World

Former Dominican President Salvador Jorge Blanco Dies

Salvador Jorge Blanco, the former Dominican president who was convicted, then acquitted, on corruption charges, died peacefully in his Santo Domingo home on Sunday, according to his son, Orlando Jorge Mera.

The 84-year-old had been in a coma since suffering a cerebral hematoma when he fell out of bed on the morning of Nov. 20. He had been diagnosed with hydrocephalus, in which liquid builds up around the brain and spinal cord.

President Leonel Fernandez announced three days of national mourning, with flags across the Caribbean country lowered to half-mast.

President from 1982 to 1986, Jorge Blanco was sentenced along with three other men to 20 years in prison in 1991 for misspending government funds meant for military purchases. He was the first former Dominican head of state to be convicted of corruption and served two months in prison before he was released to continue his appeal.

The conviction was overturned in 2001 by an appeals court that ruled Blanco and the three other men were never provided the right to defend themselves during the 1991 trial.

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"We are proud of his legacy," his son said in a Twitter message.

Blanco, a member of the Revolutionary Party, had maintained his innocence and said he was the victim of political persecution during the presidency of Joaquin Balaguer, who held office for ten years after Blanco's term.

Blanco's single term in office was marked by severe economic problems that lingered despite his austerity policies backed by the International Monetary Fund and rescheduling of one-third of the Caribbean country's $3 billion foreign debt.

Labor unions called repeated one-day general strikes in protest of the austerity measures, which included freezing public paychecks. Judges, government-employed doctors and agronomists went on strike over wages. Rioting that erupted in April 1984 left dozens dead.

Blanco did not seek re-election in the 1985 presidential campaign.

At the end of his term in 1986, Balaguer's lawyers announced a corruption probe and Blanco sought asylum from the Venezuelan ambassador after a judge ordered him arrested. The Venezuelans turned him down.

Blanco then moved to Atlanta to seek medical treatment for a heart ailment, before returning to the Dominican Republic for his corruption trial. After his conviction was overturned, he largely dropped out of the public eye.

He is survived by his son and daughter, Dilia Leticia. His wife, Asela Mera Checo, died in 2007. His burial was scheduled for Tuesday.

This story is based on reporting by Ezequiel Abiu Lopez from The Associated Press.

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