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International Socialist Review, Spring 1959


Richard Lopez

The Dictator in Dominica


From International Socialist Review, Vol.20 No.2, Spring 1959, pp.59-60.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Trujillo Little Caesar of the Caribbean
by German E. Ornes
Thomas Nelson & Sons, New York. 1958. 338 pp. $5.

The overthrow of the Batista dictatorship in Cuba has served to focus attention on the Caribbean’s senior dictator, Generalissimo Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina of the Dominican Republic.

German E. Ornes, former member of the regime and former publisher of El Caribe, a daily newspaper in Ciudad Trujillo, describe Trujillo’s rise to power and conditions on the island today under the tyrant.

Trujillo began his career as a plantation cop. When US Marines were landed in 1916, he saw his chance for advancement by being of service to them. He became an informer and procurer. The American authorities, noting his talents, paid favorable attention to him and he rose as an officer in the colonial army trained to replace the Marines. Possible competitors proved incapable of matching his prowess, or connections, and in 1928 he became Chief of Staff of the “National Army.” From that post, like so many other Latin-American dictators he participated in the overthrow of the legally elected government, and then used his position as head of the armed forces to establish dictatorial control.

The role played by the American embassy and the State Department in Trujillo’s successful career is glossed over by the author, although he does admit that “the opposition hopes that Washington would not recognize a government headed by Trujillo had been disappointed.” The American minister, Curtis, noted that

“the Confederacion announces that 223,851 votes were according to early report cast in favor of General Rafael Leonidas Trujillo for President of the Republic and of Rafael Estrella Urena for Vice President. As the number given greatly exceeds the total number of voters in the country, further comment on the fairness of the elections is hardly necessary ...”

Trujillo maintains his power by means that have become standard under such figures as Mussolini, Hitler, Franco, Rhee. He has secret police, spies, stool pigeons and a corps of unofficial goon squads known as La 42. A Personal Identification Card (Cedual Personal de Identidad) must be carried at all times by every resident on reaching the age of sixteen. The card includes name, age, civil status, occupation, race, address, picture, fingerprints and other information. It must be stamped for voting and failure to vote is “tantamount to flaunting opposition to the Generalissimo.” No one may obtain work, marry, drive a car or be buried without a card.

Trujillo is well aware of the value of a friendly press, at home and abroad. He buys them up when he feels the need. A pet foible is maintenance of something similar to a “Readers Column” called “Foro Publico.” He publishes letters in the column, sometimes anonymously, to lecture his staff and to notify them of impending doom when they fall into disfavor.

Textiles, mining, cigarettes, salt, cattle-raising are some of the fields that Trujillo is involved in. His fortune, estimated at half a billion dollars, has been made in a country with a population of 2,698,126 inhabitants, “who make on the average (whenever they work for a monetary salary) a little over a dollar a day.”

Apparently nothing is too small or vulgar to escape the grasping hands of Trujillo’s family. Romeo Trujillo, better known as Pipi, “regulates prostitution and small gambling houses.”

The various attempts to unseat the regime are described, including the role of university students, intellectuals, and Communist party members in an anti-Trujillo underground. Ornes himself was a member of the Central Committee of Juventud Revolucionaria (Revolutionary Youth).

The dictator’s cunning is well illustrated by his occasional shifts to “liberalism.” In the summer of 1946, for instance, he decided to have an “opposition” party run in the election. He released some political prisoners from jail to play the role. However they refused to play ball with the Generalissimo.

One political tendency did nibble at the bait and the Partido Socialista Popular was formed. This was headed by leaders who referred to themselves as “Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist.” In a letter printed in La Nation, October 16, 1946, Trujillo pointed to the newly formed PSP to show the democratic character of his rule. “Its existence among us, furthermore, is a round and eloquent rebuttal to those calumniators who without foundation accuse the Dominican Republic of not being a democratic country ...” The PSP busied itself organizing the new Confederacion de Trabajadores Dominicanos (Confederation of Dominican Workers), the key post of Secretary General went to a Trujillista, Julio Cesar Ballester.

Preparations for the elections in the country were going smoothly when a youth opposition group, Juventud Democratica (Democratic Youth) which was closely allied with the PSP, held a demonstration, with police permission. This drew a large response from the populace.

Trujillo’s police and thugs broke up the meeting. However, the crowd did not disperse but paraded to the various embassies, including the American.

Trujillo’s press pictured this as a Communist attempt at a coup d’état. Nine month later the PSP was outlawed because of the “Communist menace.”

The book provides detailed information on Trujillo’s methods and scandalous family episodes as well as facts about the various groups of opposition in exile. It includes details on the role Trujillo’s henchmen played in the disappearance of the Basque scholar and Columbia professor Jesus de Galindez.

However, it does not offer much social or economic analysis. For instance, the role of US investors in Santo Domingo, including corporations like General Motors, Allis Chalmers, Ford Motor, Kelvinator, is carelessly dismissed. Ornes considers them to be pawns in the hands of Trujillo’s brother-in-law, Francisco Martinez Alba.

The author’s reluctance to discuss the role of the State Department and US imperialism may be better appreciated in the light of the recommendation of Norman Thomas, who describes Ornes as “a strong anti-Communist and anti-totalitarian ...” Ornes’ attacks on “Communists” and “communism” sprinkle the book. Like too many of Latin America’s petty-bourgeois radicals he looks for aid from the State Department in fighting such regimes instead of exposing its role in keeping them in power.

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