Sugar and Power in the Dominican Republic: Eisenhower, Kennedy, and the Trujillos - short review- Eric Roorda
Sugar and Power in the Dominican Republic: Eisenhower, Kennedy, and the Trujillos
The Americas 58.1 (2001) 169-170
In November 1961, as United States warships approached the Dominican Republic in another demonstration of hegemonic power over the country, crowds lined the seaside boulevard in the capital and cheered "viva los imperialistas!" (p. 126). Unlike naval visits to Santo Domingo during the previous three decades, this time the ships were arrayed against the Trujillo regime, rather than communicating solidarity with it. Rafael Trujillo was dead, assassinated with rifles supplied by the CIA six months before, but his son and brothers still held the destiny of the nation in their hands. John F. Kennedy wrested that control from the Trujillos by using the familiar device of the fleet, but the use of military muscle was just one of two powerful diplomatic tools available to him and to his predecessors in the White House in dealing with the island republic. As this book demonstrates, the other powerful tool was the sugar quota, the amount of Dominican sugar allowed into the lucrative U.S. market annually. Of the enduring combination of "cuota y flota," Navy ships get the most attention, but sugar was, says Michael Hall, "the primary ingredient" (p. 141) in the relationship between the United States and the Dominican Republic.
The book begins with three introductory chapters outlining the role of sugar in the Dominican economy from 1493 to 1957, U.S. policy toward the Dominican Republic since the turn of the century, and the intertwined histories of Dominican exports and U.S. sugar legislation. These 80 pages offer a sprint through Dominican history and U.S. Latin American policy, with balanced attention given to both sides of the bilateral equation, a relationship characterized by the author as one of "reciprocal manipulation" (p. 1). These chapters trace the growth of the sugar economy in the Dominican Republic, established by an immigrant elite of Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Italian families in the late nineteenth century and enlarged during the U.S. Marine occupation of 1916-24. The U.S. sugar quota system was established in 1934, and almost immediately moved to the center of Dominican priorities, now determined by Trujillo, a Marine protégé who took power in 1930. Trujillo became synonymous with the Dominican sugar industry starting in 1948, when he bought his first plantation; he owned 60 percent of the productive capacity a decade later.
The heart of the book is in the final two chapters, which deal with the period when sugar policy was most important, from 1958 to 1962. This watershed began when the Eisenhower administration decided that close ties with Trujillo, the most notorious dictator in Latin America, were a liability for U.S. public relations around the hemisphere. The stakes of the sugar game rose considerably when Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba in 1959, and the giant share of the U.S. sugar market reserved for that country was divvied up to other sugar-producing nations, including the Dominican Republic. Both Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy tried to keep this windfall sugar quota and its profits out of the hands of Trujillo, who personally owned most of the Dominican sugar industry, but El Jefe's friends in Congress guarded his allotment. Both presidents dabbled with assassination conspiracies to remove the Trujillo stigma from their foreign policy portfolios, but the main thrust of each administration's Dominican strategy aimed primarily at the dictator's treasury, which depended on sugar revenues, not his life. Eisenhower and Kennedy withheld diplomatic recognition and led an inter-American campaign of economic sanctions after Trujillo tried to assassinate President Rómulo Betancourt of Venezuela in June 1960, and kept up the pressure after Trujillo himself was gunned down in May 1961. The pressure exerted on the sugar quota, was not relaxed until a new Dominican Council of State, mandated by Kennedy himself, initiated democratic reforms culminating in free national elections in December 1962.
Hall's succinct account is based on ambitious and wide-ranging research, mainly among recently declassified documents...