Dominican Dictator Rafael Trujillo Is Assassinated

Chafing under the repressive regime of Rafael Trujillo and enduring a severe economic crisis, the Dominican Republic seemed ripe for a revolution leading to a communist takeover. To stave off such a development, a group of officers and politicians, assisted by U.S. intelligence, assassinated Trujillo. The assassination set off an unanticipated period of unrest that culminated in the democratic election of Juan Bosch in 1962.

Summary of Event

Even by the standards of mid-twentieth century Latin American dictatorships Dictatorships , General Rafael Trujillo’s thirty-year rule over the Dominican Republic was characterized by a particularly crude and shameless type of brutality Human rights;Dominican Republic . The Dominican strongman was one of several who had been supported by successive U.S. administrations during the 1930’s and 1940’s as favoring American regional policies, suppressing social protest, and thus providing a buttress against potential communist expansion into the Western Hemisphere. On January 1, 1959, however, Fidel Castro in Cuba had overthrown one such American-backed tyrant, Fulgencio Batista y Zaldívar, and had established a communist state. Trujillo and dictators like him were becoming a liability: It was reasoned that popular unrest against them might open the door for other communist-backed takeovers. Cold War;Latin America
Assassinations and attempts;Rafael Trujillo[Trujillo]
Civil unrest;Dominican Republic
[kw]Dominican Dictator Rafael Trujillo Is Assassinated (May 30, 1961)
[kw]Dictator Rafael Trujillo Is Assassinated, Dominican (May 30, 1961)
[kw]Trujillo Is Assassinated, Dominican Dictator Rafael (May 30, 1961)
Assassinations and attempts;Rafael Trujillo[Trujillo]
Civil unrest;Dominican Republic
[g]Caribbean;May 30, 1961: Dominican Dictator Rafael Trujillo Is Assassinated[06960]
[g]West Indies;May 30, 1961: Dominican Dictator Rafael Trujillo Is Assassinated[06960]
[g]Dominican Republic;May 30, 1961: Dominican Dictator Rafael Trujillo Is Assassinated[06960]
[c]Government and politics;May 30, 1961: Dominican Dictator Rafael Trujillo Is Assassinated[06960]
[c]Terrorism;May 30, 1961: Dominican Dictator Rafael Trujillo Is Assassinated[06960]
[c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;May 30, 1961: Dominican Dictator Rafael Trujillo Is Assassinated[06960]
Trujillo, Rafael
Trujillo, Rafael, Jr.
Eisenhower, Dwight D.
[p]Eisenhower, Dwight D.;and Dominican Republic[Dominican Republic]
Kennedy, John F.
[p]Kennedy, John F.;and Dominican Republic[Dominican Republic]
Balaguer, Joaquín
Bosch, Juan
Smathers, George
Dearborn, Henry
Betancourt, Rómulo

Pressure was exerted by U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower on Trujillo to either initiate democratic reforms or to relinquish power, but the defiant Trujillo instead became more provocative in his actions. He legalized the long-outlawed Dominican Communist Party Communist Party, Dominican and announced the reopening of relations with communist countries. President Rómulo Betancourt of Venezuela denounced the Dominican dictator to the Organization of American States Organization of American States (OAS) for human rights abuses, the organization’s Peace Committee condemned the Dominican regime, and in revenge, Trujillo fomented a right-wing plot by Venezuelan military officers. When the coup failed, Trujillo attempted to have Betancourt assassinated. On June 24, 1960, a car bomb exploded, killing two and injuring the Venezuelan president.

Betancourt threatened retaliation if the United States did not act against Trujillo. In August of 1960, the United States severed diplomatic ties with the Dominican Republic, leaving only Consul General Henry Dearborn behind to safeguard American interests. However, Dearborn’s secret orders included acting as a liaison between the Central Intelligence Agency Central Intelligence Agency;Dominican Republic (CIA) and disaffected elements within the Dominican leadership.

The following year, the fledgling administration of President John F. Kennedy continued the efforts to undermine Trujillo. Weapons were smuggled to the anti-Trujillo conspirators, whose leaders now included General Antonio Imbert Barrera Barrera, Antonio Imbert , governor of the Puerto Plata Province; General Luis Amiama Tío Tío, Luis Amiama , mayor of Ciudad Trujillo; and General José Rene Ramón Fernandez Ramón Fernandez, José Rene , secretary of state for the armed forces. Pieces of disassembled guns and bombs were, according to one source, possibly smuggled in food cans through the agency of supermarket owner Lorenzo Berry Berry, Lorenzo .

The embarrassing fiasco of the CIA-planned invasion of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs on April 17, 1961, caused Kennedy to reconsider America’s clandestine involvement in antigovernment plots and to urge, through Dearborn and others, that the plans for assassinating Trujillo be canceled. Instead, Kennedy was informed that the Dominican conspirators were determined to proceed on their own. U.S. senator George Smathers—a family friend of Kennedy—was unofficially sent on a secret, and unsuccessful, mission from President Kennedy to attempt to persuade Trujillo to go into exile before the plotters could strike. A similar mission undertaken around the same time by gossip columnist Igor Cassini Cassini, Igor , with the backing of the president’s father, Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., proved just as unproductive.

At around 10:00 to 10:30 p.m. on May 30, 1961, Trujillo—with only his chauffeur—was on an isolated stretch of seafront highway outside Ciudad Trujillo on his way to visit his youthful mistress, Mona Sanchez, when two carloads of eight individuals ambushed him and, in a brief, raging gun battle, killed the dictator, peppering his 1959 Chevrolet with at least twenty-seven shots. Later-identified actively involved conspirators included Imbert, Amiama, Fernandez, Senator Modesto Diaz, General Juan Tomás Diaz, Huáscar Tejeda, Amado Garcia Guerrero, Pedro Livo Cedeno, Antonio de la Maza, Salvador Estrella, and Roberto Pastoriza. The conspirators were unable to coordinate a follow-up plan to seize control of the government, and the dictator’s son, Rafael Trujillo, Jr., flew in from France to assume power. Taking vengeance for his father’s death, Trujillo had captured and executed all but two of the assassins: Imbert and Amiama, along with Lorenzo Berry, were flown out of the country by the CIA.

It soon became apparent that Trujillo, Jr., was not as adept at suppressing dissent or terrorizing his opponents as his father had been and that the Kennedy administration was determined that the Trujillo family should be removed from power. Riots that broke out in October raged out of control. However, the younger Trujillo proved more pragmatic than his father had been and, when offered a safe and lucrative exile, he chose to step down. He fled the republic on November 19, 1961. Joaquín Balaguer, who had been a puppet president of the republic since 1960, then tried to form a government with U.S. backing. Balaguer, however, was forced out in January of 1962, and after military intervention and several caretaker cabinets, free elections Presidential elections, Dominican were held on December 20, 1962. The clear winner was Juan Bosch, the leader of the Dominican Revolutionary Party, an author who had spent much of the Trujillo era in exile. President Bosch was officially inaugurated on February 27, 1963.


For the Dominican Republic, even though the assassination meant the end of its most stifling dictatorship and the first steps toward liberal democracy, it would also usher in a period of ferment and uncertainty that would plague the nation for decades. In global terms, the Trujillo assassination stands as a part of Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress initiatives and marks an early instance of U.S. pro-democracy intervention and of later, more emphatic attempts to disassociate U.S. foreign policy from its support of totalitarian regimes. Of course, the major motivating factor was the prevention of further inroads being made by Castro-inspired communism, and throughout the following three decades, the United States would support pro-capitalist dictatorships and oppose pro-communist democracies in Latin America. In the short term, the assassination denoted an “upping of the ante” between the superpowers in Latin America, and it certainly factored into the escalating tensions that set the stage for the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Assassinations and attempts;Rafael Trujillo[Trujillo]
Civil unrest;Dominican Republic

Further Reading

  • Diederich, Bernard. Trujillo: The Death of the Goat. Maplewood, N.J.: Waterfront Press, 1996. Very detailed monograph and the only one to focus exclusively on the subject of the assassination.
  • Espaillat, Arturo R. Trujillo: The Last Caesar. Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1963. Written by a former Trujillo henchman who was jailed but later released on suspicion of complicity in the assassination. The dictator is equated after the fact to the Roman emperor Caligula.
  • Gall, Norman. “How the Agency Killed Trujillo.” The New Republic, April 13, 1963; reprinted January 28, 1975 and online at A most detailed analysis of the assassination plot and probably the first source to uncover CIA involvement.
  • Herring, Hubert. A History of Latin America from the Beginnings to the Present. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1967. Though the author gives a surprisingly complimentary appraisal of the Trujillo regime, he nonetheless characterizes the Dominican strongman as an embarrassment to Washington who had outlived his usefulness.
  • Hersh, Seymour M. The Dark Side of Camelot. Boston: Little, Brown, 1997. Strongly supports the idea of a CIA assassination plot, presidential knowledge of that plot, and Kennedy’s warning to Trujillo.
  • Pons, Frank Moya. The Dominican Republic: A National History. Princeton, N.J.: Markus Wiener, 1998. Asserts that the Dominican Republic’s shaky financial situation convinced the U.S. government that Trujillo’s ouster was an imperative.

Cuban Revolution

Duvalier Takes Power in Haiti

Bay of Pigs Invasion

Cuban Missile Crisis

U.S. Troops Occupy the Dominican Republic