Not since 1965 when President Lyndon Johnson in a televised address justified the deployment of 40,000 U.S. troops to Santo Domingo under the pretext that a “popular democratic revolution, committed to democracy and social justice,” had fallen “into the hands of a ban of Communist conspirators” have events in the Dominican Republic garner as much international attention as the denationalization and deportation of Haitian workers and Dominicans of Haitian descent. The late New Left intellectual and polyglot Fred Halliday, writing back in 2009, wondered how the country had been “forgotten by the world after the attention of the Rafael Trujillo years and the 1965 events,” which in his mind was “a paradox, indeed, that this country, the centrepiece of the original Spanish colonisation of the Americas, and scene of one of the most tumultuous confrontations of the cold war, should have slipped so easily from international attention.” Halliday concluded with the hope that it was time for the “Dominican Republic” to contribute “another page” to history. The Dominican Republic has written that page, and what appears on it doesn’t recall the anti-imperialist and populist events of 1965 but Rafael Trujillo’s 1937 massacre of Dominicans and Haitians living in the borderlands of Hispaniola. Much has been written about the Trujillo regime and its ruthless exercise in state formation and authoritarian rule, something that will be covered on this blog at a later point. But for the moment, the April Uprising, imbued with a comparable mythic quality and historical exceptionalism as U.S. radicals from the Sixties attribute to their movements for reform, will be the focus of this post.
The April Uprising of 1965 to restore the deposed Juan Bosch to the Dominican presidency was a watershed moment not only because of the mythical status the rebellion still holds over the Dominican popular imagination but also because the occupation of the island happened in the polarizing atmosphere of the Cold War. Like other countries across Latin America, Asia and Africa at this time, the Dominican Republic served as a battleground in the U.S.’s war against Soviet Communism. In the Dominican Republic, President Johnson saw an insignificant country where he could rehabilitate the Democrats’ hawkish credentials in dealing with Communism. “I have just taken action,” Johnson said to Republican Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen and House Minority Leader Gerald Ford, “that will prove that Democratic presidents can deal with Communists as strongly as Republicans.”
At the level of protest politics, the April Uprising became a cause célèbre among Black Power and Puerto Rican nationalists, New Left activists and New Communist Movement militants. Stokely Carmichael, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) organizer, provided another reason why events in the Dominican Republic gained so much traction in the U.S. press. During his 1966 speech at the University of California, Berkeley, Carmichael indicated the trajectory the antiwar movement was to take from peace movement to Third World anti-imperialist politics: “One of the problems with the peace movement is that it’s just too caught up in Vietnam, and that if we pulled out the troops from Vietnam this week, next week you’d have to get another peace movement for Santo Domingo.” One year later, at the First Conference of the Organization of Latin American Solidarity (OLAS), Carmichael further defined his position from “the problems” to “a common struggle” against “our enemy,” “white Western imperialist society.” Because of these ideological and political conditions, the invasion of the Dominican Republic became another prominent albeit symbolic struggle in the anti-imperialist politics of the Sixties.
Judging by young Dominicans, Haitians and other allies’ participation in recent protests against the Dominican government’s racist denationalization and deportation efforts and extensive media coverage in the New York Times, The Nation and Harper’s among other publications, the Dominican Republic still holds pride of place among Latin American countries in the U.S. If in the Sixties the Cold War rivalries between the U.S. and the Soviet Union and Third World anti-imperialism furnished the conditions for U.S.-based leftists to be receptive to the going-ons in Santo Domingo, what explains the U.S. interest in Dominican affairs these days? And how did this come about? To answer these questions and better understand the intimately intertwined history of the U.S. and the Dominican Republic, it is important to take a broad view of the historical procession of events that have made these two country’s destinies forever bound to the other. For that reason, I am introducing a series of essay I would like to call “What Goes-on in Santo Domingo?” These essays will appear bi-weekly on this blog. Below is the list of topics covered. (There is a Dominican proverb that goes– el que mucho abarca, poco aprieta– that I hope to disprove. The proverb translates to “he who tries to do it all does just a little.”)
- When the U.S. Almost Annexed the Dominican Republic
- Characteristics and Peculiarities of French and Spanish Colonialism
- Building the Dominican State: From Caudillismo to Dictatorship
- Everyday Trujullismo: Peasants and Authoritarian Rule
- America Libre: The Cuban Revolution in the Caribbean Context
- In the Belly of the Beast: The Making of the Dominican Diaspora
- The Diaspora Strikes Back
 Alan McPherson, “Misled by Himself: What the Johnson Tapes Reveal about the Dominican Intervention of 1965,” Latin American Research Review, Vol. 38, 2 (2003): 142.
 Fred Halliday, “The Dominican Republic: a time of ghosts,” openDemocracy, April 23, 2009, https://www.opendemocracy.net/article/the-dominican-republic-a-time-of-ghosts (accessed February 15, 2013).
 McPherson, “Misled by Himself,” 129.
 The North American Congress of Latin America’s (NACLA) inaugural issue covered the U.S. invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965. See Jesse Hoffnung-Garskof, A Tale of Two Cities: Santo Domingo and New York After 1950 (Princeton University Press, 2008), 123. Also see Marcelo Bermudez, ‘“We Will Win’ Vows a Dominican Patriot,” The Partison, 1 no. 3 (October 1965): 1.
 Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture), “Berkeley Speech,” in Stokely Speaks: From Black Power to Pan-Africanism (Chicago, Ill.: Lawrence Hill Books, 1971), 56. The historian David Steigerwald identifies what he labels the five branches of the antiwar movement as follows: 1) moderate antinuclear activists from the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE) and social democrats 2) traditional pacifists 3) campus radicals represented by Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) 4) the Old Left and 5) hippies influenced by cultural radicalism. See David Steigerwald, The Sixties and the End of Modern America (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995), 105-6.
 Carmichael (Kwame Ture), “Solidarity,” in Stokely Speaks, 101.