I was getting
away quickly from an ugly scene when I took the above photo, which is why it is not well –focused. The year was 1994,
the place, the Dominican Republic. The subject: our tax dollars at work.
I was with
a Dominican friend, driving through this small coastal village- I can’t recall its name- when we rounded a corner and
ran into an angry street mob carrying baseball bats, knives and firearms. Later we heard the news: announcement of the presidential
election results had been postponed while the votes were recounted. The so-called “recount” showed what
everybody feared: the populist candidate, Pena Gomez, had lost by a narrow margin while the CIA-backed puppet president
and de-facto dictator, Joachim Balaguer- 87 years old and blind-was declared winner just as he had been in previous so-called
free elections. Once again democracy had been successfully thwarted in the Dominican Republic. International observers concurred
that the election was rigged and the response you see in this picture followed.
these folks take to the streets? After all, we Americans didn’t take to the streets after Bush stole an election. Look
again at the photo. This is what people look like when all their self-determination is crushed and they have no recourse to
law or justice.
William Blum writes, “Joachin Balaguer… ruled…his people in the grand Latin American style: The rich
became richer and the poor had babies, hungry babies; democracy remained an alien concept; the police and military regularly
kidnapped, tortured and murdered opponents of the government and terrorized union organizers. But the man was not, personally,
the monster that Trujillo was. There was relative calm and peace. No ‘communist threat’ hovered over the land.
The pot was sweetened for foreign investors, and American corporations moved in with big bucks…”
As bad as Belaguer was, the guy that preceded him was worse. Rafael Trujillo was one of Latin America’s leading
anti-communists and friend of the United States. A psychopathic, serial-murdering rapist, Trujillo used political power to amass vast personal wealth and ruled
the island for 30 years until his assassination in 1961. Trujillo outlawed political parties- except for his own--
while imprisonment, torture and mysterious disappearances of any opposition, real or imagined, were accomplished by his thugs and secret police. Every classroom, church and public office is
said to have displayed a portrait of “El Benefactor” as he was known. Statues of Trujillo were mass produced and erected in every town and village with the inscription “Trujillo
on Earth, God in the Sky.” Illiterate peasants were even taught that Trujillo was an all-powerful
deity. Franklin Roosevelt once remarked to U.S. Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, "He (Trujillo) may be a son-of-a-bitch, but he is our son-of-a-bitch."
On my first trip to the island some years ago, a friend took me to several museums. I was immediately
struck by a curious feature: the common theme of most Dominican art is the legacy of slavery and/or colonialism, which- if
art is a barometer of culture- indicates how authoritarian social organization is deeply internalized in the island’s
collective psyche. Indeed, colonialism has deep roots on the island: after Columbus established slavery, decades of Spanish
and French rule gave way to domination by the United States, which under the Monroe Doctrine, occupied the country three times
between 1903 and 1965.
To understand Dominican politics, you have to start with the fact that Dominicans have never experienced
a period of self determination and democracy in over 500 years- except for one brief window of opportunity.
That opportunity came in 1962, when Juan Bosch, a respected author and exiled opposition leader, returned
to the island upon Trujillo’s death. Bosch, a brilliant orator whose appeal cut across demographic lines, was supported
by the urban middle class, intellectuals and rural peasants, and elected president in 1962. He quickly opened a
national dialogue about land redistribution, workers rights and democratic reforms, all of which proved too much for the island’s
ruling families, church leaders, and foreign investors. As a result, Bosch- a legitimately elected president - was deposed
in a military coup which led to civil war.
Meanwhile, the Johnson administration was wary of Bosch’s populism, which looked to them like Communism,
and they feared another Cuba near its shores. The American media framed Bosch as a communist, and in the resulting hysteria,
the United States, under the pretext of putting down a communist rebellion, sent a military invasion force to the island and
installed a CIA-backed puppet government headed by Joachim Belaguer. (Until his death in 2001, Bosch insisted that he had
never been a Communist.)
That was your tax dollars and mine at work. (I don’t know about you, but I would have preferred
a tax rebate to an invasion of the Dominican Republic.) Maybe someday we can have a dialogue in this country about our
foreign policy which nurtures so many corrupt, brutal dictators, but I doubt it. Maybe we are ourselves becoming another Latin