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Obituaries

Juan Bosch, 92; Ex-President of Dominican Republic

November 02, 2001|CHRIS KRAUL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MEXICO CITY — Juan Bosch, a former president of the Dominican Republic whose name is forever linked to the U.S. invasion of that island nation in 1965, died Thursday in Santo Domingo after a long hospitalization. He was 92.

A self-educated author of about 40 books and founder of two of the nation's three political parties, Bosch exerted an influence as a reformer on a generation of Caribbean politicians that extended far beyond his short time as president.

A onetime Marxist who repudiated the label in later life, Bosch came to be seen as a humble, quixotic man of principle who fearlessly stood up against entrenched interests in Dominican politics.

Bosch was the Dominican Republic's first democratically elected president after the assassination in 1961 of dictator Rafael Trujillo, who had clung to power for three decades.

But Bosch's plans to redistribute land and appropriate some private businesses provoked a right-wing coup d'etat only seven months after he took office.

His leftist policies at the height of the Cold War had made President Lyndon B. Johnson fearful of another Cuba-like state in the Caribbean, said Robert Pastor, a political scientist at Emory University.

A counter-coup in 1965 by leftist officers who planned to return Bosch to office provoked an invasion by U.S. Marines and soldiers from member countries of the Organization of American States. The troops occupied the island nation for several months until Joaquin Balaguer, a former Trujillo aide and a staunch U.S. ally, won a presidential election.

Latin American analyst Barry Bosworth of the Brookings Institution described Bosch as a victim of the Cold War, a "fairly reasonable person who was portrayed as a Communist sympathizer. People today would have a far more benign view."

As for the 1965 invasion, Bosworth said: "We would never do that again. People look back on it like the McCarthy period and ask, how could it have ever happened?"

Pastor said that Bosch, far from emulating Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, was more concerned about "casting away the vestiges of authoritarianism" from the Trujillo era.

After the 1965 coup, Bosch went into exile in Costa Rica. He returned a year later for the first of three unsuccessful runs for president, twice against Balaguer, his long-standing political rival and nemesis.

On Thursday, three days of national mourning were declared, and Bosch was hailed by Dominican President Hipolito Mejia as "a teacher of politics to generations."

Bosch's body is to be displayed at the National Palace today with burial to follow in La Vega, his birthplace outside the capital, Santo Domingo.

Leonel Fernandez, a former president who was seen as Bosch's protege, described him as a "pillar of democracy."

Fernandez was elected president in 1996 as a candidate for the Dominican Liberation Party, founded by Bosch in 1973.

"He could never find the formula to get elected again but did inspire a whole generation of leaders, including Leonel Fernandez," Pastor said. "[Bosch] was one of the giants of Dominican politics for 40 years."

Rental car manager Melquiades Cabral, who said he had joined rebel forces against Trujillo in the early 1960s, told the Associated Press: "We lost a great intellectual and political leader."

Bosch was born to lower-middle class parents.

Biographical sketches of his career indicate he was profoundly affected by the poverty he experienced as a boy.

He studied literature in Santo Domingo and by his early 20s had published a novel, a collection of short stories and an anthology of Indian legends before turning to politics.

Bosch had been hospitalized since late September for a variety of ailments including Parkinson's disease and respiratory problems.

His books include 10 novels and short story collections. Some of his nonfiction essays and biographies serve as standard texts in Latin American schools.

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