OBITUARY:Jacobo Majluta

Jacobo Majluta was one of the generation of politicians in the Dominican Republic whose ambition was continually thwarted by the country's labyrinthine power struggles and explosive sectarianism. He was elected Vice-President in 1978 and served as President for 42 days in 1982, replacing the disgraced Antonio Guzmn who had committed suicide, but he never again held the highest office which he so openly craved.

Born in 1934 into a merchant family of Middle Eastern origin, Majluta studied finance at Santo Domingo University before working as an accountant in the banking and state sectors. He joined the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) in 1961, in the wake of the dictator Leoni-des Trujillo's assassination, and rose quickly, becoming the youngest minister in Juan Bosch's short-lived government of 1963. When it was overthrown by a military coup later that year, Majluta went into exile, returning to rebuild his political career and winning the PRD's vice-presidential nomination for the 1978 elections.

In power, Majluta was out of sympathy with the PRD's more radical social- democratic wing. As head of Corde, one of the large state-sector companies, he was also allegedly involved in corruption, although charges were never proven. His real concern, however, was to beat off the challenge of rival caudillos or strongmen within the PRD, and this struggle dominated the rest of his career.

After Guzmn's suicide, Majluta hoped to win the PRD's presidential nomination, but lost out to Jorge Antonio Blanco. When Blanco won the 1982 elections, Majluta became president of the senate, using his position to side with the opposition and block his rival's policy programme. As Blanco's administration gradually slid into bankruptcy and scandal, Majluta again aimed for the PRD's nomination. This time, however, he faced the formidable Jose Francisco Pena Gmez, and open war broke out between the two men's factions. After several rival supporters were killed in shoot- outs, Majluta finally grabbed the nomination for 1986.

Despite his considerable political skills, Majluta was no match in the elections that year for Joaqun Balaguer, the grand old man of Dominican politics. Balaguer defeated Majluta by a narrow margin to return to the presidency at the age of 78. The brutal in-fighting which had won Majluta the PRD ticket had also alienated a large section of the party, and many of the PRD faithful voted against their own candidate.

Majluta did not enhance his standing by claiming victory as soon as voting ended and by demanding a rerun of the election. In the end a series of meetings with emissaries from the military and Church - the country's real power-brokers - forced him to accept defeat.

In 1987 Majluta was expelled from the PRD as Pena Gmez reasserted his influence, but an electoral court ruled the move illegal. In 1989 he left to form his own Independent Revolutionary Party (PRI), an organisation geared specifically towards his own electoral aspirations. The PRI never gained genuine popular support, but the 7 per cent it won in the 1990 election was enough to undermine Pena Gmez's chances.

Ironically, in the weeks before his death, Majluta had sought a rapprochement with his old rival and had even endorsed Pena Gmez's candidature for the forthcoming May elections. It was an uncharacteristic gesture on the part of a hard-nosed, cynical fighter who always valued personal power far higher than party democracy.

James Ferguson

Jacobo Majluta Azar, politician: born 9 October 1934; Vice-President, Dominican Republic 1978-82, President, 1982; married Ana Elisa Villanueva (one daughter); died Tampa, Florida 2 March 1996.

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