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 Vásquez. 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. Vásquez 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’état on February 23, 1930, they proceeded to organize elections on 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 Velázquez and Ángel 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.
Monopolies. 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:
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 Vásquez. 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.
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, paint, sacks, and cords and knits operated under Trujillo’s personal empire.
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% of 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 stated 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. This agreement, the creation of the Banco de Reservas (Bank of Reserves) in 1941, and the increase of fiscal revenue, due to the rise of national products in the international markets caused by World War II, gave birth to a process of reorganization of public finances and by 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 their work force. The settlement of Haitians on Dominican abandoned lands near the border had been taking place for over a century and the country had not been able to control it. In 1937, the Haitian currency circulated in the town of Mao in El Cibao, and 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 Dajabón, Trujillo gave the order to assassinate all the Haitians who were found on national territory. More than 18,000 people died. Only those who managed to cross the border and those protected by sugar refineries were able to survive.
The genocide created an international repulsion and Trujillo, referring to the event as “border conflicts”, paid the Haitian government DR$750,000 as “compensation”.
From then on, a type of crusade for the “Dominicanization” of the border took 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.
Oppression. 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.
Opposition. 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 Grullón, Juancito Rodríguez, Miguel Ángel Ramírez, Horacio Julio Ornes Coiscou, Tulio Arvelo, Rolando Martínez Bonilla and Miguel Ángel Feliz Arzeno, are some of the names of the Dominicans that confronted the dictatorship from exile.
The expeditions of patriots from Cayo Confites, Luperón, and Constanza, Maimón and Estero Hondo deserve particular mention. The first one, was organized from the Cuban province of Camagüey, and was aborted in 1947 due to the pressure that the United States government was exerting on the Cuban government. The Luperón expedition was planned from Guatemala to attack different military objectives, but only one group was able to reach the Dominican coast through the Luperón bay and they were suddenly attacked by the Trujillo’s military forces in June 1949. Ten years later, in 1959, the expedition Constanza, Maimón and Estero Hondo took 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 further encouraged by a series of events, such as, the victory of the Cuban Revolution; the latent deterioration of dictatorships 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 regime police.
One of those crimes was committed against three sisters, Patria, María Teresa and Minerva Mirabal, and their driver, Rufino de la Cruz, who were cold-bloodedly assassinated on November 25, 1960.
Execution. 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 Fundación”, in San Cristobal. Among the conspirators were Juan Tomás Díaz, Antonio de la Maza, Antonio Imbert Barreras and Luis Amiama Tió.
After Trujillo’s death, the Dominican Republic became a boiling pot of political groups and interests that made a space for themselves on the national scene. Some of the more visible groups were the Unión Cívica Nacional (UCN), headed by Doctor Viriato Fiallo; the Partido Revolucionario Dominicano (PRD), created and directed by Professor Juan Bosch together with other political exiles; the Vanguardia Revolucionaria Dominicana (VRD), led by one of the participants of the Luperón expedition, Horacio Julio Ornes; and the Movimiento Revolucionario 14 de Junio (MR-14J), a leftist organization directed by Manuel Tavares Justo.
Three significant tendencies tinged the actions of the different political forces. One attempted to maintain the principal points of the Trujillo power scheme; another sought to create a democracy as in the majority of Latin American countries; and a third wanted to follow in the steps of the Cuban revolution.
State Council. Joaquín Balaguer, a prominent figure during the Trujillo regime, had arranged to take the presidency upon the death of the dictator. However, pressure from the popular sectors resulted in the establishment of a State Council on January 1, 1962. Balaguer managed to chair the Council, but he was replaced by Rafael F. Bonelly after a failed coup attempt.
This transition government occupied itself with organizing the first free elections in more than thirty years.
The Constitutional Government of Juan Bosch. In the elections held on December 20, 1962, Professor Juan Bosch won by an overwhelming majority and assumed the presidency on February 27, 1963. His regime of public liberties and his promotion of a markedly liberal Constitution of the Republic were such obvious achievements in his seven months of government that they provoked contempt from conservative forces, allied with powerful U.S. interests. Businessmen, landholders, military men, traders, prominent members of the Catholic Church, the far right (of Trujillo roots), and the U.S. State Department, unified by the “threat” of Communism, joined in a common front to attack the democratic government of Professor Juan Bosch.
The coup d’état of September 25, 1963 put the Triumvirate in power, a repressive government that would be led, after its brief initial period, by Donald Read Cabral.