1965: Dominican Republic Occupation Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Dominican Republic shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with the Republic of Haiti. The history of the Dominican Republic has been a tumultuous one, dating back to the time of its settlement by the Spanish conquistadores at the beginning of the sixteenth century. In 1930, a Dominican army officer trained by the United States, Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina, took over the government. He ruled the country as a dictator for the next thirty-one years. His violent excesses finally led to his assassination, and the country again returned to a period of unstable but supposedly democratic government.

The Dominican Republic shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with the Republic of Haiti. The history of the Dominican Republic has been a tumultuous one, dating back to the time of its settlement by the Spanish conquistadores at the beginning of the sixteenth century. In 1930, a Dominican army officer trained by the United States, Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina, took over the government. He ruled the country as a dictator for the next thirty-one years. His violent excesses finally led to his assassination, and the country again returned to a period of unstable but supposedly democratic government.

Civil War

The civil war that racked the country in 1965 reflected the tumultuous history of the Dominican Republic. The president at this time, Donald Reid Cabral, had been installed as the result of the ouster of the country’s legitimately elected president, Juan Bosch, through a military coup. Reid Cabral was not a popular leader. In 1965, a lack of economic progress, coupled with a severe water shortage in the capital itself, had turned the general public against the president.

On April 24, 1965, the revolt broke out. A group of civilians and younger army officers seized the principal radio station in the capital, Santo Domingo, as well as two army bases. They announced that they planned to restore Bosch to power. Bosch, at that time living in exile in nearby Puerto Rico, commenced packing his bags for a return to the Dominican Republic. A militarily powerful opposition group announced that they would not s-accept Bosch’s resumption of the presidency. The intense fighting that erupted between these self-described loyalists and the pro-Bosch rebels precluded the former president’s return.

The U.S. government, already nervous concerning the Caribbean political situation because of the rise of Fidel Castro in nearby Cuba, regarded Bosch as a potential ally to the Cuban dictator. The U.S. embassy committed itself to backing General Elías Wessin y Wessin, the commander of the loyalist troops. The navy of the Dominican Republic, its air force, and a number of army units also sided with Wessin in his opposition to the coup.

Colonel Francisco Caamaño, who had received training from the U.S. Marines, assumed command of the rebel forces. When he attempted to secure the support of American ambassador W. Tapley Bennett, Jr., to arrange peace negotiations with General Wessin, he was told that the rebels had no choice but to surrender unconditionally. The rebel leadership immediately rejected this suggestion.

U.S. Occupation

U.S. president Lyndon B. Johnson had reached the conclusion that the rebel movement was a communist plot. He agreed initially to send U.S. troops into the country to aid in the evacuation of U.S. citizens. As time went on, and the conflict between the rebels and the loyalists continued, Johnson announced that the rebel movement was in the hands of communist conspirators and authorized the use of American forces to maintain peace. The Americans provided support, if indirectly, to the Wessin loyalists. The U.S. forces set up a cordon around downtown Santo Domingo, the district that contained the bulk of the rebel troops, limiting the ability of that faction to maneuver. Ultimately the number of U.S. Army and Marine troops, both ashore and on support vessels, reached 30,000.

U.S. troops guarding a food distribution center during the American occupation of the Dominican Republic. (National Archives)

The United States sought international support for its intervention by involving the Organization of American States (OAS), comprising the Western Hemisphere governments, in the peacekeeping effort. The U.S. government worked to find a political solution among the Dominican Republic factions as well. At the urging of the U.S. government, the OAS recommended the establishment of a provisional government until popular elections could be held once more. Under the proposed pact, the Dominican military leaders from both factions were required to leave the country.

Aftermath

The Dominican Republic held presidential elections in 1966. A former Trujillo Molina supporter, Joaquín Balaguer, defeated Bosch convincingly. Balaguer had open U.S. support, for the United States felt that Bosch might ally himself with Fidel Castro. U.S. troops departed Hispaniola after the election.

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