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Hispanic American Historical Review 81.1 (2001) 190-191

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Book Review

The Struggle for Democratic Politics in the Dominican Republic

The Struggle for Democratic Politics in the Dominican Republic. By JONATHAN HARTLYN. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998. Photographs. Map. Figures. Appendixes. Notes. Bibliography. Index. xxi, 371 pp. Cloth, $49.95. Paper, $17.95.

From the assassination of Rafael Trujillo in 1961 until the presidential election of Leonel Fernández in 1996, the Dominican Republic moved from a dictatorship to a fledgling democracy about which Jonathan Hartlyn is cautiously optimistic. The Dominican Republic's transition to a democratic state was hampered by its colonial past, over 100 years of political instability, and 30 years of a repressive dictatorship. None of these experiences provided the opportunity for the establishment of viable political institutions, legitimate political participation by the masses, or open political debates. Instead, the country endured a long history of elitist self-serving administrators, foreign interventions, and exploitation that resulted in a stratified society and an underdeveloped economy.

Hartlyn quickly summarizes Dominican history until 1961 in order to focus on the more recent past during which he finds two high-water marks in the nation's politics, namely, the elections of 1978 and 1996. In 1978 Joaquín Balaguer, the authoritarian ruler who had presided over the country for 12 years, permitted social organizations and political opposition parties to exist and to espouse aspirations for a full-fledged democracy. By 1996, these same social and political groups had become more visible and legitimate actors in the national arena. Over the same 18-year period the prominence of the Dominican military markedly decreased. It no longer served the personal whims of political administrators nor did it appear as an arbiter of political contests. Constitutional reforms in 1994 had further democratized the political process by prohibiting the direct reelection of a president and providing for runoff elections. At the same time, the electoral process became more transparent and steps were taken to reduce electoral fraud. Throughout this period, the United States never lost sight of its missionary zeal. From its military intervention in the 1960s, to the persuasiveness of Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s, to the democratic institution building of the Agency for International Development in the early 1990s the United States contributed to the democratization of the Dominican Republic. Amidst these various influences, Hartlyn reserves a special place for Balaguer, who presided over the process, and whose presence significantly contributed to Fernández's election in 1996.

Equally important since 1961 has been the transformation of the Dominican Republic's socioeconomic landscape, which moved from one based upon state-owned industries and infrastructure and an agricultural elite to a more privatized and diversified economy participating in the international market. Hartlyn attributes this change to the acceptance of the neoliberal economic philosophy that has characterized all of Latin America since the 1980s. While these economic pursuits [End Page 190] expanded the entrepreneurial and middle sectors, new opportunities for the urban working sectors also multiplied. Concomitantly, each sector increased its political participation and its expectations from the government. Such a scenario made the Dominican political arena more democratic, but given its level of maturation, it remains fragile.

Hartlyn's volume is carefully researched, his footnotes provide an additional wealth of explanatory material, and the bibliography is rich is English and Spanish sources. The volume will have significance to those specializing in the Dominican Republic, or those examining the new-found democracies across Latin America.

Thomas M. Leonard, University of North Florida



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pp. 190-191
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Archived 2004
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