The Trujillo era unfolded in a Caribbean environment that was particularly fertile for dictatorial regimes. In the countries of the Caribbean basin alone, his dictatorship was concurrent, in whole or in part, with those in Cuba, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Venezuela, Colombia, and Haiti. In retrospect, the Trujillo dictatorship has been characterized as more exposed, more achieved, and more brutal than those that rose and fell around it.
Trujillo's rule brought the country a great deal of stability and prosperity throughout his 31-year reign. The price, however, was high—civil liberties were non-existent and human rights violations were routine. Due to the longevity of Trujillo's rule, a detached evaluation of his legacy is difficult. Supporters of Trujillo claim that he reorganized both the state and the economy, and left vast infrastructure to the country. His detractors point to the brutality of his rule, and also claim that much of the country's wealth wound up in the hands of his family or close associates.
Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina was born in San Cristóbal, Dominican Republic into a lower-middle-class family, to José "Pepito" Trujillo Valdez, whose father was a Spanish sergeant, and Altagracia Julia Molina Chevalier, later known as Mamá Julia, whose mother was of Franco-Haitian and Mulatto Haitian origin. He was the third of eleven children; he also had an adopted brother, Luis Rafael "Nene" Trujillo (21 January 1935 – 14 August 2005), who was raised in the home of Trujillo Molina.
In 1897, at age six, Trujillo was registered in the school of Juan Hilario Meriño. One year later he transferred to the school of Broughton, where he became a pupil of Eugenio María de Hostos, and remained there for the rest of his primary schooling. At the age of 16 Trujillo got a job as a telegraph operator, which he held for about three years. Shortly after Trujillo turned to crime—cattle stealing, check counterfeiting, and postal robbery. He spent several months in prison, which did not deter Trujillo, as he later formed a violent gang of robbers called the 42.
In 1916, the United States occupied the Dominican Republic due to threats of defaulting on foreign debts. The occupying force soon established a Dominican army constabulary to impose order. Trujillo joined the National Guard in 1918 and trained with the U.S. Marines. Seeing opportunity, Trujillo impressed the recruiters and won promotion from cadet to general and commander-in chief of the Army in only nine years.
A rebellion (or coup d'état) against President Horacio Vásquez broke out in February 1930 in Santiago. Trujillo secretly cut a deal with rebel leader Rafael Estrella Ureña; in return for Trujillo letting Estrella take power, Estrella would allow Trujillo to run for president in new elections. As the rebels marched toward Santo Domingo, Vásquez ordered Trujillo to suppress them. However, feigning "neutrality", Trujillo kept his men in barracks, allowing Estrella's rebels to take the capital virtually unopposed. On 3 March, Estrella was proclaimed acting president, with Trujillo confirmed as head of the police and of the army. As per their agreement, Trujillo became the presidential nominee of the Patriotic Coalition of Citizens (Spanish: Coalición patriotica de los ciudadanos), with Estrella as his running mate. The other candidates became targets of harassment by the army, and withdrew when it became apparent that Trujillo would be the only person allowed to effectively campaign. Ultimately, the Trujillo-Estrella ticket was proclaimed victorious with an implausible 99 percent of the vote. In a note to the State Department, American ambassador Curtis declares that Trujillo received a lot more votes than actual voters.
Three weeks after Trujillo ascended to the Presidency the destructive Hurricane San Zenon hit Santo Domingo and left more than 3,000 dead. On 16 August 1931, the first anniversary of his inauguration, Trujillo made the Dominican Party the nation's sole legal political party. However, the country had effectively become a one-party state with Trujillo's swearing-in. Government employees were required to "donate" 10 percent of their salaries to the national treasury, and there was strong pressure on adult citizens to join the party. Party members had to carry a membership card, nicknamed the "palmita" as the cover had a palm tree on it, and a person could be arrested for vagrancy without one. Those who did not join or contribute to the party did so at their own risk. Opponents of the régime were mysteriously killed. In 1934 Trujillo, who had promoted himself to generalissimo of the army, was up for re-election. By this time, there was no organized opposition left in the country, and he was elected as the sole candidate on the ballot. In addition to the widely rigged (and regularly uncontested) elections, which never saw a functioning opposition, he instated "civic reviews", with large crowds shouting their loyalty to the government.
In 1936, at the suggestion of Mario Fermín Cabral, Congress voted overwhelmingly to change the name of the capital from Santo Domingo to Ciudad Trujillo. The province of San Cristobal was changed to "Trujillo", and the nation's highest peak, Pico Duarte, was renamed Pico Trujillo. Statues of "El Jefe" were mass-produced and erected across the Republic, and bridges and public buildings were named in his honor. The nation's newspapers had praise for Trujillo as part of the front page, and license plates included slogans such as "¡Viva Trujillo!" and "Año Del Benefactor De La Patria" (Year of the Benefactor of the Nation.) An electric sign was erected in Ciudad Trujillo so that "Dios y Trujillo" could be seen at night as well as in the day. Eventually, even churches were required to post the slogan "Dios en cielo, Trujillo en tierra" (God in Heaven, Trujillo on Earth). As time went on, the order of the phrases was reversed (Trujillo on Earth, God in Heaven). Trujillo was recommended for the Nobel Peace Prize by his admirers, but the committee declined the suggestion.
Trujillo was eligible to run again in 1938, but, citing the United States example of two presidential terms, he stated: "I voluntarily, and against the wishes of my people, refuse re-election to the high office." In fact, a vigorous reelection campaign had been launched in the middle of 1937 but the international uproar that followed the Haitian massacre later that year forced Trujillo to announce his "return to private life". Consequently, the Dominican Party nominated Trujillo's handpicked successor, 71-year-old vice-president Jacinto Peynado, with Manuel de Jesús Troncoso as his running mate. They appeared alone on the ballot in the 1938 election. Trujillo kept his positions as generalissimo of the army and leader of the Dominican Party. It was understood that Peynado was merely a puppet, and Trujillo still held all governing power in the nation. Peynado increased the size of the electric "Dios y Trujillo" sign and died on 7 March 1940, with Troncoso serving out the rest of the term. However, in 1942, with President Franklin D. Roosevelt having run for a third term in the United States, Trujillo ran for president again and was elected unopposed. He served for two terms, which he lengthened to five years each. In 1952, under pressure from the Organization of American States, he ceded the presidency to his brother, Héctor. Despite being officially out of power, Trujillo organized a major national celebration to commemorate twenty-five years of his rule in 1955. Gold and silver commemorative coins were minted with his image.
Brutal oppression of actual or perceived members of any opposition was the key feature of Trujillo's rule right from the beginning in 1930 when his gang, "The 42", under its leader Miguel Angel Paulino, drove through the streets in their red Packard "carro de la muerte" ("car of death"). Trujillo also maintained an execution list of people throughout the world who he felt were his direct enemies or whom he felt had wronged him. He did even at one point allow an opposition party to legally form and permitted them to operate openly. This was mainly so he could identify his opposition and arrest or kill them.
Imprisonments and killings were later handled by the SIM, the Servicio de Inteligencia Militar, efficiently organized by Johnny Abbes. Some cases reached international notoriety such as the Galíndez case and the murder of the Mirabal sisters further eroding Trujillo's critical support by the US government.
Trujillo was known for his open-door policy, accepting Jewish refugees from Europe, Japanese migration during the 1930s, and exiles from Spain following its civil war. He developed a uniquely Dominican policy of racial discrimination, Antihaitianismo ("anti-Haitianism"), targeting the mostly-black inhabitants of his neighboring country and those within the Platano Curtain, including many Afro-Dominican citizens. At the 1938 Évian Conference the Dominican Republic was the only country willing to accept many Jews and offered to accept up to 100,000 refugees on generous terms. In 1940 an agreement was signed and Trujillo donated 26,000 acres (110 km2) of his properties for settlements. The first settlers arrived in May 1940; eventually some 800 settlers came to Sosua and most moved later on to the United States.
Refugees from Europe broadened the Dominican Republic's tax base and added more whites to the predominantly mixed-race nation. The government favored white refugees over others while Dominican troops expelled illegal aliens, resulting in the 1937 Parsley Massacre of Haitian immigrants.
The Trujillo regime greatly expanded the Vedado del Yaque, a nature reserve around the Yaque del Sur River. In 1934 he created the nation's first national park, banned the slash-and-burn method of clearing land for agriculture, set up a forest warden agency to protect the park system, and banned the logging of pine trees without his permission. In the 1950s the Trujillo regime commissioned a study on the hydroelectric potential of damming the Dominican Republic's waterways. The commission concluded that only forested waterways could support hydroelectric dams, so Trujillo banned logging in potential river watersheds. After his assassination in 1961, logging resumed in the Dominican Republic. Squatters burned down the forests for agriculture, and logging companies clear-cut parks. In 1967, President Joaquín Balaguer launched military strikes against illegal logging.
Trujillo encouraged foreign investment in the Dominican Republic, particularly from Americans. He gave a concession with mineral rights in the Azua Basin to Clem S. Clarke, an oilman from Shreveport, Louisiana.
Trujillo tended toward a peaceful coexistence with the United States government. During World War II Trujillo sided with the Allies and declared war on Germany, Italy and Japan on 11 December 1941. While there was no military participation, the Dominican Republic thus became a founding member of the United Nations. Trujillo encouraged diplomatic and economic ties with the United States, but his policies often caused friction with other nations of Latin America, especially Costa Rica and Venezuela. He maintained friendly relations with Franco of Spain, Perón of Argentina, and Somoza of Nicaragua. Towards the end of his rule, his relationship with the United States deteriorated.
Trujillo paid special attention to improving the armed forces. Military personnel received generous pay and perks under his rule, and their ranks as well as equipment inventories expanded. Trujillo maintained control over the officer corps through fear, patronage, and the frequent rotation of assignments, which inhibited the development of strong personal followings. The establishment of state monopolies over all major enterprises in the country brought riches to the Trujillos through price manipulation and embezzlement.
Early on, Trujillo determined that Dominican financial affairs had to be put in order, and that included ending the United States's role as collector of Dominican customs—a situation that had existed since 1907 and was confirmed in a 1924 convention signed at the end of the occupation.
Negotiations started in 1936 and lasted four years. On 24 September 1940, Trujillo and the American Secretary of State Cordell Hull signed the Hull–Trujillo Treaty, whereby the United States relinquished control over the collection and application of customs revenues, and the Dominican Republic committed to deposit consolidated government revenues in a special bank account to guarantee repayment of foreign debt. The government was free to set custom duties with no restrictions.
This diplomatic success gave Trujillo the occasion to launch a massive propaganda campaign that presented him as the savior of the nation. A law proclaimed that the Benefactor was also now the Restaurador de la independencia financiera de la Republica (Restorer of the Republic's financial independence).
Haiti had historically occupied what is now the Dominican Republic, from 1822–1844. Encroachment by Haiti was an ongoing process, and when Trujillo took over, specifically the northwest border region had become increasingly "Haitianized." The border was poorly defined. In 1933, and again in 1935, Trujillo met the Haitian President Sténio Vincent to settle the border issue. By 1936, they reached and signed a settlement. At the same time, Trujillo plotted against the Haitian government by linking up with General Calixte, Commander of the Garde d'Haiti, and Élie Lescot, at that time the Haitian ambassador in Ciudad Trujillo (Santo Domingo). After the settlement, when further border incursions occurred, Trujillo initiated the Parsley Massacre.
Known as La Masacre del Perejil in Spanish, Trujillo started the massacre in 1937. Claiming that Haiti was harboring his former Dominican opponents, he ordered an attack on the border that slaughtered tens of thousands of Haitians as they tried to escape. The number of dead is still unknown, though it is now calculated between 1,000 and 30,000. Nonetheless, the lack of graves does not prove that the killings did not take place; however, it does suggest that the number of dead was in reality much less than those commonly reported. Numbers of deaths reported at the time range from as little as 1,000 to 12,000—but even the upper end of the scale is dwarfed by the 30,000 victims now commonly reported. This inflation of the tally is attributed by some to the propaganda of anti-Trujillo exiles who wanted to rally international support against the dictator. Dominican historian Bernardo Vega has chronologically tabulated many conflicting reports on the number of victims, by various sources, with none of the estimates showing the exaggerated 20,000–30,000 figures. The earliest report, dated 11 October 1937, by the United States consul in Cap-Haïtien, puts the number at “almost one thousand.” On 6 November 1937 an official diplomatic note from the Haitian to the Dominican government speaks of 2,040. By 19 December, a Haitian minister in Washington gave the number 12,168. On the first of January 1938, the Dominican foreign minister offered 547.
The Haitian response was muted, but its government eventually called for an international investigation. Under pressure from Washington, Trujillo agreed to a reparation settlement in January 1938 of US$750,000. By the next year, the amount had been reduced to US$525,000 (US$8.75 million in 2017); 30 dollars per victim, of which only 2 cents were given to survivors, due to corruption in the Haitian bureaucracy.
In 1941, Lescot, who had received financial support from Trujillo, succeeded Vincent as President of Haiti. Trujillo expected that Lescot would be his puppet, but Lescot turned against him. Trujillo unsuccessfully tried to assassinate him in a 1944 plot, and then published their correspondence to discredited him. Lescot was exiled after a 1946 palace coup.
In 1947 Dominican exiles, including Juan Bosch, had concentrated in Cuba. With the approval and support of Cuba's Grau government, an expeditionary force was trained with the intention of invading the Dominican Republic and overthrowing Trujillo. However, international pressure, including from the United States, made the exiles abort the expedition. In turn, when Fulgencio Batista was in power, Trujillo initially supported anti-Batista supporters of Carlos Prío Socarrás in Oriente Province in 1955, however weapons Trujillo sent were soon inherited by Fidel Castro's insurgents when Prío allied with Castro. After 1956, when Trujillo saw that Castro was gaining ground, he started to support Batista with money, planes, equipment, and men. Trujillo, convinced that Batista would prevail, was very surprised when he showed up as a fugitive after being ousted. Trujillo kept Batista until August 1959 as a "virtual prisoner". Only after paying between three and four million U.S. dollars could Batista leave for Portugal, which had granted him a visa.
Castro made threats to overthrow Trujillo, and Trujillo responded by increasing the budget for national defense. A foreign legion formed to defend Haiti, as many expected that Castro might invade the Haitian part of the island first and remove François Duvalier as well. A Cuban plane with 56 fighting men landed near Constanza, Dominican Republic, on Sunday, 14 June 1959, and six days later more invaders brought by two yachts landed at the north coast. However, the Dominican Army prevailed.
In turn, in August 1959, Johnny Abbes attempted to support an anti-Castro group led by Escambray near Trinidad, Cuba. The attempt, however, was thwarted when Cuban troops surprised a plane he had sent as it unloaded its cargo.
By the late 1950s, opposition to Trujillo's regime was building to a fever pitch. A younger generation of Dominicans had no memory of the instability and poverty that had preceded him. Many clamored for democratization. The Trujillo regime responded with greater repression. The Military Intelligence Service (SIM) secret police, led by Johnny Abbes, remained as ubiquitous as before. Other nations ostracized the Dominican Republic, compounding the dictator's paranoia.
Trujillo began to interfere more in the domestic affairs of neighboring countries. He expressed great contempt for Venezuela's president Rómulo Betancourt. An established and outspoken opponent of Trujillo, Betancourt associated with Dominicans who had plotted against the dictator. Trujillo developed an obsessive personal hatred of Betancourt and supported numerous plots by Venezuelan exiles to overthrow him. This pattern of intervention led the Venezuelan government to take its case against Trujillo to the Organization of American States (OAS). This infuriated Trujillo, who ordered his agents to plant a bomb in Betancourt's car. The assassination attempt, carried out on Friday, 24 June 1960, injured but did not kill the Venezuelan president.
The Betancourt incident inflamed world opinion against Trujillo. Outraged OAS members voted unanimously to sever diplomatic relations with his government and impose economic sanctions on the Dominican Republic. The brutal murder on Friday, 25 November 1960, of the three Mirabal sisters, Patria, María Teresa and Minerva, who opposed Trujillo's dictatorship, further increased discontent with his repressive rule. The dictator had become an embarrassment to the United States, and relations became especially strained after the Betancourt incident.
Trujillo's "central arch" was his instinct for power. This was coupled with an intense desire for money, which he recognized as a source of and support for power. Up at four in the morning, he exercised, studied the newspaper, read many reports, and completed papers before breakfast. At the office by nine, he continued his work, and took lunch by noon. After a walk, he continued to work until 7:30 pm. After dinner, he attended functions, held discussions, or was driven around incognito in the city "observing and remembering." Until Santo Domingo's National Palace was built in 1947, he worked out of the Casas Reales, the colonial-era Viceregal center of administration. Today the building is a museum; on display are his desk and chair, along with a massive collection of arms and armor that he bought. He was methodical, punctual, secretive, and guarded; he had no true friends, only associates and acquaintances. For his associates, his actions towards them were unpredictable.
Trujillo and his family amassed enormous wealth. He acquired cattle lands on a grand scale, and went into meat and milk production, operations that soon evolved into monopolies. Salt, sugar, tobacco, lumber, and the lottery were other industries that he or his family members dominated. Family members also received positions within the government and the army, including one of Trujillo's sons who was made a colonel in the Dominican Army when he was only four years old. Two of Trujillo's brothers, Héctor and José Arismendy, also held positions in his government. José Arismendy Trujillo oversaw creation of the main radio station, La Voz Dominicana, and later the television station, the fourth in the Caribbean.
By 1937 Trujillo's annual income was about $1.5 million ($24.3 million in 2013 dollars); at the time of his death the state took over 111 Trujillo-owned companies. His love of fine and ostentatious clothing was displayed in elaborate uniforms and suits, of which he collected almost two thousand. Fond of neckties, he amassed a collection of over ten thousand. Trujillo doused himself with perfume and liked gossip. His sexual appetite was rapacious, and he preferred mulatto women with full bodies, later tending to rape "very young" women. Many who sought his favors procured women for him, and later, he had an official on his palace staff to organize the sessions. Encounters typically lasted for one or two sessions, but he often kept favorites for longer terms. If women resisted, Trujillo pressured their families to get his way.
Trujillo was married three times and kept other women as mistresses. On 13 August 1913, Trujillo married Aminta Ledesma Lachapelle. On 30 March 1927, Trujillo married Bienvenida Ricardo Martínez, a girl from Monte Cristi and the daughter of Buenaventura Ricardo Heureaux. A year later he met María de los Angeles Martínez Alba "la españolita", and had an affair with her. He divorced Bienvenida in 1935 and married Martínez. A year later he had a daughter with Bienvenida, named Odette Trujillo Ricardo.
Trujillo's three children with María Martínez were Rafael Leónidas Ramfis, who was born on 5 June 1929, María de los Ángeles del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús (Angelita), born in Paris on 10 June 1939, and Leónidas Rhadamés, born on 1 December 1942. Ramfis and Rhadamés were named after characters in Giuseppe Verdi's opera Aida.
In 1937, Trujillo met Lina Lovatón Pittaluga, an upper-class debutante with whom he had two children, Yolanda in 1939, and Rafael, born on 20 June 1943.
In spite of Trujillo's indifference to the game of baseball, the dictator invited many black American players to the Dominican Republic, where they received good pay for playing on first-class, un-segregated teams. The great Negro League star Satchel Paige pitched for Los Dragones of Ciudad Trujillo, a team organized by Trujillo. Paige later claimed, jokingly, that his guards positioned themselves "like a firing squad" to encourage him to pitch well. Los Dragones won the 1937 Dominican championship at Estadio Trujillo in Ciudad Trujillo.
Trujillo was energetic and fit. He was generally quite healthy, but suffered from chronic lower urinary infections and, later, prostate problems. In 1934, Dr. Georges Marion was called from Paris to perform three urologic procedures on Trujillo.
Over time Trujillo acquired numerous homes. His favorite was Casa Caobas, on Estancia Fundacion near San Cristóbal. He also used Estancia Ramfis (which, after 1953, became the Foreign Office), Estancia Rhadames, and a home at Playa de Najayo. Less frequently he stayed at places he owned in Santiago_de_los_Caballeros, Constanza, La Cumbre, San José de las Matas, and elsewhere. He maintained a penthouse at the Embajador Hotel in the capital.
While Trujillo was nominally a Roman Catholic, his devotion was limited to a perfunctory role in public affairs; he placed faith in local folk religion.
He was popularly known as "El Jefe" ("The Chief") or "El Benefactor" ("The Benefactor"), but was privately referred to as Chapitas ("Bottlecaps") because of his indiscriminate wearing of medals. Dominican children emulated El Jefe by constructing toy medals from bottle caps. He was also known as "el chivo" ("the goat").
On Tuesday, 30 May 1961, Trujillo was shot and killed when his blue 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air was ambushed on a road outside the Dominican capital. He was the victim of an ambush plotted by a number of men, among them General Juan Tomás Díaz, Pedro Livio Cedeño, Antonio de la Maza, Amado García Guerrero and General Antonio Imbert Barrera. The plotters, however, failed to take control as the later-to-be-executed General José ("Pupo") Román betrayed his co-conspirators by his inactivity, and contingency plans had not been made. On the other side, Johnny Abbes, Roberto Figueroa Carrión, and the Trujillo family, put the SIM to work to hunt the members of the plot, and brought back Ramfis Trujillo from Paris to step into his father's shoes. The response by SIM was swift and brutal. Hundreds of suspects were detained, many tortured. On 18 November the last executions took place when six of the conspirators were executed in the "Hacienda Maria Massacre". Imbert was the only one of the seven assassins who survived the manhunt. A co-conspirator named Luis Amiama Tio also survived.
Trujillo's funeral was that of a statesman with the long procession ending in his hometown of San Cristóbal, where his body was first buried. President Joaquín Balaguer gave the eulogy. The efforts of the Trujillo family to keep control of the country ultimately failed. The military uprising on 19 November of the Rebellion of the Pilots and the threat of American intervention set the final stage and ended the Trujillo regime. Ramfis tried to flee with his father's body upon his boat Angelita, but was turned back. Balaguer allowed Ramfis to leave the country and to relocate his father's body to Paris. There the remains were interred in the Cimetière du Père Lachaise on 14 August 1964, and six years later moved to the El Pardo cemetery near Madrid, Spain.
The role of the Central Intelligence Agency in the killing has been debated. Imbert insists that the plotters acted on their own. In a report to the Deputy Attorney General of the United States, CIA officials described the agency as having "no active part" in the assassination and only a "faint connection" with the groups that planned the killing. An internal CIA memorandum states that a 1973 Office of Inspector General investigation into Trujillo's murder disclosed "quite extensive Agency involvement with the plotters." The weapons of the assassins included three M1 carbines that had been supplied with the approval of the CIA. President John F. Kennedy learned of Trujillo's death during a diplomatic meeting with French President Charles de Gaulle.Legion d'honneur
Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem