1961: Four for the assassination of Rafael Trujillo

Fifty years ago today, four men were shot for the ajusticiamiento — “execution” — of longtime Dominican Republic dictator Rafael Trujillo.

El Jefe had run his half of Hispaniola for more than thirty years, mirroring his contemporary Stalin for creepy personality cult — giant signs reading “God and Trujillo”; the capital city renamed after him — and dictatorial ruthlessness. Except, of course, that Trujillo was violently anti-communist. He’s the very man for whom U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull coined the memorable (and endlessly recyclable) quip, “He may be a son-of-a-bitch, but he is our son-of-a-bitch.” The guy could even get away with disappearing people from New York City.

The Mario Vargas Llosa novel Feast of the Goat revolves around the Trujillo assassination.

But by the last decade of Trujillo’s reign, Dominicans were increasingly tired of his being their son-of-a-bitch.

An abortive 1959 invasion by Dominican exiles was defeated militarily but helped spawn the dissident 14th of June movement — which naturally met with state repression, most emblematically the 1960 murder of the Mirabal sisters. World opinion turned against Trujillo, and even Washington, chastened by the recent Cuban Revolution, feared that their son-of-a-bitch was becoming counterproductive.

So the CIA had actually collaborated with the plot against him hatched among other Dominican elites, providing guns, money, and its all-important blessing. “From a purely practical standpoint, it will be best for us … if the Dominicans put an end to Trujillo before he leaves this island,” the spy agency’s local station chief reported to his superiors late in 1960,

If I were a Dominican, which thank heaven I am not, I would favor destroying Trujillo as being the first necessary step in the salvation of my country and I would regard this, in fact, as my Christian duty. If you recall Dracula, you will remember it was necessary to drive a stake through his heart to prevent a continuation of his crimes. I believe sudden death would be more humane than the solution of the Nuncio who once told me he thought he should pray that Trujillo would have a long and lingering illness.

On May 30, 1961 (Spanish link), Trujillo’s car was ambushed on Avenida George Washington outside “Ciudad Trujillo” by members of his own armed forces, and riddled with gunfire. When the bullets stopped flying, Rafael Trujillo’s body was a bloody heap on the asphalt. Today, the spot is marked by a memorial plaque — commemorating not Trujillo, but the men who killed him.

That did for the dictator, but the larger aspiration of regime change experienced a little blowback.

Rather than a new dawn of liberalism and human rights, Trujillo’s son Ramfis seized power and vengefully went after his father’s killers. The Dominican Republic became prey thereafter to that familiar cycle of military coups and unstable juntas, leading a few years later to outright American occupation.

But before Trujillo fils was pushed out of the job, he had six of the assassins hunted down: two were killed resisting capture, and the other four put to death by firing squad on this date — their remains allegedly thrown to the sharks (pdf) after their executions.

There’s a BBC interview from spring 2011 with a surviving co-conspirator, Gen. Antonio Imbert, here.

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