Dominican Republic, Relations with

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DOMINICAN REPUBLIC, RELATIONS WITH. Since the mid-nineteenth century, diplomatic relations between the United States and the Dominican Republic have generally been guided by the strategic and economic interests of the United States. Those interests often strained relations between the two governments, and on more than one occasion, the United States resorted to military force to implement its policies in the Caribbean nation.

The United States did not establish official diplomatic relations with the Dominican Republic until 1866, over two decades after Dominican independence from neighboring Haiti in 1844. The delay in recognition was attributable to a number of factors. That the Dominican Republic had been controlled by Haiti—the so-called "negro republic"—for over twenty years certainly worked against relations with the United States. Stalwart U.S. southern congressmen blocked any efforts at recognition of Haiti, and after 1844, the new nation of the Dominican Republic. While publicly they argued that no white nation should ever have official relations with "colored" nations, privately they also worried about the effect recognition of independent "black" republics would have on the nearly four million slaves in the South. During the Civil War, diplomatic relations were finally established with Haiti, but by that time, the Dominican Republic had been re-annexed by Spain. Recognition was delayed until after the Spanish departed in 1865.

The delay in official relations, however, did not indicate a lack of interest on the part of the United States. The Dominican Republic's declaration of independence in 1844 coincided with the development of "manifest destiny" in America—an expansionist philosophy that combined economic, political, social, and even religious elements into a popular cry for U.S. dominance on the North American continent and beyond. With its strategic location on Caribbean shipping lanes and its rich natural resources, the Dominican Republic was a tempting target. In 1854, journalist Jane McManus Storms Cazneau and her husband, the wealthy Texan William Cazneau, were able to secure government appointments to study the economic possibilities in the Dominican Republic. They produced a report extolling the island nation's treasure trove of resources. Surprisingly, considering the United States did not even have diplomatic relations with the Dominican Republic, they also managed to secure a treaty granting America the right to construct a naval base at Samaná Bay. The British and French already had powerful economic presences in the Dominican Republic; they were horrified by the treaty and their pressure eventually quashed the agreement before it was submitted to the U.S. Senate.

The Cazneaus proved to be prescient in one sense, however. When it became clear the United States was not going to pursue the issue further, they predicted the Dominican government, strapped for funds, would turn to Spain or another European nation for assistance. In March 1861, as America's attention focused on the rapidly approaching civil War, Spain announced that, with the acquiescence of the Dominican government, it was reannexing its former colony. The U.S. response was that Spain's action violated the Monroe Doctrine and issued some threatening statements. One month later, the Civil War erupted and any U.S. action toward Spain became highly unlikely. However, both the Spanish and Dominican governments had badly miscalculated. The Dominicans quickly found that Spanish rule was corrupt and harsh. Very soon, the Spanish found themselves confronted with a full-fledged revolution. The Dominican Republic became a graveyard for Spanish troops ravaged by malaria and yellow fever, and a drain on the Spanish treasury. In 1865, as the civil War in America drew to a close, the Spanish government decided it had had enough and announced it was abandoning its Dominican protectorate. One year later, the United States formally recognized the Dominican Republic.

In the years after the civil War, U.S. interest in the Dominican Republic continued. President Ulysses S. Grant made several attempts in 1869 and 1870 to secure American annexation of the island nation. Partisan politics, and racial fears concerning the absorption of the Dominican people into the American republic, worked to derail these plans. Despite this setback, U.S. economic relations with the Dominican Republic increased dramatically during the latter part of the nineteenth century. The growing presence of the United States pushed Germany, Great Britain, and France to take more aggressive stances toward the issue of debt collection from the perennially bankrupt Dominican government. In 1900 and again in 1903, the Europeans dispatched naval vessels to collect debts. President Theodore Roosevelt responded to these European actions by declaring the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, in which he suggested that the "chronic wrongdoing" of nations such as the Dominican Republic would force the United States to exercise an "international police power." Roosevelt ordered the seizure

of the customs houses in the Dominican Republic. Although the U.S. Senate refused to approve the President's actions, Roosevelt used the power of an executive agreement to secure a virtual American protectorate.

The U.S. presence did not bring the desired stability, however. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson ordered American troops into the Dominican Republic, beginning an eight-year occupation of the nation. The occupation accelerated U.S. economic penetration of the Dominican Republic and led to the development of an American-trained and supplied national army. Conflict between the Dominicans and the occupying forces were frequent and sometimes bloody. Controversy raged over the actions of U.S. forces in the nation, and charges of torture were leveled at congressional hearings in 1921. Faced with these problems, the United States formally ended its occupation in 1924. Within six years, the head of the Dominican National Army, Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina, rose to assume complete control of the nation through a combination of bribery, force, and fraud.

For over three decades, Trujillo exerted his brutal rule over the Dominican Republic. Violent, corrupt, and manipulative, Trujillo nevertheless managed to maintain good relations with the United States. His dictatorial rule provided a stable climate for American investment, and during World War II, he was a willing American ally. In the postwar years, Trujillo trumpeted his anticommunism, which was enough to cement positive relations with America. By the 1950s, however, the aging despot was becoming a liability. The overthrow of another pro-American dictator in Cuba in 1959, and the rise of the leftist Fidel Castro, led American policymakers to conclude that Trujillo had outlived his usefulness. In May 1961, Trujillo was assassinated. Although there were rumors of U.S. complicity in the murder, no solid evidence emerged.

The death of Trujillo created a political vacuum in the Dominican Republic. In 1962, elections resulted in the victory of Juan Bosch. His term was short lived, however. His policies of land redistribution, agrarian reform, and his refusal to maintain Trujillo's stringent anticommunist foreign policy made him immediately suspect in American eyes. Less than two years after taking office, Bosch was forced out by a coup. Again, U.S. covert involvement was suspected. A shaky triumvirate of Dominican business leaders and military officers assumed control, but was itself faced with a countercoup in 1965. President Lyndon Johnson, claiming—wrongly—that communists were behind the insurrection7, ordered American troops into the Dominican Republic. In short order, more than 20,000 U.S. troops had occupied the nation. Elections, monitored closely by the United States, took place in 1966 and resulted in the selection of Joaquin Balaguer. Balaguer's right-of-middle politics generally pleased U.S. officials, and his rule continued until 1978.

In the decades after Balaguer left office in 1978, U.S.-Dominican relations were generally friendly. The United States has kept a careful eye on Dominican elections, often eliciting cries of fraud and intimidation from the losing parties; the Dominican military always looms large in these contests. America accounts for nearly two-thirds of all Dominican imports and exports, and U.S. companies play a dominant role in the Dominican economy. The two governments have cooperated in a well-publicized attack on the drug trade and in efforts to stem the flow of illegal immigrants from the Dominican Republic into the United States.


Atkins, G. Pope, and Larman C. Wilson. The Dominican Republic and the United States: From Imperialism to Tran nationalism. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1998.

Calder, Bruce J. The Impact of Intervention: The Dominican Republic During the U.S. Occupation of 1916–1924. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1984.

Logan, Rayford W. Haiti and the Dominican Republic. New York: Oxford University Press, 1968.

Roorda, Eric P. The Dictator Next Door: The Good Neighbor Policy and the Trujillo Regime in the Dominican Republic, 1930–1945. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1998.

Michael L.Krenn

See alsoImperialism ; Latin America, Relations with ; Roosevelt Corollary .

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