Dominican Republic Table of Contents

Two leaders dominated the period between 1844 and 1864: General Pedro Santana Familias and Buenaventura BŠez Mťndez. Dissimilar in appearance and temperament, the two alternated in power by means of force, factionalism, and repeated efforts to secure their country's protection or annexation by a foreign power. Their unprincipled, self-serving dominance did much to entrench the tradition of caudillo rule in the Dominican Republic.

The Infant Republic

Santana's power base lay in the military forces mustered to defend the infant republic against Haitian retaliation. Duarte, briefly a member of the governing junta, for a time commanded an armed force as well. He was temperamentally unsuited to generalship, however, and the junta eventually replaced him with General Josť MarŪa Imbert. Duarte assumed the post of governor of the Cibao, the northern farming region administered from the city of Santiago de los Caballeros, commonly known as Santiago. In July 1844, Mella and a throng of other Duarte supporters in Santiago urged him to take the title of president of the republic. Duarte agreed to do so, but only if free elections could be arranged. Santana, who felt that only the protection of a great power could assure Dominican safety against the Haitian threat, did not share Duarte's enthusiasm for the electoral process. His forces took Santo Domingo on July 12, 1844, and they proclaimed Santana ruler of the Dominican Republic. Mella, who attempted to mediate a compromise government including both Duarte and Santana, found himself imprisoned by the new dictator. Duarte and SŠnchez followed Mella into prison and subsequently into exile.

Although in 1844 a constituent assembly drafted a constitution, based on the Haitian and the United States models, which established separation of powers and legislative checks on the executive, Santana proceeded to emasculate the document that same year by demanding the inclusion of Article 210, which granted him untrammeled power "during the current war" against Haiti.

As it turned out, the Dominicans repelled the Haitian forces, on both land and sea, by December 1845. Santana's dictatorial powers, however, continued throughout his first term (1844-48). He consolidated his power by executing anti-Santana conspirators, by rewarding his close associates with lucrative positions in government, and by printing paper money to cover the expenses of a large standing army, a policy that severely devalued the new nation's currency. Throughout his term, Santana also continued to explore the possibility of an association with a foreign power. The governments of the United States, France, and Spain all declined the offer.

Santana responded to general discontent, prompted mainly by the deteriorating currency and economy, by resigning from the presidency in February 1848 and retiring to his ranch in the province of El Seibo. The Council of Secretaries of State, made up of former cabinet members, selected minister of war Manuel Jimťnez to replace Santana in August 1848. Jimťnez displayed little enthusiasm and no aptitude as a ruler. His tenure, which would probably have been brief in any case, ended in May 1849. The violent sequence of events that culminated in Jimťnez's departure began with a new invasion from Haiti, this time led by self-styled emperor Faustin Soulouque. Santana returned to prominence at the head of the army that checked the Haitian advance at Las Carreras in April 1849. As the Haitians retired, Santana pressed his advantage against Jimťnez. After some brief skirmishes between his forces and those loyal to the president, Santana took control of Santo Domingo and the government on May 30, 1849.

Although Santana once again held the reins of power, he declined to formalize the situation by standing for office. Instead, he renounced the temporary mandate granted him by the legislature and called for an election--carried out under an electoral college system with limited suffrage--to select a new president. Santana favored Santiago Espaillat, who won a ballot in the Congress on July 5, 1849; Espaillat declined to accept the presidency, however, knowing that he would have to serve as a puppet so long as Santana controlled the army. This cleared the way for BŠez, president of the legislature, to win a second ballot, which was held on August 18, 1849.

BŠez made even more vigorous overtures to foreign powers to establish a Dominican protectorate. Both France (BŠez's personal preference) and the United States, although still unwilling to annex the entire country, expressed interest in acquiring the bay and peninsula of SamanŠ as a naval or commercial port. Consequently, in order to preserve its lucrative trade with the island nation and to deny a strategic asset to its rivals, Britain became more actively involved in Dominican affairs. In 1850 the British signed a commercial and maritime treaty with the Dominicans. The following year, Britain mediated a peace treaty between the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

BŠez's first term established the personal rivalry with Santana that dominated Dominican politics until the latter's death in 1864. President BŠez purged Santana's followers (santanistas) from the government and installed his own sycophants (baecistas) in their place, pardoned a number of Santana's political opponents, reorganized the military in an effort to dilute Santana's power base, and apparently conceived a plan to create a militia that would serve as a counterforce to the army.

Seeing his influence clearly threatened, Santana returned to the political arena in February 1853, when he was elected to succeed BŠez. The general moved quickly to deal with BŠez, who had once been a colonel under his command. In a public address on July 3, 1853, Santana denounced BŠez as a collaborator under the Haitian occupation (which was true) and a paid agent of influence for the Haitians after independence (which may have been true, although not to the extent that Santana declared). Publicly characterizing BŠez's presence in the nation a threat to security, Santana exercised his authority under Article 210 of the constitution and expelled the former president from the Dominican Republic.

Although he enjoyed considerable popularity, Santana confronted several crises during his second term. In February 1854, a constituent assembly promulgated a new, liberal constitution that eliminated the dictatorial powers granted by Article 210. With his control over the army restored, however, Santana readily forced the adoption of a new constitution restoring most of the excised prerogatives of the executive. On the international front, renewed annexation talks between the Dominican and the United States governments aroused the concern of Haitian emperor Soulouque. Motivated, at least in part, by a desire to prevent the acquisition of any portion of Hispaniola by the slaveholding United States, Soulouque launched a new invasion in November 1855. However, Dominican forces decisively defeated the Haitians in a number of engagements and forced them back across the border by January 1856.

The final crisis of Santana's second term also originated in the foreign policy sphere. Shortly after the Haitian campaign, the Dominican and the United States governments signed a commercial treaty that provided for the lease of a small tract in SamanŠ for use as a coaling station. Although Santana delayed implementation of the lease, its negotiation provided his opponents--including baecistas and the government of Spain--with an opportunity to decry Yankee imperialism and to demand the president's ouster. Pressure built to such an extent that Santana felt compelled to resign on May 26, 1856, in favor of his vice president, Manuel de la Regla Mota.

Regla Mota's rule lasted almost five months. An empty treasury forced the new president to discharge most of the army. Thus deprived of the Dominican rulers' traditional source of power, his government all but invited the return of BŠez. With the support of the Spanish, BŠez was named vice president by Regla Mota, who then resigned in BŠez's favor. Not a forgiving man by nature, BŠez lost little time before denouncing ex- president Santana and expelling him from the country. Once again, BŠez purged santanistas from the government and replaced them with his own men.

BŠez had little time in which to savor his triumph over his rival, however. Reverting to the policies of his first term, the government flooded the country with what rapidly became all but worthless paper money. Farmers in the Cibao, who objected strongly to the purchase of their crops with this devalued currency, rose against BŠez in what came to be known as the Revolution of 1857. Their standard-bearer, not surprisingly, was Santana.

Pardoned by a provisional government established at Santiago de los Caballeros, Santana returned in August 1857 to join the revolution. He raised his own personal army and soon dominated the movement. A year of bloody conflict between the governments of Santiago and Santo Domingo took a heavy toll in lives and money. Under the terms of a June 1857 armistice, BŠez once again fled to CuraÁao with all the government funds that he could carry. Santana proceeded to betray the aspirations of some of his liberal revolutionary followers by restoring the dictatorial constitution of 1854. Santanismo again replaced baecismo; only a small group of loyalists realized any benefit from the exchange, however. Politically, the country continued to walk a treadmill. Economically, conditions had become almost unbearable for many Dominicans. The general climate of despair ensured the inevitable success of Santana's renewed efforts to secure a protector for his country.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress