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    Dominicana On Line - El Portal de la República Dominicana

    Rafael Leonidas Trujillo

    He had joined the National Guard during the years of occupation, where he trained with the Americans and made a career. He took advantage of his promotions and accumulated wealth and power with the pretext of serving Horacio Vasquez. In 1929, an administrative-financial audit conducted by Americans, who had been hired by the President of the Republic, revealed the ways in which Trujillo, using his position as Chief of the Army, was embezzling financial resources. Vazquez ignored the recommendations he received from the auditors and left Trujillo in the same position.

    After Trujillo and his ally, Estrella Ureña, led a successful coup d’etat on February 23, 1930, they proceeded to organize the elections of May 16. One of the candidacies was that of Trujillo for President and Estrella Ureña for Vice-president. They were supported by a large part of the country’s nationalist, liberal and republican elite. The other candidacy was that of Federico Velazquez and Angel Morales for President and Vice-president respectively.

    The electoral campaign was conducted under the terror produced by Trujillo and his paramilitary band known as “La 42”. This group was led by army major Miguel Angel Paulino and was dedicated to persecute, intimidate and kill. Even the members of the Central Electoral Board were forced to resign on May 7, and were replaced by people who responded to the will of whom had already become the dictator.  Under these conditions, on May 24, 1930, Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina was declared President of the Republic.

    If he had obtained great financial gains during his tenure as Chief of the Army, the presidency would give him the opportunity to turn the country into his own farm:

    • Salt- In 1931 he took ownership of salt production and sale when he closed the operations of sea salt mining and forced the country to consume salt from the mines in Barahona which were controlled by him. This would generate DR$400,000 net annually.
    • Meat- He took over the butcher shops in Santo Domingo, which produced a DR$500,000 annually.
    • Rice- He banned the importation of rice and only allowed the consumption of domestic rice which was distributed by one of this many personal companies.
    • Milk- He controlled the sale and distribution of dairy products through the Central Lechera (Central Dairy).
    • Tobacco- He forced the owner of the Compañía Anónima Tabacalera (Tobacco Company) to sell him shares of the company and later, forced them to hand the company over to him almost entirely.
    • Footwear- Citizens were not allowed to walk barefoot, and the only source of footwear was his shoe factory, Dominican Factory of Footwear.
    • Paint- He ordered every house to be painted annually, which guaranteed good revenue from his company, Dominican Paint.
    • Sugar- In 1948, he started investing in the sugar industry. He took away land from small farmers, and bought sugar refineries. By 1955, he owned the refineries: Porvenir, Ozama, Amistad, Monte Blanco, Barahona, Consuelo, Quisqueya, Boca Chica, Las Pajas, Santa Fe, Catarey and Rio Haina.
    • Banking- He opened a bank to process government checks. The bank was managed by his wife and State employees could receive their paychecks in advance after paying a fee.
    • Insurance- He “purchased” shares of an insurance company, and then renamed it “San Rafael”.
    • Public Works. He received hefty commissions for the concession of every public work construction contract.
    • The following were also part of his personal wealth: La Altagracia Distillery, Dominican Industrial Society, Cottonseed Oil Refinery, Dominican Windmills, Dominican Cement Factory, Sacks and Cord Factory, Glass Factory, National Paper Industry, Atlas Commercial Co., Caribbean Motors, Dominican Aviation Company, Read Hardware Store, La Nacion Newspaper, Mahogany Industry, Sawmill Santelises, Dominican Shipping Company, and Niguas Industries.
    • He also intervened in the operations of the San Cristobal Armory, the Electric Company and the Haina Shipyard.
    • Ten percent of the salary of public officials went to the Dominican Party (Trujillo’s political party).

    At the end of his life and his government, Trujillo controlled close to 80% of the industrial production, employing, through the State and his own corporations, 60% of the country’s economically active population.

    Economic Growth - Since the national economy was indeed his personal economy, Trujillo insisted on developing the country’s production activity.

    Trujillo continued the agricultural development policy initiated by the government during the occupation and sustained by his predecessor, Horacio Vasquez. In this way, he promoted a program of agricultural colonization, and dedicated to cultivation tens of thousands of hectares of land that had been previously abandoned. Agricultural production increased in every area, and the country became self sufficient in the cultivation of rice, maize, beans, and other provisions. At the end of the fifties, sugar, coffee, cacao and tobacco represented 90% of Dominican exports.

    Under Trujillo’s personal empire operated a series of industries in the areas of edible oil, cement, drinks, liquor, paper, sausages, processed milk, nails, bottles, glass, coffee, meats, chocolate, candies, marble, medicines, bread, pain, sacks, cords and knits.

    The enormous public works plan implemented throughout his thirty years of tyranny, the increasing modernization of the cities and towns that were provided with electricity, aqueducts, medical centers, and schools, and the location of the industries in cities (particularly Santo Domingo), contributed to the modification of the demographic pattern, and motivated the relocation of many rural families to urban areas. In 1930, 84% or the population lived in the countryside, and by 1960, only 60% of the population remained there.

    In 1940, after years of negotiations with the United States, the Trujillo-Hull Treaty was signed, and ratified later on February 15, 1941. The treaty modified part of a decision reached by the Convention in 1924, and returned the control of Dominican Customs to its people. However, the agreement was that the funds collected by the Dominican authorities had to be deposited in Santo Domingo at the main branch of the National City Bank of New York. Once there, one of the officials would distribute the income between the Dominican government and foreign creditors. With this event, the creation of the Banco de Reservas (Bank of Reserves) in 1941, and the increase of fiscal revenue, due to the rise of Creole products in the international markets caused by World War II, a process of reorganization of public finances began and on July 21, 1947, the external debt was paid.

    The 1937 Slaughter of Haitians and the “Dominicanization” of the Border
    A silent mass of Haitians, attracted by land and employment opportunity, lived in the Dominican Republic. The sugar industry was sustained to a great extent by this work force. The settlement of Haitians on Dominican soil abandoned by Dominicans near the border, was an over a century old habit that the country had not been able to control. In 1937, the Hatian currency circulated through the town of Mao in El Cibao, and to Azua in the south, and it was accepted in Santiago’s markets.

    In October of the same year, after a speech in the border city of Dajabon, Trujillo gave the order to assassinate all the Haitians who were found in national territory. More than 18,000 people died. The only lives that survived were those who managed to cross the border and those protected by sugar refineries.

    The genocide brought about an international repulsion and Trujillo, referring to the event as “border conflicts”, paid the Haitian government DR$750,000 of “compensation”.

    From then on, a type of crusade for the “Dominicanization” of the border takes place, promoting the repopulation of the region with Dominican families who received land from the government, and with the creation of provinces that through administrative routes connected the border regions with the Capital of Republic.

    The massacre of Haitians was part of the regime of terror that afflicted Dominicans and shed Dominican blood. The country was a big prison where surveillance, control, torture and murders were part of the everyday life. Nothing that was not service and acceptance of the will of the tyrant was allowed.

    Trujillo used numerous instruments to keep under submission, not only his political adversaries and the entire population, but even his own collaborators. Among these instruments stand out the Army, the Military Intelligence Service (SIM), groups such as the University Guard, the Trujillista Youth, and mechanisms such as the obligation to affiliate to his political party, Partido Dominicano, the mandatory military service and the entire school system. One of his fundamental strategies consisted on infiltrating the day to day life of the citizens through a network of “calieses” or spies who would do anything to get the favor of the “Jefe” (Chief). However, his biggest accomplishment was to place each citizen on a permanent dilemma to whether actively collaborate with the regime or to expose themselves and be classified as a “desafecto” (adversary) and suffer the consequences.

     In spite of the tyranny, there was resistance and political opposition. Different clandestine organizations and unions arose at the beginning of the 40s: Dominican Democratic and Revolutionary Party (1943), the Revolutionary Youth Party (1944), the Patriotic and Revolutionary Union Party, Socialist Popular Party (1946), the Local Work Federation (created by Mauricio Baez), the Dominican Liberation Movement (MLD).

    Between 1942 and 1946, syndicates activism reached a momentum in their fight against the dictatorship, when the number of labor unions reached 113, and a strike that affected the entire country took place in the refineries of La Romana and San Pedro de Macoris.

    Juan Bosch, Juan Isidro Jimenez Grullon, Juancito Rodriguez, Miguel Angel Ramirez, Horacio Julio Ornes Coiscou, Tulio Arvelo, Rolando Martinez Bonilla and Miguel Angel Feliz Arzeno, are some of the names of the Dominicans that confronted the dictatorship from exile.

    The expeditions of patriots from Cayo Confites, Luperon, and Constanza, Maimon and Estero Hondo deserve particular mention. The first one, was organized from the Cuban province of Camaguey, and was aborted in 1947 due to the pressure that the United States government was exerting on the Cuban government. The Luperon expedition was planned from Guatemala to attack different military objectives, although one group was able to reach the Dominican coast through the Luperon bay, they were suddenly attacked by the Trujillo’s military forces in June 1949. Ten years later, in 1959, the expedition Constanza, Maimon and Estero Hondo takes place. This one had been planned by the Dominican Liberation Movement, from Pinar del Rio, Cuba, where the revolutionaries had trained for three months.

    Although the expedition of June 1959 was taken down, it produced a sudden fervor of political dissidence in the country which was encouraged even further by a series of events, such as, the victory of the Cuban Revolution, the patent deterioration of the dictatorship expressed in the frustrated assassination attempt of Venezuelan President Romulo Betancourt, the break up with the Catholic Church and the increase on horrible crimes that were committed out of desperation by the killers of the regime.

    One of those crimes was committed against three sisters, Patria, Maria Teresa and Minerva Mirabal, and their driver, Rufino de la Cruz, who were cold-bloodedly assassinated on November 25, 1960.

    The evening of May 30, 1961, a group of former officials and military men of Trujillo’s government, ambushed the dictator as he was leaving the city on his way to his “Hacienda Fundacion”, in San Cristobal. Among the conspirators were Juan Tomas Diaz, Antonio de la Maza, Antonio Imbert Barreras and Luis Amiama Tio.


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