|Dominican Republic Table of Contents
Transition to Elected Government
At the time of his assassination, Trujillo was seventy years old. He had left no designated successor. It soon became clear that the conspirators had planned his assassination more thoroughly than the subsequent seizure of government, which never took place. Puppet President Balaguer remained in office, allowing the late dictator's son, Rafael Trujillo Lovatón (also called Rafael, Jr., or Ramfis), to return from Paris and assume de facto control. Ramfis lacked the dynamism of his father, however, and he eventually fell into a dispute with his two uncles over potential liberalization of the regime. The "wicked uncles"--Héctor and José Arismendi Trujillo Molina--returned to the republic from exile in November 1961. Ramfis, having little enthusiasm for a power struggle, fled the country.
Opposition from Washington, made very plain by the deployment of United States warships off the Dominican coast, blunted the ambitions of the uncles and forced them to resume their exile only days later. Balaguer retained the presidency. As a protégé of the fallen dictator, however, he had neither a power base nor a popular following. Popular unrest, punctuated by a general strike, forced Balaguer to share power with a seven-member Council of State, established on January 1, 1962. The council included Balaguer and the two surviving assassins of Trujillo, Antonio Imbert Barrera and Luis Amiama Tío (the others having been slain by Trujillo's security service). The council lasted only sixteen days, however, before air force general Pedro Rodríguez Echavarría overthrew it in a coup d'état. Rodríguez's attempt at rule also foundered on the rocks of popular protest and opposition from the United States. Less senior officers seized the general, deported him, and restored the council minus Balaguer, who had also been exiled.
The restored Council of State guided the country until elections could be organized. The leading candidates were Juan Bosch Gaviño, a scholar and poet, who had organized the opposition Dominican Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Dominicano--PRD) in exile, and Viriato Fiallo of the National Civic Union (Unión Cívica Nacional--UCN). In the balloting of December 20, 1963, the conservative image of the UCN and its association with the country's economic elite benefited Bosch, whose support came mainly from the urban lower class. Bosch won the election with 64 percent of the vote; the PRD also captured two-thirds majorities in both houses of the legislature.
The Bosch administration was very much an oddity in Dominican history up to that point: a freely elected, liberal, democratic government that expressed concern for the welfare of all Dominicans, particularly those of modest circumstances, those whose voices had never really been heard before in the National Palace. The 1963 constitution separated church and state, guaranteed civil and individual rights, and endorsed civilian control of the military. These and other changes, such as land reform, struck conservative landholders and military officers as radical and threatening, particularly when juxtaposed against three decades of somnolent authoritarianism under Trujillo. The hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church also resented the secular nature of the new constitution, in particular its provision for legalized divorce. The hierarchy, along with the military leadership and the economic elite, also feared communist influence in the republic, and they warned of the potential for "another Cuba." The result of this concern and opposition was a military coup on September 25, 1963.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress