This interview, conducted in 1986, is presented here as part of our “From the Archives” series. It was conducted by Martin Murphy, then an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame.
In April I965, the Dominican Republic was at civil war. The Air Force had strafed the Presidential Palace and constitutionalist forces—seeking to reinstate the country’s constitutionally elected president—had called the people into the streets. Juan Bosch, the president who had been overthrown in a coup 20 months earlier, was poised to return from his Puerto Rican exile. President Lyndon Johnson pushed a resolution through the Organization of American States calling for a joint OAS-U.S. invasion. Three days after the violence started, 23,000 U.S.marines landed in the first overt military intervention in Latin America since Franklin Roosevelt’s proclaimed “Good Neighbor Policy.”
Outraged by the invasion, students, Church people, and scholars concerned with Latin America held the founding conferences of what was to become the North American Congress on Latin America. Juan Bosch and the Dominican Republic have therefore had special significance throughout NACLA’s 20 years.
Bosch, 77, spent long and important segments of his adult life in exile in Puerto Rico, Cuba, Venezuela, and Costa Rica. The author of numerous award-winning short stories, novels, and history texts, he was first known in the Spanish-speaking Americas for his literary achievements. While still abroad, El Profesor, as he is fondly known, helped organize the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD).
Today Bosch is perhaps best known as the first fairly elected president of the Dominican Republic. In the I960s his name was synonomous with Latin American political martyrdom at the hands of the United States. In this interview Bosch tells how the Kennedy Administration ordered his overthrow in 1962, a story he says the U.S. press has consistently failed to report.
In I973 Bosch left the social democratic PRD over an ideological and tactical dispute and founded the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD). He has since been the party’s leader, presidential candidate, and principal strategist. With a base of especially dedicated and militant young members, Bosch has expanded his following to include students, the urban poor, and sugar workers. These voters—demonstrating dissatisfaction with the PRD’s 8-year rule—have propelled the PLD from “also rans” in I978 with less than 1% of the vote, to an important third party with almost 18% of the vote in the 1986 presidential election.
MM: When did you first become involved politically?
JB: At the end of 1937, I went to Puerto Rico. There was a severe economic crisis there, which had begun with the 1929 crash. The Trujillo dictatorship had been in power in the Dominican Republic for seven years. I could not continue living in the country because Trujillo had sent me a message telling me that I was going to be named a congressman. In order to be able to leave, I persuaded a friend of mine who was a doctor to write a false medical diagnosis for my wife, saying that she required medical treatment in Puerto Rico.
My first job there was to direct the publication of the works of writer Eugenio María de Hostos.1 Reading everything he wrote had a profound impact on me. Ever since childhood, I had had a sense of social concern; it pained me to see the state of misery in which Dominican peasants were living. And when I began to write, peasants were the actors in my own stories and Hostos’ message provoked in me the need to do something for these campesinos.
The editing of Hostos’s writings was commissioned at that time because January 1939 marked the centennial of his birth. A competition had been organized by publishers in Argentina, Mexico, Chile, and Cuba to publish his complete works, which are very extensive. A Cuban publishing house won the competition and so the committee sent me to Cuba to direct the project. I arrived in Cuba in the beginning of January 1939, six months before I turned 30. I found there intense political activity, which made a great impression on me. At that time, four political parties were actively engaged in writing a new constitution which they hoped would stabilize the situation in the aftermath of the overthrow of the Machado dictatorship. The parties involved were the Liberal, the Conservative, the Revolutionary Cuban Party—known as the Authentic Party—and the Popular Socialist Party, which was the Cuban Communist Party.
After writing the constitution, elections were held [in 1940] and Fulgencio Batista won. Batista had been the head of the Army until a few months earlier. But just before these elections, World War II began with the Nazi invasion of Poland. The event touched off a new level of political mobilization among the Cuban people; the newspapers and radio put out sensationalistic broadcasts daily. People were constantly discussing Cuban and world affairs in the cafes, parks, buses, trolleys, and streets. All this contributed to my political formation.
During this period of my political development, a small group of Dominicans living outside the country founded the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD). I was part of the group organizing the party in Havana [in 1939], which became the party headquarters, and was in charge of organizing the party in Santiago de Cuba, Guantánamo, New York, and Caracas. Since I was known as a writer in the Spanish-speaking world, it was easy for me to meet with political leaders in the countries I visited. For example, in Mexico I met Lombardo Toledano,2 and, in Guatemala, President Juan José Arévalo. In Venezuela, I knew Rómulo Betancourt and Rómulo Gallegos, both of whom later became president. I gave a conference in Venezuela in 1945 on the Trujillo dictatorship and was introduced by Gallegos, who at the time was the president of the Democratic Action Party (AD) and one of the greatest novelists in the Spanish language.
I was in charge of organizing a front against Trujillo in all of these countries. In 1947, we organized an armed expedition which left from Cuba for the Dominican Republic after a three-month training period on an island called Cayo Confites off the coast of Camaguey.
We obtained arms through Juan Perón in Argentina. Our contact with Perón was Guatemalan President Juan José Arévalo who had lived in Argentina for several years during the Ubico dictatorship in Guatemala [1931-1944]. He married an Argentine woman there, and taught at the university. These arms came through Guatemala. The Cuban government gave us a “green light” to organize the Cayo Confites expedition.
That’s where I met Fidel Castro. He was then a 21-year-old law student. He joined the expedition, along with men from various American countries, but especially from the Caribbean. There were Dominicans, Cubans, Nicaraguans, Puerto Ricans, Venezuelans, and even a North American of Hungarian descent. We left Cayo Confites and headed for the Dominican Republic, but were taken prisoner when we got close to Haiti.
MM: Were you taken prisoner by the Dominican Navy?
JB: No, by the Cuban Navy. At that time, it was said that the chief of the Cuban Armed Forces, Genovevo Pérez, had received half a million dollars from Trujillo to take us prisoner. It was also said that the U.S. Ambassador in Havana received money.
By then, I was known as a political leader as well as a writer and was made a member of the Revolutionary Junta which directed the movement against Trujillo. The junta was made up of a political and a military commission. Juan Rodríguez3 and I were on the military commission, and were the only leaders taken prisoner. The boat we were on was taken to Antilles Bay and from there we were taken to Havana, except for Fidel Castro, who escaped in time. We spent a long time there—about 10 or 12 days in a military camp outside Havana. I went on a hunger strike for three days to try to pressure them to release all the prisoners except the leaders. With the hunger strike, I managed to get the others freed, but not myself. I was taken to the military camp’s hospital, and left there several days. In short, this was the beginning of my political life.
MM: Could you explain when and under what circumstances your exile ended?
JB: Yes. I was in exile for 23 years, until October 1961, the year that Trujillo was killed. I then returned to the country as president of the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) to lead the party—there was no time to do anything else. I spent all my time on electoral politics, something which was unknown in the Dominican Republic. The elections were held on December 20, 1962, and I was the PRD’s presidential candidate. We won the elections and I became President of the Republic on February 27, 1963 and was deposed by a military coup on September 25, 1963.
MM: The coup has special significance for NACLA since the organization was formed in response to the U.S. invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965. Tell me about that period.
JB: Many lies have been told about this military coup, and little has been said about what really happened. The military coup was performed by the U.S. military mission here in Santo Domingo. I have said this so many times, but U.S. journalists have remained silent about this. What was the cause of the coup? The existence of a Haitian guerrilla camp in Dominican territory which was operating without my knowledge. They were trying to overthrow the Haitian President, François Duvalier. The Kennedy Administration proposed this action because it believed that Duvalier was a Communist, because he had received a Czech diplomat and later, a Pole. The Kennedy Administration decided to overthrow Duvalier, and organized an uprising through U.S. Air Force pilots stationed there who were training Haitian pilots. But Duvalier found out about the plan, and expelled the U.S. pilots from the country, as well as officers of the Haitian Armed Forces who were also involved in the plot, including General León Cantave.
It turned out that the Kennedy Administration had established a secret guerrilla camp here in the Dominican Republic which was led by Cantave and made up of Haitians opposing Duvalier. This camp was receiving reinforcements and arms from the Ramey Air Force Base in Puerto Rico, and they were attacking Haiti from a base here. The U.S Ambassador, John Bartlow Martin, told me they were based in Venezuela, and I responded that I didn’t know there was a city in Florida named Venezuela. I thought the guerrillas had departed from the United States, but I hadn’t the least suspicion that the U.S. military was behind these actions. One day these guerrillas attacked the Haitian city of Ouanaminthe near the Dominican border, and were defeated.
The next day, the newspaper El Caribe published a front-page photo of Gen. León Cantave getting off a Dominican plane which was coming from [the Dominican city] Dajabón, which is on the border across from Ouanaminthe. I could see that he was dressed very elegantly, carrying a Samsonite suitcase. I said to myself, “How can this man who was fighting yesterday in Ouanaminthe be so well dressed here today? The attack on Ouanaminthe didn’t come from Venezuela, because this man keeps clean clothes in Dajabón.” I immediately called the minister of foreign affairs and asked him to cable the OAS asking for a delegation to be sent to the country to determine where the guerrillas attacking Haiti were based.
The minister of the armed forces, Major Gen. Victor Elby Vinas Román, was aware of this request and relayed it to the U.S. military mission. In turn, the mission transmitted the message to Washington and Washington ordered the Dominican military hierarchy to launch a coup immediately. Washington sought to avoid publicizing the fact that the U.S. governmen which had organized the Bay of Pigs invasion charging that Cuba had violated the UN and OAS charters for supporting guerrilla movements in other countries was doing something which was much worse. The United States was arming and maintaining a guerrilla camp in the territory of a friendly government entirely behind the back of the chief of state of that country with which it maintained diplomatic and consular relations.
Moreover, it was very stupid to use our country in order to overthrow Duvalier because he had popular support. That’s why it was not easy to overthrow him. You are probably thinking: "Popular support for a dictatorship?" I say "Yes," because in a country like Haiti democracy cannot function. Only North American leaders think that democracy could or should function in any Latin American country the way it does in the United States.
MM: The Dominican press reported during the 1982 elections that you said you did not believe in democracy. Were you correctly cited, and if so, what did you mean by that comment?
JB: One can neither believe in Dominican democracy, nor in the Bolivian, the Paraguayan, the Chilean or the Mexican democracies. What happened 10 years ago in Uruguay and Argentina and 20 years ago in Brazil and the Dominican Republic? U.S.-style democracy is the political product of capitalist development. The United States was the first country in human history to wage a war of independence in order to convert itself from colony to state. It was the first country to have a written constitution; it was the first country to create a government based on the three powers—legislative, executive, and judicial. It could do all this because it was the first chemically pure capitalist society without the slightest trace of feudalism or any other kind of socioeconomic system. One must remember that the 13 colonies began as commercial capitalist-style businesses and grew as such until they created a political organization which was without historical precedent. Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua are very different cases. None had developed capitalism. Our countries knew neither feudalism nor capitalism the way England, the United States, or Switzerland did.
Take, for example, the case of Uruguay. Didn’t people used to say that Uruguay was the Switzerland of America? But what happened 10 years ago when the prices of its export products plummeted? So did democracy in Uruguay, and one of America’s worst dictatorships was put in its place. In the history of the United States one has never heard of a military leader who thought of trying to overthrow the United States government.
MM: What would be the most appropriate political plan or system for the Dominican Republic?
JB: The most appropriate political system for this country is a government which would ensure public liberties and end this country’s economic, political, and military dependence. It would end ignorance, misery, and the diseases which are a product of misery. It would end corruption and the absolute lack of authority to enforce legal obligations. Hundreds of millionaires have been made here in recent years. Doing what? Nothing. By stealing while in public office, siphoning off money from the state, which is a way of stealing from the people. This is neither democracy nor anything like it. Why do they want to impose on us a system of government which can function in other countries, but not here? But the minute someone says that democracy cannot function in a country like this, they yell “communist! Whoever talks like that is a communist!”
Those who say this also want to insist that a newspaper which campaigns for the contras should continue to be published freely in Nicaragua. And I ask you, how many Japanese were taken prisoner in the United States and kept in camps from 1942 to 1945 during World War II? Would the U.S. authorities have permitted that a Chicago or Washington newspaper criticize these measures?
MM: Rafael Trujillo and his 31-year dictatorship [1930-1961] made a profound impact on Dominican economic, political, and social relations. Could you describe the impact and its legacy in the second half of the 1980s?
JB: The Trujillo dictatorship was the first to promote capitalism in the Dominican Republic, albeit for the personal benefit of Trujillo. In 1930, there was still no Dominican bank. Trujillo founded the first one in 1941 as a state bank which he called the Reserve Bank. He did so by buying the National City Bank which here was called the International Banking Corporation. There were two other banks, the Royal Bank and the Bank of Nova Scotia. Until then, we did not have finance capitalism, and industrial capitalism was limited to the sugar plantations. The country’s 35 antiquated mills—which dated to 1884—began to disappear and were replaced by modern sugar mills. Of these, Trujillo bought 10 which had been owned by U.S. companies. And he built two more so that out of the country’s 16 sugar mills, he owned 12. This is really when the Dominican working class appeared, because Trujillo fired the Haitians and the Cocolos,4 replacing them with Dominicans in the 1950s. Trujillo monopolized all the businesses in which he intervened.
One should understand that without this monopolization it would not have been possible to develop capitalism in the Dominican Republic. Monopolization is the only thing which guaranteed capital accumulation for new investments. Not that Trujillo knew this, but his instinct led him to follow the laws of capitalism, and he began to monopolize the salt industry, as the English had done in India. In addition, he created the country’s first currency, the Dominican peso. Unti1 1947 the country’s currency was the U.S. dollar. And he founded the Central Bank and the Agrarian Bank—both state enterprises.
At the same time, he promoted the development of the most important industries—peanut oil, cement, weapons, glass, and the air and sea transport lines. As I said, he ended up being the country’s great stimulator of capitalist development. But one should note that Dominican capitalism is very far from that of the United States, France, Holland, or Sweden. Today’s millionaires have not become a bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie is in the process of being formed right now. Yet, politically the country is at a stage which corresponds to late capitalism, and that is the contradiction.
MM: Does the Western European social democratic model have any relevance in the Third World?
JB: The Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) is a member of the Socialist International, but social democracy cannot work here. Social democracy functions only where there is an excess of capital which is distributed three ways: to the government so that it can build good highways, communications systems, schools, hospitals, as well as pay civil servants decent salaries so that adequate services can be provided; among capitalists, so they remain satisfied with the benefits they receive; and finally, among workers and small- and medium-peasant landowners so that they can live well and maintain good buying power and consequently will not create political problems. Only in this way can social democracy work because in a social democratic country there is no unemployment or inflation; there are no sick people who lack medical care; children go to school. Here we have 700,000 children without schools, hospitals which have deteriorated so much that the sick cannot be treated there, and those which have not deteriorated don’t have adequate medicine.
This reality is plain to see, not in history books because it is curious that 12 or 14 years ago books analyzing the country’s history had not been written. There were Marxists who repeated phrases by Marx and Lenin, but without applying them to the Dominican reality. Only now are people beginning to understand what has happened in the Dominican Republic and to understand that those who intend to apply the principles of U.S. democracy to our country are trying to make a mouse carry an elephant. It is incredible that the United States cannot understand this. NACLA can make a contribution by spreading the idea that reality in Third World countries is very different from that in the United States. Consequently, as long as we have total economic, political and even military dependence on the United States there is no possibility for our countries to get out of perpetual political crisis.
MM: How would you describe the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) to a foreign public?
JB: It is a party which is fighting to liberate the Dominican people from economic, political, and military dependence, from ignorance, disease, and unemployment. At this time, more than 26% of Dominicans lack jobs. Anyone who stops at a corner traffic light here in the capital can see all ages, from small children to old people, trying to sell junk to make a living. Anyone who wants to be convinced of our backwardness only has to count the number of new luxury cars which have entered the country, tax-exempt, during 1985-1986, Jorge Blanco’s5 last year as president. In 1935, Santo Domingo had 70,000 inhabitants, today we have 1.6 million. Very few have access to water and electricity on a daily basis.
MM: Is the PLD a leftist party?
JB: Yes, it is.
MM: Does it have a socialist program?
MM: Then what is the party’s program?
JB: Dominican reality prevents us from having a socialist program. In this country we have to take measures to resolve Dominican problems. For example, here there is no authority which can enforce public decisions and laws. There are no judges who condemn those who would benefit from jail sentences, and those who are condemned buy their way out of jail. One must impose one’s love for the country and for the people even if it means imposing the death penalty.
MM: In the I978 elections, the PLD obtained 1% of the vote; in 1982 it received about 10%, and this year it received over 17%. In your opinion, what factors explain this great increase in support for the PLD?
JB: A large part of the population has had enough of the general state of disorder in which we live, and the only political organization in the country’s history which has demonstrated the capacity to confront this situation is the PLD. The PLD is not involved in scandals and has the reputation, the mística, of fighting and working at the service of the people. No member of the PLD can be accused of being a liar, a crook, a charlatan, or a politically ignorant person. The PLD is a case which is exceptional in Dominican history and, I dare say, in the history of any Third World country.
1. Eugenio Marfa de Hostos (1839-1903), philosopher, sociologist, writer, and political and educational reformer, was born in Puerto Rico and lived for many years in the Dominican Republic where he established the country’s first normal school.
2. Lombardo Toledano, Mexican lawyer and labor leader who broke with the ruling PRl in 1948 to found what later became the Popular Socialist Party (PPS), which allegedly is now financed by the PRl; Juan José Arévalo, intellectual, educator, reform-minded president of Guatemala, 1945-1951; Rómulo Betancourt served as Venezuela's president from 1945-1948 and from 1959-1964, and Rómulo Gallegos from 1948-1949 when he was deposed in a coup.
3. Rodríguez was a wealthy Dominican landowner who despite his advanced years participated in the armed expedition.
4. Cocolos are migrant workers from the Lesser Antilles.
5. Salvador Jorge Blanco of the PRD served as president from 1982 to 1986.
Read the rest of NACLA's Summer 2013 issue: "Chavismo After Chávez: What Was Created? What Remains?"