- This article is about Rafael L. Trujillo, former president of the Dominican Republic. For other persons see Rafael Trujillo (disambiguation).
General Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina (October 24, 1891 – May 30, 1961) was the ruler of the Dominican Republic from 1930 until 1961, ruling as president (1930–1938, 1942–1952) and as essentially an unelected dictator.
Trujillo was born to poor mixed race parents in San Cristóbal. During the United States occupation (1916–1924), Trujillo joined the National Guard, trained by the United States Marines to maintain order after the occupation. Quickly rising to high rank, Trujillo overthrew President Horacio Vásquez in 1930. After a devastating hurricane destroyed much of Santo Domingo, Trujillo devised a rebuilding plan to modernize the city, which he renamed Ciudad Trujillo (Trujillo City). He also renamed the highest mountain of the country Pico Trujillo (Trujillo Peak) after himself. Statues of himself were everywhere in the Republic.
Trujillo gained international attention for his rather open policy of allowing Jewish immigration from Europe in the 1930s, at a time when larger and wealthy nations were turning back Jewish refugees. Some historians regard this gesture as a public relations ploy and perhaps as an attempt by Trujillo to "whiten" the predominantly mixed-race nation. After the Spanish Civil War, he also encouraged the immigration of Republican exiles for a fee.
While encouraging European immigration, he ordered Dominican troops to massacre 20,000 black Haitian sugar cane workers in 1937, in response for the Haitian government's support of Dominican exiles seeking to overthrow him. It is said they were identified as immigrants, and then murdered by the truckload, if they could not pronounce the letter r in "perejil" the Spanish word for parsley. This event is the subject of the poem Parsley by Rita Dove, the former Poet Laureate of the United States (and the first African-American to hold that position). Trujillo, who himself was of mixed ancestry, was said to have worn makeup to give himself a whiter appearance, and favored garish uniforms and other militaristic trappings.
Trujillo symbolically sided with the Allies during World War II, and his anti-Communist policies initially gained the favor of the United States. Trujillo undertook many public works projects and openly encouraged foreign investment, giving the Dominican Republic the appearance of a prospering nation. The Trujillo years did see noticeable economic growth and a burgeoning middle class, and despite the regime's repressive policies he maintained popularity in certain sectors of the country. However, corruption became deeply embedded in Dominican society, and by the late 1950s it was estimated that the majority of the country's wealth was in the hands of the Trujillo family.
Ultimately, Trujillo's blundering attempts at intervening in the affairs of other nations led to his isolation. Foreign assassinations and kidnappings of political opponents, and Trujillo's poorly concealed involvement in an attempt on the life of Venezuelan President Rómulo Betancourt, led to economic sanctions from the United States and other Latin American countries. By 1960, the Organization of American States had unanimously approved to attempt to destabilize the Trujillo regime by continuing harsh sanctions and ending diplomatic ties.
Adding to the resentment of him was the murder of the Mirabal sisters, which he ordered. The Mirabal sisters were political activists and revolutionaries who were trying to overthrow the government. They were driving home unarmed after seeing their imprisoned husbands when they were picked up by their killers. They were led into a sugar cane patch, and beaten and strangled to death.
Another famous scandal was the disapparition of Jesús de Galíndez. Galíndez was a Basque exile who initially served the regime and worked as a CIA agent. Later in America, he wrote his thesis "The Age of Trujillo" revealing the functioning of the dictatorship. Days before publication, Galíndez was kidnapped in New York, never to be found again. There had been strong suspicions that he was flown to the Republic to be tortured and executed.
With the rug pulled from under his regime, Trujillo was shot dead by members of his own armed forces on May 30, 1961 while traveling in an automobile. He was buried in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, France. There is suspicion that the CIA provided the weapons to the assassins in hopes of creating the possibility of the formation of a less reactionary government, fearing that Trujillo's repressive tactics could lead to another "revolutionary situation" as had occurred in nearby Cuba.
His son, Ramfis Trujillo took power and after brutally repressing any elements believed to be connected with his father's death, and was overthrown and exiled later in 1961. He became an international socialite but died on December 28, 1969 in Spain from injuries suffered in a car accident.
While the Trujillo regime was officially ended and places named after Trujillo were restored to their original names, former Trujillistas maintained much of their power within the country until the early 1990s.
He is buried in the famous Parisian cemetery, Cimetière du Père Lachaise at the request of his many relatives who fled into exile to Canada, France, and Spain.
- Forrest, Dave. The Dominican Dictator: Rafael Trujillo. Union City, California: James Logan High School.
- MSN Encarta. Trujillo Molina, Rafael Leónidas. Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia. 2004.