Anniversary of Another Invasion

by W.T. Whitney Jr. and George Saunders


Just a year ago, after what seemed to him a successful invasion of Iraq, Republican U.S. President George W. Bush proclaimed “Mission Accomplished” and declared—very, very inaccurately, as is the usual way with Bush—that “major combat operations” had ended.

It was nearly forty years ago, on April 28, 1965, that another U.S. government, headed by Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson, sent 42,000 Marines to invade the Dominican Republic. Why? A group of pro-democracy rebels in the Dominican army had risen up against the vestiges of the Trujillo military dictatorship, which the U.S. had installed in the 1930s. The military rebels, forerunners of today’s Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, had given out guns to the people of Santo Domingo, capital of the Dominican Republic, and most of the capital city was under rebel control. The rebels called themselves “constitutionalists,” because they wanted the democratic promises on paper in the post-Trujillo Dominican constitution of 1962 to be made a reality.

Washington feared the possibility that an armed, rebellious Dominican population—freed of U.S.-proxy military control—might follow the road of the Cuban revolution. So what was the answer? Send in the Marines! The U.S. military presence resulted in establishment of the pro-U.S. Balaguer regime, which, with its successors, has pursued policies friendly to U.S. corporations and U.S. military-political power to this day.

How did this near-revolution of April 1965 come about? Trujillo was assassinated in 1961, and with the relaxation of tight dictatorial control, ferment and dissent began to spread among the masses of the Dominican Republic. This reflected the political radicalization going on in much of the world in the early 1960s, with developments like the Cuban revolution, wars of national liberation in Algeria and South Vietnam, and the Sino-Soviet dispute over international policies. Maoist and Fidelista groups appeared in the Dominican Republic, alongside old-line pro-Moscow Communists and Social Democrat/liberal reformers of the type of Juan Bosch, who, under the 1962 constitution, won the first genuine election in the Dominican Republic since Trujillo had seized power in 1930.

Trujillo had been trained by U.S. Marines, during direct U.S. occupation of the country from 1916 to 1934; a U.S. “customs receivership” was maintained until 1941, the year of U.S. entry into bigger things—namely, World War II.

Since the 1965 installation of Balaguer (who had been part of dictator Trujillo’s retinue), Washington has taken advantage of dependent Dominican governments and a cowed population. Masses of poor Dominicans still live lives of undiminished misery and hopelessness, although there have been trade union fightback efforts. Recently, the tree planted by the invasion of 1965 has borne more bitter fruit. The Dominican Republic has proved useful in ongoing U.S. efforts to keep the lid on popular struggle in Haiti.

As readers may have noticed, U.S. operations in the Dominican Republic share many similarities with U.S. operations in Iraq today. Each victim of U.S. aggression is well suited by geographic location for the U.S. government aim of turning it into an operations center for solidifying regional hegemony. Iraq oil wealth is of course the main reason why Corporate America sent in the Marines to that country. But also, Iraq’s location, if the U.S. could control it, would greatly strengthen the U.S. imperial presence in a strategically significant region, from the Eastern Mediterranean to India. Similarly, on a smaller scale, the Dominican Republic could well have been scripted in 1965 for lending a hand to U.S. machinations in the Caribbean. And for low-intensity war against Haiti, who could ask for more than a long land border?

The Dominican Republic fits as a tool for messing up Haiti in one more way. Dominant classes in the Dominican Republic have long utilized endemic racial strife to fuel hostility toward the neighboring republic, born of a slave revolution. (Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the island of Hispaniola, but in Haiti the language and culture are derived from a French and African mix, while in the Dominican Republic the language and culture are derived from Spanish colonial rule.)

Dominican national chauvinists keep 19th-century Haitian invasions and a long military occupation alive in people’s imaginations. In 1937, Trujullo’s troops massacred an estimated 15,000 dark-skinned people, most of them Haitian. Recent governments periodically have sent thousands of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent back to Haiti. In his 1983 book, Isla al Reves, longtime president Joaquín Balaguer refers to “biological reasons” to be wary of Haiti. “The Black,” he states, “left to his own instincts, multiplies nearly as rapidly as plants.”

The U.S.-trained paramilitary forces that helped bring down President Aristide of Haiti originated from Dominican territory under arrangements facilitated by the U.S. government. Even U.S. government officials now admit this. Senator Dodd (D-Conn.), speaking before a Senate subcommittee in mid-March, openly stated that the U.S. government had provided the anti-Aristide killers with training and supplies.

According to Luis Barrio, interviewed on the April 7 edition of Amy Goodman's “Democracy Now” program, 200 U.S. Special Forces troops were sent to the Dominican Republic, where on short-term assignments over a two year period, they trained 600 Haitian paramilitaries. The training took place at the so-called International Republican Institute in Santo Domingo and was supported by a $1.2 million grant from USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development). The commanders of the troops include the likes of Guy Phillipe and Louis-Jodel Chamblain, ruthless criminals each, and veterans of many years of anti-Aristide violence. The Haitian paramilitary troops were dressed up in Dominican uniforms and crossed repeatedly into Haiti from Dominican sanctuaries. They were responsible for murder and mayhem that led directly to Aristide’s forced departure on February 28. Somehow, 20,000 U.S. M-16 rifles, intended ostensibly for the Dominican army, ended up in the hands of the Haitian paramilitaries.

So April 28 suggests dominoes. The notion of dominoes falling, of course, was laughable when it referred to Nicaragua or Vietnam. But the domino that fell 39 years ago in the Dominican Republic seems to have led to another downed domino a few weeks ago in Haiti. Right now the U.S. Corporate Empire wants to knock over another domino—in Iraq.

Haiti would have had a better chance at independence had not the dependent status of the Dominican Republic been confirmed in 1965. And how many other U.S. vassals will show up if the people of Iraq and their allies around the world are unable to reestablish Iraq’s independence?

Internationalists may have to reacquaint themselves with that old paradox, that to resist imperialism, they defend national independence. The task at hand is to defeat the colossus of corporate North America, whose empire gouges and exploits working people in the United States as well as all over the world.