On May 30, 1961, Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, the dictator of the Dominican Republic was assassinated in the capital city of Santo Domingo. His death concluded a 30 year reign of oppression inflicted upon the Dominican people and the neighboring country of Haiti. Widely considered to be the worst dictator Latin American history, he is responsible for the Parsley Massacre in 1937, the deaths of the Mirabal sisters and an unknown number of murders. True to the form of an egomaniac, he went as far as to have statues of himself constructed throughout the country while at the same time renaming the capital Trujillo City. His initiation of the system of ethnic cleansing that attempted to “whiten” the republic created a climate of racial dysfunction that affects the island to this day. A thirst for blood and supreme dominance encouraged him to plot the assassinations of several Latin American leaders and threatened to destabilize the Caribbean and curtail American business interests. Fifty-five years later, the question of how Trujillo assumed power is often asked. The relationship between the U.S. and the Dominican Republic is a long fractured story and a prime example of the effects of imperialistic foreign policy. Eric Paul Roorda has studied the complex relationship between the two nations and the rise of a tyrant.
The first question that we must ask is how did Trujillo come to power? The Monroe Doctrine and the added corollary by Theodore Roosevelt paved the way for occupation by the United States Marine Corps of the island of Hispaniola. Later in an effort to relinquish control of the island, the Marines began to train young men for positions in government and the military. Among these young men was a young man from San Cristobal that would later rule the Dominican Republic with an iron fist. His persecution of political opponents, parties and exiles often came to a bloody and deadly climax. The murder of Jesus Galindez highlighted the level of vengeance attained as he re-enforced his status as the “Benefactor of the Fatherland.”
The rise of the Trujillo regime and its influence over Dominican society represented the dark side of the U.S. foreign policy. Roorda reconstructs the puzzle showing how U.S. intervention and later non-intervention, created the most brutal dictatorship in Latin American history. The Good Neighbor Policy and the battles that waged within Washington between the White House, Marines and State Department are examined in detail revealing the disdain and contempt for Trujillo and also the reluctant acceptance by Washington of the malignant nightmare in the Caribbean. Under the facade of the Good Neighbor Policy, diplomatic relations continued with Trujillo until 1958 and were never fully restored. Without the backing of the United States and his power slipping, Trujillo’s days became numbered. Mounting opposition and dissatisfaction gave rise to calls for social reform and paved the way for his assassination three years later.
Roorda’s investigative account gives clarification to the complex history between neighbors bonded together by imperialism, greed, murder and racial ideology. A genocidal tyrant was allowed free reign over his subjects bringing shame and regret to the powers that allowed his ascension to the throne. He is only one on a long list of dictators that have seized power at the heels of faulty U.S. foreign policy. The story of the Dominican Republic is a mirror image of other Latin nations ravaged by imperialist ideas. But with this book, there is hope that we can go a long way in preventing the rise of another dictator next door.