The Dominican Coup

Six democratic governments in Latin America have been overthrown by military revolts during the past eighteen months. Constitutional regimes in the Dominican Republic and Honduras fell within a week of each other in September.

The excuses offered to the United States by the juntas which seized power in these two countries were uncommonly thin, even by diplomatic standards. In Honduras, a U.S.-trained pilot who headed the coup claimed to replace a Communist - infiltrated government. In the Dominican Republic, army officers who first protected and then assassinated former dictator Rafael Trujillo complained of inefficiency and high unemployment when they threw democratically elected Juan Bosch out. They added that President Bosch's regime had been riddled with Castro sympathizers.

These excuses did not appear to fool the Kennedy policy-makers, who seem to have developed sufficient acumen in Latin American affairs to recognize cynical bids for U.S. aid. But recognizing the cynicism of the military juntas is only a precondition to doing something about them. Although President Kennedy deplored the army takeovers at his press conference Wednesday, he did not say whether the United States had determined to help the people of the Dominican Republic bring these unpopular rulers down.

Obviously Kennedy's policy and pronouncements must recognize South America's sensitivity to U.S. intervention. But the President must distinguish between sensitivity to military intervention and sensitivity to strong economic or diplomatic pressure. Moreover, South America's objection to strong U.S. pressure diminishes remarkably when this pressure is directed against unpopular military regimes. The junta in Santo Domingo is widely unpopular with South Americans; most would welcome effective U.S. pressure for a return of constitutional government.

Latin American leaders know how much money, aid, and hope President Kennedy invested in the democratic socialist government of the Dominican Republic. Now that military forces have unseated the Bosch government, these leaders are waiting to see how much further Kennedy's commitment to Latin American democracy will go. If the withdrawal of aid and recognition from the new junta was purely ritualistic, then Latin American military chiefs will expect the United States to tolerate future military coups. If U.S. opposition to the rightists with whom it has been traditionally associated was genuine, then social democratic politicians will want to see what more the United States plans to do.


There are many things the United States can do, excluding military intervention, to help the Dominicans force the army out of power. Washington should make it clear through military and diplomatic channels that it will not be satisfied with a civilian government in Santo Domingo under military control.

The United States should strongly support Costa Rica's call for a meeting of OAS foreign ministers to consider the coups. Washington should then work, in conjunction with the OAS, toward coordinated policy of non-recognition of the new regimes. The OAS should consider economic sanctions such as trade blockages or embargo, and the United States should strongly favor these measures.

The military rulers of the Dominican Republic have already begun to show weakness and fear; the United States has only commenced the powerful moves it can take to undercut the regime's support. It seems possible that a coordinated OAS effort to reinstate the Dominican Republic's elected regime might well succeed.

Unfortunately, setting up a new democracy in Santo Domingo is the easy step. Any attempt to establish constitutional government and non-Soviet socialist democracy in Latin America can only begin there. As long as the military has the de facto veto power over reform programs that it exercised this month in the Dominican Republic, democracy in Latin America will be simply an army puppet-show. Real democracy must bring what most of the people in the Dominican Republic and elsewhere in the hemisphere now see as their right--thorough, far-reaching social reform.

The fact that the army in many Latin American countries has repeatedly blocked reform has made young people cynical about democracy's possibilities. Some have turned toward Castro and the promise of Communism. They will continue to see little alternative to Castro until the United States is prepared to make sure democratic leaders can implement their reforms.

Washington will not only need to use its influence through the OAS to return democracy to the Dominican Republic. It must also exert continued and lasting pressure on the army to make constitutionalism stick. If the United States supplemented this with a program of aid and export price supports far more comprehensive than any it has yet offered, a new government in Santo Domingo might find the prosperity and stability that alone can insure democracy will stay there.