273. Telegram 4579 from the Embassy in the Dominican Republic to the Department of State1 2

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  • Thoughts on Present and Future Political Atmosphere

1. Summary: Pessimism re political future is now wider and deeper in the DomRep and more persons are questioning the ability of the country to get to and through the electoral period without increased violence or a golpe. Reelection issue and opposition conviction that Balaguer would be winner (if he runs again) with government apparatus and resources behind him contribute significantly to uncertainty and tension. We believe Balaguer will not pronounce himself on reelection before January or February at earliest. Available evidence now suggests he will be candidate. Considering various possible moves against constitutional government, we estimate most likely threats to be (a) systematic violence conducted by PRD and extreme left which could lead to military assumption of control with or without Balaguer and thence to widespread disorder and fighting, and (b) if Balaguer does not run again a preemptive move by the military and right to prevent possibly unpalatable election results. US policy interests continue to warrant [Page 2] continuing effort on our part to dissuade would-be plotters from toppling the constitutional government and ensure that Balaguer, if he runs, has a plausible opposition participating in the elections.

2. General atmosphere. Knowledge able and responsible Dominicans representative of many sector activity are now expressing greater uncertainty and pessimism about the political future of the country. While this is not new in the DR, pessimism is now wider spread and deeper than it has been for some time. In short, most persons (except ardent reelectionists) expect violence to intensify, especially in early 1970 and possibility of golpe being given much more credence. In Dominican context pessimism breeds pessimism and has significant psychological effects which cannot be ignored.

3. Electoral picture. Balaguer’s continued silence on reelection is contributing factor to uncertainty and tension (though may very well be lesser evil than public pronouncement one way or the other) and situation will not begin to assume a clearer pattern until he does pronounce himself on issue. We do not expect this to happen until January or February at earliest and possibly later since he has until April 1 to declare himself. We believe odds now about 60–40 he will come out for election. Other prospective candidates meanwhile are not only campaigning individually but more significantly are establishing closer lines of communication with one another. Despite statements to contrary by Garcia Godoy, Wessin and Moreno Martinez, we believe it very possible that some form of anti-reelection front will be formed with abstention as goal if Balaguer is candidate again. Impetus for such a front stems from the generally held view that Balaguer would be unbeatable with government apparatus and resources at his disposal. We are therefore now in exceedingly fluid and murky period but one which because of opposition’s general frustration is highly conducive to political maneuvering and plotting.

4. Extreme left and PRD. Latter maintaining lines open to other opposition groups but so far it has been unable take definitive steps or position pending resolution of internal struggle between electionists and radicals. This may be resolved in January national convention but could hang on until Balaguer’s decision is made. PRD is actively courting military for Peruvian-style golpe. But although party probably has some listeners we doubt it has found takers yet. PRD collaboration with MPD and PCD becoming closer but we [Page 3] doubt PRD under present circumstances will attempt to launch armed popular movement against government unless assured of substantial military support. We do not think such support now exists at key levels. We cannot rule out some unforeseen spark or possibility of harsh military reprisals against extreme left and PRD providing such spark for widespread violence. PRD leadership purports fear further action by Balaguer against party which they feel could include declaring party illegal and deporting leaders. we believe this to be possible but not probable.

5. Possible moves against constitutional government without being overly pessimistic. The possibility of some move against Balaguer does exist regardless of the position he takes on reelection. We rate the odds of a move against the government in the immediate future as considerably less than even. Beginning with January 1970, however the chance of a move against the government is more possible with the most likely threats as follow: (a) If Balaguer is candidate again, most likely threat against constitutional government is deliberate and systematic campaign of violence carried out by PRD and extreme left which could lead to assumption of control by military with or without Balaguer and then to widespread disorder and fighting. Secondary threat would be military golpe supported by Wessin, Lora, and the anti-Balaguer right: (b) If Balaguer does not run again, the most likely threat is a military golpe led and supported by those entrenched military and civilians who have much to lose if Balaguer is not in power and who wish to avoid elections whose results would be unknown and possibly unpalatable.

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6. Position of military armed forces are the key to both Balaguer’s survival or fall as well as to the stability of any successor government. While political divisions do exist now, the present deep internal divisions are believed to be due more to personal and other factors than to political. Personal factors, however, can rapidly become political because of opportunism. We continue to believe that the majority of the key military personnel remains basically pro-Balaguer. This perhaps augurs well for Balaguer finishing his term of office but not so well if he does not run again, or if the military decide to take what they would view as a preemptive move against his opposition. There are many reports of scheming in various sectors of the armed forces, but we are as yet unable to put our finger on anything definite. Col. Neit Nivar Seijas, continues his involved political maneuvers but we thinks as of now, that he remains pro-Balaguer although only so long as this suits his personal interests. His position may be the most uncertain in this equation. The position of AF Chief Staff General Salvador Lluberes Montas remains a subject of discussion although he professes support for Balaguer finishing mandate. His continued protestations seem worthy of note.

7. Conclusions. As of now, we believe it likely that the balance of 1969 will pass without an effective move against the government but that Balaguer will be in an increasingly defensive position [Page 5] and that pressures on him will mount rapidly thereafter. Whether he runs again or not, we believe the DR is in for a stormy electoral period and that increasing disorder and violence will occur. If Balaguer does run again the country will not have the same clear alternative as was the case in 1966. If Balaguer announces publicly he will not run again, his authority will evaporate rapidly and a power vacuum will develop with a chaotic scramble to locate new centers of authority with a consequent greater chance for a military golpe. Continued divisions within the military, if they persist, will represent one factor working against any one sector achieving sufficient strength and support to launch a promptly successful coup. A coup under such circumstances could lead to a more or less prolonged period of disorder and fighting. One way Balaguer could avoid his agonizing decision would be to extend his term by congressional action to amend constitution, but opposition concurrence in any such prolongation would be very difficult to arrange.

8. US policy considerations: Our interests would definitely not be served by the creation of a solid abstentionist front against Balaguer leaving him as the only candidate in May 1970. Elections held under such a circumstance more than likely would mean that the resulting government’s legitimacy would be open to challenge, that Balaguer’s second term would be even more unstable than a second term resulting from contested elections, and that he would increasingly have to rely on the military to preserve his position. Equally, a possible move by the military should Balaguer decide not to run again would destroy the tottering steps that the DR has taken towards constitutional government since 1966 and very possibly could produce another April 1965. Our basic efforts, therefore, must be directed toward using our influence—which is appreciable but probably not decisive—to dissuade would-be plotters from moves against the constitutional government and ensure that Balaguer has plausible opposition if he runs again.

9. [text not declassified]

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 2–2 DOM REP. Confidential. It was repeated to Sago de Los Caballeros, Port-au-Prince, CINCLANT, USCINCSO, and DOD.
  2. The Embassy reported a deteriorating political situation, marked by increased violence and the possibility of a military coup, particularly if President Balaguer decided not to run for reelection. The Embassy recommended that the United States work to “dissuade would-be plotters” while ensuring that should Balaguer run, he would have a “plausible opposition participating in the elections.”