July 14, 2002

Former Dominican leader Balaguer dies

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) --Former President Joaquin Balaguer,
who ruled the Dominican Republic for 22 years and retained enormous influence in politics
even years after leaving office, died Sunday, a top aide said. He was 95.

Balaguer died about 4:30 a.m. at Santo Domingo's Abreu Clinic, where he had been
hospitalized since July 4 to treat a bleeding ulcer, said Rafael Bello Andino, his
closest aide and vice president of Balaguer's Reformist Social Christian Party. Bello
Andino said he had last visited Balaguer on Saturday.

"We left him under control and in good condition. All of a sudden, when he was
sleeping and the doctors had left him, at around 4 the machines started to beep with
complications, so the doctors tried to save him until 4:30, when he died fighting,"
Bello Andino said.

Though Balaguer was one of Latin America's last "caudillos," or strongmen, he
didn't look the part.

Little more than 5 feet tall, lame and a squinting figure from behind thick-framed
glasses, he presented more the image of kindly country doctor than strong-willed
national leader.

But Balaguer's power was as pervasive as that of his mentor, dictator Rafael
Trujillo, who ruled this Caribbean nation from 1930 until he was assassinated in

Although Balaguer last appeared in public in July 2001 and left office in 1996, he
retained enormous influence. He helped engineer the election of his successor,
Leonel Fernandez, and of current President Hipolito Mejia.

Balaguer, who lately only addressed his constituency through prerecorded speeches
or his closest aides, was the centrifuge around which all Dominican politics

His last bid at the presidency was in 2000, when he was 92. Coming in third in
overall vote count, he endorsed Mejia, forcing the second candidate to resign instead
of go to a second round.

 Copyright 2002 The Associated Press