The Armed Forces

Dominican Republic Table of Contents

The armed forces (army, navy, air force, and National Police) were among the best organized and the most powerful groups in Dominican national life. The military was more than a simple interest group, however. Stemming historically from the medieval Spanish system, the military constituted an integral part of the political regime, but one only nominally subordinate to civilian authority.

The modern Dominican armed forces were a product of the Trujillo era and of the often corrupt and brutal practices of that regime. Trujillo built up the armed forces enormously and gave them modern equipment, but he also encouraged graft, rakeoffs , and political interference.

Since Trujillo, various efforts had been made to reform, to modernize, and to professionalize the armed forces. These efforts had been only partially successful. In the late 1980s, the armed forces undoubtedly were better trained, better educated, and better equipped than before, but military personnel also tended to use their positions to augment their salaries, to acquire wealth and land, and to exercise political as well as military power, sometimes on a grand scale. At the same time, civilian political interference in the military (promotions, commands, favoritism, etc.) occurred at least as often as military interference in political affairs.

Since the mid-1970s, the pressures to reform the armed forces and to make them definitively apolitical and subordinate to civilian authority had intensified. Evidence of the success of this subordination is that, in various crises (for example, the electoral crises of 1978 and 1986 and the riots of 1985), the military behaved quite professionally and made no effort to seize the government. Nevertheless, no one is really certain how the armed forces would react in the face of endemic unrest, a popular guerrilla movement, economic collapse, or the possibility of a leftist electoral victory.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress