Fernández, Leonel (Dominican Republic)

Reference work entry


Dr Leonel Fernández first became president in 1996 and won further 4 year terms in 2004 and 2008. He won plaudits for easing the country’s economic crisis, but poverty, unemployment and corruption persist.

Early Life

Leonel Antonio Fernández Reyna was born on 26 Dec. 1953 in Santo Domingo, the capital city. In 1962 his family moved to New York, where he attended school before returning to Santo Domingo in 1971. He enrolled at the Independent University of Santo Domingo (UASD) to study law. In 1973 Fernández joined the leftist Dominican Liberation Party (PLD), the movement founded by his professor and mentor, the former president, Juan Bosch. Following his graduation with a doctorate in 1978, Fernández worked as a political journalist. He subsequently lectured at the UASD and the Latin American Faculty of Social Science in Santo Domingo. Elected to the PLD’s central committee in 1985, he rose through the party’s administrative ranks and stood as Bosch’s running mate at the 1994 presidential election (won by Joaquín Balaguer). Balaguer was barred from running in the May 1996 elections and Fernández defeated José Francisco Peña Gómez in a run-off a month later.

Career Peak

Sworn in as president on 16 Aug. 1996, Fernández brought in sweeping economic and judicial reforms. However, despite increased foreign investment, economic growth and infrastructural improvements, he was displaced as president by Hipólito Mejía of the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) in Aug. 2000 amid discontent over power cuts in the previously privatized electricity industry. Mejía presided over a deepening economic crisis and spiralling crime and unemployment. Fernández was re-elected president on 16 May 2004 and introduced austerity measures and succeeded in stabilizing inflation and the currency. However, attempts to tackle poverty and corruption and to resolve the energy crisis were less successful. A free trade agreement with the USA and the countries of Central America was ratified by the government in 2005. In parliamentary elections in May 2006 and in May 2010 the PLD and its allies secured a majority of congressional seats, while in May 2008 Fernández was again re-elected to the presidency.

In the 2012 presidential elections Leonel Fernández was constitutionally barred from seeking a third term. The elections were won by Danilo Medina (PLD) in a close vote (51% to 47%), with his opponent Hipolito Mejia accusing the ruling PLD of buying votes and other irregularities.

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