Cablegate: Dominican Politics #7: The Vanishing Left

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) This is #7 in our current series on politics in the
Dominican Republic:

The Vanishing Left

** Despite current economic hardships, Dominicans have shown
no interest at all in radical political solutions. This
year's presidential election emphasized the eclipse of the
left. With a total of 23 parties fielding candidates, the
take of the 3 independent parties of the declared radical
left fell to less than one-third of one percent of the votes.
Dominican political habits have been shaped by long habits
of accomodation to caudillos, patronage disbursed by the
three non-ideological major parties, and dreams of the United
States. President Fernandez's Dominican Liberation Party,
founded along Caribbean marxist lines in the 1970's, retains
little more than a leftist lean in its market-friendly,
socially conscious party line.**

Economic Frustration

Since mid-2003 Dominicans generally have absorbed the blows
of rising inflation, peso devaluation, collapsing public
hospitals, and periodic returns to the age before
electricity. Chronic power blackouts this past summer
sparked public desperation and incidents of tire burning or
rock throwing in affected neighborhoods, but the unrest in
the barrios evaporated after the Fernandez inauguration with
a modest improvement in electricity supply (Ref A). An
unexpected rebound of the peso exchange rate since President
Fernandez's inauguration in August has given the middle class
hope that vacations and education in the United States might
again become affordable. Food prices, though high, have
leveled off and merchants say they will be lowering prices
soon. The new government's revelations of mismanagement and
corruption in the previous administration make daily
headlines, as do the prosecution of executives involved in
the 2003 commercial bank collapse and concerns over a
perceived "crime wave" (Ref B).

Exit, Hope, and a Jaundiced Eye

Yet no radical voices, have recently challenged the economic
or political systems here, apart from a ridiculous daily
half-hour radio broadcast of 1950s-style propaganda by a tiny
communist faction. Some attribute this passivity to the
safety valve of illegal emigration via the perilous passage
to Puerto Rico. Others cite selective memories of "good
times" of Fernandez's first administration and hopes that he
can resuscitate the economy. And there is visceral
skepticism toward all politicians and their promises, rooted
in a chaotic history.

Sporadic Protests Subside

The continuing socio-economic pressures would appear to offer
openings for new political forces, as would the impending
disintegration the of the PRSC, one of the three traditional
parties. Potential maverick leaders exist, but they are on
the margins of the political arena. Twice during the runup
to the election, a loose coalition of community activists
successfully called for national work stoppages to protest
against economic conditions (Ref C). Dominican workers
stayed home for the enforced holidays, regardless of the
organizers' poorly articulated demands. This year doctors in
public hospitals have engaged in almost continuous strikes
and work stoppages, protesting their low pay and abysmal
resources to treat patients (Ref D). With a brief respite
after Fernandez's inauguration, they resumed their agitation.
The public sympathizes, but knows the government is broke.

Small Parties - A Slippery Slope

Although small parties abound in the Dominican Republic, none
has gained prominence in decades. A few have ambitious,
serious leaders who are trying to launch moderate political
projects, such as Trajano Santana of the Independent
Revolutionary Party (PRI), an offshoot of the mainline PRD
which ran Santana as an independent candidate this year
(drawing only 3,994 votes, 0.1% of the total). Such a
leader, with skill, luck, and private sector funding, could
conceivably gain attentionand build a party to fill the
partial vacuum created by the inert left and the PRSC

Independent leftist parties sank to a new low of voter
support in the May 16 presidential election. Their three
candidates together drew 10,700 votes, 0.3% of the 3,613,700
votes cast. The vote for socialist or communist parties
continued a long-term decline since 1982, when parties of the
left tallied 26,731 votes -- 1.5% of the vote. Since then,
in national elections, the left's share has remained below
1%. Force of the Revolution (FR), which in 1996 aborbed the
old Dominican Communist Party, and the other two small left
parties that ran candidates this year failed to attain the
minimum votes required for continued recognition and public
funding by the Central Election Board.

The vanishing parties did not lack visible candidates. FR
ran Rafael Flores Estrella, a former PRD presidential
pre-candidate, instead of craggy veteran communist leader
Narciso Isa Conde. The New Alternative Party (PNA) for the
second time put forward party boss Ramon Almanzar, a former
activist in the "Collective of Popular Organizations,"
organizers of street demonstrations and work stoppages
against the GODR. TV talk-show personality Raul Perez Pena
("Bacho") ran again under his Authentic Democracy Party (PAD)
banner. Although the most widely known of the three, Bacho
received a mere 1,838 votes (and the National Electoral Board
misspelled his name on the ballots).

Patronage, Not Revolution

The left's failure to resonate with Dominicans has historical
precedents. Groups such as the 14th of June Movement opposed
the Trujillo dictatorship, sometimes violently, but were
fighting tyranny and had little exposure to leftist ideas.
Many of the young guerrillas came from the social and
economic elite. Some who continued to commit violence into
the early 1970s were influenced by Fidel Castro's Cuban
revolution -- this included military officers who began the
1965 civil war. But elected President Joaquin Balaguer tamed
nearly all of them by handing out positions in government or
at the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo. Traditional
Dominican voters -- rural and poor -- sought to get by with a
paternalistic leader like Balaguer who promised them public
jobs, social programs, or personal favors. Today's urban or
small-town Dominicans, when pressed by economic woes, tend to
fall back on this patron-client behavior (after all, Balaguer
left office only 8 years ago). They may occasionally yield
to mob impulses, but they do not dream of overturning the

Sellout to Centrists

To get ahead, most small-party leaders suppress their
ideological preferences and ally with a mainline centrist
party -- PLD, PRD, or PRSC. Exploiting a major candidate's
name recognition, a left-wing group can reap more votes, but
to the benefit of the mainline partner. The Dominican
Workers Party (PTD), allied with the PLD this year, got
24,714 votes (0.7% of the total), compared with only 6,138 in
2000 when its leader Jose Gonzalez Espinosa ran independently
with support from the Communist Workers Party and another
small left group. Gonzalez Espinosa and his PTD and five
other parties that backed President Fernandez are getting
minor jobs in his administration, with little hope of
influencing policy. (As the new executive director of the
Fund for Promotion of Community Initiatives, Gonzalez
Espinosa found nearly all his agency's projects paralyzed for
lack of funds.) The six parties helped ensure Fernandez a
first-round victory, pushing his vote percentage from 49 to

Leftist at Home or Abroad?

President Fernandez's Dominican Liberation Party, founded
along Caribbean marxist lines in the 1970's, retains little
more than a leftist lean in its market-friendly, socially
conscious party line. A few of our conservative contacts,
recalling President Fernandez's reestablishment of diplomatic
relations with Cuba in 1998, have imagined he will reach out
to leftist or populist governments abroad, for example those
in Cuba, Venezuela, or China. In our view, any such gestures
would have minimum ideological significance and would be
intended to make Dominican foreign relations appear more
diverse, as well as to satisfy a residue of left-leaning PLD
founders from the 1970s. But there would be no sea change.

Although Cuba and the Dominican Republic have diplomatic
relations, the limited exchanges with Cuba -- of medical
students, athletes, or artists -- take place through NGOs,
universities or multilateral organizations, not bilaterally
between the governments. Two-way trade is miniscule.

As for Venezuela, Santo Domingo needs and seeks good
relations with Caracas to ensure oil deliveries from its main
supplier, and to this end Fernandez has drawn on his existing
friendship with President Chavez in ongoing negotiations (Ref
E). Slippery operator Miguel Mejia, rumored to have
connections to many renegade regimes, is a visible godfather
to this deal and serves Fernandez as a Minister without
Portfolio. Fernandez is likely to travel soon to Caracas to
sign a deal in which Venezuela provides soft financing for 25
percent of the oil bill. But Fernandez's background and
world view are very different from those of Hugo Chavez,
particularly as regards the United States.

A political rapprochement with China seems unlikely, as it
could jeopardize Santo Domingo's close relations with Taiwan
and the substantial assistance from Taipei. There was a
brief stir last May during the visit of Dominican congressmen
to Taipei, when a Taiwanese legislator told the press that
Senator Ramon Albuquerque (of Mejia's PRD) had commented that
Fernandez might recognize the mainland. Albuquerque claimed
he had been misquoted.

Fernandez's foreign policy, like that of Mejia, so far
centers on relations with the United States, with some added
attention to Europe and the Caribbean region as a whole.

2. (U) Drafted by Bainbridge Cowell.

3. (U) This piece and others in our series can be consulted
on our classified SIPRNET site along with
extensive other material.

© Scoop Media

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