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Role of the Military in Public Life

The 1966 constitution describes the armed forces as "essentially obedient and apolitical and without the right to deliberate. The purpose of their creation is to defend the independence and integrity of the republic, to maintain public order, and to uphold the Constitution and the laws." By law, members of the armed forces are denied the right to vote and the right to participate in the activities of political parties and organized labor.

Since the early 1960s, the political influence of the military has declined. And military officers have largely accepted their status as defenders of national sovereignty and their subservience to the civilian government hierarchy. During Balaguer's first two terms (1966-78), the president reinforced his control by accommodating high officers, helping them to become landowners, merchants, and industrialists, positions they could not have attained had they remained in the purely military sphere. When Balaguer left office in 1978, the officers were reluctant to see power handed over to Antonio Guzman, fearing a threat to their profitable positions. Their fears were justified.

Guzman retired some forty pro-Balaguer generals and introduced a period of military professionalization. When Balaguer resumed power in 1986, however, the retired generals were reintegrated into the military and offered a financial stake in the regime. Although friendly to the military establishment, Balaguer's authoritarian style enabled him to keep it on a tight leash. After disputed elections marred by fraud in 1994 between Jose Francisco Peha Gomez of the Dominican Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Dominicano—PRD) and Balaguer of the Reformist Social Christian Party (Partido Reformista Social Cristiano—PRSC), the Dominican military openly supported the election board's declaration of Balaguer's victory. (Balaguer had won elections in 1966, 1970, and 1974; was voted out of office in 1978; and was reelected in 1986 and 1990.) An official communique warned against attempts to undo the decision, saying that the armed forces "would not omit efforts to guarantee public peace and the tranquillity and serenity that the Dominican family enjoys."

A post-election agreement in 1994 limited Balaguer's term to two years, and lawyer Leonel Fernandez Reyna, new head of the PRD, won in a run-off election. Soon after taking office in 1996, President Fernandez undertook efforts to reprofessionalize the military leadership, which had become preoccupied with its own enrichment under Balaguer's policy of granting economic and commercial privileges. He retired twenty-four of the country's seventy generals, most of whom were considered allies of Balaguer. The president also replaced the head of the navy, the head of the air force, the head of the state intelligence service, and the commander of the second brigade.

Admiral Ruben Paulino Alvarez continued as secretary of state for the armed forces. Although Fernandez faces opposition from pro-Balaguer factions in the officer corps, he may be able to count on a more liberal group of officers to support him in the transition to a more democratic style of government.

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