Dominican Republic Table of Contents

Ulises Heureaux, Luperón's lieutenant, stood out among his fellow Dominicans both physically and temperamentally. The illegitimate son of a Haitian father and a mother who was originally from the island of St. Thomas, he was distinguished by his blackness from most other contenders for power, with the exception of Luperón. As events were to demonstrate, he also possessed a singular thirst for power and a willingness to take any measures necessary to attain and to hold it.

During the four years between Báez's final withdrawal and Heureaux's ascension to the presidency, seven individuals held or claimed national, regional, or interim leadership. Among them were Ignacio María González Santin, who held the presidency from June to September 1878; Luperón, who governed from Puerto Plata as provisional president from October 1879 to August 1880; and Meriño, who assumed office in September 1880 after apparently fraudulent general elections. Heureaux served as interior minister under Meriño; his behind-the-scenes influence on the rest of the cabinet apparently exceeded that of the president. Although Meriño briefly suspended constitutional procedures in response to unrest fomented by some remaining baecistas, he abided by the two-year term established under Luperón and turned the reins of government over to Heureaux on September 1, 1882.

Heureaux's first term as president was not particularly noteworthy. The administrations of Luperón and Meriño had achieved some financial stability for the country; political conditions had settled down to the point that Heureaux needed to suppress only one major uprising during his two-year tenure. By 1884, however, no single potential successor, among the various caciques who constituted the republic's ruling group, enjoyed widespread support. Luperón, still the leader of the ruling Blue Party, supported General Segundo Imbert for the post, while Heureaux backed the candidacy of General Francisco Gregorio Billini. A consummate dissembler, Heureaux assured Luperón that he would support Imbert should he win the election, but Heureaux also had ballot boxes in critical precincts stuffed in order to assure Billini's election.

Inaugurated president on September 1, 1884, Billini resisted Heureaux's efforts to manipulate him. Thus denied de facto rule, Heureaux undermined Billini by spreading rumors to the effect that the president had decreed a political amnesty so that he could conspire with ex-president Cesareo Guillermo Bastardo (February 27-December 6, 1879) against Luperón's leadership of the Blues. This precipitated a governmental crisis that resulted in Billini's resignation on May 16, 1885. Vice President Alejandro Woss y Gil succeeded Billini. Heureaux assumed a more prominent role under the new government; a number of his adherents were included in the cabinet, and the general himself assumed command of the national army in order to stem a rebellion led by Guillermo, whose suicide when he was faced with capture, removed another potential rival for power and further endeared Heureaux to Luperón, a longtime enemy of Guillermo.

Luperón accordingly supported Heureaux in the 1886 presidential elections. Opposed by Casimiro de Moya, Heureaux relied on his considerable popularity and his demonstrated skill at electoral manipulation to carry the balloting. The blatancy of the fraud in some areas, particularly the capital, inspired Moya's followers to launch an armed rebellion. Heureaux again benefited from Luperón's support in this struggle; it delayed his inauguration by four months, but it further narrowed the field of political contenders. Having again achieved power, Heureaux maintained his grip on it for the rest of his life.

Several moves served to lay the groundwork for Heureaux's dictatorship. Constitutional amendments requested by the president and effected by the Congress extended the presidential term from two to four years and eliminated direct elections in favor of the formerly employed electoral college system. To expand his informal power base, Heureaux (who became popularly known as General Lilís, thanks to a common mispronunciation of his first name) incorporated both Reds and Blues into his government. The president also established an extensive network of secret police and informants in order to avert incipient rebellions. The press, previously unhampered, came under new restrictions.

In the face of impending dictatorship, concerned Dominican liberals turned to the only remaining figure of stature, Luperón. The elections of 1888 therefore pitted Heureaux against his political mentor. If the dictator felt any respect for his former commander, he did not demonstrate it during the campaign. Heureaux's agents attacked Luperón's campaigners and supporters, arresting and incarcerating considerable numbers of them. Recognizing the impossibility of a free election under such circumstances, Luperón withdrew his candidacy, declined the entreaties of those of his followers who urged armed rebellion, and fled into exile in Puerto Rico.

Although plots, intrigue, and abortive insurrections continued under his rule, Heureaux faced no serious challenges until his assassination in 1899. He continued to govern in mockconstitutional fashion, achieving reelection through institutionalized fraud. Despite his relatively secure position, his repression of dissent became more severe, and the number of political prisoners expanded along with the dictator's paranoia. Like Santana and Báez before him, Heureaux sought the protection of a foreign power, principally the United States. Although annexation was no longer an option, the dictator did offer to lease the Samaná Peninsula to the United States. The deal was never consummated, however, because of opposition from the liberal wing of the Blue Party and a number of concerned European powers. In 1891 Washington and Santo Domingo did conclude a reciprocity treaty that allowed twenty-six United States products free entry into the Dominican market in exchange for similar duty-free access for certain Dominican goods. The governments of Germany, Britain, and France all filed official protests over the treaty, which they saw as detrimental to their most-favored- nation trading status.

Under Heureaux, the Dominican government considerably expanded its external debt. Although some improvements to infrastructure resulted, much of the money went to support the dictator's personal extravagances and the financial requirements of his police state. The failure to apply the funds productively exacerbated both domestic budget deficits and shortfalls in the external balance of payments. In an effort to head off complete bankruptcy, the government turned to the familiar expedient of printing paper money. The huge issuance of 1897, however, debased the currency to such an extent that even Dominicans refused to accept it.

Despite the dictator's comprehensive efforts to repress opposition--his network of spies and agents extended even to foreign countries--a revolutionary organization eventually emerged. Established in Puerto Rico by Horacio Vásquez Lajara, a young adherent of Luperón, the group called itself the Young Revolutionary Junta (Junta Revolucionaria de Jóvenes). Other prominent members of the group included Federico Velásquez and Ramón Cáceres Vásquez. The three returned to their plantations in the Cibao and began to lay the groundwork for a coordinated rebellion against the widely detested Heureaux. The impetuous Cáceres, however, opted for a revolution at a single stroke when the dictator passed through the town of Moca on July 26, 1899. He shot Heureaux several times and left the longtime ruler fatally wounded amid a startled crowd. Cáceres escaped unharmed.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress