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The Dominican Republic, Trujillo Regime, and overthrow of Juan Bosch

Through the 1930s, '40's and '50s, the Dominican Republic was ruled by the former cattle rustler and now dictator, Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina, better known in the United States as simply Trujillo. He owned twenty homes, numerous businesses and one-fifth of his nation's agricultural land. He surrounded himself with murderers who kept the public intimidated. He promoted himself to his subjects as the Son of God, Savior of Mankind, Generalissimo and Father of the Fatherland. And he ignored the tourist industry, because he did not want a lot of Americans snooping around.

With his enormous wealth, Trujillo supported a lobby effort in Washington D.C., and he had a friend as Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Harold D. Coole of North Carolina, who supported Trujillo's interests in the growing of sugarcane.

The Dominican Republic had never had a plantation economy. That, with black slave labor, had been on the western side of the island – in Haiti. Most common folk in the Dominican Republic were subsistence farmers, and there had been mixing between the races. But Trujillo wanted his fellow Dominicans to think of themselves as white, in contrast to Haiti, which was predominately black. In 1937 Trujillo whipped up anti-Haitian fears and massacred thousands of blacks. Under his leadership history was been rewritten, describing the Haitians as villains and the Dominicans as white. Mixed Dominicans were defined as Indians (the Indians, however, having been annihilated long before). And Trujillo purged the use of the African hand drum from merengue bands and he banned voodoo ceremonies.

In 1959, Trujillo was blaming Fidel Castro for a rising tide of discontent within the Dominican Republic. In 1960, Venezuela produced evidence that agents of Trujillo had tried to assassinate its president – while Trujillo was playing host to Venezuela's former dictator, Pérez Jiménez. Venezuela appealed to the Organization of American States. An economic embargo was suggested, and Trujillo clamped down harder on opposition within his country.

Trujillo met his end in May 1961. He was assassinated by young army officers in his private army who, it is said, were unhappy about delays in being promoted. note28  The assassins caught Trujillo in his car on a lonely road while on his way to meet one of his many mistresses. Nominal power shifted to Trujillo's vice president, Joaquín Balaguer, while real power remained with military men, and while Trujillo's sons maneuvered for position. Common people rallied and rioted, demanding democracy. Two of Trujillo's sons left the island on October 22 and returned on November 15 in an attempt to seize power.

The Kennedy administration intervened. Here was an opportunity to stand up for democracy – six months after the Bay of Pigs invasion and two months after the Berlin Wall had gone up. United States warships with 4000 Marines appeared just outside the three-mile limit. A jet fighter flew overhead, and all members of the Trujillo family fled the country, to live thereafter on savings from Swiss banks.

The republic prepared itself for elections, and, in an atmosphere of freedom, political parties sprouted like mushrooms. Only the republic's small Communist Party was outlawed, in deference to the United States. In the elections that year, the pro-Castro party did poorly. The winner, with 62 percent of the vote, was Juan Bosch, who belonged to the Dominican Revolutionary Party, or PRD – described by some as Social Democrats. He had been a writer and an academic and had spent years in exile as an activist opposed to the Trujillo regime.

Juan Bosch was an anti-Communist reformer, as was common among Social Democrats. He began a land redistribution program and encouraged strengthening the labor movement. Business men did not much like Bosch. Nor did leading members of the Catholic Church. The republic's new constitution provided for the separation of church and state. Divorces were now legal, and religious schools were obliged to be open for state inspection. Landowners were displeased with Bosch's land program. And conservatives disliked the freedom of speech enjoyed by admirers of Castro and others. They were in panic, believing that Bosch was about to turn their country into another Cuba. The U.S. ambassador, Bartlow Marin, accused Bosch of being soft on "Castro Communists." Also, Bosch's reorganization of the military displeased high-ranking military officers, who believed that he was establishing his own rival military power.

Bosch did not bend with the pressures from conservatives, and on September 3, 1963, in a bloodless coup, the military overthrew the democracy, driving Juan Bosch into exile again – to Puerto Rico. A civilian government was hastily created, while power remained with military men.

For two years the Dominican Republic was in economic and political turmoil. In April, 1965, a group of military officers rebelled and led an attempt to restore Bosch to the presidency. The fighting spread to civilians, and, after four days, the rebels appeared to be gaining the upper hand. Alarmed by populist rhetoric, conservatives again saw a Castro-like revolution as imminent. The U.S. President, Lyndon Johnson, did not want to be seen as failing to contain Castroism. He believed that he could not win a re-election if he permitted a second Cuba. He was feeling threatened by developments in Vietnam, and he wanted to send a message to Hanoi that the U.S. was strong and willing to use its strength. Under the guise of defending U.S. citizens, President Johnson sent 42,000 Marines to the Domincan Republic, Johnson describing his move as an effort to stop a Communist rebellion. Latin members of the Organization of American States sided with Johnson and provided legitimacy of sorts for his move by creating an Inter-American Peace Force, of which the U.S. force was a part. Bosch was denied his return to power, and in 1966 new elections were held in which 300 of Bosch's supporters were killed. The new president was the former vice-president under Trujillo, Joaquin Balaguer, who was believed to have become a moderate.


Latin America: the Development of its Civilization, Third Edition, by Helen Miller Bailey and Abraham P Nasatir, pp 681-3,1973

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