The Dominican Republic eventually became a protectorate of the United States,
and on May 1916 the US invaded the small Caribbean country. In 1924, after eight
years of occupation, the United States left the DR and Horacio Vasquez was voted
President. In 1930, Vasquez was overthrown by the American-trained National
Guard commander, Rafael Leonidas Trujillo. |
In the same year, 1930, a devastating hurricane, San Zenon, hit the island and
destroyed Santo Domingo once more. Close to 8,000 people were killed, and it was
ranked as one of the five deadliest Atlantic hurricanes on record.
During the rebuilding process, in 1937, Trujillo renamed the city of Santo
Domingo Ciudad Trujillo (Trujillo City), in his honor, and also exiled future
President Juan Bosch to Cuba. 1937 is also known for one of the bloodiest events
in Dominican history when Trujillo ordered the mass murder of an estimated
20,000 Haitians at the Rio Massacre (Massacre River).
Trujillo’s dictatorship was marred by botched invasions, international scandals
and assassination attempts. 1947 brought the failure of a planned invasion by
Dominicans and foreign sympathizers from Cayo Confites, Cuba. July 1949 was the
year of a failed invasion from Guatemalan territory, and on June 14, 1959 there
was a failed invasion at Constanza, Maimon and Estero Hondo by Dominicans and
their Cuban sympathizers, from Cuban territory.
By 1960 Trujillo and his larger-than-life personality cult had fallen out of
favor with the United States and the international community, which would lead
the United States to undermine Trujillo’s dictatorship.
The beginning of the end for Trujillo came on June 24, 1960, with a botched
assassination attempt on Venezuelan President Romulo Betancourt, and the last
straw for the dictator came on November 25, 1960, when the now-legendary Mirabal
sisters were assassinated on Trujillo’s orders.
On May 30, 1961 Trujillo, while driving down Avenida George Washington, was
assassinated by conspirators sponsored by the American CIA. In the immediate
aftermath, Trujillo’s son Ramfis took temporary control of the country, and
vowed to kill those involved in the death of his father. By November 19, 1961
Trujillo's relatives and cronies, like Joaquin Balaguer, who fled to New York
City, were forced to leave the country, but not before killing the surviving
members of the assassination plot.
In 1961 Juan Bosch returned from exile, and in the first free elections held in
decades Juan Bosch was elected President on December 20, 1962. Bosch took office
on February 27, 1963, but by September 25, 1963 was out of office and once again
exiled in a coup d’etat by a group of right-wing military officers. The coup had
the full backing of the United States who considered Bosch to be a communist.
Conservative military officers, along with the Policia Nacional (Police) still
loyal to the wealthy oligarchy left by Trujillo, and opposed to Bosch's supposed
“socialist” policies, created a military-imposed junta led by Emilio de los
Santos, Ramon Tapia Espinal and Manuel Tavares Espaillat.
In 1965, a pro-Bosch “Constitutionalist” faction overthrew the triumvirate,
which was then led by Donald Reid Cabral who had succeeded de los Santos, and
installed Jose Rafael Molina Urena as provisional President. Both civilians and
junior military officers took part in the revolt.
However, their actions provoked a counter-response from the dominant
conservative wing of the military, who called themselves Loyalists, and a civil
war broke out. On April 24, 1965 the Loyalists launched a failed assault against
the Government using tanks and the air force offensively against the new
government, but the Constitutionalists remained in power.
Just three days later, on April 28, 1965, the United States sent 42,420 soldiers
to invade the Dominican Republic, and an interim government was imposed.
Elections were held on July 1, 1966, and former Trujillo ally Joaquin Balaguer
won the election over Juan Bosch because of widespread fear that the Dominican
people would revolt again if Bosch was reelected. Balaguer went on to win
elections in 1970 and 1974. This period of uninterrupted rule from 1966-1978 is
known as Los 12 Años de Balaguer (Balaguer’s Twelve Years), which were
characterized by widespread repression.
In 1973 a small group of rebels led by Francisco Caamaño landed at Playa
Caracoles, near Azua. Caamaño and the other rebels traveled to the Cordillera
Central with plans to lead an armed revolution to overthrow Balaguer. After a
few weeks of fighting Balaguer’s army, Caamaño was wounded, captured by the
army, and then murdered.
In the 1978 elections, Balaguer was finally defeated by Antonio Guzman Fernandez
of the PRD, who committed suicide 43 days before the end of his Presidential
term. Salvador Jorge Blanco, also from the PRD, was elected President in 1982.
1979 saw the arrival of one of the deadliest hurricanes in the country’s
history. Hurricane David hit on August 31st 1979, and killed more than 2,000
people. Upon making landfall in the Dominican Republic, David turned
unexpectedly to the northwest, causing 125 mph winds in Santo Domingo, and
Category 5 winds elsewhere in the country. The storm caused torrential rainfall,
resulting in extreme river flooding.
Nearly 70% of the country's crops were destroyed by the severe flooding. Extreme
river flooding resulted in most of the country's 2,000 fatalities, and destroyed
thousands of houses, leaving over 200,000 homeless in the aftermath of the
hurricane. The damage to agriculture, property and industry was estimated at $1
billion ($2.8 billion in 2005 USD).
Balaguer was elected again in 1986, but the country’s standard of living
continued to decline. In 1988 the DR slid deep into an economic crisis and the
rate of inflation soared. Despite this, Balaguer was reelected in 1990 amidst
allegations of electoral fraud, and continued his policies, though a slightly
improved world market led to a temporary end to the economic crisis.
Balaguer went on to “win” the 1994 elections, which were found to have been
fraudulent. The ruling party is believed to have prevented at least 200,000 PLD
supporters from voting. The fraud was so blatant that Balaguer was forced into
agreeing step down from office after serving just two years of his four-year
term, although he would eventually ally himself with the PLD party, and support
the election of Leonel Fernandez as President in 1996. Many believe that this
alliance was forged so that prominent PRD politician Jose Francisco Pena Gomez,
who was of Haitian descent, wouldn’t become President. Pena Gomez, who had been
a follower of Juan Bosch, and an important figure in Dominican politics since
the early 60s died of pancreatic cancer in 1998.
1998 was also significant because it saw the arrival of another devastating
hurricane. Hurricane Georges hit the Dominican Republic with continuous rains
for 10 hours, caused 7 foot storm surges, had 120 mph winds, caused mudslides,
and in the aftermath left 380 people dead.
In 2000 the PLD was voted out of office and replaced by Hipolito Mejia, of the
PRD party. During his term as President, Mejia and the PRD were in control of
the executive branch, a majority in the upper house legislature, and near
control of the lower house, which provided the perfect conditions for one of the
most corrupt governments in recent Dominican history. The corruption plaguing
Mejia’s government was made evident by the 2003 collapse of the Dominican
Republic’s second largest bank, Banco Intercontinental (BanInter). Baninter had
served as a front for large-scale financial fraud by its president, Ramon Baez
Figueroa, and the bank’s spectacular collapse resulted in a deficit of US$2.2
billion, or 12-15% of the DR’s GDP. By January 2004, only seven months after
BanInter’s collapse, the value of the Dominican peso had fallen to RD$50 pesos
to US$1 (down from RD$16 to US$1 in 2002). Further damaging to Mejia’s
reputation was the arrest of ex-army captain Quirino Paulino Castillo, on
December 19, 2004. Quirino was arrested after being linked to a large drug
trafficking ring, and in the legal and political aftermath, connections to then
President Mejia were discovered.
Tired of the corruption of Mejia’s presidency, the Dominican public voted Leonel
Fernandez in for a second term in 2004. Fernandez is guiding a country that is
at this time a mirror image of its unstable past. The Dominican Republic is a
free democratic state that has become one of the pioneering democratic nations,
not only in Latin America, but also in the hemisphere. The country has become a
model for the democratic process and the transition in to the free trade market,
and only time will tell what is next for the country known as the first
settlement of the western hemisphere.