Allow Me To Explain

The 1965 Revolution in the Dominican Republic

Posted in Dominican Republic, Imperialism, revolution, War by amte on July 30, 2009

In 1965, the workers and farmers of the Dominican Republic poured into the streets, arms in hand, with the goal of  creating a truly democratic, independent country. Under the leadership of the heroic Francisco Caamaño, they successfully held off U.S.-backed right-wing forces, and even members of the U.S. military itself for some time,  although unfortunately, they were eventually defeated.

The Dominican Republic was colonized by the Spanish after Christopher Columbus landed there in 1492. Other than a few brief stints under French, Haitian and independent self-rule, the country effectively belonged to Spain until 1865. It was in that year that Dominican rebels finally won lasting independence after years of waging a “War of Restoration.” But this independence did not last long, as the country traded one colonial power for another.

The Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic

In 1905, the United States government took over the administration of the country’s customs authority after several European powers sent warships to the capital city of Santo Domingo to demand repayment of loans given to the earlier government of Ulises ‘Lilís’ Heureaux. The U.S. Bureau of Insular Affairs gained receivership of Dominican customs and the U.S. became the sole foreign creditor of the country. It was through this act that the United States laid the ground work for turning the Dominican Republic into a neocolony, under its complete economic control.

Over the next few years, as various sections of the local rulers battled for control of the Dominican Republic, U.S. capitalists poured money into the country’s sugar cane industry. In 1914, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson demanded that a president be chosen, saying his country would impose one otherwise.

Heureaux-Juan Isidro Jimenes, a wealthy capitalist who made his money in the tobacco industry, was elected but faced demands that he appoint a director of public works and financial adviser from the United States and create a new military under the command of U.S. officers. The Dominican Congress refused these demands and began proceedings to impeach Jimenes. Desiderio Arias, the Minister of War, staged a coup in 1916, which the U.S. used as a pretext
to invade.

On May 15, 1916, U.S. Marines landed in the Dominican Republic. After a brief period of fighting, they controlled the entire country. The Dominican Congress elected a President, but he was replaced by a U.S. military dictatorship after he refused to meet the demands of the U.S. For the next several years censorship was intense, critics of the foreign dictatorship were arrested, and individual peasants were forced off their lands to make way for the expansion of huge sugar plantations.

Throughout the U.S. occupation, bands of peasants from the eastern part of the country called gavilleros waged a guerrilla war against the occupiers. The U.S. created a National Police force, which still exists to this day, to fight the guerrillas.



The U.S. occupiers finally withdrew in 1924, but only after insuring all laws passed under their dictatorship would stay intact and control of Dominican customs would remain in their hands.

In May of 1930, Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, the leader of the ‘Dominican National Guard’ created under the U.S. occupation and self-described ‘Number One Anticommunist’, took power in a sham election. For the next three decades, this admirer of Hitler and Mussolini would rule over the country with U.S. backing, oppressing the population while enriching himself.

In 1961, the U.S. government became concerned that Trujillo’s brutal rule would unite the workers and farmers of the Dominican Republic against him, prompting a revolution similar to the one that had occurred in nearby Cuba a few years earlier. On May 30, Trujillo was assassinated under the direction of the CIA.

The U.S. government then maneuvered Joaquín Balaguer, a protégé of Trujillo, into power. Popular pressure soon forced him into exile and brought new elections.

In those elections, which took place in 1962, Juan Bosch, a liberal poet and long time enemy of Trujillo was elected president.

Bosch carried out minor land distribution and nationalizations aimed at stemming the revolutionary aspirations of the Dominican Republic’s workers and farmers, but also banned communist parties. But despite his allegiance to maintain capitalism, his refusal to unquestioning go along with the plans of the U.S. government was enough reason for them to remove him. A neocolony, even a capitalist one, attempting to determine its own future was simply intolerable.

In September of 1963, right wing officers in the military forced Bosch from power with full U.S. backing.

The revolution begins
After Bosch’s ouster, the U.S. government helped set up a military dictatorship under the guise of a ‘civilian  triumvirate.’

This dictatorship was lead by General Elías Wessin y Wessin of the Centro de Entrenamiento de las Fuerzas Armadas (Armed Forces Training Center or “CEFA”) – a 2,000 strong force of military specialists, originally established under
Trujillo. Among its other repressive policies, the dictatorship proclaimed that “The Communist doctrine, Marxist-
Leninist, Castroite, or whatever it is called, is now outlawed.”

Francisco Caamaño, leader of the constitutionalistas.

Francisco Caamaño, leader of the constitutionalistas.

Workers continually carried out strikes in protest of the dictatorship until finallyon April 24, 1965, a group of soldiers, led by Colonel Francisco Caamaño, rose up and took control of the government. The soldiers and their supporters, known as constitutionalistas for their support of the constitution which had been scrapped upon Bosch’s overthrow, took to the streets. Before long, they had seized all major television and radio stations, as well as the National Palace.

In the earliest stages, the demands of the constitutionalistas were simple: the restoration of the constitution and the
return of the elected president. Instead of meeting the demands, the CEFA launched a counter attack, in which many workers and farmers were killed.

‘When the people ruled.’ Armed Dominican workers and farmers in the streets of the capital.

‘When the people ruled.’ Armed Dominican workers and farmers in the streets of the capital.

As the constitutionalistas took steps to defend themselves, through distributing arms to the general population and
organizing organs of defense, they began to transform society. Through their struggle, the workers and farmers began to discover that the only way to make the country truly independent and democratic would be to take control of things themselves and break from the grips of imperialism.

Unwilling to risk another revolution in ‘their backyard,’ the U.S. imperialist rulers decided to act.

Initially, the U.S. established a military presence in the Dominican Republic by setting up a landing strip it claimed it would use to evacuate U.S. citizens from the country. As the rightists of the CEFA suffered defeat after defeat (resulting in their eventual withdrawal to their base in San Isidro), the U.S. beefed up its presence, sending in 42,000 soldiers and blockading the country with 41 warships – again under the pretense of ‘protecting foreign citizens,’ even though none had been killed or even injured.

The U.S. was then pressured some of its puppet governments throughout Latin America send in troops to help with the counterrevolution. On top of the tens of thousands of U.S. forces, several thousand arrived from Brasil, Honduras, Paraguay, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and El Salvador.

Stating the plain truth, Caamaño was quoted as saying “The war would be already over if the U.S. had not intervened.”

Armed populace in the street during revolution. Sign in background reads Yankees get out.

Armed populace in the street during revolution. Sign in background reads "Yankees get out."

The invaders were able to bring an end to the revolutionary government after a few months of fighting, mainly by cutting off the constitutionalistas in the capital through the creation of a fake, supposedly neutral “safety corridor.”

Despite the fact that the revolutionary forces had been forced from power, resistance to the occupation continued for the duration, until the U.S. forces decided to allow supposedly “democratic” elections in 1966, in order to alleviate some of the anger of the Dominican people.

The aftermath
Joaquín Balaguer was returned to power in the fraudulent elections of 1966. Shortly thereafter a new constitution was put in place that officially guaranteed some democratic rights, though it was more often than not disregarded.

Balaguer was “elected” again in 1970 and 1974, both times after his armed thugs forced the main opposition to withdraw from the elections.

Joaquín Balaguer, former dictator of the Dominican Republic.

Joaquín Balaguer.

Balaguer, whose brutality rivaled that of his teacher Trujillo, sold off the country piecemeal to the highest bidder. Under his rule, paramilitary death squads targeted the slum-dwelling workers and farmers that made up the base of the revolutionary movement. His henchmen destroyed popular movements and workers organizations while U.S.-based capitalists bought up land and local industries.

As the Wall Street Journal reported on September 9, 1971, “the [U.S.] embassy has done nothing publicly to dissociate itself from the terror. The U.S. continues to provide substantial aid, training, equipment, and arms, to the Dominican police and army.”

In 1975, Juan Bosch correctly stated “This country is not pro-American, it is United States property.”

Caamaño returns
After the revolutionary government was brought to an end, Francisco Caamaño came under attack. After a series of threats on his life, he was violently attacked by armed thugs at the Hotel Matum in Santiago. Soon after, he fled the country, landing first in England, and later, revolutionary Cuba.

In 1973, after years of staying off the radar, Caamaño returned to the Dominican Republic by boat with a band
of rebels who planned to start up a nationwide movement that would lead to the overthrow the hated Balaguer and the establishment of an independent, democratic republic.

The rebels quickly made their way to mountains. From there, they aimed to gradually link up with workers and farmers across the country and carry out a nationwide revolution. Unfortunately, things did not work out as planned. After a series of initial mishaps and weeks of brave fighting, Caamaño was martyred by Balaguer’s repressive forces on February 16, 1973.

Today, Caamaño is a hero to the toiling Dominican masses, who see in him the sacrifice and struggle desperately needed to completely the tasks originally set out upon in 1965.

The struggle continues
Today, the Dominican Republic is not much better than it was under the rule of Balaguer, and in many ways, it’s much worse.

Politically motivated murders by the repressive forces of the state and paramilitary thugs are the norm. Prisons are
absolute hellholes and suspects are held over fires and smothered by police to elicit confessions. The situation for Haitians, most of whom come to work for slave wages on sugar plantations, are even worse, with many being beaten, raped, jailed and even killed.

A group of shacks of the type typical in the Dominican Republic today. It will require the revolutionary reorganization of society to solve problems like these.

A group of shacks of the type typical in the Dominican Republic today. It will require the revolutionary reorganization of society to solve problems like these.

Women, who make up most of the workers in the ‘free trade zones’ are often forced to work long shifts for pennies and are frequently sexually abused by their bosses. If they become pregnant, most are fired. Overtime is often mandatory, and doors are chained shut so workers cannot leave.

Workers across the country are fired, and even physically attacked, for attempting to form or join unions. Workers with known affiliations to unions have been blacklisted and some businesses refuse to recognize unions outright.

Around 30 percent of the population of the Dominican Republic live under the official poverty line, eking out a meager existence on less than $2 (USD) a day. One in ten Dominicans dwells in extreme poverty, living on even less. One in five Dominicans of working age is unemployed. Nearly one out of three workers under the age of 24 is unemployed.

There is only one doctor per every 949 people. Many lack access to clean water. Power outages lasting several hours occur on a regular basis.

Forty-seven of every 1,000 children born in the Dominican Republic die before reaching their first birthday. Tens
of thousands of children work in sweatshops, on plantations and as prostitutes. Over 15 percent of the population cannot read or write.

The only future that millions of Dominicans see is through immigration to another country, usually the United States.

Revolution is the only solution
An alternative to participating in elections is needed to solve the immense problems of the Dominican Republic.

The first and most important task is to complete the tasks of the 1965 revolution and free the country from the domination of the U.S. imperialists by any means necessary.

As an immediate outgrowth of that, the oppressed and exploited masses must fight to take power and organize a
truly democratic political and economic system. In other words, the working class must rule, instead of the U.S. capitalists ruling through their local agents. It is only under such a system that the issues facing the toiling masses of the Dominican Republic can properly be addressed.


18 Responses

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  1. Renegade Eye said, on July 31, 2009 at 3:36 am

    Really good post.

    I remember as a teen, watching on CBS News, demonstrations for Juan Bosch.

  2. Citizen K. said, on August 10, 2009 at 7:01 am

    We like constitutions unless they are inconvenient.

    Have you read Ned Sublette’s The World That Made New Orleans? It includes a fascinating take on the importance of Saint-Domingue the to development of NOLA culture.

  3. David Beard said, on December 22, 2010 at 10:41 pm

    Very good article. As a young boy I grew up in mountains of the Dominican Republic.
    I recall when the US Marines came to evacuate my family (missionaries from the US) and my dad refused to leave. He told the marines that the Domincan people were good people and he did not intend to leave the country. We stayed through the revolution with no problems. To this day I when I return to visit the DR I am very sad when I see all of the poverty, but they are still the friendlies people in the world.

  4. Micheal said, on February 2, 2011 at 11:51 am

    Nice thanks for the information 🙂

  5. Jaime Mora said, on February 4, 2012 at 8:52 am

    I was a teen when the invasion took place. I remember following it in the papers and then writing an article against it in my school paper. I am still interested in DR politic situation. It was actually my second international political experience of this type after the 1964 Panamanian demostrations against the U.S.A. presence in Panama.

  6. juan said, on May 22, 2012 at 3:21 pm

    I dont understand none of this :/


  7. inspvis said, on July 1, 2012 at 4:20 pm

    Reblogged this on inspvis and commented:
    My uncle fought in the war against Trujillo

  8. Kitty Kroger said, on August 31, 2012 at 11:43 pm

    To the author of this post: I recently wrote a novel which deals in one chapter fairly extensively with the Dominican Revolution. It’s called Dancing with Mao and Miguel. I would like to post one or more of these photos on my website or on my WordPress blog, the latter which I am just getting started. Do you know if they are copyrighted, and if so, how I could get permission to post them?
    Also, would you be interested in doing a guest blog either on my webpage or on my blog?

  9. oni said, on September 12, 2012 at 4:07 pm

    The Dominican Republic it is one beautiful country, every foreign country want a piece of the land . I remember like today the revolution of 1965 I was only 12 year old. I love my country even so I have been here in US 38 years I go and visit every year, God Bless the honest and good hard working people of the Dominican Republic. Te amo pedacito de patria.

  10. Don Kedik said, on October 7, 2012 at 10:24 pm

    Obviously written by a very anti American author. I travel to the country often, and contrary to the negative slant of this article, there are many nice parts of the country, and a lot of money. The whole country does not look like that barrio photo shown. Most of the money is in the hands of Dominicans and Spaniards, not as much American imperialism as the author suggests. Many problems exits and poverty is still a reality. The US made some bad choices as far as who to prop up as a “democraticly” elected leader, but sometimes in a third world country, options are limited. Apparently options are limited in first world countries as well, if you are following the current elections.

  11. Nadime said, on April 26, 2013 at 11:56 pm

    I was 17 years old during the 1965 Dominican Revolution,it was an honor to see the people of DR,defending the constitutional government of President Juan Bosh.Its very sad that our country is still under the hands of people without nationalistic morals..The poor are worth now,the mayority of our children are lacking nutritional food,education,and a decent home to live.Only a few has the bounty of money,and only small group controles our rich economy.I always ask myself how if Balaguer was the brain behind The dictator Trujillo ,how the people of the Dominican Republic elected him as the President in the 1966 forced election?.Was the United State the responsable of Trujillo s death,of the overtrown of our constitutional president Juan Bosh,of the political unstability in DR?…I imagine a constitutional government caring for the poor,the peasants,a country where education,health,shelter,jobs is provided for their people….but our reality today is sad,and desperated,rich international corporations controle our economy under fixed mopet governments…,turismo is not for the benefit of the dominican mayority,its in the hands of a few under the reliable control of the militars,,its so sad to see child prostitution in our dominican streets,it will take a radical change in the psyqui of our people to see a radical change..The result of all of these abuses against the Dominican poor can be seeing in the hunger of thousand of our people.God protect our Dominican children,the future of our beloved country,I hope its a new revolution,the revolution on education,jobs,shelter,and the revolution of changing our views with a new critical social sensibility that gives Dominicans power and control of their own destiny.

  12. nadime said, on April 27, 2013 at 12:51 am

    thank you very much for publishing my honest thinking

  13. fernando2978 said, on July 23, 2013 at 2:56 pm

    My father (Fernando Pimentel Alonzo) is in that picture he is up front with the machine gun and his father (my grandfather)is in the back Franciso Caamano!

  14. eddy tejeda said, on August 17, 2013 at 8:13 am

    until we don’t seperate from the us goverment, we won’t be able to move forward.

  15. Lucy said, on October 16, 2013 at 9:05 pm

    My mother is presently writing a book about her life in the Dominican Republic. She knows so much about what has happened there during this time. She knew Baligel. He became one of my brothers Godfather. She stood close to many of the political issues and had almost lost her life. She also saved my dad and many other Americans from getting killed. What I know about that story is that she sat with Dominican soldiers and they were talking about killing the Americans that were with them the next morning. When they all went to sleep my mother took their riffles and hid them. My moms book is going to be very interesting. She talks about her life when her parents had passed away to her being in the orphanage to the revolution and all that she went through. To her becoming a US citizen.

    • amte said, on July 17, 2014 at 9:56 am

      It sounds interesting. Update me when it’s available.

  16. sindi said, on May 23, 2014 at 11:17 am

    thankful for other people

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