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Daily News - 11 May 1998

Dr. José Francisco Peña Gómez passes away

The leader of the Partido Revolucionario Dominicano, and the party's candidate to mayor for Santo Domingo, Dr. José Francisco Peña Gómez (the archives photograph shows the politician campaigning for President in 1996) passed away last night after suffering a pulmonary edema. On Friday, he got wet when participating in the inauguration of the Winston Churchill Boulevard together with Mayor of Santo Domingo, Rafael Suberví Bonilla.

The 61-year old Peña Gómez died at 10:30 pm at his home at Cambita Garabito, in San Cristóbal, about half an hour's drive from Santo Domingo. Peña Gómez had been ill for two years with cancer of the pancreas.

The great speaker, educator, poet, lawyer, writer and political tactician, unsuccessfully sought the presidency of the Republic in 1990 and 1994, losing to former President Joaquín Balaguer. He again was the candidate of the PRD in 1996, losing this time to today President Leonel Fernández, the candidate endorsed by Dr. Joaquín Balaguer.

Secretary of the Presidency Danilo Medina said the government would declare three days mourning. The PLD would suspend their political campaign in respect to Peña Gómez, said Medina. There are only three campaign days remaining for the 16 May elections. Peña Gómez's body was taken to the Olympic Stadium of the Juan Pablo Duarte Olympic Center, where Dominicans can bid him farewell. His burial will be on Wednesday, 13 May. President Leonel Fernández announced he would address the nation at noontime.

Peña Gómez lead in voter's preference in the polls for the municipal elections that will be held on 16 May 1998. In the Hamilton & Staff poll published in the 11 May edition of Hoy newspaper, Peña Gómez had received 49% of the voter's preference versus TV producer and comedian-turned politician, Roberto Salcedo, who had 33% of the vote. In third place, former mayor and TV producer, Rafael Corporán de los Santos received 10% of the vote.

In his last interview published in the daily press, he told Hoy newspaper journalist Asela Maria Lamarche: "It is logical that I win the elections, because I have spent my entire life fighting for this country, without requesting anything in return. Now I am trying to write my epilogue with the position of mayor. I believe this country cannot deny me that possibility."

Despite his illness, Peña Gómez chose to run for mayor as a solution to the impasse in the PRD between three factions that threatened to divide the party, as each had a different candidate to mayor. He chose Johnny Ventura, who had been vice mayor during his first city government from 1982-1986, and congressman, in addition to being the most popular merengue orchestra director of all times, as his vice mayor. Party spokesmen said that Dr. José Francisco Peña Gómez's name would appear on the ballot as the PRD candidate to mayor. It is yet to be seen if Peña Gómez's choice as his replacement, Johnny Ventura will be confirmed as mayor once the elections are held and in the case that the PRD would win the election.

Biography of José Francisco Peña Gómez:

The Dominican Horatio Alger, the presidential candidate of the Partido Revolucionario Dominicano (PRD), a moderately liberal political organization which is a member of Socialist International, had a rags to riches life story that was a testimony to his well-known perseverance and fighting spirit.

A descendant of African slaves, long thought to be the grandson of Haitian immigrants, Peña Gómez was born on March 6, 1937 in Hato Nuevo, a rural area in the town of Mao in the north central part of the Dominican Republic. His parents, Ogis Vicente and María Marcelino were obliged to flee the persecution against Haitians and their descendants that Trujillo, the Dominican dictator, had ordered in his drive to "dominicanize" the country. Peña Gómez was raised by a Dominican family, Regino Peña and Fermina Gómez, that gave their names to the adopted baby boy and his brother.

A gifted child, Peña Gómez at the age of 15 was recommended for teacher by the distinguished professor Leonidas Ricardo Roman. He went on to participate in the national literacy campaign that Trujillo had initiated. In Mao, he taught from the school room at the home of Doña Dolores viuda Bogaert. Mrs. Bogaert had one of the largest libraries in the region, where he indulged in the classics and several books on politics she had available.

Coming to the capital in the early 1950's, Peña Gómez finished high school in 1956 and continued to teach in the nearby town of San Cristóbal. He entered the Universidad de Santo Domingo (UASD) in 1957 from which he graduated in law in 1966.

His resonant voice helped him to obtain a position in a school for radio and television speakers in 1959, and afterwards he worked as a sports commentator on Radio Televisión Dominicana.

Later his work on the radio would bring him to the attention of Juan Bosch who, in 1962, after the fall of the Trujillo dictatorship, was the presidential candidate of the Partido Revolucionario Dominicano (PRD).

In 1961 he joined the PRD, and barely a year later became a member of the National Executive Committee, in charge of the department of press and propaganda. Starting in 1962, Peña Gómez became the radio voice of the PRD on a program which continued to this day known as "Tribuna Democrática."

When the PRD government was overthrown in 1963 and Juan Bosch went into exile in Puerto Rico, 26-year old Peña Gómez, by now an acknowledged leader within the party, accompanied him. Peña Gómez was able to return to the Dominican Republic several years before Juan Bosch with the title of Secretary General of the PRD.

It is widely recognized that Peña Gómez played a pivotal role in the events of April, 1965, when the revolution broke out between those who wanted a return to civilian government and those who favored the military junta that was governing the country. From his position as a radio commentator, Peña Gómez was able to rally the "constitucionalistas" who advocated the return of Juan Bosch and the constitutional government that had been elected in 1962. He had not only became famous for his radio addresses, but also for his public speeches which galvanized public opinion in favor of the "constitucionalista" cause.

After the election of Joaquín Balaguer in 1966, Peña Gómez was able, with the economic assistance of a friend, to pursue post-graduate studies in Paris where he learned French, English and Portuguese.

As of 1969, during the exile of Juan Bosch, Peña Gómez masterminded PRD politics throughout the subsequent re-elections of Dr. Joaquin Balaguer.

During the exile of Professor Juan Bosch, he led the PRD and preferred that the party abstain from participating in the 1970 elections that were won by the PRSC and Dr. Balaguer.

In 1973, tactical differences led to the division of the party, with Juan Bosch who opposed the participation in democratic elections, leaving to form the Partido de la Liberación Dominicana. With Juan Bosch left several of the most renown intellectuals of the party.

In 1973, he began the reconstruction of the party. In 1974, Peña Gómez was appointed secretary general of the PRD. At the time he linked the party to the International Socialism movement, and went on to lead the party to victory in the 1978 (Antonio Guzmán Fernández) elections, and the 1982 elections (Salvador Jorge Blanco).

He He was the leading director of the International Socialist group for Latin America from 1978 through 1987.

His only government position has been that of mayor of Santo Domingo, from 1982 to 1986, during the government of lawyer Salvador Jorge Blanco. He was not tainted by the corruption scandals which were laid against the government of President Jorge Blanco once he was out of office.

In August 1991, a large cyst in the groin was removed in Caracas, Venezuela. On 23 September 1994, Dr. William Jana said that a bacteria Helycobacter Pyloris was lodged in Peña Gómez's body, causing bleeding from an ulcer. Suffering from reportedly stomach pains, he traveled to Cleveland Clinic Foundation in the United States where on 5 October he was operated on and a malignant tumor was extracted from his spleen, part of his stomach and pancreas. He returned to the DR in December saying he had been cured.

In 1994 Peña Gómez ran on the PRD ticket against PRSC candidate Joaquín Balaguer, in a extremely tight election marred by irregularities and fraud. In a political decision to solve the electoral impasse following the celebration of that controversial election, the Junta Central Electoral, the electoral court, accepted a congressional ruling whereby the constitution was modified to reduce the Presidency of Joaquín Balaguer to two years, presidential re-election was barred, and a new election was called for 16 May 1996. The congressional modification also introduced the second round, whereby to win the presidential election, the candidate would have to receive 50%+1 of the vote.

Peña Gómez ran against today President Leonel Fernández of the Partido de la Liberación Dominicana. While he received 49% of the vote, the highest ever cast for a candidate in a presidential election, he failed to reach the 50%+1 vote that was needed to win the 1996 election in the first round. He lost in the second round to the candidate of the PLD when that party pacted a "patriotic alliance" with the Partido Reformista Social Cristiano of then President Joaquín Balaguer. Dr. Balaguer endorsed Leonel Fernández, calling his voters to favor Leonel Fernández over Dr. Peña Gómez and the PRSC's own candidate, Jacinto Peynado.

Following the elections, on 6 September 1996, Peña told the nation he had suffered a relapse from the malignant tumor of which he had been operated in 1994 and would have to endure a second operation. At the same time, his travels to Japan, China, Mexico in quest for alternative medicine remedies were well publicized.

In October 1996, he was operated on by Dr. Murray Brennan, chief of surgery of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center of New York City. He announced he would write his memories.

Peña Gómez endured a third operation on 31 December 1996 at the Sloan Kettering Memorial Cancer Center.

In March 1998, though, following the difficulties within the PRD at choosing the party's candidate to mayor for Santo Domingo, Peña Gómez chose to appoint himself candidate to mayor. Party differences have their route in different factions aspirations to run for President on the party's ticket in year 2000.

Shortly after the announcement, Peña Gómez traveled to New York and was interned. He was said to have been suffering from a throat irritation, and malaria. He spent almost a month in the States recovering and then returned to the head the PRD campaign.

Peña Gómez had said, in one of his last interviews, that if he was voted mayor of Santo Domingo, his top priority would be to choose the PRD's candidate to president for year 2000.

Peña Gómez married Peggy Cabral in 1986. Peggy Cabral, while constantly accompanying her husband, Cabral has been active in politics herself.

Peña Gómez had seven children of his own and raised two other. These are Lourdes, Luchy, Jose Frank, Angela, Desiree, Abril, Arlene, and Jose Francisco Peña Guaba, the later active in politics.

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