Dominican Republic National History

The island of Hispaniola (La Isla Española) was the first colony in the Caribbean settled by Spain. As such, it served as the logistical base for the conquest of the rest of Latin America. Christopher Columbus first sighted the island in 1492 toward the end of his first voyage to "India". Columbus and his crew found the island inhabited by a large population of
friendly Taino Indians (Arawaks). The land was fertile, but of greater importance to the Spaniards was the discovery that gold could be obtained either by barter with the natives or by extraction from alluvial deposits on the island.

After several attempts to plant colonies along the north coast of Hispaniola, the first permanent European settlement was founded in 1493 at Isabella, on the north coast of the island not far east of Puerto Plata. Santo Domingo was the first permanent settlement on the southern coast, founded in 1496. Under Spanish sovereignty, the entire island bore the name
Santo Domingo. Their relations with the Taino Indians, whom they ruthlessly maltreated, deteriorated from the beginning. Aroused by continued seizures of their food supplies, other exactions, and abuse of their women, the formerly peaceful Indians rebelled- -only to be crushed decisively in 1495.

Columbus, who ruled the colony as royal governor until 1499, attempted to put an end to the more serious abuses. He devised the repartimiento system of land settlement and native labor under which a settler, without assuming any obligation to the authorities, could be granted in perpetuity a large tract of land together with the services of the Indians
living on it. The repartimiento system did nothing to improve the lot of the Indians, and the Spanish crown changed it by instituting the system of encomienda in 1503. Under the encomienda system, all land became in theory the property of the crown, and the Indians thus were considered tenants on royal land.

The hard work demanded of the Indians and the privations that they suffered demonstrated the unrealistic nature of the encomienda system, which effectively operated on a honor system as a result of the absence of enforcement efforts by Spanish authorities. The Indian population died off rapidly from exhaustion, starvation, disease, and other causes. By 1548 the
Taino population, estimated at 1 million in 1492, had been reduced to approximately 500. The consequences were profound. The need for a new labor force to meet the growing demands of sugarcane cultivation prompted the importation of African slaves beginning in 1503. By 1520, black African labor was used almost exclusively.

As early as the 1490s, the landowners demonstrated their power by successfully conspiring against Columbus. His successor, Francisco de Bobadilla, was appointed chief justice and royal commissioner by the Spanish crown in 1499. Bobadilla sent Columbus back to Spain in irons, but Queen Isabella soon ordered him released. Bobadilla proved an inept administrator, and he was replaced in 1503 by the more efficient Nicolás de Ovando, who assumed the titles of governor and supreme justice. He decided
to take action to domesticate the Indians once and for all. He arranged for the widely respected Indian princess Anacoana, the widow of Caonabo, to organize a feast that was supposedly intended to welcome the new governor to the island. When all of the 80-plus of the island’s chiefs were assembled in one large house, the Spanish soldiers surrounded it, then set it on fire. Those who were not killed immediately were brutally tortured to death. After a mock trial, Anacaona was also hanged. With no remaining leaders, future resistance from the Indians was eliminated.

In 1509 Columbus’s son, Diego Columbus, was appointed governor of the colony of Santo Domingo. Diego’s ambition and the splendid surroundings he provided for himself aroused the suspicions of the crown. As a resulted, in 1511 of the crown established the audiencia, a new political institution intended to check the power of the governor. The first audiencia was simply a tribunal composed of three judges whose jurisdiction extended over all the West Indies. In this region, it formed the highest court of appeal. Employment of the audiencia eventually spread throughout Spanish America.

The Council of the Indies, created by Charles V in 1524, was the Spanish crown’s main agency for directing colonial affairs. During most of its existence, the council exercised almost absolute power in making laws, administering justice, controlling finance and trade, supervising the church, and directing armies.

Santo Domingo’s prestige began to decline in the first part of the sixteenth century with the conquest of Mexico by Hernán Cortés in 1521 and the discovery there, and later in Peru, of great wealth in gold and silver. These events coincided with the exhaustion of the alluvial deposits of gold and the dying off of the Indian labor force in Santo Domingo. Large numbers of
colonists left for Mexico and Peru; new immigrants from Spain largely bypassed Santo Domingo for the greater wealth to be found in lands to the west. The population of Santo Domingo dwindled, agriculture languished, and Spain soon became preoccupied with its richer and vaster mainland colonies.

The stagnation that prevailed in Santo Domingo for the next 250 years was interrupted on several occasions by armed engagements, as the French and the English attempted to weaken Spain’s economic and political dominance in the New World. In 1586 the English admiral, Sir Francis Drake, captured the city of Santo Domingo and collected a ransom for its return to Spanish control. In 1655 Oliver Cromwell dispatched an English fleet, commanded by Sir William Penn, to take Santo Domingo. After meeting heavy resistance, the English sailed farther west and took Jamaica instead.

The withdrawal of the colonial government from the northern coastal region opened the way for smugglers, run-away indentured servants and members of ships’ crew of various European nationalities, who were for the most part a gang of lawless rifraff. Most earned their living by capturing animals to sell for their leather, or roasting the meal over smoking (boucan, in French) fires, and so came to be called buccaneers. Tortuga Island (Ile de la Tortue), off the northwest coast of present-day Haiti, later became the headquarters of the pirates of the Caribbean who raided the Spanish treasure ships, and was a recruitment centre for expeditions mounted by many notorious scoundrals including the British pirate Henry Morgan. Although the Spanish destroyed the buccaneers’ settlements several times, the determined French would not be deterred or expelled. The creation of the French West India Company in 1664 signalled France’s intention to colonize western Hispaniola. Intermittent warfare went on between French and Spanish settlers over the next three decades; however, Spain, hard-pressed by warfare in Europe, could not maintain a garrison in Santo Domingo sufficient to secure the entire island against encroachment. In 1697, under the Treaty of Ryswick, Spain ceded the western third of the island to France. The exact boundary of this territory (Saint-Domingue–now Haiti) was not established at the time of cession and remained in question until 1929.

The Bourbon dynasty replaced the Habsburgs in Spain in 1700. The new regime introduced innovations–especially economic reforms–that gradually began to revive trade in Santo Domingo. The crown progressively relaxed the rigid controls and restrictions on commerce between the mother country and the colonies and among the colonies. The last convoys sailed in 1737; the monopoly port system was abolished shortly thereafter. By the middle of the century, both immigration and the importation of slaves had increased. In 1765 the Caribbean islands received authorization for almost unlimited trade with Spanish ports; permission for the Spanish colonies in the Americas to trade among themselves followed in 1774. 

As a result of the stimulus provided by the trade reforms, the population of the colony of Santo Domingo increased from about 6,000 in 1737 to approximately 125,000 in 1790. Of this number, about 40,000 were white landowners, about 25,000 were black or mulatto freedmen, and some 60,000 were slaves. The composition of Santo Domingo’s population contrasted sharply with that of the neighboring French colony of Saint-Domingue, where some 30,000 whites and 27,000 freedmen extracted labor from at least 500,000 black slaves.

Although they shared the island of Hispaniola, the colonies of Saint-Domingue and Santo Domingo followed disparate paths. Cultural differences explained the contrast to some extent, but the primary divergence was economic. Saint-Domingue was the most productive agricultural colony in the Western Hemisphere, and its output contributed heavily to the economy of France. By contrast, Santo Domingo was a small colony with little impact on the economy of Spain. Prosperous French plantation owners sought to maximize their gain through increased production for a growing world market. Thus, they imported great numbers of slaves from Africa and drove this captive work force ruthlessly.

Inspired by momentous events taking place in France during the French Revolution, and by the disputes between the different classes of whites and mulattos, a slave revolt broke out in the French colony in 1791 and soon came to be led by Toussaint Louverture. In danger of completely losing their colony, France abolished slavery in 1794. Toussaint’s soldiers and the French easily overwhelmed the Spanish part of the island which surrendered the next year.

Although Toussaint succeeded in re-establishing order and stability and renewing the economy which had been badly devastated by the slave revolt, the new leader in France, Napoleon Bonaparte, could not accept having France’s richest colony governed by a black man. Succumbing to the complaints of former colonists who had lost their plantations, a large expedition was mounted whose ultimate purpose was to conquer the blacks and re-establish slavery. Led by Napoleon’s brother-in-law, General Leclerc,  in 1802, the expedition turned into a disaster, and shortly after the black army definitively defeated the French, the blacks, led by Jean-Jacques Dessalines, declared their independence and established the republic of Haïti on the western third of the island in January 1804.

By 1808 a number of émigré Spanish landowners had returned to Santo Domingo. These royalists had no intention of living under French rule, however, and they sought foreign assistance for a rebellion that would restore Spanish sovereignty. Help came from the Haitians, who provided arms, and from the British, who occupied Samaná and blockaded the port of Santo Domingo. The remaining French representatives fled the island in July 1809.

The 1809 restoration of Spanish rule ushered in an era referred to by some historians as España Boba (Foolish Spain). Under the despotic rule of Ferdinand VII, the colony’s economy deteriorated severely. Some Dominicans began to wonder if their interests would not best be served by the sort of independence movement that was sweeping the South American colonies. In keeping with this sentiment, Spanish lieutenant governor José Núñez de Cáceres announced the colony’s independence as the state of Spanish Haiti on November 30, 1821. Cáceres requested admission to the Republic of Gran Colombia (consisting of what later became Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela), recently proclaimed established by Simón Bolívar and his followers. While the request was in transit, however, the president of Haiti, Jean-Pierre Boyer, decided to invade Santo Domingo and to reunite the island under the Haitian flag.

For the next 22 years the whole island came under Haïtian control and domination. Because of their loss of political and economic control, this occupation was deeply resented by the former Spanish ruling class. During the late 1830s an underground resistance group called La Trinitaria (The Trinity) was organized under the leadership of Juan Pablo Duarte. The overthrow of Boyer in the Revolution of 1843 provided a catalyst for the Dominican rebels. Charles Rivière-Hérard replaced Boyer as president of Haiti. After several attacks on the Haïtian army, and due to internal discord, the Haïtians retreated. Independence of the eastern side of the island was officially declared on February 27, 1844, and the name of Dominican Republic was adopted, when the rebels seized the Ozama fortress in the capital. The Haitian garrison, taken by surprise and apparently betrayed by at least one of its sentries, retired in disarray. Within two days, all Haitian officials had left Santo Domingo. Mella headed the provisional governing junta of the new Dominican Republic. Duarte, finally recovered, returned to his country on March 14.

For nearly the next quarter of a century the leadership seesawed between that of General Pedro Santana and General Buenaventura Baez, whose armies continuously fought each other for control over the government. In their efforts to maintain control, the 2 military leaders and their disciples resorted to outside assistance. In 1861 General Santana invited the Spanish to return and take over control of their former colony. But after a short period of mis-management, the Dominicans quickly realized their mistake and forced the Spanish out in 1865. Apparently not learning their lesson, another group begged the United States to come in and take over a decade later. Although US President Grant supported the move, the plan was defeated by the US Congress and then abandoned.

After a successful uprising that forced Báez to flee the country in May 1866, a triumvirate of Cibaeño military leaders, the most prominent of whom was Gregorio Luperón, assumed provisional power. General José María Cabral Luna, who had served briefly as president in 1865, was reelected to that post on September 29, 1866. The baecistas, however, were still a potent force in the republic; they forced Cabral out and reinstalled Báez on May 2, 1868. Once again, his rule was marked by peculation and efforts to sell or to lease portions of the country to foreign interests. These included an intermittent campaign to have the entire country annexed by the United States. He was once again overthrown by rebellious groups in January 1874.

After a period of infighting, backing from Luperón helped Ulises Francisco Espaillat Quiñones to win election as president on March 24, 1876. Espaillat, a political and economic liberal, apparently intended to broaden personal freedoms and to set the nation’s economy on a firmer footing. He never had the opportunity to do either, however. Rebellions in the south and the east forced Espaillat to resign on December 20, 1876. Ever the opportunist, Báez returned once more to power. The most effective opposition to his rule came from guerrilla forces led by a politically active priest, Fernando Arturo de Meriño Ramírez. In February 1878, the unpopular Báez left his country for the last time; he died in exile in 1882.

Both Santana and Báez had now passed from the scene. They had helped to create a nation where violence prevailed in the quest for power, where economic growth and financial stability fell victim to a seemingly endless political contest, and where foreign interests still perceived parts of the national territory as available to the highest bidder. This divisive, chaotic situation invited the emergence of a Machiavellian figure who would "unite" the republic.

This strongman who came to power in 1882 was General Ulysses Heureux. Luperón’s lieutenant, stood out among his fellow Dominicans both physically and temperamentally. The illegitimate son of a Haitian father and a mother who was originally from the island of St. Thomas, he was distinguished by his blackness from most other contenders for power, with the exception of Luperón. As events were to demonstrate, he also possessed a singular thirst for power and a willingness to take any measures necessary to attain and to hold it.

During the four years between Báez’s final withdrawal and Heureaux’s ascension to the presidency, seven individuals held or claimed national, regional, or interim leadership. Among them were Ignacio María González Santin, who held the presidency from June to September 1878; Luperón, who governed from Puerto Plata as provisional president from October 1879 to August 1880; and Meriño, who assumed office in September 1880 after apparently fraudulent general elections. Heureaux served as interior minister under Meriño; his behind-the-scenes influence on the rest of the cabinet apparently exceeded that of the president. Although Meriño briefly suspended constitutional procedures in response to unrest fomented by some remaining baecistas, he abided by the two-year term established under Luperón and turned the reins of government over to Heureaux on September 1, 1882.

Heureaux’s first term as president was not particularly noteworthy. The administrations of Luperón and Meriño had achieved some financial stability for the country; political conditions had settled down to the point that Heureaux needed to suppress only one major uprising during his two-year tenure. By 1884, however, no single potential successor, among the various caciques who constituted the republic’s ruling group, enjoyed widespread support. Luperón, still the leader of the ruling Blue Party, supported General Segundo Imbert for the post, while Heureaux backed the candidacy of General Francisco Gregorio Billini. A consummate dissembler, Heureaux assured Luperón that he would support Imbert should he win the election, but Heureaux also had ballot boxes in critical precincts stuffed in order to assure Billini’s election.

Inaugurated president on September 1, 1884, Billini resisted Heureaux’s efforts to manipulate him. Thus denied de facto rule, Heureaux undermined Billini by spreading rumors to the effect that the president had decreed a political amnesty so that he could conspire with ex-president Cesareo Guillermo Bastardo (February 27-December 6, 1879) against Luperón’s leadership of the Blues. This precipitated a governmental crisis that resulted in Billini’s resignation on May 16, 1885. Vice President Alejandro Woss y Gil succeeded Billini. Heureaux assumed a more prominent role under the new government; a number of his adherents were included in the cabinet, and the general himself assumed command of the national army in order to stem a rebellion led by
Guillermo, whose suicide when he was faced with capture, removed another potential rival for power and further endeared Heureaux to Luperón, a longtime enemy of Guillermo.

Luperón accordingly supported Heureaux in the 1886 presidential elections. Opposed by Casimiro de Moya, Heureaux relied on his considerable popularity and his demonstrated skill at electoral manipulation to carry the balloting. The blatancy of the fraud in some areas, particularly the capital, inspired Moya’s followers to launch an armed rebellion. Heureaux again benefited from Luperón’s support in this struggle; it delayed his inauguration by four months, but it further narrowed the field of political contenders. Having again achieved power, Heureaux maintained his grip on it for the rest of his life.

Several moves served to lay the groundwork for Heureaux’s dictatorship. Constitutional amendments requested by the president and effected by the Congress extended the presidential term from two to four years and eliminated direct elections in favor of the formerly employed electoral college system. To expand his informal power base, Heureaux (who became popularly known as General Lilís, thanks to a common mispronunciation of his first name) incorporated both Reds and Blues into his government. The president also established an extensive network of secret police and informants in order to avert incipient rebellions. The press, previously unhampered, came under new restrictions.

In the face of impending dictatorship, concerned Dominican liberals turned to the only remaining figure of stature, Luperón. The elections of 1888 therefore pitted Heureaux against his political mentor. If the dictator felt any respect for his former commander, he did not demonstrate it during the campaign. Heureaux’s agents attacked Luperón’s campaigners and supporters, arresting and incarcerating considerable numbers of them. Recognizing the impossibility of a free election under such circumstances, Luperón withdrew his candidacy, declined the entreaties of those of his followers who urged armed rebellion, and fled into exile in Puerto Rico. Although plots, intrigue, and abortive insurrections continued under his rule, Heureaux faced no serious challenges until his assassination in 1899. 

After a brief period of armed conflict, the revolutionaries prevailed. Vásquez headed a provisional government established in September 1899. Free, direct elections brought to the presidency Juan Isidro Jiménez Pereyra on November 15. The Jiménez administration faced a fiscal crisis when European creditors, led by the French, began to call in loans that had been contracted by Heureaux. Customs fees represented the only significant source of government revenue at that time. When the Jiménez government pledged 40 percent of its customs revenue to repay its foreign debt, it provoked the ire of the San Domingo Improvement Company. A United States-based firm, the Improvement Company had lent large sums to the Heureaux regime. As a result, it had not only received a considerable percentage of customs revenue, but also had been granted the right to administer Dominican customs in order to ensure regular repayment. Stung by the Jiménez government’s resumption of control over its customs receipts, the directors of the Improvement Company protested to the United States Department of State. The review of the case prompted a renewed interest
in Washington in Dominican affairs.

The death of Heureaux, however, had by no means ushered in an era of political tranquility. Jiménez’s various financial negotiations with foreign powers had aroused opposition among nationalists, particularly in the Cibao, who suspected the president of bargaining away Dominican sovereignty in return for financial settlements. Government forces led by Vásquez put down some early uprisings. Eventually, however, personal and political competition between Jiménez and Vásquez brought them into more serious conflict. Vásquez’s forces proclaimed a revolution on April 26, 1902; with no real base of support, Jiménez fled his office and his country a few days later. Although highly principled, Vásquez was not a strong leader. Squabbles among his followers and opposition to his government from local caciques grew into general unrest that culminated in the seizure of power by ex-president Woss y Gil in April 1903.

Dominican politics had once again polarized into two largely nonideological camps. Where once the Blues and the Reds had contended for power, now the jimenistas (supporters of Jiménez; sing., jimenista) and the horacistas (supporters of Vásquez and Cáceres; sing., horacista) vied for control. Woss y Gil, a jimenista, made the mistake of seeking supporters among the horacista camp and he was overthrown by the jimenista general, Carlos F. Morales Languasco, in December 1903. Rather than restore the country’s leadership to Jiménez, however, Morales set up a provisional government and announced his own candidacy for the presidency– with Cáceres as his running mate. The renewed fraternization with the horacistas incited another jimenista rebellion. This uprising proved unsuccessful, and Morales and Cáceres were inaugurated on June 19, 1904.

Conflict within the Morales administration between supporters of the president and those of the vice president debilitated the government. By late 1905, it became clear that Morales had lost effective control to Cáceres and the cabinet. Morales resolved to lead a coup against his own government; his plan was discovered by the horacistas, however, and he was captured and dispatched into exile. Cáceres assumed the presidency on December 29, 1905.

Around the turn of the century, the sugar industry was revived, and so many American businessmen came to invest and buy plantations that they came to dominate this vital sector of the economy. With the advent of the First World War, and using the excuse that political instability was creating a situation whereby a European power (Germany) might be able to take advantage of the country" s weakness – whereas the real reason was to expand American influence over the Dominican economy – the United States sent in its Marines to occupy the Dominican Republic in 1916. Only a few months earlier, the Americans had also used the same argument as a pretext to occupy neighboring Haïti. The initial military administrator of Haiti, Rear Admiral William Caperton, had actually forced President Arias to retreat from Santo Domingo by threatening the city with naval bombardment on May 13. The first Marines landed three days later. Although they established effective control of the country within two months, the United States forces did not proclaim a military government until November. Most Dominican laws and institutions remained intact under military rule, although the shortage of Dominicans willing to serve in the cabinet forced the military governor, Rear Admiral Harry S. Knapp, to fill a number of portfolios with United States naval officers. The press and radio were censored for most of the occupation, and public speech was limited.

The US occupation in the Dominican Republic lasted 8 years (it went on for 19 years in Haïti), and from the beginning the Americans quickly took over complete control. It ordered the disbanding of the Dominican army and the competing rival strongman armies and forced the population to disarm. The puppet government that was installed was obliged to obey the orders generated by the occupying force commanders. Among the changes made was the re-modeling of the legal structure in order to benefit American investors, who took over greater sectors of the economy and to remove all customs and import barriers for American products brought to the country. The results of the heavy penetration of the local economy by American investors was that many small Dominican businessmen and entrepreneurs were forced out of business. The changes, however, were not all negative, because during this period the former patten of political violence was eliminated, and many improvements in infrastucture and the educational system were introduced.

The most intense opposition to the occupation arose in the eastern provinces of El Seibo and San Pedro de Macorís. From 1917 to 1921, the United States forces battled a guerrilla movement in that area known as the gavilleros. The guerrillas enjoyed considerable support among the population, and they benefited from a superior knowledge of the terrain. The
movement survived the capture and the execution of its leader, Vicente Evangelista, and some initially fierce encounters with the Marines. However, the gavilleros eventually yielded to the occupying forces’ superior firepower, air power (a squadron of six Curtis Jennies), and determined (often brutal) counterinsurgent methods.

After World War I, public opinion in the United States began to run against the occupation. Warren G. Harding, who succeeded Wilson in March 1921, had campaigned against the occupations of both Haiti and the Dominican Republic. In June 1921, United States representatives presented a withdrawal proposal, known as the Harding Plan, which called for Dominican ratification of all acts of the military government, approval of a loan of US$2.5 million for public works and other expenses, the acceptance of United States officers for the constabulary–now known as the National Guard (Guardia Nacional)–and the holding of elections under United States supervision. Popular reaction to the plan was overwhelmingly negative. Moderate Dominican leaders, however, used the plan as the basis for further negotiations that resulted in an agreement allowing for the selection of a provisional president to rule until elections could be organized. Under the supervision of High Commissioner Sumner Welles, Juan Bautista Vicini Burgos assumed the provisional presidency on October 21, 1922. In the presidential election of March 15, 1924, Horacio Vásquez Lajara handily defeated Francisco J. Peynado. Vásquez’s Alliance Party (Partido Alianza) also won a comfortable majority in both houses of Congress. With his inauguration on July 13, control of the republic returned to Dominican hands.

One of the changes made by the Americans was to establish and train a local armed forces (as they also did in Haïti) whose supposedly intended purpose was to maintain law and order and public security. In both counties the end result of this change in the system was to shift power from the civilians to the military. During the time of the occupation, the head of the army was a former telegraph clerk named Raphael Leonidas Trujilo. This unscrupulous strongman utilized his position in power to amass an enormous personal fortune from embezzlement activities which initally involved the procurement of military supplies. Although the Dominican Republic had its first relatively free election after the US forces left in 1924, within a short time Trujilo was able to block any government reform actions, and in 1930 he took over complete control of the reins of power.

Using the army as his enforcer, Trujilo wasted no time in setting up a repressive dictatorship, organizing a vast network of spies to eliminate all potential opponents. His henchmen did not hesitate to use torture, intimidation, or assassination of political foes to terrify and oppress the population and consolidate his rule and fortune. Before long he had so
consolidated his power as to be able to treat the country as his own personal kingdom. After only 6 years at the head of government, Trujilo was confident enough to even change the name of the capital city from Santo Domingo (which had held this name for over 400 years) to Cuidad- Trujilo (Trujilo City).

Initially Trujilo continued to receive American support because he offered generous and favorable conditions to American businessmen wanting to invest in the Dominican Republic, and after World War II showed his political support of the USA’s stand against the spectre of Communism. By 1942 he even arranged to repay all of the foreign debt due to the United States, which had for decades limited economic initiatives of the Dominican government. But after several years of confiscating ownership of the majority of the most important domestic businesses and moved to control virtually all large industrial development in the country, he then moved to also take over several of the major American-owned industries, particularly in the sugar industry. These take-over activities, plus Trujilo’s meddling in the internal affairs of other neighboring countries in the region, led increasingly to American disenchantment with the Dominican dictator.

One of Trujilo’s most notorious acts was committed against his island neighbor, Haïti. For centuries the lack of clear definition of the location of the border between the two countries had been a source of aggrevation and conflict between the two countries. Not only had the border areas always been a thorn from incessent smuggling activities, but many thousands of Haitians had also been increasingly settling on lands around the border. Trujilo had always made it clear that he held racist ideas and considered the black-skinned Haitians to be inferior. In 1937 he took action to resolve this problematic issue by giving the order to his army to massacre all Haitians found to be in the Dominican Republic. Estimates of as many as 17,000 unarmed Haitian men, women and children were slaughtered in a bloodbath of violence, particularly around the border region of the town of Dajabon and the aptly named Massacre River.

To attempt to deflect international criticism of this notorious scandal, Trujilo offered to accept to the Dominican Republic as many as 100,000 refugees from the scourge of Nazi-Germany in Europe. But when it came to action, only about 600 Jewish families were offered refuge in 1942, and came to settle in what is known today as the El Batey section of Sosua, opposite the small bay from the fishing village of Charamicos. Of these, only a dozen or so families remained there in the long run.

Trujilo remained in power for over 30 years, but toward the end he succeeded in alienating even his former most avid supporters, including the USA. The final straw came when he was linked with an abortive assassination attempt against Venequelan President Romulo Bétancourt. In August 1960, the United States embassy in Santo Domingo was downgraded to consular level. According to journalist Bernard Diederich, US President Eisenhower asked the National Security Council’s Special Group (the organization responsible for approving covert operations) to consider the initiation of operations aimed at Trujillo’s ouster. A year later, on May 30, 1961, Trujilo’s personal automobile was ambushed after a rendez-vous with his mistress, and the dictator and his chauffeur met a violent end. According to Diederich, the United States Central Intelligence Agency supplied the weapons used by the assassins. When he died, Trujilo was considered to be one of the richest men in the world, having amassed a personal fortune estimated to be in excess of $500 million US dollars, including ownership of most of the large industries and a major sector of
productive agricultural land. The anniversary date of his assassination is today celebrated as a national holiday in the Dominican Republic.

After Trujilo’s untimely death, he was succeeded by his vice-president, Dr. Joachim Balaguer. A year and a half later, Juan Bosch Gaviño of the Dominican Revolutionary Party was elected president. The next 2 years were the scene of political and economic chaos, which culminated when the dissatisfied working classes rose in rebellion, and allied with a dissident army faction, took action to re-establish constitutional order on April 24, 1965. President Lyndon Johnson then ordered the US Marines to occupy the Dominican Republic under pretext that communists were in control of the political uprising. The intervention was subsequently granted some measure of hemispheric approval by the creation of an OAS-sponsored peace force, which supplemented the
United States military presence in the republic. A year later, Dr. Joachim Ballaguer, one of Trujilo’s former trusted lieutenants, was elected president again in what was acknowledged by all observers to have been a rigged election. Ballaguer remained in power during this time for a continuous period of 12 years, winning re-election in 1970 and 1974. In both instances the opposition parties maintained that the elections were rigged, so they did not nominate candidates to participate in the electoral races.

Wanting a change, in 1978 Dominicans went to the polls and elected Antonio Guzman of the Dominican Revolutionary Party. Unwilling to cede defeat, when Balaguer’s supporters became aware that the results were moving in the direction of a victory for Guzman, they attempted to put an end to the vote counting to maintain Balaguer in the presidency. But under international pressure, particularly Jimmy Carter’s government in the United States, Balaguer was forced to give in and admit to defeat.

Just before his 4-year term ended in 1982, Guzman allegedly committed suicide after becoming aware that close family members were involved in massive corruption and embezzlement of government funds. He was replaced by Salvador Blanco of the D.R.P. Blanco continued in the time honored tradition of rewarding family members, close friends and political supporters with lucrative governmental posts. His term in the Dominican presidency was in the end marred by allegations of massive corruption and mis-appropriation of government funds. He was later found guilty and convicted to 20 years in prison on charges of corruption.

Thoroughly disallusioned by the mis-rule of the leaders of the D.R.P., Dominicans returned to the polls in 1986 to opt for the former dictator, Dr. Joachim Ballaguer. He was successful in winning the election in 1990 against divided and disorganized opposition parties. The year 1992 was marked by the 500-year anniversary celebration of Columbus’ discovery of America. In honor of the event, a massive concrete momument, the Faro de Colón (Columbus’ Lighthouse) was erected on the outskirts of Santo Domingo. The celebration events were somewhat diminished by international criticism of the massive spending required to pay for this structure when millions of Ballaguer’s countrymen were suffering from living in conditions of poverty.

In 1994 Balaguer again declared victory in an election which O.A.S. and other international observers unanimously agreed was rigged. The names of thousands of voters were removed who were known to be supporters of his main opponent, the former mayor of Santo Domingo, Jose Francisco Peña Gomez of the D.R.P. In a bid to avoid a major outbreak of violence, Balaguer and Peña Gomez met and negotiated an agreement whereby Balaguer promised to remain in power no longer than 2 years, and not to run for re-election the next time around.

Run-off elections were then scheduled for May, 1996 and early returns showed Peña Gomez holding a plurality. On July 2, 1996 Leonel Fernandez Reyna of the Partia Libertad Democratica (P.L.D.) edged out Gomez in the run-offs. Balaguer, at age 90, almost completely blind and partially deaf, gave his support to help Fernandez come from behind to win. Leonel finished in July with 51% of the vote compared with 49% for Peña Gomez. Dominicans seemed to accept the vote with little protest, but most people are waiting to see if he can accomplish significant reforms. According to international observatory organizations the election was declared clean.

Part of Reyna’s anticipated reforms depended on his party gaining a majority in the National Assembly, which held elections in May 1998. A few weeks before the elections, Peña Gomez died from cancer. The country declared a two day period of mourning to honor the politician who many believed would have been president had past elections not been tampered with. Election results in the National Assembly gave a majority to the opposing Peña Gomez party and many Dominicans feel that Leonel will have difficulties passing his proposed legislation. However, this kind of political debate is now more representative of a true democracy in which divided elections are the result of the people’s shifting opinions. In May 2000, now aged 92 and in failing health, Balaguer attempted to secure an eighth presidential term, although this too ended in defeat at the hands of the Partido Revolucionario Dominicano (P.R.D) candidate, Hipolito Mejia. The most recent National Assembly elections, held in May 2002, also gave control of both chambers to the P.R.D.


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