305. Editorial Note

Documentation on relations between the United States and the Dominican Republic is presented in an accompanying microform publication. A narrative summary, based upon that documentation, is provided below, along with a purport list of the documents published in the microform supplement. The document numbers cited in the summary correspond to the document numbers in the purport list and the microform supplement.

Generalissimo Rafael Trujillo had ruled the Dominican Republic since 1930. While promoting himself as “the Benefactor,” Trujillo’s rule had become increasingly harsh and dictatorial. His attempts to strike at exiled dissidents in the United States had caused serious strain in relations with Washington. The Eisenhower administration faced one overwhelming problem in the Dominican Republic: how to ease Trujillo out of power without allowing pro-Fidel Castro/anti-American elements to take over.

In late January 1958, the Director of the Office of Middle American Affairs surveyed U.S.-Dominican relations and highlighted the principal U.S. interests in the Dominican Republic: its strategic position in relation to the Panama Canal, a U.S. guided missile tracking station on the northeast coast, and general Dominican support for U.S. policies. The Director recommended that U.S. Ambassador Joseph S. Farland meet with Trujillo in an attempt to normalize relations. Farland was encouraged by his discussion with the Generalissimo in early February to believe that a better relationship was possible. (DR–1) Trujillo, however, proved sensitive to U.S. congressional criticism and supposed slights against his family so that relations did not improve markedly. (DR–2, 3)

On June 14, 1959, a small group of insurgents invaded the Dominican Republic by air. The Dominican Army eventually defeated the invasion. (DR–8) Notwithstanding the fact that invasion did not generate popular support, the Department of State became increasingly concerned that the Trujillo regime was about to fall. In January 1960, Department officials raised the issue at the National Security Council. [Page 807] Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Livingston Merchant told the Council that the U.S. objective was to ensure that a successor regime would be friendly to the United States and not sympathetic to Castro or communism. The problem was, according to Merchant, that Trujillo had so stifled moderate opposition that most dissident groups were either Communist or Communist-infiltrated. The Department recommended that U.S. policy during the coming months should be to coalesce non-Communist business, professional, and academic groups into an opposition. (DR–10)

In January 1960, Trujillo cracked down on his opponents, charging that they were engaged in a conspiracy to overthrow him. (DR–11) In March 1960, retired General Edwin S. Clark convinced President Eisenhower to allow him to make a secret visit to Ciudad Trujillo (Santo Domingo) to convince Trujillo to step down from power. Clark’s unofficial scheme contemplated creating a foundation funded by the money amassed by the Trujillo family during its 30 years of rule. To be administered by former Latin American and U.S. Presidents, the fund would be used for the benefit of the Dominican Republic. It was designed to prevent confiscation of the Trujillo fortune by a successor government and assure that Trujillo did not take his vast fortune with him into exile. (DR–16, 17)

Trujillo’s support in the Dominican Republic was weakening rapidly, according to U.S. intelligence assessments. (DR–18, 20) When the situation was brought to the attention of the National Security Council in April 1960, there was general concern that the U.S. policy of building a moderate potential transition government might be too little and too late. Vice President Nixon worried that it was the “old story” being repeated: the pro-Castro elements with definite objectives were the only minority capable of strong leadership. Nixon recommended that the United States consider intervention if this group threatened to come to power. The National Security Council agreed that the United States must be prepared to take rapid action. (DR–19)

General Clark returned to Washington from conversations with Trujillo in late March 1960 without a promise from the Generalissimo to retire. Meeting with Secretary of State Herter and General Clark on April 25, President Eisenhower discussed the possibility of “a plan for removing Trujillo from control of the country, and to establish in his position a controlling junta which would immediately call for free elections and make an attempt to get the country on a truly democratic basis.” (DR–20)

When the National Security Council next considered the question of the Dominican Republic in July 1960, Eisenhower concluded that the Trujillo dictatorship was seriously deflecting attention from the real problem in Latin America, Fidel Castro. (DR–25) It was difficult to brand Castro a dictator and call for sanctions against him as long as [Page 808] Trujillo was in power. The new Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, Thomas Mann, solicited advice from Deputy Chief of Mission Henry Dearborn who was the highest level diplomat official now that U.S. relations with the Dominican Republic were suspended in conjunction with an OAS decision that the Dominican Republic had attempted to assassinate President Betancourt of Venezuela. Invited to give his “very personal and confidential” appraisal, Dearborn suggested that as long as Trujillo remained in the Dominican Republic—as Governor of Santiago province or “dogcatcher”—he would dominate the country and there would be no chance for a true opposition. The only solution was removal of Trujillo from the country. Dearborn asserted that Trujillo would probably only do this under threat of death. Dearborn suggested that if he were a Dominican he would favor killing Trujillo. (DR–28)

The Department of State’s Bureau on Intelligence and Research suggested that “assassination is an increasing possibility—perhaps even a probability, considering the desperate temper of the opposition.” (DR–29) It is clear from this compilation that the Eisenhower administration tried without success to induce Trujillo to step down. By the end of 1960, the dictator held grimly to power. Six months later he would be dead from an assassin’s bullet. Additional material may be found in Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders, An Interim Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, Report No. 94–465, 94th Congress, 1st Session, U.S. Senate (Washington, November 1975), pages 191–215.