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Return of the Terrors

"Return of the Terrors"

Dominican Republic

News article

By: Latin American Newsletters

Date: June 2, 1967

Source: "The Dominican Republic: The Return of the Terrors" as published by Intelligence Research.

About the Author: This news report was originally published as part of the Latin American news series from Lettres, UK (now Intelligence Research, Ltd.), a London-based news agency. Established in 1967, the Latin American Newsletters were written by Latin American specialists in London, writing about political and social events throughout Latin America as they unfolded. Printed in both English and Spanish, the Latin American Newsletters were a compilation from a variety of sources, without author attribution.

INTRODUCTION

Following thirty-one years of dictatorship rule by Rafael Leonides Trujillo Molina, the Dominican Republic was rocked by a series of political events that included widespread terrorism, economic instability, and dramatic political change on the Caribbean island nation.

Trujillo's assassination on May 30,1961 ended a 31-year reign that leaned toward fascism, but stabilized the country both economically and politically. Following Fidel Castro's toppling of dictator Fulgencio Batista in Cuba and Castro's subsequent communist rule, two opinions of Trujillo formed in Washington, D.C.: that he was either a stable influence in the Caribbean, or a Batista-like dictator who was vulnerable to a possible pro-communist revolutionary attack. Trujillo's assassination left those holding both opinions concerned about the island nation's future and the spread of communism throughout the region.

Joaquín Balaguer Ricardo, Trujillo's designated successor, was widely viewed as a "puppet" president by the opposition and international observers alike. When Juan Bosch Gaviño, head of the leftist Dominican Revolutionary Party, was elected to the presidency in 1962, Balaguer was forced into exile. Bosch instituted a wide range of democratic reforms, including a 1963 constitution that separated church and state, granted new civil and individual rights, and created civilian control over the military. A new policy of land redistribution, however, threatened elites and the Catholic Church alike. The conservative upper class, military officials, and the church all feared a leftist revolution. Within a few months of Bosch's election military forces staged a coup and installed a military-backed civilian president. This triggered protests, assassinations, bombings, and attacks on the government. The instability caught Washington's eye; the recent communist revolution in Cuba was viewed as an urgent threat to the United States, and the prospect of another communist takeover in the Dominican Republic was considered unacceptable.

On April 24, 1965, Bosch supporters (calling themselves "Constitutionalists", a reference to the 1963 constitution) seized the National Palace and installed Rafael Molina Ureña as provisional president. The next day, military forces (calling themselves "Loyalists") struck back and attacked the Constitutionalists. On April 28, United States President Lyndon Johnson sent troops (eventually totaling 24,000) into the Dominican Republic to stabilize the country. The United States troops remained until October 1966, after elections were held and Balaguer, Trujillo's former protégé, had been voted into office.

At the beginning of Balaguer's administration, the country was plagued by repeated assassinations and assassination attempts on government and military officials. Balaguer fought to maintain a delicate balance to please anti-Trujillo forces, angry leftists, and the coalition of conservatives that had helped elect him into power.

PRIMARY SOURCE

Political killings, always present in the Dominican Republic, are once again on the increase. President Balaguer is in less than firm control of events, and even the moderate right is now seriously concerned about the rising threat from the Trujillistas.

Six years ago this week Generalissimo Rafael Trujillo, the 'Benefactor' of the Dominican Republic, was assassinated. In the vacuum left by this abrupt end to a dictatorship of 31 years, the country has been in persistent turmoil ever since. Hopes that President Joaquin Balaguer could develop a new and stable political system have been fading fast in recent weeks. Today, just one year since Dr. Balaguer's election, the country's future looks more uncertain than ever.

The political temperature rose sharply on 21 March, when an attempt was made to murder General Antonio Imbert, one of the only two surviving assassins of Trujillo, and leader of the right-wing junta that opposed Colonel Caamano in the summer of 1965. Since the end of March, a growing wave of terrorism has caused the main opposition party, the Partido Revolucionario Dominicano (PRD), to withdraw from congress in protest: has impelled President Balaguer to set up a five-man commission to investigate charges of police complicity; and has aggravated the already serious economic crisis.

This renewed tension hardly comes as a surprise. In the uneasy quiet of the past few months, the question has been when, rather than if, the crisis would break out again. Before he left the island for self-imposed exile in Madrid last November, Juan Bosch persuaded the PRD to play the game of 'loyal and constructive opposition.' But this game is totally alien to Dominican political tradition. Its rules have never been accepted by some of the extreme right-wing military groups, whose aim is the absolute defeat and, if necessary, the physical elimination, of their opponents. Nurtured by Trujillo, their stronghold is in the San Isidro air force base east of the capital, but there is good reason to believe that they have many friends elsewhere in the armed services, including the para-military national police.

Never subject to presidential control, these groups have been at the root of much of the political instability of the past six years. Many people were surprised that President Balaguer—to whom they are also a potential threat—did not neutralize them before US troops departed last September. He appears to have calculated that he could gradually tighten his hold over the armed forces, and eventually deal with them from a position of strength. But although he managed to appoint his supporters to a number of key positions, the events of the past two months (as well as the history of the last six years) make the success of this plan highly doubtful.

Alarm about the growing influence of Trujillistas, in both civil and military affairs, was initially confined to the political opposition. Members of the PRD in particular (which, to a great extent, is the heir to Colonel Caamano's constitutionalist government) have been the primary targets of terrorist groups for two years. The last straw, for the PRD, was the attack on 4 May on one of their leading senators, who was seriously injured by an incendiary bomb thrown into his car. The party then announced its withdrawal from both the house of congress, and from all normal political life, until such time as the government could guarantee civil liberties. One week later, another prominent party member was found dead in his car, riddled with bullets.

The inability of the government to control terrorism, and bring its perpetrators to justice, was dramatically demonstrated by the attempted assassination in March of General Imbert, almost certainly an act of vengeance on the part of the Trujillo family. President Balaguer immediately appointed as minister of the interior and police, Luis Amiama Tio, the other surviving Trujillo assassin, and thus the man with the greatest interest in bringing the culprits to justice.

This appointment was a move by the government to demonstrate its own innocence, as well as its determination to uncover the truth. But the truth has not been uncovered. The new minister started by demanding the replacement of the police chief, General Tejeda Alvarez (who, in fact, has been twice promoted since). The real reason was never published, but it is widely believed that the police allowed incriminating evidence to disappear. At any rate, Amiama Tio was reported to know full details of the plot, but to be unable to prove anybody's guilt through lack of evidence. Faced by obstruction and disrespect he resigned after only a month in office.

The alarm felt by the opposition then spread to the anti-Trujillo right, which has supported Dr Balaguer, but which began to feel threatened by the 'return to Trujillismo.' Criticism of the police became so widespread that on 14 May, the President announced the appointment of a commission to investigate it; its composition, however, gives little confidence that the full truth about the police will be revealed. It consists of the minister for the armed services, the three chiefs of staff, and the chief of police, General Soto Echavarria. General Soto, who replaced General Tejeda against the wishes of Amiama Tio (and even, it is said, without much enthusiasm from the President), was the last chief of Trujillo's military intelligence organization, Servicios de Inteligencia Militar (SIM), before it was disbanded.

President Balaguer has publicly recognized that the country's economy is being seriously damaged by the present tension. Previously, although far from healthy, it had shown some signs of picking up.

The question of the US role in Dominican affairs is, of course, still crucial. US influence is strong in all-important sectors, political, economic, military and educational. Washington has, however, chosen not to advise President Balaguer to aim at the elimination of the right-wing terrorist groups responsible for the present tension. Its representatives have instead, consistently counseled a policy of caution and conciliation. Partly this may be due to a desire not to provoke a military coup against the present government, but the impression remains that Washington fears that the elimination of the extreme right would fatally alter the balance of power in favor of the communists.

It is true that the population is still heavily armed, and there have been clashes between the armed forces and small, ineffectual guerilla groups. Undoubtedly, too, some of the 'communist plots' unearthed by the government have been genuine. But fear of the extreme left, divided and fragmented as it is, and cut off from outside support, seems exaggerated.

At present, the more serious problem seems to be the rapid radicalization of opinion in once relatively moderate opposition groups like PRD. More and more talk can be heard of another insurrection, because it is believed that democratic opposition has been shown to be futile, and wild and unrealistic phrases like 'a second Vietnam' are being used with increasing frequency.

SIGNIFICANCE

With violent political actions from both the far right and the far left, Balaguer inherited a country that was under the careful scrutiny of the United States government as well. The concern about the Dominican Republic becoming "another Vietnam" (specifically, a long-term military engagement) was palpable. The "domino effect" (a theory that held that if one nation in a region underwent a communist revolution then other nations would follow) was a great source of fear and consternation for United States government officials as the Dominican Republic's instability came on the heels of Cuba's newly established communist government. If communism spread to the Dominican Republic, United States officials feared Soviet involvement in the region would soon follow.

As the article notes, Balaguer's appointment of one of Trujillo's assassins was viewed as an attempt to distance himself from Trujillo's dictatorship, and also to show his ruthless side in bringing the Dominican Republic's political violence under control.

Balaguer used the military as a tool to maintain power for the next twelve years, winning elections in 1970 and 1974. By rewarding loyal officers, weeding out those less loyal, and never permitting higherranking officers to gain too much control, Balaguer side-stepped future coups. He used the military and the National Police to control leftists as well, though not to the degree that Trujillo used during his dictatorship. The balance was enough to satisfy the U.S. government. Favorable sugar prices in the early 1970s helped the Dominican Republics economy, and encouraged foreign investment.

By the 1978 elections, however, economic conditions had changed. As oil prices increased and sugar prices fell, Balaguer's support among the middle class diminished. With high voter turnout at the election signaling a possible leftist win, Balaguer had security forces seize ballots at the Central Electoral Board. After United States President Jimmy Carter threatened intervention by U.S. naval forces, Balaguer permitted the ballots to be counted. Balaguer lost the election.

FURTHER RESOURCES

Books

Moya Pons, Frank. The Dominican Republic: A National History New York: Marcus Weiner Publishers, 1998.

Web sites

Combined Arms Research Library. "U.S. Intervention in the Dominican Republic, 1965–1966." <http://cgsc.leavenworth.army.mil/carl/resources/csi/yates/yates.asp> (accessed June 23, 2005).

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