Leonel Fernández

President of the Dominican Republic, 1996-2000 and 2004-2012
Chubb Fellow: 
2012 to 2013

Leonel Antonio Fernández Reyna is a Dominican lawyer, academic, and was President of the Dominican Republic from 1996 to 2000 and from 2004 to 2012.

Fernández became the first elected president of the Dominican Republic under his political party, the Dominican Liberation Party (“Partido de la Liberación Dominicana” in Spanish, PLD).  Fernández’s administrations have focused much on technological and infrastructural development and macroeconomic and monetary stability.

Fernández is the son of José Antonio Fernández Collado and Yolanda Reyna Romero. A native of Villa Juana, Distrito Nactional, his family moved to the United States and he spent most of his childhood and teenage years in living in New York City in the Washington Heights neighborhood, well known for being densely populated by Dominican-ancestry residents.

Fernández became involved with politics at a young age. He was an outstanding student leader, and held the General Secretariat of the Students’ Association of the Faculty for Judicial and Social Sciences of the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo, in addition to actively taking part in the protests against the Balaguer regime. He founded the Party of Dominican Liberation (PLD) in 1973 and was a member of its Central Committee (1983) and Political Committee (1990), and later served as its Press Secretary and Secretary of International Relations.

In 1996, he won the Presidency of the Dominican Republic and held office until 2000. During his Presidency, Fernández began dynamic and aggressive policies that reinserted the Dominican Republic into the international sphere and brought it out of its traditional isolation, thus beginning processes of regional integration, open markets, and globalization.

During his first term in office, Fernández’s political agenda was one of economic and critical reform. He helped enhance Dominican participation in hemispheric forums, such as the Organization of American States and the Summit of the Americas. The Dominican economy enjoyed an average growth rate of seven percent, the highest in Latin America for that period, and was among the highest in the world.  Inflation was stabilized in the low single digits, also among the lowest of Latin America.

Also during his first term, Fernández began a very personal and visionary plan to run the Dominican Republic, stating that “We could be the Singapore of the Caribbean”. He favored the then-called “mega-project”, in which his government built numerous highways and tunnels to improve transit between major cities, and created OMSA (Metropolitan Office of Autobus Services).  He also provided incentives to encourage foreign direct investment.

Fernández was elected to a second term of office in 2004 with an absolute majority and the second highest percentage ever in Dominican history (57%). His victory was due in large part to the collapse of the Dominican economy. This collapse has been attributed to skyrocketing oil prices and a slumping international economy post 9/11, excessive borrowing under the Mejía administration and the failure of three of the biggest banks in the country.  He was sworn in to a third term of office in August 2008, serving for four more years, leaving office in 2012.

Fernández is the recipient of Doctorates Honoris Causa from the universities of Sorbona, Harvard, Pedro Henríquez Ureña, Seton Hall, Santiago de Chile, and Stevens Institute of Technology. He is the author of numerous books, including Los Estados Unidos en el Caribe: De la Guerra Fría al Plan Reagan and Raíces de un Poder Usurpado. In addition, he has collaborated with various national and foreign newspapers regarding issues of communication, culture, history and law.

Fernández is currently President of the World Fund For Democracy and Development, and President of the Club of Executives of the United States of the Caribbean, organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington. In addition, he is Advisor to the Freely-Elected Heads of Government at the Carter Center, contributing member of Foreign Affairs Magazine Spanish Edition, a Member of Inter-American Dialogue, and a member of the Circle of Montevideo. He remains President of the PLD.