Rafael Trujillo, a dictator who ruled the Dominican Republic for more than 30 years, assumed near-absolute control of the Caribbean nation in 1930. While successful in reducing foreign debt, modernizing his country and fostering greater economic prosperity for the Dominican people, Trujillo and his heinous human rights abuses—including the torture and murder of thousands of civilians—managed to escape rebuke from the international community for decades.
Although his reputation became tarnished after reports of a massacre against an estimated 20,000 Haitians became public in 1937, it wasn’t until his failed assassination attempt on Venezuelan President Romulo Betancourt in 1960 that the Organization of American States (OAS) finally voted to sever relations with the brutal dictator. A year later, Trujillo was killed by a group of rebels determined to topple his regime.
Rafael Trujillo's Early Years
Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina was the third of 11 children, born to working-class parents in San Cristobal, Dominican Republic, on October 24, 1891. After receiving an elementary education, he worked as a telegraph operator and a guard on a sugar cane plantation.
During the U.S. occupation of the Dominican Republic from 1916 to 1924, Trujillo joined the Constabulary Guard and was trained by U.S. Marines. His military career quickly progressed and by 1927 he was named commander in chief of the National Army.
Trujillo's Absolute Power
In 1930, a group of rebels under the leadership of Rafael Estrella Urena planned to overthrow Dominican President Horacio Vasquez for disregarding the constitution by extending his presidential term. General Trujillo, with whom Urena had previously made an arrangement, held his troops back as the revolution unfolded, maintaining his neutrality. With Vasquez in exile and control of the government up for grabs, Trujillo eliminated his political rivals through intimidation or force and won a rigged presidential election in 1930 unchallenged, ushering in the “Era of Trujillo.”
Within months of taking over the presidency, the capital city of Santo Domingo was virtually destroyed and some 2,000 people were killed by a powerful hurricane that ripped through the Dominican Republic in early September. Trujillo responded by placing the country under martial law and quickly began to clear the debris and rebuild the city. Six years later he renamed the capital Cuidad Trujillo in his honor, along with thousands of other streets, monuments and landmarks throughout the country.
During his oppressive dictatorship Trujillo was credited with improving sanitation, constructing new roads, schools and hospitals, and increasing the general standard of living for the Dominican people. But his practice of securing kickbacks on all public works contracts and monopolizing a vast array of lucrative industries ensured that the increase in economic prosperity was disproportionately distributed to his family, supporters and military personnel.
Despite the fact that he technically ceded the presidency to his brother Hector in 1952 and 1957 and installed Joaquin Balaguer in 1960, Trujillo retained ultimate control over the Dominican Republic for 31 years. The secret police force he established included a widespread network of spies that was used to censor the press and to threaten, expel, torture or kill dissenters in orchestrated accidents or “suicides.”
Before a definitive border had been established in 1936, disputes between the Dominican Republic and the neighboring country of Haiti had persisted for centuries. Trujillo feared the “darkening” of Dominican people and publicly promoted anti-Haitian sentiments. In October 1937, in an incident known as the Parsley Massacre, Trujillo ordered the slaughter of an estimated 20,000 Haitians. Punishment for the atrocities amounted to an agreement in which a paltry US$525,000 was paid to the Haitian government.
Trujillo Era Ends
Years later, after discovering that the Venezuelan government of President Romulo Betancourt was plotting to undermine his regime, Trujillo retaliated by sending agents to assassinate Betancourt in Caracas with a car bomb in 1960. The bomb exploded, killing two people, but Betancourt survived with injuries. News of the failed assassination attempt infuriated world leaders and prompted the Organization of American States (OAS) to dissolve diplomatic ties and impose economic sanctions on the Dominican Republic.
Meanwhile, underground resistance movements had arisen in opposition to the dictator since the 1940s, but they were often swiftly suppressed, as in the case of the three revolutionary Mirabal sisters who were brutally beaten and killed by Trujillo’s henchmen in a staged car accident in 1960.
READ MORE: How the Mirabal Sisters Helped Topple a Dictator
On May 30, 1961, however, Rafael Trujillo was ambushed while traveling in his car and gunned down by seven assassins, some of whom were members of his own armed forces.
Following his assassination, the Trujillo family was unable to maintain control over the Dominican Republic, and the capital city of Santo Domingo soon regained its former name.
80 Years On, Dominicans And Haitians Revisit Painful Memories Of Parsley Massacre. NPR.
'I shot the cruellest dictator in the Americas.' BBC.
Oct. 2, 1937: Parsley Massacre. Zinn Education Project.
Biography of Rafael Trujillo, "Little Caesar of the Caribbean." ThoughtCo.
The United States and the Trujillo Dictatorship, 1933-1940: The High Price of Caribbean Stability. Carribean Studies.
International Boundary Study: Dominican Republic - Haiti Boundary. U.S. Department of State.
With the 2020 election approaching see the Trump family tree.
About to send four astronauts to the ISS. See the Elon Musk family tree here at FameChain
Vice-president of the United States.
Meghan and Harry are now US based. FameChain has their amazing trees.
The Democratic party contender for President. See the Joe Biden family tree
Democratic candidate for the Vice-Presidency of the United States.
Set to be the next Supreme Court Judge. Discover the Coney Barret family tree
Follow us on
All relationship and family history information shown on FameChain has been compiled from data in the public domain. From online or printed sources and from publicly accessible databases. It is believed to be correct at the time of inputting and is presented here in good faith. Should you have information that conflicts with anything shown please make us aware by email.
But do note that it is not possible to be certain of a person's genealogy without a family's cooperation (and/or DNA testing).
Rafael Trujillo - Children, Facts and Death - HISTORY
By Peter Kross
From 1959 to 1961, the United States turned its focus to two of the most charismatic, ruthless, and despotic rulers in the Caribbean region, Fidel Castro of Cuba and Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic. Over the next two years, the United States government turned to the Central Intelligence Agency to devise a plan to kill both of these men, a task the agency relished. In the case of Fidel Castro, the CIA came up with hair-brained schemes to kill the Cuban leader, including using members of the American mafia to carry out the assassination. In the case of the Rafael Trujillo assassination, the CIA would ship arms and ammunition to certain anti-Trujillo elements in the Dominican Republic that were willing and able to assassinate their ruthless leader.
In the end, the Castro assassination plots failed despite many attempts on his life. As far as the fate of Trujillo was concerned, the outcome was a lot different, with the conspirators having much better luck than their compatriots in Cuba.
Rafael Trujillo’s Rise to Power
In the years since the establishment of the Monroe Doctrine in 1823 by U.S. President James Monroe, the United States considered the Caribbean an “American lake,” an area of strategic importance to Washington. It was the policy of succeeding American presidents to prevent other powers, mostly from Europe, from gaining a foothold in Latin America. If it meant making marriages of convenience with less than stable leaders in the region to protect U.S. interests, so be it.
The United States had a longstanding political and economic relationship with the Dominican Republic going back to the early 1900s. In 1906, the Dominicans signed a 50-year treaty with the United States to give the larger country control over the republic’s customs department. U.S. Marines occupied the Dominican Republic in 1916 and stayed for four years. At the time of the American withdrawal, Trujillo was in charge of the Dominican National Guard. Only a few years before, Trujillo had been a member of group of dissidents who opposed Horacio Vasquez, the leader of the National Party. The group fomented a revolt in the country.
After the rebellion ended, the young Trujillo joined a rag-tag group of thieves and robbers called “The 44.” When the Americans landed in the Dominican Republic, Trujillo was one of hundreds of young men of military age who were given training by the United States, and he was part of the National Guard that battled the rebels in the countryside. Trujillo was a brutal soldier who took every opportunity to torture his prisoners without any retribution from his superiors. When Vasquez became president, he appointed Trujillo as a colonel in the National Guard and later chief of police, a post with unlimited power.
In 1930, a coup was initiated by the rebels whose leader, Estrella Urena, became the provisional president until elections were held. Trujillo pledged not to run for president but changed his mind. Backers of Trujillo killed opposition leaders, ransacked opponents’ homes, and kidnapped anti-Trujillo newspaper reporters. Through a campaign of widespread terror and intimidation on the part of his backers, Trujillo was now president of the Dominican Republic, a post he would hold for almost 30 more years.
Feud With Castro
In the decades to come, Rafael Trujillo ruled the country with an iron fist, taking over for his personal gain such industries as oil refining, cement manufacturing, and food production, pocketing large amounts of cash for years to come.
In 1956, Castro was planning a revolt in Cuba whose goal was the removal of the dictator Fulgencio Batista. Secretly, Trujillo offered Batista military supplies to stop Castro but there was never any lasting relationship between the two dictators. Trujillo referred to Batista as “that shitty sergeant,” and said, “I’m going to oust the bastard.” But Trujillo had no love for Castro either. Trujillo sent arms and ammunition to anti-Castro dissidents then living the Miami area. On New Year’s Eve 1959, Castro and his band of revolutionaries ousted the hated Batista, and Castro proclaimed himself the leader of Cuba.
On June 14, 1959, an abortive invasion to topple Trujillo began. On that day, a plane with Dominican markings left Cuba and landed at the Cordillera Central in the Dominican Republic. On board were 225 men led by a Dominican named Enrique Jimenez Moya and a Cuban named Delico Gomez Ochoa, both of whom were friends of Castro. The invasion force was composed of men from various Latin American countries and Spain. Some Americans also participated. As soon as the invaders landed, they were met by soldiers of the Dominican Army, and 30 to 40 men escaped.
A week later, another group of invaders boarded two yachts and was escorted by Cuban gunboats to Great Inagua, in the Bahamas, heading for the Dominican coast. Instead, the group was spotted by Dominican soldiers who blasted the yacht to pieces. Trujillo ordered his son, Ramfis, to lead the hunt for the invaders, and soon they were captured. The leaders of the invasion were taken aboard a Dominican Air Force plane and then pushed out in midair, falling to their deaths.
The plot was, in reality, tactically directed by many opposition leaders inside the country. Trujillo blamed Castro for the plot, and secretly Castro was behind the entire affair. In time, Trujillo set up a plan to invade Cuba (which never took place) and had his followers loot the Cuban embassy in the capital city of Ciudad Trujillo. Cuba subsequently severed all diplomatic relations with the Dominican Republic.
Rafael Trujillo’s Attempt on Romulo Betancourt’s Life
Another Caribbean leader who hated Trujillo was Romulo Betancourt, the president of Venezuela. In 1951, an attempt to kill Betancourt took place in Havana when someone tried to stab him with a poisoned syringe. The behind-the-scenes culprit was none other than Trujillo. By 1960, Betancourt was publicly criticizing Trujillo, calling him a crook and a scoundrel. In retaliation for his slurs, Trujillo planned an elaborate assassination attempt against Betancourt.
That same year, while Betancourt was driving through the streets of Caracas, Venezuela, during the annual Army Day parade, a powerful bomb exploded in his motorcade. The bomb had been placed in a green Oldsmobile parked near the parade route and contained 65 kilos of TNT. The blast exploded right under the car carrying Betancourt and his party. The car was sent flying across the street. One person in the auto was killed, and Betancourt suffered severe burns to his hands.
Left: Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and Trujillo both supported attempts to overthrow each other. Right: Dominican Republic dictator Rafael Trujillo
Eisenhower’s Plot to Overthrow Trujillo
In Washington, the Eisenhower administration saw the assassination attempt by Trujillo against Betancourt as the last straw. President Dwight D. Eisenhower believed that Trujillo was just as bad as Castro, and if left alone he would turn the Dominican Republic into another bastion of communism in the Western Hemisphere. Eisenhower ordered the CIA to mount a covert operation to help the anti-Trujillo elements in the country to overthrow the bothersome dictator.
In February 1960, Eisenhower approved covert aid to the Dominican dissidents, which was intended to lead to the removal of Trujillo and his replacement by a regime that the United States could support. In the spring of 1960, U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic Joseph Farland made initial contact with dissident elements in the country. The dissidents asked for sniper rifles, but at that time they were not delivered. Right before he left for Washington, Farland introduced his successor, Henry Dearborn, to the dissident leaders and told them that in the future they were to work with Dearborn. The new ambassador told the leaders that the United States would covertly help the rebels in their efforts to oust Trujillo but would not take any overt action.
In June 1960, a meeting took place between Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Roy Rubottom and Colonel J.C. King, chief of the CIA’s Western Hemisphere Division. They discussed a request by a principal leader of the opposition for a limited number of arms to aid in the overthrow of the Trujillo regime. In July, their subsequent proposal was accepted, and the CIA sent 12 sterile rifles with telescopic sights along with 500 rounds of ammunition to the Dominican Republic.
In August 1960, the United States cut off diplomatic relations with Trujillo, leaving Dearborn as the sole U.S. representative in that nation. Dearborn was now the de facto head of the CIA in the Dominican Republic since all the regular CIA personnel had left the country. As Dearborn studied the political and military situation, he cabled Washington that the dissidents were “in no way ready to carry out any type of revolutionary activity in the foreseeable future, except the assassination of their principal enemy [Trujillo].”
In the meantime, the United States tried to aid in the peaceful removal of Trujillo by sending emissaries to persuade him to leave. The effort was to no avail.
Plans were now activated to effect the removal of Rafael Trujillo by any means necessary. A CIA memo concerning a limited invasion plan discusses “the delivery of approximately 300 rifles and pistols, together with ammunition and a supply of grenades, to a secure cache on the South shore of the island, about 14 miles East of Ciudad Trujillo.”
The dispatch also says that the cache would include “an electronic detonating device with remote control features, which could be planted by the dissidents in such a manner as to eliminate certain key Trujillo henchmen. This might necessitate training and introducing into the country by illegal entry, a trained technician to set the bomb and detonator.”
The Plot Under John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy, who became president of the United States in January 1961, continued the CIA’s covert effort to oust Trujillo. Before the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in April 1961, the Kennedy administration covertly sent machine guns, pistols, and carbines to the dissidents in the Dominican Republic.
Three .30-caliber M-1 carbines had been left in the U.S. embassy before the United States broke diplomatic relations with Trujillo, and on March 31, 1961, these guns were supplied to the dissidents. These particular carbines eventually found their way into the hands of one of Trujillo’s assassins, Antonio de la Maza. On April 10, four M3 machine guns and 240 rounds of ammunition were sent via diplomatic pouch to the Dominican Republic. They were received on April 19.
On February 15, 1961, Secretary of State Dean Rusk sent a letter to President Kennedy informing him of the developments regarding the Rafael Trujillo assassination plots. It read: “Our representatives in the Dominican Republic have, at considerable risk to those involved, established contacts with numerous leaders of the underground opposition … and the CIA has recently been authorized to arrange for delivery to them outside the Dominican Republic of small arms and sabotage equipment.”
After the Bay of Pigs disaster, the Kennedy administration tried to convince the dissidents not to kill Trujillo as the political climate was not conducive at that moment. However, the machine guns were dispatched to the U.S. consulate and were taken into possession by Dearborn. Two days before Trujillo’s murder, Kennedy sent a cable to Dearborn informing him that the United States did not condone political assassination in any form and that the United States must not be associated with the attempt on Trujillo’s life.
Dearborn’s pleas to the dissidents to call off the assassination proved, in the end, to be futile. On April 30, Dearborn told Washington via cable that the dissidents were going to kill Rafael Trujillo during the first week of May and had in their possession three carbines, four to six 12-gauge shotguns, and other small arms. The CIA, seeing the futility of further talks with de la Maza, ordered Dearborn to turn over the rest of the rifles.
Visiting the United States, Rafael Trujillo reviews a Marine Corps honor guard. Trujillo’s control of the Dominican Republic lasted for three decades. He alternated between serving as the country’s president and its top military official, but he always controlled the country’s politics.
How the Rafael Trujillo Assassination Actually Happened
On May 30, a spy who worked in the garage where Trujillo’s 1957 Chevrolet was parked, told the four main conspirators—La Maza, Salvador Estrella, Antonio Imbert, and Garcia Guerrero—that Trujillo was planning to meet his girlfriend, Mona Sanchez, that night. The men had in their possession revolvers, pistols, a sawed-off shotgun, and two semiautomatic rifles, some of which had been supplied by the CIA. The route that Trujillo was to take passed the Agua Luz Theater, on the highway that led to San Cristobal. The assassins were in position by 8 pm, waiting for Trujillo’s car to arrive.
At 10 pm, Trujillo and his chauffer got into the Chevrolet and proceeded to the girlfriend’s house. The assassins picked a section of the road that was the least traveled and when Trujillo’s car passed them, Imbert gunned his own car and took off after Trujillo. During the next few, hectic minutes, the assassins opened fire, riddling the car with almost 30 bullets. Trujillo’s chauffeur attempted to return fire with a machine gun.
Badly wounded, Trujillo scrambled out of the car, looking for the assassins. Meanwhile, De la Maza and Imbert doubled back. Trujillo had no chance. He was shot down by the two men and died on the spot. The conspirators put Trujillo’s body in the trunk of a car and parked it two blocks from the American consulate.
After the Rafael Trujillo assassination, the assailants fled to various parts of the country, hoping to evade the huge manhunt that was soon to descend upon them. Whatever hope the assassins had of a coup being initiated upon the death of Trujillo was for naught. His sadistic son and heir apparent, Ramfis, took over the presidency and rounded up all the conspirators. They were summarily executed, some of them being fed to sharks.
The Dominican Republic Unravels
After the assassination, Dearborn sent a message to Washington saying, “We don’t care if the Dominicans assassinated Trujillo, that is all right. But we don’t want anything to pin this on us, because we aren’t doing it, it is the Dominicans who are doing it.” Shortly thereafter, Dearborn and the remaining Americans left Santo Domingo.
Ramfis Trujillo’s time as the leader of the Dominican Republic was short lived. By September 1961, he was in a power struggle with Joaquin Balaguer, another Dominican politician. A possible coalition government was proposed, but soon rioting broke out in the streets and the country seemed on the verge of collapse. In the end, Ramfis Trujillo fled his homeland with millions of dollars of looted cash, never to return.
A series of riots took place in Santo Domingo in April 1965. American embassy officials cabled Washington saying that communist elements were trying to take power in the country. President Lyndon Johnson dispatched a force of 22,000 American troops to restore order. In reality, there was no communist revolt, and the American invasion was roundly criticized throughout Latin America.
In the final analysis, the United States did not want to participate in the events leading up to the Rafael Trujillo assassination, but did so partly due to the political climate of the Cold War. The United States feared that Trujillo would turn the Dominican Republic into another Cuba and reluctantly went along with the rebels’ demands to provide them with guns and ammunition. In an ironic twist, the United States succeeded in removing one dictator, Rafael Trujillo, by basically doing very little, while desperately trying to assassinate Castro of Cuba, and failing miserably. (Read more in-depth stories about the Cold War and 21th century military history inside the pages of Military Heritage magazine.)
Fifty years later I wonder if he is happy to have shot the Dominican dictator?
"Sure," he replies. "Nobody told me to go and kill Trujillo. The only way to get rid of him was to kill him."
Gen Imbert is not alone in having drawn this conclusion.
In a letter to his State Department superior in October 1960, Henry Dearborn, de facto CIA station chief in the Dominican Republic, wrote: "If I were a Dominican, which thank heaven I am not," I would favour destroying Trujillo as being the first necessary step in the salvation of my country and I would regard this, in fact, as my Christian duty."
Today, the border is officially open on Mondays and Fridays.
The bridge that connects the town of Dajabon on the Dominican side and Ouanaminthe in Haiti is a sea of people carrying goods to market.
The two towns, filled with the sounds of Spanish and Creole, depend on each other.
"We have more in common than the differences. Trujillo tried to rid the Dominican Republic of its Haitian roots but our cultures and lifestyle are very similar," says Lesly Manigat, a Haitian doctor living in the Dominican town of Santiago.
"The French, the Spanish, the Africans, it's a shared history."
Dr Manigat belongs to a group called Border of Lights that has been marking the anniversary by using art, poetry and social action to bring the communities together.
Church services were held in both towns to remember the dead, and people took part in a candlelight vigil, marching to their respective border fences.
Distant voices of support could be heard as flickering tea lights floated down-river.
There were some, however, who felt that too much time had passed. In the Dominican newspapers, there was concern that marking the event may raise tensions.
But organisers of the commemorations said it was important to remember.
"People have described it as 75 years of silence and this is a chance to talk about it because these wounds are still in us and so we don't repeat the past," said Cynthia Carrion.
November 18th, 2011 Headsman
Fifty years ago today, four men were shot for the ajusticiamiento — “execution” — of longtime Dominican Republic dictator Rafael Trujillo.
El Jefe had run his half of Hispaniola for more than thirty years, mirroring his contemporary Stalin for creepy personality cult — giant signs reading “God and Trujillo” the capital city renamed after him — and dictatorial ruthlessness. Except, of course, that Trujillo was violently anti-communist. He’s the very man for whom U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull coined the memorable (and endlessly recyclable) quip, “He may be a son-of-a-bitch, but he is our son-of-a-bitch.” The guy could even get away with disappearing people from New York City.
But by the last decade of Trujillo’s reign, Dominicans were increasingly tired of his being their son-of-a-bitch.
An abortive 1959 invasion by Dominican exiles was defeated militarily but helped spawn the dissident 14th of June movement — which naturally met with state repression, most emblematically the 1960 murder of the Mirabal sisters. World opinion turned against Trujillo, and even Washington, chastened by the recent Cuban Revolution, feared that their son-of-a-bitch was becoming counterproductive.
So the CIA had actually collaborated with the plot against him hatched among other Dominican elites, providing guns, money, and its all-important blessing. “From a purely practical standpoint, it will be best for us … if the Dominicans put an end to Trujillo before he leaves this island,” the spy agency’s local station chief reported to his superiors late in 1960,
If I were a Dominican, which thank heaven I am not, I would favor destroying Trujillo as being the first necessary step in the salvation of my country and I would regard this, in fact, as my Christian duty. If you recall Dracula, you will remember it was necessary to drive a stake through his heart to prevent a continuation of his crimes. I believe sudden death would be more humane than the solution of the Nuncio who once told me he thought he should pray that Trujillo would have a long and lingering illness.
On May 30, 1961 (Spanish link), Trujillo’s car was ambushed on Avenida George Washington outside “Ciudad Trujillo” by members of his own armed forces, and riddled with gunfire. When the bullets stopped flying, Rafael Trujillo’s body was a bloody heap on the asphalt. Today, the spot is marked by a memorial plaque — commemorating not Trujillo, but the men who killed him.
That did for the dictator, but the larger aspiration of regime change experienced a little blowback.
Rather than a new dawn of liberalism and human rights, Trujillo’s son Ramfis seized power and vengefully went after his father’s killers. The Dominican Republic became prey thereafter to that familiar cycle of military coups and unstable juntas, leading a few years later to outright American occupation.
But before Trujillo fils was pushed out of the job, he had six of the assassins hunted down: two were killed resisting capture, and the other four put to death by firing squad on this date — their remains allegedly thrown to the sharks (pdf) after their executions.
There’s a BBC interview from spring 2011 with a surviving co-conspirator, Gen. Antonio Imbert, here.
Trujillo's Downfall and Death
Dominican exiles opposed to the Trujillo regime carried out two failed invasions, one in 1949 and one in 1959. However, things shifted in the region once Fidel Castro succeeded in overthrowing Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959. In order to help the Dominicans overthrow Trujillo, Castro armed a military expedition in 1959 composed mostly of exiles but also some Cuban military commanders. The uprising failed, but the Cuban government continued urging Dominicans to revolt against Trujillo and this inspired more conspiracies. One widely publicized case was that of the three Mirabal sisters, whose husbands had been jailed for conspiring to overthrow Trujillo. The sisters were assassinated on November 25, 1960, provoking outrage.
One of the decisive factors in Trujillo's downfall was his attempt to assassinate Venezuelan President Romulo Betancourt in 1960 after discovering that the latter had participated years before in a conspiracy to oust him. When the assassination plot was revealed, the Organization of American States (OAS) severed diplomatic ties with Trujillo and imposed economic sanctions. Moreover, having learned its lesson with Batista in Cuba and recognizing that Trujillo's corruption and repression had gone too far, the U.S. government withdrew its longstanding support of the dictator it had helped train.
On May 30, 1961 and with the help of the CIA, Trujillo's car was ambushed by seven assassins, some of whom were part of his armed forces, and the dictator was killed.
Our editors will review what you’ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article.
Rafael Trujillo, in full Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina, (born Oct. 24, 1891, San Cristóbal, Dom.Rep.—died May 30, 1961, Ciudad Trujillo, near San Cristóbal), dictator of the Dominican Republic from 1930 until his assassination in 1961.
Trujillo entered the Dominican army in 1918 and was trained by U.S. Marines during the U.S. occupation (1916–24) of the country. He rose from lieutenant to commanding colonel of the national police between 1919 and 1925, becoming a general in 1927. Trujillo seized power in the military revolt against Pres. Horacio Vásquez in 1930. From that time until his assassination 31 years later, Trujillo remained in absolute control of the Dominican Republic through his command of the army, by placing family members in office, and by having many of his political opponents murdered. He served officially as president from 1930 to 1938 and again from 1942 to 1952.
Competent in business, capable in administration, and ruthless in politics, Trujillo brought a degree of peace and prosperity to the republic that it had not previously enjoyed. However, the benefits of economic modernization were inequitably distributed in favour of Trujillo and his favourites and supporters. Moreover, the people of the country paid for the prosperity with the loss of their civil and political liberties. Haitians living in the Dominican Republic suffered acutely. Trujillo encouraged anti-Haitian prejudice among Dominicans, and in 1937 he ordered the massacre of thousands of Haitian migrants.
The two best works on Trujillo are Germán E. Ornes, Trujillo: Little Caesar of the Caribbean (1958), and Robert D. Crassweller, Trujillo: The Life and Times of a Caribbean Dictator (1966), both of which are critical but factual. A very hostile study of his regime is Albert C. Hicks, Blood in the Streets: The Life and Rule of Trujillo (1946). Sander Ariza, Trujillo: The Man and His Country (1939), and Abelardo René Manita, Trujillo (5th rev. ed. 1954), are adulatory. □
Dominicans, Haitians Remember Parsley Massacre
October marks 75 years since a dark period in the Dominican Republic's history. In 1937, President Rafael Leonidas Trujillo ordered the execution of thousands of ethnic Haitians. Guest host Celeste Headlee discusses the "Parsley Massacre" with two noted authors, one Dominican and one Haitian: Julia Alvarez and Edwidge Danticat.
This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Celeste Headlee. Michel Martin is away. Coming up, we talk to Keija Minor about becoming the first African-American editor-in-chief of a Conde Nast publication, Brides magazine.
But first, it's been 75 years since a dark and nearly forgotten period in the history of the Dominican Republic. In October of 1937, then president, Rafael Leonidas Trujillo ordered the execution of thousands of ethnic Haitians living in the Dominican Republic. It came to be known as the Parsley Massacre.
The two nations share the island of Hispaniola and a long and very stormy history of mistrust. Here to talk about the massacre and what some people are doing to bridge the cultural divide - two authors, one Dominican, one Haitian. Julia Alvarez is the author of the novel, "How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents," and most recently, "A Wedding in Haiti." And Edwidge Danticat, the author of the novel, "The Farming of Bones," and more recently, "Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work."
EDWIDGE DANTICAT: Thank you for having us.
HEADLEE: Julia, we want to talk about Trujillo first. He ruled your country for decades, but many in this country may not have heard of him. Let's take a listen here. This is a clip that announces his assassination in 1961.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NEWSCAST)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: A 31 year reign of terror and bloodshed comes to an end in the Dominican Republic as dictator Rafael Trujillo is shot down by seven assassins. His victims were numbered in the tens of thousands during his iron-fisted rule of the island nation, a rule which created fabulous wealth for a few and the grimmest of poverty for the majority. He ruled by the gun and died by the gun.
HEADLEE: So, Julia, tell us a little bit about this man and his importance in your country.
ALVAREZ: Wow, that just gave me goose bumps to hear that. Of course, we were elated. We were already in New York, but, you know, this was 31 years of an oppressive, bloody dictatorship and killed thousands of Dominicans and you've already brought up the Haitian massacre, a shameful atrocity that his soldiers committed. And they used bayonets to make it look like a popular uprising against the Haitian invader, but it was a military order to kill all Haitians.
HEADLEE: Well, Edwidge, let's talk about this from your side of the border. You've done a great deal of research about the Parsley Massacre. Can you explain to us what happened? And how is it remembered by Haitians?
DANTICAT: Well, the time of the massacre was a spread of Nazism throughout Europe and Trujillo was a great admirer, it turned out, of Hitler. And so there was an attempt with this massacre to try to whiten the Dominican Republic and reduce the Haitian influence there, so thousands and thousands of people, as Julia just mentioned, were killed. It's also called El Corte, the cutting.
And, from our side, unfortunately, people - my generation, even older - did not really know about this massacre. It's not something we heard about. It wasn't in the history books, I think, in part because it was a shame, this sort of collaboration among the elites of both Haiti and the Dominican Republic. And this was basically done to a lot of poor people, so there was a silence about it over time.
HEADLEE: Edwidge, can you explain to us why it's called the Parsley Massacre?
DANTICAT: It's called the Parsley Massacre because a sprig of parsley was held in front of people and they were asked to say the word, perejil. And you can see by the way I'm saying it that I would not have made it and there is a difference between the way Dominicans and Haitians trill the R and certain linguistic differences, so it was a giveaway, a test.
HEADLEE: Well, let me hear it. You say the word again, Edwidge.
ALVAREZ: Perejil. We trill the R and the Haitian Creole has a wide, flat R pronunciation, although it's pretty good.
DANTICAT: Ours is - I guess it would be like - more like a W, where.
DANTICAT: Yeah. Perejil. Yeah.
ALVAREZ: Perejil. And we would say, perejil.
HEADLEE: That R was the difference between life and death.
ALVAREZ: My goodness, exactly, because there were Dominicans, dark-skinned Dominicans, who were massacred and many of them with Haitian backgrounds and that was the litmus test because, of course, Haitians would also say, but I'm really Dominican, so how would you pronounce this little sprig of green?
DANTICAT: That also shows, I think, how much people had blended, that you needed this kind of differential, that you needed them to open their mouths and speak before you could tell them apart.
HEADLEE: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're taking a look back at the massacre of thousands of Haitians that took place 75 years ago in the Dominican Republic. Our guests are the authors, Julia Alvarez and Edwidge Danticat.
As you say, Edwidge, there wasn't a lot of reporting on the massacre. We looked back and tried to find some. There's not a lot, but it ended up having a pretty big impact on the people, on the culture, the literature and even the poetry. We want to play you a piece of Rita Dove reading her poem, "Parsley."
RITA DOVE: (Reading) El General has found his word: perejil. Who says it lives. He laughs, teeth shining out of the swamp. The cane appears in our dreams lashed by wind and streaming and we lie down. For every drop of blood, there is a parrot imitating spring. Out of the swamp, the cane appears.
HEADLEE: So that's Rita Dove and you, of course, wrote a book, as well, "The Farming of Bones." Why choose this as your subject matter and why approach it through fiction?
DANTICAT: Well, there's a very strong element of testimonial, even in the poem, even in Julia's work and other work that concerns this era, you know, this era of massacres through Trujillo and fiction and poetry, I think, is a way of bringing all these different voices into one voice in which you can tell so many different stories through a kind of testimonial that fiction and poetry and even song allows.
HEADLEE: Julia, your most recent book, "A Wedding in Haiti," is actually a non-fiction. It talks about your visits to Haiti and it talks a lot about the cultural divide between the two countries. Some of that branches back to Trujillo. He banned any reference to Haitian culture. What kind of influence has that had on the relationship between the two people?
ALVAREZ: Well, as Edwidge pointed out, there's been this enormous silence, so I grew up not knowing about this. It took coming to this country and connecting with Haitians and Haitian-Americans and with my own Dominican people that were here that I began to learn more and more of the history and I think that's when this revulsion for something that had happened that had never been addressed or redressed properly filled me.
And, from way back, we started talking about doing this border gathering to commemorate and give voice and shine a light on that history because, even though it happened in the way past, that same massacre mentality is there to this day with the way that the human rights of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian origin are denied in the Dominican Republic. So it's an important moment and it's something that we of the diaspora can bring back and there are many people on the ground that are going to join us.
HEADLEE: You're talking about the Border of Lights event, which is meant to commemorate the 75th.
HEADLEE: . anniversary of this massacre. So there's Julia talking about how it was removed from the history books in the Dominican Republic. How about on your side of the border, Edwidge? Do Haitians - do Haitian children learn about this in their schools?
DANTICAT: Well, the thing is, you know, the Dominican Republic is probably Haiti's biggest trading partner in all of these - you know, for a lot of border people, you can walk across and back and forth. As I mentioned, it's not something that we talked about, but it was transmitted through all history. I had people in my family who went to work in the sugar cane in the Dominican Republic, and it is an atrocious situation that's current. It's not one of those situations where you say, this is over.
You know, but there are still things that, even as we come together to remember, the fact that people can be in the Dominican Republic for generations and not get a birth certificate and they can't go to school and all, these things that are sort of part of the current migration, so the history sort of overshadows the present at the same time and there's always a fear of repeats, which is why it's so important when people come together to talk about the past, not just for the sake of talking about the past, but also to talk about how we can create a different future with what we know of the past.
HEADLEE: Is that the solution here, Julia? It's been 75 years and yet you felt revulsion when you first learned about it. Does it require a real examination with a microscope of this massacre and what happened in order to kind of put it behind you?
ALVAREZ: Of course, it does. I mean, it requires us acknowledging it, giving testimony. One of the things we're going to do during the Border of Lights gathering is have a kind of StoryCorps booth where people can tell their stories what they knew of the massacre, if they heard anything from their families.
We can't change the present or the future unless we acknowledge what's happened and, also, you know, acknowledge some of the collaborations that have happened because we are - you know, I say that in "A Wedding in Haiti." We're - Haiti - when I went on those travels to Haiti, Haiti was the sister I never knew. You know, it was this other side, right on a small island, and it was kept out of my history books and out of our stories, and this is something that I think there's no place on this planet anymore where that should be happening. It's time that the people themselves - and this is why this is a people's movement - say, that's enough. And, you know, we have to do - we have to collaborate and we have to face the past.
HEADLEE: Julia Alvarez, novelist, poet, essayist. She's also a writer in residence at Middlebury College and she joined us from their studios in Vermont. And Edwidge Danticat is also a writer. She joined us from Miami, Florida. Thanks to both of you.
DANTICAT: Thank you so much for having us.
ALVAREZ: Thank you so much.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR&rsquos programming is the audio record.