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.
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
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.