SHORT-TERM PROSPECTS FOR POLITICAL STABILITY IN THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC[Page 2]
A. Three opposition parties appear ready to contest the 16 May election with President Balaguer. But Juan Bosch’s Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) is abstaining, and political violence stimulated by elements of the PRD and by more extreme leftwing groups is likely to mount. The security forces are almost solidly behind Balaguer and should be able to control mass demonstrations and to thwart any direct action against the government. Though Balaguer may have lost some political support during his first term and opposition candidates may cut into his vote, he still seems likely to win the election.
B. If Balaguer wins, some of his political rivals will be inclined to accept his inauguration for a second term. Others, who fear that his re-election might lead to dictatorial rule and foreclose their chances for gaining power, are likely to continue to resort to political [Page 3] violence and plotting, and the government may have to rely increasingly on repressive measures.
C. Mass demonstrations or widespread violence against US citizens or installations do not appear likely. But there is considerable anti-US sentiment, and Balaguer’s identification with the US could prompt sporadic attacks by extremist groups against US personnel and possibly another kidnap attempt. Other political leaders and groups, including the military, will continue to seek some evidence of US support, but none is likely to request direct US intervention.
D. If the OAS General Assembly meeting is held in mid-June in Santo Domingo as scheduled, the Dominican security forces should be able to control public disorder. In the tense political atmosphere, however, terrorist action against individual delegates or the meeting site cannot be ruled out.
E. If political violence were to become severe over the next several months, and especially if Balaguer were assassinated, the result would more likely be the imposition of military rule than the installation of a radical leftist regime. In any case, continued dependence on the military and a further polarization of political forces will make it more difficult to maintain political stability and to foster social progress in the Dominican Republic.[Page 4]
1. Since his election in 1966 President Balaguer has been able to maintain a substantial degree of political order by Dominican standards and, with substantial US aid, to sustain a fairly steady rate of economic recovery. But the hatreds and frustrations stemming from the 1965 civil war and persistent social and economic ills have nourished the efforts of numerous rival groups and politicians to gain power. Amidst charges by opposition leaders that his re-election would perpetuate authoritarian rule in the country, Balaguer has declared his candidacy for a second term in the election of 16 May. As a consequence, extremist groups have stepped up political violence against the government, and Balaguer’s security forces have responded at times with harsh repressive measures.
2. Balaguer wants some opposition to make the election and its outcome appear democratic. To head off a threatened boycott by the opposition parties, he has withdrawn from the presidency until six days after the election, when he will again resume office and complete his term. Vice President Lora, who is also a candidate for the presidency, has similarly withdrawn from office, and the president of the Supreme Court is acting pro tem as President of the Republic. Finally, Balaguer and his rivals have agreed on measures which the latter hope will ensure an honest contest. It thus now appears likely that three candidates from the center and right will run against Balaguer. (A short description of the opposition parties is given on the following page.)[Page 5]
The Opposition Parties and Candidates
A. The Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) of Juan Bosch is not officially registered as a party in the election, but it is still the major opposition force. Since the 1966 election, when Bosch lost to Balaguer, it has been racked by conflicts between radical and moderate factions. It nevertheless retains a considerable popular following, particularly among the growing numbers of slum-dwellers and unemployed in Santo Domingo, and could cause major public disruptions through strikes and street rallies.
B. Vice President Augusto Lora, the Presidential candidate of the Democratic Integration Movement (MIDA), is not a strong contender in his own right. As a former leader of Balaguer’s own Reformist Party, however, he may win some conservative votes away from Balaguer. He could also pick up some of Hector Garcia Godoy’s erstwhile support (see below). If the PRD decides to support the MIDA candidate for mayor of Santo Domingo, under the Dominican single-ticket system Lora would gain a substantial number of PRD votes as well.
C. General Wessin y Wessin, leader of the anti-Bosch military forces in the April 1965 civil war, is advancing his candidacy through his own political vehicle, the Democratic Quisqueyan Party. Though many, including most military leaders, doubt his political ability, he is well known in the country, and he appears to have won new support in recent weeks among rightist and middle-class elements.
D. The Revolutionary Social Christian Party (PRSC), a small but relatively well-organized center-left party, has put up Alfonso Moreno Martinez as its candidate. The PRSC may pick up a few deputies and senators, but its Presidential slate is not likely to win any significant share of the vote.
E. Until his death in mid-April, former Provisional President Hector Garcia Godoy maintained his rather ineffectual candidacy through the Movement of National Conciliation. His followers are now likely to vote for either Lora or Moreno.[Page 6]
3. The major opposition party, the PRD of Juan Bosch, is abstaining from the election. It will nonetheless exert an important influence on the atmosphere and outcome. The unexpected return of the charismatic Bosch seems to have quieted, for a time at least, the party’s quarreling factions. His public appearances and speeches will also crystallize anti-Balaguer sentiment in the country. But he and other PRD leaders must be aware that their failure to run candidates for any office will remove them from sources of patronage and influence over the next two years and thus threaten the party’s mass base. Faced with this grim prospect, Bosch might even try to make a deal to support another opposition candidate.
4. But Balaguer will probably be able to keep the PRD politically isolated, and other opposition leaders are unlikely to risk losing the support of their own followers and alienating the military by allying themselves with Bosch. In this situation, PRD leaders may feel that their only recourse is to mobilize the masses of Santo Domingo in large-scale public disorders, hoping to force a suspension of the election. Though Bosch and other PRD leaders might try to avoid open involvement in the ensuing political violence, extremist groups of the [Page 7] far left would be quick to seize opportunities for joint action with less timorous PRD activists.3
5. Despite the growing threat of violence, the security forces appear capable of blocking any attempt from the left to overthrow the government. Almost all the military leaders are strongly in favor of a second term for Balaguer, whose conservative policies and noninterference with traditional military interests they would like to perpetuate. Thus, though violence from the left and revenge killings by “uncontrollable” elements in the army and police are likely to increase in the coming weeks, Balaguer and his top military backers should be able to keep the widening conflict from getting out of hand.[Page 8]
6. It now seems fairly certain that the election will take place as scheduled. There is a small chance that the opposition parties will pool their votes behind a single candidate and that the PRD will throw its organizational support behind the ticket. This unlikely development would produce a very close race. Without it, Balaguer is a strong favorite to win the necessary plurality.
7. Throughout his term Balaguer has concentrated his personal campaigning on the peasants, who make up almost 70 percent of the electorate and who provided the bulk of his winning vote in the 1966 election. In the past year or two, priests and rural labor groups have stimulated peasant disillusionment with Balaguer’s lagging land reform programs. In some cases this has led to land seizures by landless peasants. But Balaguer has been spending a good deal of public money on works projects in rural areas. This, and his constant campaigning in the countryside, will probably again win for him the bulk of the peasant vote. If it should appear in the final weeks before the election that his rural support is slipping seriously, Balaguer’s political and military backers would use whatever means necessary to get enough votes to offset opposition gains and to win the election.[Page 9]
The Pre-Inaugural Period
8. A victory by Balaguer would not end the conflict, and it could bring new problems. Some extremist group might attempt an assassination to keep Balaguer from taking office on 16 August. In the political chaos that would follow an assassination, revolutionary elements would see an opportunity to win popular support and the backing of some military units for a coup. But their chance of success would appear to be small; the military would be likely to remain united behind its present leadership and to thwart any move from the left to seize power.
9. In the event of Balaguer’s assassination, some military leaders might consider taking over the government directly, alleging a need to save the country from communism. But since Balaguer’s successor in the pre-inaugural period, Vice President Lora, would be generally acceptable to the military leaders, they would probably adopt a wait-and-see attitude. If in the following months, they began to feel that Lora, or his constitutional successor after 16 August, could not be counted on to resist leftist pressures or to preserve military interests, the chances of a military coup would grow rapidly.
10. In such circumstances, strong personal rivalries among key military leaders would undoubtedly surface, and some—e.g., Brigadier General Neit Nivar Seijas, commander of the strategically-located, [Page 10] MAP-supported Army First Brigade near Santo Domingo—might be tempted to move against the government on their own. Ambitious younger officers, anxious for advancement and impatient with the professional incompetence of their “old guard” superiors, might be similarly inclined. Such coup-plotting would weaken the military’s capability, and it could again set the scene for armed violence between competing military factions, possibly with civilian elements taking sides. Fear of another breakdown of the military establishment, as in 1965, however, would still be a strong and probably overriding force for unity. It is thus more likely that, under such conditions, the military would stick together and impose some sort of junta government.
11. Assuming Balaguer wins and is not assassinated, his frustrated opponents are unlikely to relax their efforts to prevent his taking office for a second term. PRD leaders and some defeated candidates will denounce the election as fraudulent. And their fears that Balaguer’s re-election will lead to further repression of opposition groups and possibly to dictatorial rule are likely to stimulate continued violence. If the PRD joined forces with extremist groups of the far left in mass demonstrations to prevent Balaguer from resuming the Presidency, there would be a serious threat of disorder.[Page 11]
12. We believe, however, that even in such circumstances Balaguer would be able to prevent a breakdown of governmental authority and public order. The armed forces and the police have no desire to see him overthrown, and they are experienced and effective in handling street demonstrations. Furthermore, even though the PFD found common cause with extremist groups, the alliance would be strained; not all of the party’s supporters would be willing to engage in a sustained program of violence. Balaguer would still have room for maneuver, as for instance by offering jobs or largess to opposition leaders in order to persuade them to observe a tactical truce during his second term.
The OAS Meeting
13. The first General Assembly of the OAS is scheduled to meet in the Dominican Republic beginning 20 June. Some leftist groups, remembering OAS support for US intervention in 1965 and wishing to embarrass Balaguer, will almost certainly attempt street demonstrations to protest the meeting. They may even threaten to kidnap delegates.
14. Balaguer and his military supporters insist that the security forces can maintain order and protect the delegates. The military should indeed be able to control disorders, and might even use the presence of the OAS as a pretext for rounding up antigovernment individuals. But attacks against individual delegates or the meeting site [Page 12] cannot be ruled out, and some OAS members might be prompted to withdraw from the meeting or to press for moving it elsewhere. If the OAS did remove the meeting from Santo Domingo, Balaguer’s embarrassment would probably lead him to authorize a crackdown by the military.
The Post-Inaugural Period
15. In his second term Balaguer would probably follow much the same policies as in his first. His own inclinations are conservative, and he is unlikely to move toward any major new policies to speed modernization and social reform. His natural caution will be reinforced by the rigid anti-leftist views of his military backers.
16. If Balaguer is able to provide reasonable political stability, large-scale foreign and domestic investment should keep the economy growing at a relatively rapid rate over the next year or so. This, however, will not be sufficient to produce an early improvement in the lot of most Dominicans or to reduce noticeably the high level of rural and urban unemployment (about 30 percent of the labor force).
17. Balaguer will have less of a political honeymoon in 1970–1971 than he did in 1966–1967. The failure of the PRD to keep him from taking office will create new divisions in the party and weaken it as an opposition force. Within a short period, however, other political, [Page 13] student and labor groups will emerge and present new problems for the government. Faced, on the one hand, with the need to retain the support of his military backers and, on the other, with continued pressures from the opposition, Balaguer may feel increasingly inclined to rely on repressive tactics.
Implications for the United States
18. The political tensions and violence in the pre- and post-election period are likely to have strong anti-US overtones. Anti-US sentiment growing out of US intervention in the 1965 civil war continues to smolder in many quarters. And popular identification of the Balaguer regime with US interests has further sustained anti-US feelings, particularly among opposition student and political groups in Santo Domingo. Rightly or wrongly, most Dominican political leaders continue to believe that the US is directly or indirectly responsible for the course of events in their country.
19. Since most politically active Dominicans remain ambivalent about the US “presence” in the country and dependent on US attitudes and actions in solving their problems, we would not anticipate mass demonstrations or widespread violence to erupt against US personnel or installations during the electoral period. On the other hand, the successful kidnapping of the US air attaché in March 1970 might encourage [Page 14] a similar attempt by an extremist group in the coming months, with the object of causing difficulties in US-Dominican relations, embarrassing the Balaguer government, or obtaining the release of prisoners.
20. Over the next several months of tension and turmoil, political leaders and groups will continue to seek US aid for their own political fortunes or against more powerful opponents, but none is likely to solicit open and direct US intercession in the current political struggle. In the event of a serious confrontation between the security forces and the opposition, the government would almost certainly seek US materiel assistance to help control riots (e.g., tear gas and ammunition). But the present military leaders are generally capable of handling such a contingency on their own, and it is doubtful they would feel a need for US military intervention, as in 1965.
21. Escalating political violence is unlikely to lead to the establishment of a radical regime hostile to the US, but it could end with the imposition of military rule. Though this would once again break the tenuous Dominican hold on constitutional processes, basic US interests would probably not be threatened. In any case, we believe it will become increasingly difficult over the next year or two to maintain the conditions for political stability and social progress in the Dominican Republic.
- Source: Central Intelligence Agency, NIC Files, Job 79–R01012A. Secret; Controlled Dissem. The Central Intelligence Agency and the intelligence organizations of the Departments of State and Defense, and the National Security Agency 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↩
- This estimate assessed the short-term prospects for political stability in the Dominican Republic both before and after the scheduled May presidential elections, in addition to the implications for the U.S. policy objectives.↩
- All the leftist extremist groups are illegal and hence will not participate in the election. The most active is the Dominican Popular Movement (MPD), which has become increasingly nationalistic and bold in recent months. For example, the MPD is believed to have been responsible for the kidnapping of the US air attaché in mid-March. The Dominican Communist Party is less inclined toward terrorism, but it is better organized and has some influence among students and on radical elements in the PRD. The least effective of the major extremist groups is the 14th of June Movement, whose membership remains badly divided between competing factions. The active membership of these groups varies between 200 and 500 members. None is believed to be receiving any significant support from Cuba or other Communist countries. As could be expected during this pre-electoral period, there have been a number of unconfirmed reports suggesting that Dominican exiles, in Cuba and elsewhere, may try to return to the Dominican Republic to support one or another of these groups. It is doubtful that any of these attempts will materialize. In any case, any such effort to intervene would almost certainly be small in scale, and a forewarned Balaguer government should be able to contain it.↩