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Sunday, 14 July, 2002, 21:27 GMT 22:27 UK
Dominicans mourn 'durable' leader
A mourner takes up position outside Mr Balaguer's home to show her grief
Balaguer dominated his country's political scene

One of Latin America's most remarkable and durable politicians, the former president of the Dominican Republic, Joaquin Balaguer, has died at the age of 95.

In a career spanning seven decades, he held the presidency for no fewer than 22 years.


His appetite for power was insatiable

He was by no means a model democrat, but even his detractors would find it hard to deny a grudging admiration for his political skills.

Rarely has so powerful a politician appeared so unthreatening.

Joaquin Balaguer was a tiny, mild-mannered man who gazed inscrutably through thick glasses at a world bathed in the light of the Caribbean sun.

He never married and led an austere private life. But his appetite for power was insatiable.

He began his career in the 1930s, working for the Dominican Republic's notorious dictator, Rafael Trujillo, and eventually becoming president in name.

Critics in exile

After Trujillo's assassination in 1961, there was a period of political turmoil, and Mr Balaguer went into exile in the United States.

In 1966, he was restored to power with US backing.

Joaquin Balaguer
There were hopes he might run again in 2004 (AP)
His rule was not as brutal as Trujillo's, but hundreds of people were kidnapped or disappeared, and many critics went into exile.

Mr Balaguer was out of power in the early 1980s, but went on to win three more elections, two of them marred by serious allegations of fraud.

In 1996, he lost the presidency and never regained it, though not for lack of trying.

He played an important part in engineering the victory of the current president, Hipolito Mejia and some of his supporters were hoping that Mr Balaguer himself would run again in 2004.

As president, he spent billions of dollars on public works, including a massive lighthouse to commemorate the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas.

But his critics said had got his priorities wrong in what remains one of the western hemisphere's poorest countries.

See also:

07 Mar 02 | Country profiles
21 Mar 02 | Americas
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