July 18, 2002

Funeral of Dominican leader delayed

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) --The funeral of longtime Dominican
leader Joaquin Balaguer was delayed for hours by thousands of mourners and ended
chaotically with soldiers and a screaming crowd shoving each other.

It was a strange end for the conservative "caudillo," one of Latin America's last
strongmen who ruled the Caribbean country for 22 years and continued to dominate
its politics until his death Sunday of heart failure. Balaguer was 95.

A military humvee towing the coffin arrived Wednesday night at Christ the
Redeemer Cemetery some six hours behind schedule and forced its way through
mourners who yelled in fear and struggled to keep their balance in the dark.

Soldiers hurriedly hefted the coffin into the marble family mausoleum of the former
president, shoving through a crowd pushed back onto others who panicked.

A speaker at a microphone tried to get people to join in singing the national anthem.

"What's wrong, Dominicans? Please, let's have a solemn atmosphere," he pleaded, in

Weeping and wailing mourners, many elderly, some barefoot, had walked hours
under a glaring sun to follow the flag-draped coffin of Balaguer in a procession that
had begun more than 12 hours earlier.

Some waved flags, others posters with the image of their influential former leader.
Balaguer presented more the image of kindly country doctor than a stern ruler. He
was little more than 5 feet tall, lame and squinted from behind thick-framed glasses.

"There has never existed in Dominican history a person with so much influence as
this exceptional man," President Hipolito Mejia said in his eulogy Wednesday

The cortege wound its way from the National Palace to Our Lady of Peace Church,
where people threw red and yellow carnations at a requiem Mass.

Then the procession continued to the headquarters of Balaguer's Reformist Social
Christian Party.

Officials, concerned by delays and security, tried to order the cortege to move on
but changed their minds when mourners scuffled with police and yelled "This
corpse is ours."

Former Puerto Rican Governor Rafael Hernandez Colon, among those who waited
hours at the cemetery, called Balaguer "the father of Dominican democracy."

Revered by some and reviled by others, Balaguer retained enormous sway long after
stepping down from the presidency in 1996, influencing the elections of both his

"Balaguer was like my father and he will never die," said Ana Silva Belear, a 40
year-old engineer. "He was the only president who protected the poor."

Yet neither Balaguer nor his successors alleviated the poverty suffered by most of
the country's 8 million people.

He largely escaped blame for atrocities committed early in his rule and under his
mentor, military dictator Rafael Trujillo, who was assassinated in 1961.

Balaguer was ousted by a leftist army coup and fled to New York City. Returned to
power after a U.S. invasion, he held the presidency from 1966-1978 and 1986-1996
and was a staunch anti-communist ally of the United States.

 Copyright 2002 The Associated Press.