The Emperor Trujillo

It was no silver bullet that struck down the Emperor Jones of the Dominican Republic, but a volley of machine-gun fire. Still, like his fictional counterpart, Generalissimo Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina will be mourned only by the relatives and friends who joined him for more than thirty years in plundering and misruling an already-poor country. Unfortunately, the power vacuum left by the Dominican dictator, coming as it does in the midst of a Caribbean Whirlpool, only adds to the quandary faced by the United States, and by all of Latin America.

Considering the repression and stagnation characteristic of the Dominican police state, few observers can feel surprise that one of the many groups seeking the death of the dictator finally succeeded. What is surprising--and even more unfortunate--is that the assassination was carried out, not by one of the underground political groups, but apparently by a family which has long feuded with the Trujillo dynasty. Thus the killers removed the man who has held the government together, without offering a regime or government to replace him.

To be sure, the government established by Trujillo to administer his dictatorship seems to have the country pretty much under control, for the moment at least. Nevertheless, the political and economic structure erected over the past thirty years does not lead one to expect future stability. Like the ancient Frankish kingdoms, Trujillo's government was "despotism tempered by assassination." Intimidation and murder effectively wiped out any possibility of a meaningful "opposition," while Trujillo's demand for unqualified support and complete servility among his subjects have prevented him from grooming a successor.

Similarly, Trujillo did his best to crush commercial ability. Since he and his associates owned or controlled most of the important industry in the Dominican Republic, meaningful opportunity for the middle classes was severely limited. Today, the group which is usually the backbone of a stable government is virtually nonexistent. Moderate personal gains for peasants and workers have been accompanied by enormous extravagances and huge profits for the dictator and his associates. Policemen on every corner, capricious defamation in the pages of Ciudad Trujillo's one newspaper, and sudden arrest, have proven necessary to preserve the government.

For many years the United States, tolerated, and even supported, this despotism, on the inexcusable grounds, that whatever else he did, Trujillo opposed Communism. It is fortunate indeed that this country began, within the last year, to pull away from its friendship with Trujillo. The severing of economic relations and the imposing of mild economic sanctions may not seems like much; they were enough to turn Trujillo toward his bitter enemy Fidel Castro. The fact remains, however, that Washington did nothing to unseat Trujillo. Moreover, the Dominicans have not forgotten that United States Marines occupied the country from 1916 to 1924, ruling with what has been termed "cruelty and despotism." Trujillo himself learned not a little from the American invaders, it seems.

What will come next in the Dominican Republic, no one can say. The ranks of the politically able, thinned by assassination, limit the possibilities somewhat; but anything from invasion by Cubans to further repression by the Trujillo dynasty might happen. Figurehead president and without the ruthlessness of Trujillo, his playboy son will probably not be able to resist the wave of rebellion which has been sweeping Latin American dictatorships.

Whatever happens, Washington cannot work merely for a "safe climate for American investment;" nor can it, in the present situation, send in the Marines, as some imprudent Senators have suggested. The Dominican crisis, coming on the heels of the President's energetic response to Castro's tractor after, must not be allowed to damage what is left of U.S. prestige in Latin America; and reliance on the Organization of American States is not only good politics, but will strengthen a force for order and stability in the Caribbean.

Acting on its own, the United States can offer financial and technical assistance, as well as political support, to any would be government which promises free elections, an end to repression, and social reform. The President must do everything he can to assure that the mistakes of January, 1959, after the Cuban revolution, are not repeated.