Cablegate: Dominican Elections #33: Balaguer's Ghost

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) Following is no. 33 in our series on the Dominican elections:

Balaguer's Ghost

Avaunt! And quit my sight! Let the earth hide thee!

Thy bones are marrowless, thy blood is cold;

Thou hast no speculation in those eyes

Which thou dost glare with.

- - Macbeth, Act 3, scene 4

The message that Embassy Santo Domingo has been picking up most strongly about the May 16 elections is that of a pervasive but diffuse fear of the election process itself.

For example:

Influential, sophisticated business executives have told the Ambassador apparently in all sincerity that if the ruling PRD wins this election, "there will be civil war."

Provincial PLD leaders speak with great anxiety about claims of Mejia,s faction distributing guns to party members so they can disrupt polling stations favorable to the PLD.

Last week a senior PRSC official in Barahona evoked repeatedly his worry that "phantom" polling centers would be created by the National Elections Board, "ten or more for each province, to give the PRD the margin to put the election into a second round."

We earlier reported the paranoid notions of supporters of the PLD's single national senator, Tomas Perez, who asserted that the PRD-dominated Congress would seek any pretext to cancel or postpone elections and put an interim unelected pro-PRD government in place.

And on March 26 PRD President Vicente Sanchez Baret formally complained to the Elections Board (JCE), seeking to block the PLD from setting up its own computer network in parallel with that of the JCE, on the pretext that the PLD's plan to collect and announce provisional results ahead of the JCE would be a threat to public order: "Just imagine, honorable judges, if we were to do such a thing, driven by rashness and desperation, in a situation so delicate for the democratic health of the country."

And yet - -

The JCE will be using an improved version of election procedures that functioned successfully in 1996 and 2000; representatives of each party will be present at each voting station and will certify the tally sheets; the domestic NGO "Participacion Ciudadana" is well on the way to training and fielding observers for every polling station; the OAS election observers financed by the United States, Canada and - - probably - - the European Union will be accredited to circulate freely to monitor the process; about 40,000 military and police will be providing security, in accordance with specific training; and President Mejia has told the military leadership to allow the U.S. Defense Attaché to observe "anything he wants." The JCE has signed a contract for a U.S. firm to review a random 10 percent of the voter registration rolls so as to evaluate whether the long-uncorrected files show any systemic partisan bias. The Ambassador and Embassy staff have consistently assured Dominicans of our serene confidence that the elections will be free, fair and transparent. But the persistent question from our interlocutors has been, "But what if they are not? What will you do about it?"

The Ghost

Joaquin Balaguer died in 2002, a scant two years after he declined to enter a presidential second round against Hipolito Mejia's 49% score, but he is still as vividly present as Banquo's ghost in the ceremony of presidential election. The visceral reaction against Mejia's re-election bid was shaped in large part by the memories of Balaguer, repeated manipulation of elections to ensure his own continuation, most recently only ten years ago. The 1994 elections were so flagrantly fraudulent that domestic and international pressure finally obliged Balaguer into negotiations that cut his four-year term to two and produced a constitutional ban on re-election. Dominican intellectuals - - and quite a few Dominican politicians - - now argue that after 30 years of Trujillo and a total of 22 years of Balaguer, re-election is a poisoned concept for this country.

In a country rife with corruption and pursuit of spoils, they argue, only an absolute prohibition of re-election gives any hope of clearing out the most recent set of rascals abusing the people.

Hipolito Mejia's railroading tactics have only reinforced these views. He used his heavy PRD majority in Congress and (assert many) both arm-twisting and bribery to throw out the six-year-old Constitutional prohibition on re-election. Of the 9 Electoral Board judges elected by Congress, all but two have links with the PRD. Senate and House of Representatives have selected two new members for the six-person Judicial Counsel that selects Supreme Court justices, a none too subtle reminder that Mejia,s party is ready to try to shift the balance on the court, if necessary. Mejia,s aggressive rhetoric and harsh disdain for his principal rival feed the fears that he will do almost literally anything in order to stay in power.

In our view, Mejia believes he has a good shot at actually winning these elections if he can succeed in pushing them into a second round. Part of this is ego and the arrogance of power; part of it is the calculation that the PRD can succeed with the poorer voters in convincing them that the PRD is better able to take care of them. At the same time,the PRD has begun systematically tarring Fernandez with assertions of corrupt involvement in the Baninter frauds.

Spreading out, multiplying forces

This atmosphere and disposition of forces does much to explain Leonel Fernandez,s insistent requests in Washington, publicly and privately, for the United States and other international donors to increase resources for election observation. The Ambassador,s public announcement on March 19 of U.S. financial support for the OAS team has brought a perceptible lowering in the tensions over the electoral process; we suspect that comments we,ve heard since that date are now more rhetorical than real.

Even so, memories of rotten elections remain very close to the surface. Despite the recent campaign managers, agreement to program public events to avoid partisan confrontations, and despite the admonitions of the church and civic society to avoid name-calling, tensions are rising.

Irregularities or unforeseen clashes could slip into local violence in the 50 days that remain before the vote.

During that time Embassy officers are traveling repeatedly to provincial capitals in a systematic initiative to establish contacts with the major parties, the private sector, the provincial electoral board, the media, and the local chapter of the national civic NGO "Participacion Ciudadana." Our message is one of civic participation, civic responsibility, and international observation - - reminding questioners that the Dominicans themselves will have to assure the transparency of their own electoral process. In general, we,ve found that the Dominicans outside the capital are eager to meet us and to hear that message.

But Balaguer,s ghost is still very much with them. In fact, reporters from the "Diario Libre" newspaper confirmed that dead though he may be, the enigmatic blind old man is still registered to vote on May 16.

2. (U) Drafted by Michael Meigs.

3. (U) This report and others in our elections series are available on the SIPRNET at along with extensive other current material.


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