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Date: Wed, 3 Jun 98 14:42:10 CDT
From: "Workers World" <ww@wwpublish.com>
Organization: WW Publishers
Subject: Pena Gomez, a voice for the oppressed
Article: 36244
Message-ID: <bulk.4774.19980606001502@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

Pena Gomez, A Voice for the Oppressed

By Key Martin 3 June 1998

On May 10, Dr. Jose Francisco Pena Gomez, a leading figure in the struggle for justice and liberation in the Dominican Republic, died at age 61 after a long battle with cancer.

Pena Gomez will always be remembered as the voice that inspired tens of thousands of Dominican youths to take to the streets on April 24, 1965, to confront the repressive military junta that had seized power two years earlier. Later in his life, Pena Gomez's lunch-time "Tribuna Democr tica" radio broadcasts would bring the country to a halt as the people tuned in.

Pena Gomez, a Black Dominican of Haitian descent, should have been president of the Dominican Republic. But in 1994 the old, U.S.-backed regime of Joaquin Balaguer stole the election, bringing the country to the brink of a major confrontation.

The theft was so blatant that Balaguer was forced to shorten his term and agree to a new election in 1996. That year, the centrist Lionel Fernandez edged Pena Gomez out after receiving the support of the country's right wing.

These racist and conservative elements in the ruling class and military kept Pe¤a G¢mez out of the presidency not so much because they feared his politics, which had become more moderate over the years. Rather they feared him because he remained a symbol of the 1965 revolution and of political empowerment for Black Dominicans, including those of Haitian descent.

Pena Gomez had been adopted by Dominican parents as an infant during the 1937 massacres of Haitian residents by the brutal Trujillo dictatorship, in which over 10,000 Haitians were killed. His parents either perished or fled.

In 1961, the three-decade-long dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo ended. Professor Juan Bosch, a progressive, was elected president. But his term was short-lived as the military took over again.

Pena Gomez's 1965 radio broadcast sparked an uprising that toppled the military junta. The people took over the streets, emptied the armories and took the power.

Four days later, U.S. Marines invaded Santo Domingo, the capital.

The administration of President Lyndon Johnson and the U.S. ruling class deeply feared another Cuba in Latin America and the Caribbean. Sending troops to the Dominican Republic was for them a daring political act--coming just as Washington was rapidly escalating its intervention in Vietnam. In fact, the U.S. invasion actually delayed the Vietnam buildup for months as the Pentagon diverted tens of thousands of troops there.

It was the second time in the 20th century that the U.S. military occupied the Dominican Republic.

The struggle in the Dominican Republic was part of the inspiration for Che Guevara's famous anti-imperialist call for "two, three, many Vietnams."

Slowly, U.S. troops took control of the capital and began arresting the youths. In August, the U.S. government sent CIA operative Dan Mitrione to Santo Domingo. He started the death squads that emptied the prisons and depleted the revolutionary movement through mass murder.

Mitrione became the subject of a fictional movie, "State of Siege," directed by Costa-Gavras and starring Yves Montand. The film chronicled Mitrione's similar role later in Brazil and Uruguay.

Pena Gomez was forced into exile. After some years, he returned to the country as a leader of the Dominican Revolutionary Party. The party's fairly moderate 1978 presidential candidate, Antonio Guzman, won on a promise to allow the exiles to return home.

This year on May 16, a mass outpouring of Dominicans swept the Dominican Revolutionary Party into victory in municipal and parliamentary elections. As one Dominican said, "Even in death Pe¤a showed again that he was the winner."

The election won't solve the problems of poverty, however, as the country still suffers from the policies of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and rampant exploitation of workers in the Free Trade Zones and throughout the country.

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