When Leonel Fernandez leaves the presidency of the Dominican Republic in August next year, he can do so with a high degree of pride. He has radically transformed the Caribbean nation of 9.2 million people.
When Fernandez first assumed the presidency in 1996, he quickly set his stamp in three areas that would charactarize his three terms as the nation's leader: Efficient economic management, major infrastructure works and strong international links.
In addition to Fernandez' first four-year term (1996-2000), he became president in 2004 and was re-elected in 2008 for another four-year term.
Fernandez, 57, can best be characterized as a tropical mixture of Jack Kennedy and Bill Clinton. Like Kennedy, he has inspired and appealed to his nation's best and brightest. Also, like Kennedy, he holds the honor of being his country's youngest elected president.
Like Clinton, Fernandez can boast of having presided--during his last term as president--over his country's fastest economic growth in recent memory. Also, like Clinton, he is considered a brilliant orator with no need to read from written speeches.
In 1996, the Dominican Republic had been going through several decades of international isolation, partly because of its own priorities. In stark contrast to his predecessors, Fernandez routinely made appearances at the UN General Assembly and took foreign trips that initially included places as far away as Japan and Singapore.
Part of Fernandez's international interest can be traced to his childhood. When he was 9 years old, his family moved to New York, where the future president picked up many ideas he would later import into the Dominican Republic, such as a Metro subway system.
Today, Fernandez is one of the few presidents in the world who can boast cordial relations with a broad group of contentious political leaders. It is no accident that Fernandez was instrumental in brokering a 2008 peace deal between Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and his then-counterpart in Colombia, Alvaro Uribe, after Colombian troops had entered Ecuador to attack the base of a Colombian terrorist group and Ecuador ally Chavez had retaliated with threats of war.
Fernandez not only maintained good relations with Chavez and Uribe at the same time, but has also in recent years managed to do so with then-presidents George W. Bush of the United States and Fidel Castro of Cuba.
Fernandez' recent proposal to halt speculation with international prices...