- Terrorism and Disregard for Law in the Dominican Republic
1. I took the opportunity of my meeting with President Balaguer Friday morning, July 30, to raise with him on a personal and informal basis my increasing concern over terrorist and counterterrorist activities and killings in the Dominican Republic as well as over widespread instances of disregard for the law by the forces of public order.
2. Referring to the President’s own public remarks of July 28 to the effect that the activities of terrorist bands were reflecting discredit abroad upon the Dominican Republic, I said I shared the President’s concern. My concern went even further in that I was also distressed by continued instances reported in the press where government forces sworn to uphold the law frequently disregard its express provisions. I spoke, as examples, of the widespread practice of holding prisoners for indefinite periods of time, ranging up to many days or weeks and refusing to honor writs of habeas corpus from the courts. It was my understanding the constitution itself provides prisoner may not be held for more than 48 hours without being charged and that the right of habeas corpus is clearly recognized. Press reports published abroad, although frequently greatly distorted, often contain elements of undeniable fact and are creating a very bad picture of the Dominican Republic. Many people both here and abroad believe, for example, that despite official denials there is some connection between the terrorist group known as “La Banda” [Page 2] and the National Police. An unfortunate impression is being created which makes more difficult the work of those of us who wish to be helpful to the Dominican Government. I cited as an example the article carried by UPI which appeared in the Santo Domingo newspapers that morning reporting the strongly critical remarks of a member of the U.S. Congress.
3. The President said he had seen the newspaper article but pointed out the Congressman had referred to the writings of Norman Gall who, in the President’s opinion, is a communist. The Congressman had also referred to corruption in the Dominican Government. The President earnestly assured me there is no corruption in the Dominican Government. It is possible that individuals receive commissions for assistance they render but he emphasized there is no diversion or misappropriation of public funds, the expenditure of which he personally supervises.
4. With regard to the killings so frequently reported in the press, he said these often are the result of members of one illegal band attacking another. It is possible the National Police use members of “La Banda” as informants but “La Banda” is not supported or equipped by the police and its members do not carry arms. On the contrary, other terrorist groups have provided themselves with weapons from clandestine sources or arms seized by violence from police officials.
5. The President affirmed his confidence in the honesty, integrity, ability, self-sacrifice and dedication at the risk of his life of General Perez v Perez, the National Police chief, who has greatly improved the security situation in the country and taken giant strides to correct the glaring deficiencies of the police force. I told the President that as he knew, I myself had a high personal regard and admiration for General Perez y Perez. The concern I expressed were not intended as a personal criticism of the general. He is making a tremendous effort in the face of great obstacles to improve the police. The fact remains, however, that all too often the forces of order in the country disregard the law they are called upon to maintain.
6. The President said he knew this was very true but one must understand the despair of the police in the face of the weakness and ineffectiveness of the courts, he was doing his best to find [Page 3] able and competent men to appoint as judges but there is a sad lack of men with the proper qualifications. He does not consider it a problem of adequate salaries for the judges. The judges and their families are frequently threatened and intimidated, and the result is the courts allow wrongdoers to go free or impose very light sentences. It is worse for wrongdoers to go free or escape lightly or unpunished than for the police to deal harshly with them. He considered the courts more to blame than the police.
7. The President acknowledged that the constitution states a prisoner may not be held more than 48 hours without being charged and that the right of habeas corpus is established. He said, however, that there is a further provision in Dominican law that denies the right of habeas corpus to persons accused of criminal acts.
8. I told the President it was not my purpose to pursue the matter in greater detail nor to make his crushing burdens and responsibilities more difficult. I did feel, however, that if the government forces of order were seen to obey the law, he would have only one problem—the improvement and strengthening of the judicial system to deal with, rather than two problems as at present. The purpose of my raising the matter with him was and remains my deep concern of the impression being created in the minds of observers both at home and abroad of conditions in the Dominican Republic.
9. Our conversation throughout was friendly, calm, serious and reasonable. I once again, at the conclusion of our talk, emphasized that I had been speaking on an informal and personal basis as one concerned for the good name of his government and the welfare of the Dominican Republic.
- Source: National Archives, Central Files 1970–73, POL 23–8 DOM REP. Confidential.↩
- The Embassy reported that Ambassador Meloy met with President Balaguer to express concern over the climate of violence in the Dominican Republic, particularly the reported role of Dominican Government forces in repressive acts and apparent violations of constitutional rights and civil liberties.↩