José Francisco Peña Gómez

José Francisco Peña Gómez

José Francisco Peña Gómez (March 6, 1937 – May 10, 1998) was a politician from the Dominican Republic. He was the leader of the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD), a three-time candidate for president of the Dominican Republic and former Mayor of Santo Domingo. He is considered, along with Joaquín Balaguer and Juan Bosch, as one of the most prominent Dominican political figures of the 20th century.

Early life

Born to R. Vincent Zarzuela and Maria Marcelino, poor immigrants from Haiti, on March 6, 1937 in Mao, Valverde, Dominican Republic, Peña Gómez was adopted as an infant by a Dominican peasant family when his parents were forced to flee to Haiti as the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo enacted the Parsley Massacre against Haitians that same year.

The family raised Peña Gómez as their own child, and gave him their name. In one of the ironies that marked his public life and illustrated his appeal to the poor, Peña Gomez's running mate in 1994 turned out to be none other than Fernando Alvarez Bogaert, scion of the family that owned the ranch where he was raised.

As a result of his upbringing, Peña Gomez relied on his voracious intellectual appetite to supplement a tenuous early education. At 8, he worked in a grocery store and at a bar, and by the time he was a teenager, he had taken jobs as a shoemaker's and a barber's apprentice.

At 15, he became an instructor in a literacy program for poor children in his native province and later worked as a teacher in rural and night schools. By 1960, he had moved to Santo Domingo, where he enrolled in a broadcasting course and proved so natural a talent that a radio station quickly hired him to announce baseball games and other sports events.

Peña Gómez received a BA-equivalent degree from the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo (UASD) in 1966 before going on to higher studies at the Sorbonne in Paris.

The April Civil War and Exile

Since 1961, Peña Gómez became a supporter of Juan Bosch, then leader of the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD). Bosch won the presidential elections of 1962, the first democratic president in 32 years, but his government was ousted in a military coup on September 25, 1963. In 1965, Peña rose to political prominence as he went on Radio Santo Domingo and called for a popular insurrection against the military coup and a return of Bosch. U. S. President Lyndon Johnson ordered a military invasion to prevent what he feared was a possible communist movement within the country.However, Peña Gómez used his oratorical skills to the streets and the airwaves to head the opposition to that intervention. At the end, a forced negotiation led to Joaquin Balaguer's becoming president and the PRD's being cast into the political wilderness for the next 12 years. Repression was intense throughout that period.

Taking refuge in France, Peña Gómez studied political science and constitutional and labor law for two years at the University of Paris. Earlier, he had studied political science in courses at Harvard University and Michigan State University. In exile, he also was involved in efforts to obtain international condemnation of human rights violations in the Dominican Republic, forging relationships with groups that were important for the rest of his life.

Leadership of the P.R.D.

Prior to 1973, Juan Bosch and Peña Gómez had a falling out that resulted in Bosch's breaking with the party that he had founded and setting up a new one. In December, Bosch left to form the Dominican Liberation Party (P.L.D.). Under Peña's leadership, the P.R.D. won the presidential election in 1978 (Antonio Guzmán) and 1982 (Salvador Jorge Blanco), and he himself was Mayor of Santo Domingo from 1982 to 1986. This position automatically made him a strong contender for the presidency. But his party passed him by in 1986, with some of its leaders arguing that it would be impossible for a black man, especially one of Haitian descent, to become president. Peña lost the primary convention to Jacobo Majluta, after which a violent riot ensued at the Dominican Concorde hotel, the venue at which the primary had taken place. With the PRD marred by infighting and widespread discontent for blatant corruption under the Blanco presidency, Joaquín Balaguer was again re-elected.

In 1990, Peña won the nomination. With a severely weakened party, Peña ran for the presidency, coming in third behind Balaguer of the Social Christian Reformist Party (PRSC) and Bosch of the PLD.

By 1994, the PRD was solidified and motivated. The presidential campaign was violent and dirty, and Peña lost to Balaguer in an extremely tight election marred by strong irregularities and fraud. Peña called a general strike which was widely supported by his followers and after international protest and intense negotiations, Balaguer announced that he would leave office prematurely in 1996 after serving seven terms in power.

In the 1996 poll, Peña won the first round of voting but fell short of the majority needed. In the second round of voting, Leonel Fernández, a lawyer representing the PLD, won a narrow victory due to an alliance between the PLD and the PRSC.

Last years

Peña first bout with pancreatic cancer followed soon after 1994. But the disease went into remission after treatment in the United States. Shortly thereafter, the cancer reappeared, and Peña Gómez spent most of the rest of his life shuttling back and forth between Santo Domingo and New York, where he underwent medical treatment. He finally passed away on May 10, 1998 in Cambita Garabitos, San Cristóbal, 6 days before the mayoral elections of Santo Domingo, in which he was running.Surviving are his wife, Peggy Cabral, and eight children and stepchildren.

Peña Gómez was one of the most popular leaders in recent political history in Dominican Republic, especially among the poor masses. At the time of his death, with his admirers converging on Santo Domingo from all areas of the country, the Dominican government had to agree that his body would be displayed at the national baseball stadium to accommodate the huge crowds that were expected.


* One of the latest Dominican "old school" political leaders, along with lifelong rivals Joaquín Balaguer and Juan Bosch).
* Was City Mayor of Santo Domingo from 1982 to 1986. His period is mostly remembered for the creation of the "Plaza Güibia" (Güibia Plaza), on the seaside boulevard and plantation of ornamental trees in mayor city avenues.
* Was always targeted because of his Haitian ancestry, a fact that his followers vehemently denied at each electoral campaign, albeit Peña Gómez himself never denied nor confirmed his true origins.
* He encouraged the violently infamous incident called the "Concordazo" [] during a bout in 1985 against candidate Jacobo Majluta on who was going to run for the country's presidency on behalf of the PRD.
* It’s arguable that Peña Gómez exploited reverse discrimination to further advance his political career. His campaign managers argued in his last presidential campaign that since the country was "composed mostly of black people", they should vote for him. That statement backfired because the opponent, Leonel Fernández, was a mulatto and won such elections. The country’s main ethnicity groups are composed mostly by mulattos (65%), then blacks (20%) and lastly 15% of whites who, nonetheless maintain political supremacy.
* He is also credited as being the implicit creator of the infamous "Dos mas Dos" (two plus two) a political formula created to permit two candidates take office of a single senate seat, concurrently, during a single electoral period. This was created to please angered PRD party members who would not concede victory to another member running for the same spot. Albeit a clearly anti-democratic move, there is a loophole in the Dominican Constitution which permits an elected officer to "bargain" or trade his seat to favor his own party members with all the privileges a senator earns.
* Being a key political figure until his death, the main Dominican Republic international airport was renamed from "Aeropuerto Internacional Las Américas" to "Aeropuerto Internacional Las Américas José Francisco Peña Gómez"". Honoring his memory was not the motivation, but mainly a political retaliatory action excised by the PRD congressional members against the executive branch's naming the newly founded "Puente Presidente Bosch" (President Bosch Bridge) after the winning party’s late founder.
* Died of pancreatic cancer, just days before a city election for Mayor of Santo Domingo for the second time.
* During his funeral, a Peña supporter was mistaken for Pelegrín Castillo (FNP party president), and got severely beat-up by his own angered militants.

ee also

*List of political parties in the Dominican Republic
*Politics of the Dominican Republic

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