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A Long Way from Michigan

Once Bosch took power in 1963, Martin did try to work with him—by influencing him. Letting the CIA and the Pentagon maintain contact with the Trujillista military plotters, he diligently pressed Bosch to take a more militantly anti-Communist line. He argued this policy would produce a situation more conducive to investments and investors, as if a leader’s anti-Communism could be decisively proven by establishing connections with vested interests. “Our task, I thought, was to split the businessmen from the rightist politicians and tie Bosch to the businessmen.” And Martin never let up. Even when Bosch was threatened by a rightist military coup seven months after his inauguration, Martin worried about Castro/Communists, although he knew that they were not a threat (contrary to articles then appearing in the US press, especially those written by Hal Hendrix of the Miami News and Jules Dubois in the Chicago Tribune). Martin quotes the following exchange:

Bosch to Martin: “Will you advise me if you think it is a danger?” Martin: “Communism?”

Bosch: “Yes.”

Martin: “Yes, I will. It is not now. We are sure. Our intelligence services say so. We watch the Communists very carefully….”

Martin (next day, when the coup has begun): “I don’t think the military really want to do this. They’ve been pushed into it by the cívicos (UCN businessmen). The cívicos have convinced them you’re handing the country over to the Communists. I know it isn’t true, but you’ve got to prove it isn’t true. You can do it now, this afternoon and stop the whole thing. Call a special session of Congress. Tell them, first, to enact something like our Smith Act. Second, tell Congress to stop travel to Cuba—pass a law making it a crime to violate passport’ restrictions. Third, tell them to enact a law permitting deportations….”

Bosch: “But all the laws you suggest are unconstitutional.”

Martin: “The hell with that. Tell Congress to pass them anyway, then act under them. Let the courts decide next winter.”

Such is the advice of a Liberal Democrat who wants to bring the “democratic system” to the Dominican Republic.

Bosch did not pass the laws. A few days before, representatives of the golpista military came to see Martin’s principal military attaché. They said to him: “If you tell us to go, we’ll go.” There was no misunderstanding. Martin himself admits that what they meant was that “they’d overthrow Bosch.” They did.

DURING THE 1962 interim Consejo government before Bosch’s election, “the other Consejeros seemed to feel I was one of them.” After Bosch’s inauguration, Martin pressures him to appoint the right kind of cabinet, to treat the military according to US views, to launch the projects that he approves. Martin even whispers words to Bosch when he’s making a speech. But he thinks it’s all perfectly normal: “I do not mean to suggest, here or else-where, that I was putting words in the President’s mouth or in any sense ‘controlling’ him. I was simply doing what an aide does for a President or a presidential candidate, a Senator or Governor—what I had done for President Kennedy and Adlai Stevenson many times while they were campaigning.” That he was not an aide to the Dominican president but representing American interests, and that Dominican and American interests are not necessarily the same, does not seem to occur to Martin. Indeed, why should it, since both he and Washington think that they are the same?

In retrospect, the American record is dismal indeed. Following Trujillo’s death, the US State Department backed the oligarchy that succeeded him, then helped bring about a “demonstration election,” one that would show the Dominican Republic to be a properly democratic country. As Martin makes clear, the State Department assumed at first that the oligarchy would win and Bosch would lose. When Bosch was unexpectedly elected, the US military attachés and the CIA had a hand in bringing about his overthrow by General Imbert. No doubt Martin himself did not conspire with Imbert, but his impatience with Bosch contributed to the fall of the government. Both the State Department and the Pentagon later supported the repressive regime of Donald Reid Cabral (another oligarch and “friend” of Martin’s), which Imbert put into office; and when the Dominicans rebelled against Reid, the State Department finally sent US troops to fight the rebels, whose only stated purpose was to bring Bosch back. The US did so, Tad Szulc reports in his Dominican Diary, because it was convinced “of two things. One was that a return of Dr. Bosch would mean ‘Communism in the Dominican Republic in six months.’ The second was that US forces would have to be used in support of General Wessin’s forces [the Trujillista military] if the pro-Bosch rebellion was to be defeated.”

Some advocates of Realpolitik, liberals among them, have argued that this policy of intervention might have been justified if it made the country a better place to live in—for the Dominican people. It is an argument that seems to me wrong in principle, but what did we in fact accomplish? A project to bring water, with the help of the Peace Corps, to the Southwest did not materialize. Explains Martin: “The people would not work without pay.” Another, to develop the Rio Yaque del Norte valley, didn’t even get off the ground. “I tried, time and again, during that year, but accomplished virtually nothing—just more papers, studies, surveys, and reports, enough to choke the Yaque,” says Martin. Still another was to launch an agrarian reform on old Trujillo land, on which squatters now lived. But Martin insists that “before you could divide the land for agrarian reform, you had to find out who owned it; before you could cultivate it properly, you had to drive the squatters off; when you drive the squatters away, the police get involved, and if they couldn’t handle it, the troops; if you were not careful, you would have the Agricultural Bank, the Agrarian Institute, and the US AID program using the Dominican military to drive starving Dominicans off the land.” It was better to do nothing.

EVEN SIMPLE THINGS seem impossible. For example, Martin “tried in vain to persuade the [State] Department to send several Jeep-style ambulances instead of this one twenty-thousand-dollar ambulance.” And then there’s always the question of policy, since the Alliance for Progress, Martin points out, must “reassert the US presence.” His boss, Ed Martin (no relation), was even more explicit:

If Bosch wanted financial help he’d have to come up with sensible projects. Bosch’s idea of expropriating land without compensation would al-almost surely by calamitous, [Ed] Martin thought—the US Press, already deeply suspicious, would scream that it was Cuba all over again. Furthermore, how could Bosch dare expropriate only Dominican-owned land, not US—the Dominican political reaction would be terrible. And if he expropriated US land, he would run into the Hickenlooper amendment, be denied all U.S. aid

The only alternative, says Bartlow Martin, is more private investment. But even that seems impossible. “We talked a lot about private foreign investment, but little would come in while Dominicans sent their profits abroad. First the political situation must stabilize. But the political situation would not stabilize until people found jobs. And so on—the hopeless circle seemed unbreakable.”

It is breakable, but only by force; for US policies have made any alternative unworkable. So the Dominican people did rebel. But they were not very radical. Had they been, they would have sought to eliminate the power of the oligarchy. They would have shot or held those military chiefs they caught in the early days of the rebellion. And they would have assaulted the military stronghold, at the airport, where not only the anti-rebels but also most of the old Trujillista generals were gathered. Had they truly been revolutionary, the rebels would have tried to destroy the regular army; they would have reasoned, as have all Latin American revolutionaries before them, that genuine reforms and a restructuring of society has come about in the continent only as a result of open revolution, in which the regular army was defeated on the battle field. This was the case in Cuba and in Mexico, as well as in Costa Rica in 1948 and Bolivia in 1952. But no, the rebels were moderate men, who called themselves “constitutionalists”; they wanted back the moderate, democratic reformist government they had elected three years before.

Had they won, they would indeed have brought Bosch back. What would have happened? We can do no more than speculate about this. Still we may expect that the rebel leaders would have stayed in power with Bosch, making sure that the reforms they sought were enacted. The new “constitutionalist” rebel regime, with Bosch perhaps no more than a figurehead, might then have been brought down by an internal military coup; or perhaps it might have defeated and finally disarmed the Trujillista brass. Being nationalist, it might have taken strong measures against foreign exploitation of the country’s natural resources, moving against United Fruit and Alcoa companies. If the United States had at this point adopted a tolerant policy, along the lines of Roosevelt’s response to the Mexican nationalization of oil in the Thirties, it is conceivable the reformist regime might have succeeded in stabilizing itself. On the other hand, if the US reacted sharply to social and economic reforms, perhaps imposing an economic boycott, then—and only then—might the Dominican Republic have “gone” Communist.

BUT THE US claims that the rebellion was led by Castro/Communists from the start. Martin himself thinks that the Reds took it over very quickly. Both cite two “proofs.” One that (at most) seventy-eight known Communists were in top rebel positions; the other that law and order had broken down, that there were indiscriminate shootings. The first is doubtful, to say the least. Reviewing most of the eyewitness reports in the May 24, 1965 issue of The New Leader, Theodore Draper argued that the reports of Communist participation in the rebel leadership were mainly false or unsubstantiated. Martin’s impressionistic remarks on the known Communists he claims to have seen among the rebels do not shake Draper’s conclusion. But even if Martin’s figures are correct, his method of political analysis by head-counting seems hopelessly superficial. In Indonesia, more than 50,000 Communists (perhaps even one million), many of them in official (not rebel but governmental) positions, could not take over the country. To the second argument, the testimony of many careful, non-official observers is in direct contradition; these include Tad Szulic of The New York Times and Dan Kurzman of the Washington Post. Bernard Collier of the New York Herald Tribune stated flatly that “reporters have no confirmation of indiscriminate killings, at least on the part of the rebels.” Furthermore, some of these reporters were on the scene. days before Martin arrived. As James Nelson Goodsell, the Latin American Affairs editor of the Christian Science Monitor, recently remarked, Martin’s rather melodramatic comments on the turmoil in Santo Domingo are “hardly the sort of explicit and relevant proof that will satisfy the independent observer.”

Martin is himself uncomfortable with these arguments.2 At the end of his book he says that “this rebellion went very deep. It went to the roots of discontent that first Trujillo, then the OAS and we, held in check.” He thus seems to admit that the rebellion was a popular uprising, which would discredit the theory that it was a Communist plot. Martin then produces a quite different argument. He blames Ambassador Tapley Bennett for having refused to help negotiate a ceasefire when he thought that the rebels were beaten precisely because he wanted the rebels beaten. “The only door open to them [the non-Communist rebels] was the Communist door; Bennett had shut our door. Had he not, everything else might have turned out differently:” But this interpretation conflicts with the official view and would imply that the rebels became Communists as a result of US actions. The contradictions in Martin’s arguments are so glaring that his book has a rather desperate quality as it attempts to justify American policy.

IN ANY CASE, it’s all over for a while. The rebels are crushed. The Dominicans, having elected Bosch once and seen him deposed with American connivance, and then having watched the US defeat the rebellion led in his name, were reluctant to support Bosch once again. Balaguer’s election was dominated by popular desire to get rid of US marines, something that was most unlikely if Bosch had won. But now, under Balaguer, many of the Trujillista gangsters are back in the Republic. Even officials of Trujillo’s dreaded secret service, the SIM, are wandering the streets, free from prosecution for their numerous and gruesome tortures. Trujillista businessmen are operating again. The restoration seems well on the way to being complete—until a new rebellion explodes again.

Meanwhile, what of the Republic itself? It is, as The New York Times pointed out in 1966, full of angry, hungry people, 30 per cent unemployed, 70 per cent leading a “largely wretched rural existence, for the most part outside the money economy.” And Martin? Back in his beloved Michigan he keeps insisting that American policy was simply overtaken by events. He does bemoan the fact that “we spent about $150 million in the Dominican Republic in 1965 (for our military action), a tragic irony if one recalls the difficulty both Ambassador Bennett and I had in getting far less money for peaceful works.” He also criticizes some of Washington’s assumptions, namely that “we believe that economic development under AID will automatically create a middle class, and that this middle class will automatically advance political freedom and progressive ideas. This is just not so. The rising middle class is far more likely to oppose reforms than promote them.” And Martin tells us to make a greater effort to understand the revolutionary fervor of the underdeveloped world. The poor are sick and tired of being poor, Martin says; they want the good life that we have in America. And we should help them get it.

Martin did not. As his story vividly illustrates, he couldn’t even if he had wanted to, because his government’s policy in Latin America is to help only those who at least pretend to be subservient to the United States, and who are already powerful. Nor will it change in the foreseeable future. President Johnson has made that clear. As he told American GIS at Camp Stanley, Korea, during his recent Asiatic trip: “Don’t forget, there are only 200 million of us in the world of three billion. They want what we’ve got and we’re not going to give it to them.”

  1. 2

    A completely unself-conscious and unabashedly distorted attempt to characterize the Dominican revolution as a Castro/Communist plot can be found in the pamphlet Dominican Action—1965 published by Georgetown’s Center for Strategic Studies. This pamphlet praises Reid as a reformer and condemns Bosch as an “ineffectual administrator” who allowed “the Communists to operate in the Dominican Republic,” something even Martin did not say clearly, as the above discussion between him and Bosch indicates.

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