has come out in bitter opposition to Balaguer’s apparent bid for re-election. Though Balaguer has recently tightened his grip on Reformist Party finances and patronage, Lora has a number of influential political contacts and may be able to drain off some of the President’s support.

12. The Dominican Church has traditionally allied itself with established authority. Indeed, it staunchly supported the Trujillo dictatorship almost to the end. But recently—reflecting the Latin American Church’s growing concern with [Page 6] social problems—it has become an advocate of social reform and a critic of Balaguer’s policies in this area. Priests in depressed rural areas—including many foreign clergymen—have long appealed for increased government attention to the plight of the landless peasantry, but only recently have these petitions received the support of the hierarchy. Thus far, the effect on the generally passive peasants has been minimal, but leftist parties are seizing on the Church’s appeal for social improvements, hoping to use it to weaken Balaguer’s political base in the countryside.

13. Revolutionary groups on the extreme left have also quickened efforts to exploit the pre-election ferment. But they appear to have little capability to overthrow Balaguer, or even to disrupt his administration. The far left probably has less than two thousand adherents, and these are badly divided. Ideological and tactical differences within and between factions have inhibited terrorist action and co-operation with other opposition parties. Balaguer’s well-organized security forces have, moreover, proved quite capable of quashing all extremist efforts to turn street demonstrations by student and labor groups into organized rebellion. Though Castroite support for some extremist groups is continuing sporadically, it seems to have contributed little to the revolutionary left’s overall strength.4

14. The opposition’s polemics against the Balaguer government, nonetheless, have a strong attraction for many students, professionals, and urban workers. These groups generally see Dominican society as static and unrewarding—with slums expanding, labor organizations weak and frustrated by government controls, great inequalities in taxation, limited opportunities for employment, and unsatisfactory progress in redistribution of large state and private landholdings to landless peasants.

15. Many Dominicans, especially large numbers of youth in the capital city who have had no experience in and expect little benefit from constitutional processes, thus see open confrontation and direct street action against those in power as the only means of protest. Student organizations in the University of Santo Domingo have staged large and violent demonstrations against Balaguer’s educational policies and the repressive tactics of the police. Frustrated by Balaguer’s continuing austerity controls, labor groups have remained weak and fragmented, though some have become more radical.

The Military

16. The Dominican military establishment, though reduced in size since Trujillo days, is still one of the largest and most costly in Latin America in proportion [Page 7] to population and national income.5 The deep political divisions which split their ranks in the April 1965 revolt have been largely repaired by enforced retirement of “rebel” officers or their assignment to foreign posts. Though personal rivalries persist, fear of a repetition of the unhappy experience of 1965 is now a force for unity. The chances of a rightist civilian-military combination against the Balaguer government, on the other hand, have been greatly reduced by Balaguer’s skillful rotation of ambitious or potentially dissident officers and by his close attention to the military’s traditional interests. More for tactical than for ideological reasons, the armed forces have remained closely allied with Balaguer. They have in fact played the dominant role in ensuring the survival of his administration.

17. Thus far, Balaguer has been reluctant to retire his loyal “old guard” military backers to make room for younger officers who are anxious to break with the Trujillist past and put into practice some of the professionalism learned from the US military. These junior officers are just as ambitious as their seniors and more nationalistic in outlook. In time, their influence upon Dominican military and political affairs is bound to become more important.

The 1970 Elections

18. It appears that Balaguer wants to run for president again in May 1970, even though he has not formally thrown his hat in the ring. He is repairing political fences, and he has stimulated appeals throughout the country for his re-election. His apparent bid for another presidential term, however, has greatly widened the gulf between himself and his political opponents and has given the latter a common rallying point against continuismo. Augusto Lora and Garcia Godoy, presidential aspirants of the center-right and center-left, may be in the best position to capitalize on this situation. Lora has not given up hope of getting the PR nomination and is trying to build up an anti-re-election front. His skill in political organization and his wide range of political contacts give him an initial advantage over Garcia Godoy, who thus far has had little success in finding backers.

19. Balaguer will probably postpone as long as possible announcing a decision on running, in order to keep his opposition off balance and to delay formation of an anti-re-election front. We believe, however, that eventually—at a politically opportune moment—he will declare his candidacy and mobilize the resources of his party and government in a campaign for a second term. If he does, anticontinuismo pressures will mount rapidly. The PRD—or at least a large part of it—would probably follow Bosch in a boycott of the presidential election. Though the PRSC is committed to back its own candidate for president, it might, under pressure from its radical wing, eventually support such a boycott.

[Page 8]

20. On the right, Wessin y Wessin might join an anti-Balaguer front led by Lora, especially if Wessin’s own campaign continues to falter. In such a merging of anti-continuismo forces, some members of the oligarchy who have remained lukewarm toward Balaguer’s policies might also lend their support. Finally, perhaps capitalizing on the frustrations of radical elements in the PRD and the PRSC, revolutionary groups and ambitious opportunists of the left and right would be likely to accelerate their efforts to overthrow the government. Even in this situation Balaguer could probably rely on the armed forces and national police to contain anti-regime violence. If he runs, he would still probably be able to win under such circumstances, because his base of popular support in the countryside would be little affected by violence in the cities.

21. The prospect of Balaguer’s political strength shifting to an unacceptable candidate or any sharp increase in political disorder, however, would be likely to provoke a strong military reaction. If the security forces themselves were the target of violence, they would probably step up their counterterrorist activities, which have included political killings and raids on opposition groups. This, in turn, would probably provoke greater anti-government violence. If such disorder were prolonged, some military officers might stage a coup to pre-empt the election and “save” the country from a real or alleged leftist revolt. Most of the military, however, would probably prefer to ride through the pre-election violence and to see to it that Balaguer is re-elected.

22. If Balaguer were faced with rising violence, declining popularity, and especially the prospect of a military coup, he might at some point decide not to seek re-election. His withdrawal would remove continuismo as an issue, but partisan rivalries would flare. If Balaguer were to throw his support behind another strong candidate, his choice would have a good chance of winning. If the candidate were also acceptable to the military, he would be assured of taking and holding office. At present, however, no candidate appears to suit both Balaguer and the military. Lora would be acceptable to the military, but not to Balaguer. Garcia Godoy might, on the other hand, be acceptable to Balaguer, but probably not to most military leaders.

Beyond 1970

23. The winner of the 1970 election—whether Balaguer or another—will probably have greater problems in keeping political opponents at bay and the military placated than Balaguer has had over the past several years. Political pressures stemming from unresolved social ills will be one important factor contributing to a widening struggle between the government and opposition groups. Personal ambitions and antagonisms, and political jousting over narrow and often venal issues will also be significant. Such developments will probably prompt a greater role for the military.

24. If Balaguer wins, the military will again support his administration. His political opposition may for a time be weakened, but it will probably re-form. Faced with the probable need to continue stringent fiscal and import policies, [Page 9] Balaguer is likely to find it increasingly difficult to ignore or neutralize opposition criticism of the government or to satisfy demands for new programs to alleviate basic social ills. Under such circumstances he might feel compelled increasingly to resort to authoritarian measures and to rely on the armed forces to retain power. On the other hand, though another president might be faced initially with a less active and hostile opposition, he would probably have a much narrower base of political support. He might thus be even less capable than Balaguer of advancing new social and economic policies or of maintaining political stability.

25. In either case, elements in the military are likely to become increasingly impatient with the working of constitutional government. If provoked sufficiently by prolonged street violence, some “old guard” officers, anxious to protect their entrenched status and traditional prerogatives, might again turn to serious coup plotting. With the passage of time, moreover, some younger officers, either from personal ambition or to advance new social or economic policies, might move against the government as well as their military superiors.

26. Barring major political upheavals, the economy seems capable of growing at a moderate rate over the next few years. But this will depend upon continuation of US aid programs at their present high levels—supplemented by large special allocations of the US sugar quota. It will also depend upon an expansion of exports, particularly of agricultural products, and upon an increase in foreign private investment. Finally, to reduce the danger that growth will stimulate serious inflation, it will be necessary to continue—at least for some years—the main features of Balaguer’s present austerity program. Even under these conditions, however, economic growth for some years to come will probably permit only modest progress toward the amelioration of social conditions.

The US and the Dominican Republic

27. Balaguer is aware that the survival of his government depends in good part upon US economic and political support. He is also conscious, however, of the need to appear independent of the US. Most politically-conscious Dominicans probably accept the inevitability of some kind of US “presence” in the country. Yet, the memory of US intervention in April 1965 is still strong and has helped nourish a growing desire—particularly among younger Dominicans—for more independent and nationalistic policies. Thus, though Balaguer has given strong support to the US on most international issues, he has avoided taking firm pro-US positions on matters which his opposition might exploit.

28. Most Latin American countries probably accept Dominican dependence on the US as a fact of life; but they would be even more reluctant than they were in April 1965 to sanction another US intervention in the country—for whatever reason. Within the Caribbean area Balaguer has taken steps to foster closer relations with Puerto Rico and Venezuela and has expressed interest in Dominican participation in Caribbean economic development programs. Should political turmoil and bloodshed in neighboring Haiti follow Duvalier’s departure [Page 10] from the scene, it might pose a security threat, but the Dominican armed forces seem capable of containing any spillover of violence across the border.

29. We believe that over the next year or two neither Balaguer nor any other likely civilian successor will move from present foreign or domestic policies in a way that would cause major changes in US-Dominican relations. Though anti-US nationalist sentiment will probably grow and through US installations and aid programs might become the targets of more frequent anti-US demonstrations, major US interests—including private investments—will probably not be seriously threatened.

30. The onset of prolonged political strife or the establishment of an authoritarian military regime during the election or succession period would of course confront the US with difficult policy choices. Over the longer term, moreover, the strains generated by a wider struggle between opposing political forces, including a new generation of military officers, are likely to propel Dominican parties and leaders toward increasingly radical solutions. In this situation, contending factions can be expected to increase pressures either for greater independence from the US or for greater US support of their cause. Confronted by these conflicting demands, the US will probably find it increasingly difficult to sustain its traditional role as guardian of political order and at the same time continue its efforts to promote social reform and political maturity in the Dominican Republic.

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, NIC Files, Job 79–R01012A, Box 373, Prospects for the D.R. Secret; Controlled Dissem. The Central Intelligence Agency and the intelligence organizations of the Departments of State and Defense and the NSA participated in the preparation of this estimate. The Director of Central Intelligence submitted this estimate with the concurrence of all members of the USIB with the exception of the representatives of the AEC and the FBI who abstained on the grounds that it was outside of their jurisdiction.
  2. The National Intelligence Estimate described the political situation leading to national elections in May 1970 and predicted increased political instability and the possibility of a military coup. On the economic front, the estimate indicated that the Dominican Republic would continue to “depend upon the maintenance of U.S. aid programs at present high levels—supplemented by further special allocations of the U.S. sugar quota.”
  3. US aid to the Dominican Republic totaled about $255 million, or $65 per capita, in the period 1965–1968. Only Panama exceeded this per capita level.
  4. The major left extremist groups are the Dominican Popular Movement with some 300 members; the Dominican Communist Party with approximately 500 members; and various factions of the once powerful, now fragmented 14th of June Revolutionary Movement with a combined following of less than 400.
  5. The armed forces include a 10,600-man army, a 3,100-man navy, and a 3,100-man air force. Since 1966, over 16 percent of the national budget (more than three percent of the country’s GNP) has gone to support these security forces. In addition, the government maintains a strong national police force of 8,500 men.