Juan Bosch - Dominican president

Juan Bosch - Dominican president
Juan Bosch - Dominican president

Poet, scholar, educator, activist, politician, and the first democratically elected president of the Dominican Republic after the long dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo, Juan Emilio Bosch y Gaviño is most remembered for championing the rights and dignity of ordinary Dominicans through his writings and his progressive liberal democratic politics. His tenure as president was brief, lasting only seven months—from February to September 1963—when he was overthrown by a coalition of conservative forces.

He nonetheless continued to play a major role in Dominican politics, running for president and losing repeatedly to United States-supported candidates (1978, 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994), becoming the standard-bearer of the country’s populist left and pushing the national political discourse toward the promotion of liberal democracy, civil rights, and the political enfranchisement of the poor and working class.

Born on June 30, 1909, in the Dominican town of La Vega to a Puerto Rican mother and Catalonian father, at age 28 Bosch went into exile in Cuba to escape the repression of the Trujillo regime. Two years later, in 1939 in Havana, he cofounded the Dominican Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Dominicano, PRD), which would later play a major role in Dominican politics.

Devoting much of his time to poetry and writing, in 1933 he published his first collection of stories, Camino Real; from 1935 to 1963 he published no fewer than 13 novels, anthologies, and works of nonfiction (from Indios [1935] and La mañosa [1936] to David, biografía de un rey [1963]).

After Trujillo’s assassination on May 30, 1961, he returned to the Dominican Republic, and, after a tempestuous interlude characterized by widespread popular mobilization and abiding United States concern relating to the cold war and the radicalization of the Cuban revolution, Bosch was elected president in the national elections of December 20, 1962, with 64 percent of the vote.

Assuming the presidency on February 27, 1963, he embarked on an ambitious program of economic, political, and social reform. His administration promulgated a new liberal constitution in April that secularized the government; guaranteed civil rights for all citizens; imposed civilian control on the military; and inaugurated a far-reaching program of agrarian reform.

The reforms alienated the most powerful sectors of Dominican society, including the Catholic Church, the military, industrialists, and large landowners. In the context of the intensifying cold war, the stage was set for a U.S.-supported conservative coup, which came on September 25, 1963.

Going into exile in Puerto Rico, he returned to the Dominican Republic in September 1965 after the United States military intervention of April that ended an emerging civil war between pro-PRD and anti-PRD factions. He ran again for president in 1966, but was defeated by the U.S.-supported Joaquín Balaguer. While he never regained the presidency, he became renowned for his left-populist rhetoric, the acuity of his social criticism, and his determination to improve the lot of ordinary Dominicans.

In 1973 he founded a new political party, the Dominican Liberation Party (Partido de la Liberación Dominicana, PLD), which since the mid-1990s has drifted to the center-right. The author of at least 36 publications translated into many languages, and popularly revered as a national hero, he died on November 1, 2001, in Santo Domingo.