306. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) to President Kennedy1

Here is a report from Bob Murphy about his visit to Trujillo with Igor Cassini.2

Murphy’s conclusion is that our hostility to the Dominican Republic is unwise; he thinks we should “walk back the cat and initiate a policy of guidance.” He thinks that the groups at Ciudad Trujillo are willing and eager “to be taken by the hand and to institute democratic reforms.”

I know nothing of the Dominican Republic except by hearsay, but I think there can be little doubt that the whole concept of the Alliance for Progress would be gravely shadowed in the eyes of Latin Americans if we were to move to anything like a policy of “friendly guidance” toward Trujillo.

At the risk of misunderstanding, I think I ought to add that if the public were to know that Igor Cassini is providing public relations help to Trujillo, your own personal position as a liberal leader might be compromised. I cannot help thinking that your own position should be fully disengaged from any venture of this sort.

McG. B.


Accompanied by Igor Cassini, I had private and informal talks at the Palacio Nacionale, Ciudad Trujillo, April 15 and 16, 1961, with Dr. Joaquin Balaguer, President of the Dominican Republic, Foreign Minister Porfirio Herrera Baez, Personal Assistant to President Balaguer, Otto Vega, [Page 626] and Generalissimo Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina. Protocol was carefully observed at both meetings to mark the status of the Generalissimo as a private citizen; we were first received for a few minutes by the President and the Foreign Minister for perfunctory conversation. Then we were joined by the Generalissimo who acted as Dominican spokesman.

It developed from the conversations that conditions on the Island are stable and calm; that there is no suffering or actual inconvenience resulting from the OAS embargo. The effect of it is disturbing in the psychological and political sense and of course it is deeply resented.

My approach was that of asking questions in order to explore the situation, seeking a solution, with emphasis on the traditional friendship between our two countries. I suggested that while it is perhaps true that the vast majority of North Americans are uninformed about and little interested in the affairs of the Dominican Republic, a minority are highly critical of the “Trujillo dictatorship”. They, I suggested, were better judges than I of sentiment in Latin America.

During the course of the conversations there were frank references to the 6th OAS meeting at San Jose; to the feud between Betancourt and Trujillo;3 to the necessity of free elections in the Dominican Republic with some form of OAS supervision; to the question of the Dominican future should the Generalissimo disappear from the scene, for example, as a result of illness or accident; and to the urgent need for better communication between the D.R. and other American Republics, including the U.S. as well as the U.N. I referred to a certain preoccupation in Washington and elsewhere of stories regarding alleged tortures, brutalities and suppression by the regime. I stressed the hostility in certain quarters and among sectors of the press against what they believed to be a cruel dictatorship which did not disdain corrupt methods in its dealings. I referred also to the concern that the D.R. not become another Cuba as a result of a vacuum created by the eventual disappearance of Trujillo, and the possible entrance of elements antagonistic to the U.S.

I found an alertness regarding all these problems. The following emerged from our talks:

The Generalissimo not only does not intend to leave the D.R. as Batista left Cuba but he and his associates see no reason to do so. He is certainly no Batista. Trujillo in his seventieth year seems in excellent health and spirits. He manifests what appears to be genuine confidence in the stability of the position. He pointed to the fact that the Republic’s [Page 627] constitution requires Presidential elections in May, 1961. He and his associates said that it would be most difficult to amend the constitution to require earlier elections. However, Trujillo declared that he is prepared to accept OAS observers and the full publicity. He seemed persuaded that the situation required freer contact with the press. Mr. Cassini provided a helpful and convincing account of President Kennedy’s handling of this important problem, especially the feature of open conferences, and the acceptance of the fact that there would be inevitably critical and even hostile elements attending. The Dominicans seemed to agree that there was wisdom in meeting these openly in the hope that as they feel their case is sound, sympathetic support would be forthcoming from many sectors of the press who are not prejudiced a priori.

The Generalissimo expressed vigorous confidence in the stability of the Dominican situation, believing that the population stands whole-heartedly behind the present program and approved what has been achieved in the past to improve the living conditions of the mass and to provide better opportunities for the average man. He stated his belief that if he should disappear, constitutional processes are adequate to maintain the position. He emphasized that he has no plans to perpetuate a Trujillo dynasty, confirming what his son had recently said on the subject.

According to the Generalissimo he intends to stand on the side of the U.S. regardless of the present difficulties.

Trujillo authorized Mr. Cassini to work out a plan of improved communications including the selection of a professional public relations expert from the U.S. to work in the D.R. for a better public image of the D.R. abroad. An attack would be made on baseless and distorted stories regarding the regime and the light of day thrown on the allegations frequently of obscure origin concerning brutalities and suppression. The intention would be to open the D.R. to a truly free press recognizing that a controlled press is a liability.

The Foreign Minister read to us a draft of an informal and personal letter he planned to send to Secretary Rusk and fifteen other L.A. Foreign Secretaries. In essence it was an historical account of the D.R.’s foreign policy and an expression of regret over the OAS resolution and attitude. He asked for my reaction. I replied that my personal reaction was unfavorable because if I were an addressee of such a letter I would not know what to do with it. I might interpret it wrongly as an expression of anxiety whereas I had gained the impression that they did not so intend it. They all agreed that it would be more effective to institute a series of informal representations by qualified persons in the various capitals. They said they would be grateful if I would discuss it at a convenient moment with Secretary Rusk.

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It might be useful to compare American policy vis-à-vis other countries in different areas—countries which are similar in size and presenting various interpretations of democratic government. Three analogies occur to me: Tunisia, Guinea and the Republic of the Congo (French).

In the case of the Dominican Republic, the U.S. has broken diplomatic relations for hemispheric reasons no doubt which are arguable, but certainly having some relationship to the Betancourt-Trujillo feud, and specifically for the consideration of the pallid OAS resolution at San Jose on Cuba. Yet there is no question that the D.R. has provided consistent support of U.S. policies especially in the field of E-W relations, than any of the three countries mentioned. Also as distinguished from the D.R., the U.S. has extended substantial material aid to the other countries mentioned.

The U.S. maintains friendly diplomatic relations with the “democracies” of Bourguiba, of Sekou Toure, and of Abbe Youlou. Tunisia has approximately the same size population and is if anything poorer than the D.R. Surely no one would suggest that when it comes to strong arm methods, Bourguiba would yield any ground to Trujillo. Sekou Toure’s approach to democracy is of course several degrees less liberal than either Bourguiba or Trujillo. Sekou Toure of course has to deal with a more primitive population whose ideas of democracy are hazier than Tunisian or Dominican, and whose economy is also more primitive.

The case of Abbe Youlou at Brazzaville is that of a classic approach of a tribal leader coming to power by the massacre of opposing tribal leaders. He is now in apparently absolute control as a result of brutal methods for which there is a tradition in the area. By no stretch of the imagination is Brazzaville the capital of a democracy in our sense of the word, and yet quite properly we maintain diplomatic relations with that country, as we do with Guinea and Tunisia. Yet we have broken with the D.R. which is close to our shores and very close to Cuba. I am frankly puzzled as to the wisdom of our position. Should we not walk back the cat and initiate a policy of guidance. The moment would seem ripe for it. The present situation does not seem to call for harshness and public condemnation but rather a process of friendly leadership. It seems to me that the group at Ciudad Trujillo are eager and willing to be taken by the hand and to institute democratic reforms.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Dominican Republic, Murphy Trip, May-July 1961. Secret.
  2. In April President Kennedy sent veteran U.S. diplomat Robert D. Murphy to the Dominican Republic to discuss with Trujillo the political situation there. Murphy was accompanied by Hearst newspaper reporter Igor Cassini, an acquaintance of the Kennedy family who had ties to Trujillo and acted as an unregistered agent for him in the United States.
  3. Reference is to the Sixth Meeting of Foreign Ministers of the Organization of American States in San Jose in August 1960. The Ministers approved economic sanctions against the Trujillo government, which had supported an assassination attempt against Venezuelan President Romulo Betancourt in June.