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President Fires Ministers of Defense and Industry

June 18, 1988

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) _ President Joaquin Balaguer has fired the country’s top military official, replacing him with a man once accused of plotting Balaguer’s ouster.

Interior Minister Gen. Elias Wessin y Wessin, 60, was chosen Friday to replace Lt. Gen. Antonio Imbert Barrera, the armed forces minister. Wessin y Wessin was an unsuccessful presidential candidate in 1968 and 1982 elections.

Rafael Marion-Landais, minister of commerce and industry, at the center of a heated debate this week over food prices, was also replaced Friday by businessman Juan Valerio Sanchez, president of the Dominican Federation of Businessmen.

Marion-Landais angered many Dominicans when he was asked in a press conference what people should do in the face of rising food prices and he replied, ″Those who can, should buy it.″

The presidential decree reinstated Wessin y Wessin, who had retired, into the army. Wessin y Wessin was interior minister in 1971 when Balaguer sent him into exile.

No replacement was named immediately for Wessin y Wessin in the ministry of interior, which is in charge of domestic security.

The decree gave no explanation why Imbert Barrera, 66, had been replace. He is the only surviving member of the group of 12 men who in 1961 ambushed and assassinated dictator Rafael L. Trujillo.

The national congress declared Imbert Barrera a national hero and general- for-life in 1962 for his role in bringing an end to the 30-year-old dictatorship.

Former President Juan Bosch, leader of the leftist Dominican Liberation Party, has charged recently that the military was plotting to carry out terrorist acts as a ruse for arresting leftists, who would be blamed for the terrorism.

Balaguer, 80, has been president of the Dominican Republic for 16 of the last 21 years. He was elected in 1986 to his fifth presidential term after having been out of office for eight years.

In 1963, Wessin y Wessin and other military officers participated in an overthrow of Bosch that eventually led to a 1965 civil war, which a U.S. invasion put down. It was Wessin y Wessin who led the fight against the rebels and asked the United States to intervene.

After the civil war, Wessin y Wessin was sent to Panama as a military attache. In 1968, retired from the army, he ran unsuccessfully for president as the candidate of a small, conservative party that he founded.

In a nationally televised live broadcast in 1971, Balaguer accused Wessin y Wessin of conspiring with other officers to overthrow the government. Balaguer sent him into exile in Spain.

Wessin y Wessin returned in 1978, just 10 days after Balaguer lost that year’s presidential elections. Wessin y Wessin was a presidential candidate again in 1982. He backed Balaguer’s successful campaign in 1986 and became interior minister. In recent days he has called for Balaguer’s reelection in 1990.

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