The Ambassador in the Dominican Republic (Butler) to the Secretary of State

No. 306

Sir: Referring to this Embassy’s secret despatch no. 199, dated November 18, 1946, regarding relations between the United States and the Dominican Republic, I have the honor to report further on this and related subjects.

[Page 812]

As background for the comment contained in this despatch, the following brief summary of information and views previously reported to the Department may be a convenient reference:

The Trujillo Government, in the opinion of Chiefs of Mission and other officers of the Embassy who have served here during the past two years, governs by fear and by the suppression of civil liberties and individual rights.
It probably is impossible for Trujillo to make any substantial change in his present methods and still retain power. There is no evidence that he intends to relinquish power in the near future.
Unless the army withdraws support from or turns against President Trujillo—a most unlikely development—there is no evidence of Dominican opposition within the country or abroad that is strong enough to overthrow him.
It is not the responsibility of the United States Government to change the government of the Dominican Republic. Any unilateral action on our part would be contrary to our declared foreign policies. However, the suppression of civil rights and individual liberties, and other anti-democratic practices, in the Dominican Republic and in other parts of the world are threats to our national interests and to our form of government.
Some sort, of multilateral action to bring the force of public opinion to bear in an effort to remedy these situations seems to offer the best immediate course of action.
The Trujillo Government is seeking to establish cooperation with the Government of the United States to combat the alleged danger of Communist activities in the country. Since there is little evidence of such danger, the logical conclusion is that another effort is being made to bring about a situation which will enable Trujillo to give the impression that the Government of the United States is supporting him.
Effective action in dealing with governments such as that of President Trujillo must be based, in my opinion, on publicly stated policies of our government which are applied impartially to all governments which are in the same category. An effort to deal with such governments on a country-by-country basis, as critical situations arise, and at different times, inevitably will involve us in arguments about intervention, discrimination and personal prejudices.

Conversations which I have had during the past few weeks confirm former reports (for example despatches no. 223 of November 22, 1946, no. 251 of December 4, 1946, and no. 282 of December 16, 194614) regarding the ruthless methods used by Trujillo against any opposition. One very reliable and reputable Dominican said to me that the dictatorship here is not 90%, but 100%; that he doubts if even Hitler exercised the complete and ruthless internal control in Germany that Trujillo does here. He said that Dominicans may be divided into four classes: (1) those who are closely associated with Trujillo [Page 813] through personal choice; (2) those who go along with the Trujillo Government because it pays to be on the side of the strong battalions and because of the success Trujillo has had; (3) those who try to lead their own lives in the country, without participating in government but also without attacking or opposing the Trujillo regime in any way; and (4) those who openly oppose the government and who, consequently, either have to leave the country or have the courage to risk their lives by remaining here.

A remark by an ordinary Dominican laborer suggests the existence of a fifth class. I would pay little attention to this incident were it not for the example of President Perón and his Argentine “descamisados”.15 The laborer said, in effect, that the “descamisados” in the Dominican Republic know the bad things that Trujillo does (he pointed to a picture of Trujillo and said “he”, instead of mentioning the name), but they are for him because Trujillo recognized their existence, has given them roads and better houses; while before they were treated like animals, if they were noticed at all. This class, of course, has little conception of or experience with democracy and civil liberties; and probably has been sold on the story that all sorts of exploiters of the people—foreign and domestic—are responsible for high living costs and miserable standards suffered by the “descamisados”.16 There is a possibility that Trujillo’s methods have been so successful (see also despatch no. 280 of December 14, 194617) that he would triumph in free elections unless they were held after a long period of free press, free speech and free assembly, and under effective international supervision.

The prospect is not an encouraging one. It is another proof of the great need for the United States to demonstrate that democracy can work; and then to find some means of bringing that concrete evidence to the attention of all peoples, everywhere. The problem of Communism further complicates the situation.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The best information that I have been able to obtain leads me to believe that the following conclusions are justified:

President Trujillo, probably for a number of involved reasons, encouraged a Communist-type opposition, found that it was getting out of hand, and now is going to the opposite extreme of inventing a Communist peril that should be overcome with the cooperation of the United States.
There are some Communist leaders (although there is little, if any, proof that they take orders from Moscow), and a young group of Marxian ideology, who do form an open opposition to the Trujillo Government. They do so at great personal risk.
It is doubtful if the Partido Socialista Popular is properly a Communist party, although it may be dominated by a minority element of Communists or Communist sympathizers.
Non-communist opponents of Trujillo probably rally around the groups mentioned in 2. and 3. because there is no other organized opposition in the country.
It is the present practice of the Trujillo Government to label as Communists all those who oppose Trujillo and his regime. The Partido Socialista Popular always is referred to as the Communist Party. Juventud Democrática is referred to as a Communist group. Its published principles and statements give no ground for such a charge. The group probably is the successor of the youth group of the former Unión Popular Revolucionaria which, to the best of my knowledge, was in no way a Communist organization.
Either support of Trujillo against an alleged Communist movement (re: Embassy telegram 397, December 18, 4 p.m.18) or support of an opposition which, if successful, might be taken over by Communist or other anti-democratic elements would be undesirable from the point of view of the interests and policies of the United States.

Again, hope seems to lie in multilateral action based on democratic principles which have been proclaimed, if not observed, by all of the American Republics. If the American Republics wish to handle their affairs under a mutually satisfactory arrangement with the United Nations, then they must make the inter-American system a live force devoted to the attainment of the general welfare, peace and security of the peoples of the Americas. Problems of armament and hemisphere defense, of the duties as well as the rights of states, of the protection of individual rights and civil liberties, and of real freedom of information in all countries must be faced and workable solutions found which will be genuinely supported by a substantial majority of the American nations.

Members of the Dominican opposition have stated to me that they cannot understand why we oppose dictators in Europe and fail to do anything about them in the Americas. As concerns Trujillo, there unfortunately have been United States elements, official and private, whose actions and public statements have given just reason for the charge that the United States has supported him.

Addresses and statements by the President of the United States, the Secretary of State, and other responsible officers of the Department furnish the basis for refutation of this and similar criticisms of our [Page 815] foreign policy. It would be extremely helpful in dealing with the Trujillo Government, and I believe this would apply in other Latin American countries, if the Department could issue and give wide publicity to a press release on the subject. The release might be a policy statement approved by the President and the Secretary of State, and directly related, by specific reference, to some of the major problems in inter-American relations today.

[Here follows outline of proposed press release.]

Respectfully yours,

George H. Butler
  1. None printed.
  2. The common people.
  3. A pencilled marginal note on the original reads: “This is an argument in favor of the thesis that if we want democracy in the D.R. we must do what we can to raise the standards of living & education of the rank a file Dominicans. L[ouis] J. H[alle]”; Mr. Halle was Acting Assistant Chief of the Division of Special Inter-American Affairs (IA).
  4. Not printed.
  5. Post, p. 833.