The Ambassador in the Dominican Republic (Briggs) to the Secretary of State

No. 609

Sir: I have the honor to refer to my secret despatch no. 70 of July 5, 19442 entitled “Estimate of the situation in the Dominican Republic; recommended United States policy with respect thereto,” and respectfully to invite the Department to review the points set forth in that despatch together with certain comment contained herein, designed to bring my conclusions up to date. Despatch no. 70 was prepared after approximately four weeks at this post, and I have now been in Ciudad Trujillo for over seven months; both as a matter of year-end review and because of the nature of the comments and recommendations made last July, I consider that a reappraisal of the situation may be helpful and desirable.

In every important and essential respect my conclusions are identical with those set forth last July; and the experience acquired subsequent thereto, far from modifying my views in the premises, has served merely to strengthen and reinforce them.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Last July it will be noted that I took a somewhat pessimistic view of the long-range prospects of Dominican-Haitian relations pointing to the racial, historical and economic antipathies involved. I continue of that opinion, and consider that relations with Haiti are rarely “satisfactory” but tend to oscillate between “bad” and “worse”. They are currently exacerbated by President Lescot’s3 reported belief, of which the Dominicans are now aware, that President Trujillo4 was behind [Page 975] the assassination plot discovered in Port-au-Prince approximately three months ago, which plot was given publicity by Newsweek in its edition of December 11, 1944.

It remains my opinion with respect to Dominican-Haitian relations that:

They are the primary responsibility of the two Governments directly concerned.
So long as Trujillo and Lescot are respectively the Chiefs of State, no real improvement in relations may be anticipated.
While it is easy to make the statement contained in A. above, it should nevertheless be mentioned that recognition of the fact of the primary responsibility of the two countries for keeping the peace does not per se constitute any great advance toward solution of their problem. The United States and the other nations of the hemisphere might well give consideration to this thought, even though the only concrete suggestion of which I am aware, advanced recently by the Dominican Foreign Minister5—namely that the other American Republics should absorb through immigration surplus Haitians thereby removing the population pressure from the frontier—does not strike me as at all likely of realization.

With the reservation that any unexpected spark (such as the recent assassination plot) is capable of producing conflict, it is my estimate that a clash between Haiti and the Dominican Republic does not seem imminent. Should a clash occur (or appear to be about to occur) it is believed that the quarantine proposal advanced by President Roosevelt (mentioned in despatch no. 70, page 4, paragraph 4) would be in order. This however would represent an effort to cope with an immediate crisis; it would not be a solution of the underlying causes of that crisis.

Turning to Dominican-American relations, the recommendations in despatch no. 70 were based on the premise that although Trujillo’s dictatorship represents the negation of many of the principles to which the United States subscribes (to say nothing of the principles of the Atlantic Charter),6 nevertheless promotion of his overthrow is not the responsibility of our Government, nor would such action be consistent with our present commitments regarding non-intervention. This estimate still appears to me to be entirely sound, as do those contained in the next following paragraph of despatch no. 70 to the effect that we should not permit ourselves to be misrepresented as approving of the Trujillo dictatorship or of Trujillo’s methods. [Page 976] In this connection I sense a growing interest (especially in the countries where Dominican exiles are active) on the part of liberal elements in those countries in internal conditions in the Dominican Republic, and the relevance thereof to the principles for which the United Nations are fighting.

Finally, my recommendations were based on the premise that the only relationship which we can properly maintain must be that of respect—self-respect and mutual respect—and that we must not only continue to be scrupulously honest in dealing with the Dominican Government, but we must demand and obtain honesty from that Government in all its dealings with us.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I should like in the balance of this despatch to discuss the application of insistence upon Dominican Government fulfillment of its obligations, and its effect on relations with the United States, as illustrated by various developments in which the Embassy has participated during the past six months.

1. The Food Purchase Program:

Please see despatch no. 607 of January 2, 19457 and previous correspondence. Under the Food Purchase Program our Government has spent upwards of $2,200,000 to buy the exportable surplus of such Dominican commodities as rice, corn, cattle, frozen beef, et cetera. This exportable surplus has been produced largely if not solely because of our agreement to buy. The program as announced had two principal objectives, to obtain supplies for allocation to food-importing areas in the Caribbean on a non-profit basis in accordance with ascertained needs, and to improve the position of the small farmer (campesino) class in the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Government made certain commitments in regard to the program which up to my arrival last May had not been fulfilled. Discussions were promptly undertaken with a view to fulfillment, particularly of the important provision that the price schedule should be published as a matter of general information and especially for the information of producers. Insistence on this point resulted in publication of the tariff on July 8, approximately three weeks after my first discussion of the matter with President Trujillo. The Dominican Government was obviously reluctant to publish the prices, the presumption arising that this might narrow the profitable spread between prices paid to farmers and prices paid by our Government, and also because certain favored officials and others were planning to reap large profits therefrom and from internal transportation and processing.

[Page 977]

The rectitude of Mr. McArdle, FEA8 Representative in the Dominican Republic, and in particular his refusal to countenance any irregularity on the part of those from whom he purchased led to complaints last November that McArdle was “unfriendly”, and to the allegation made on December 15 that he had violated the agreement through the payment of certain commissions. The Embassy insisted upon a full ventilation of the facts with the result that the Dominican Foreign Minister withdrew the charges, stated that Mr. McArdle had proceeded correctly throughout, and expressed regret that the question had been raised by his Government. The Embassy’s handling of this matter has greatly fortified Mr. McArdle’s position, and has had a perceptibly beneficial effect on our general position in dealings with the Dominican Government.

2. Injunction to American citizens on the subject of corrupt payments (graft and bribes), and participation in domestic Dominican political matters:

Please see despatch no. 451 of October 279 and previous correspondence. As previously indicated it is believed that the record for probity of American companies in the Dominican Republic has in general been good. Nevertheless, it had previously been the practice for American citizens and companies to be “invited” to make contributions to the Partido Nacional Dominicano, the sole political party in the country, the activities of which are principally (if not exclusively) concerned with the deification and indefinite maintenance in office of President Trujillo.

Observing on my return from leave on October 23, 1944, that a campaign had been started a few days before for the re-election of President Trujillo (notwithstanding the fact that his present term does not expire until May 1947), I took up with the President the establishment of the policy of non-participation by Americans in Dominican political matters, explaining to him that the matter was one of principle, and that non-participation by Americans appeared to me to be an inescapable corollary both of the policy of respect for one’s neighbor which is the foundation of the Good Neighbor Policy, and of the policy on non-intervention to which, pursuant to the Good Neighbor Policy, my Government is committed by treaty.10 The President made no dissent. Americans were informed accordingly, and insofar as I am aware they are now abiding by the injunction in [Page 978] question. They are neither contributing to the campaign funds of any political party, nor lending their names or the names of their companies to re-election petitions. In short they are for the first time in recent Dominican history declining to intervene in the domestic political affairs of this country.

Although President Trujillo accepted without comment last October the establishment of this policy, I have reason to believe that he is by no means enthusiastic over it at this time, partly because of the prestige value of having the support of American citizens and companies pledged to him, and partly because of the financial support involved. The fact that he is the only candidate may likewise contribute to his attitude.

Regardless however of the superficial popularity or unpopularity of the policy, its suspension would not in my opinion be productive of respect. Further, I believe that an endorsement in some public way by the Department of the policy of non-participation by American citizens in the domestic political affairs of foreign countries would be definitely helpful, and would strengthen the hand of this and perhaps other missions in this area in future dealings with the Governments to which they are accredited. (I am of course aware of and was deeply gratified by the support of the Department in this connection when the Dominican Chargé d’Affaires11 last autumn apparently sought to imply that the policy was merely my personal one, without official backing in Washington.)

3. Attitude of the Dominican Government toward the completion of the International Highway:

The position has been maintained throughout my service at this post that the agreement entered into shortly after my arrival last June for the completion of the highway at an agreed-upon cost to be defrayed by our Government, meant that the Dominican Government would forthwith allocate equipment and build the road. It has not to date done so; on the contrary the Dominican Government has constantly avoided fulfilling its commitments and has taken no effective steps to complete the remaining fifty miles to the Haitian border, although it is busy building and improving highways in other parts of the country. I concluded that it would be undignified (that is to say not in accord with our self-respect) for our Government further to urge the Dominican Government to spend our money to build their road, and that the Dominican Government should accordingly be informed that—should the road not be completed within a reasonable and specified period—the offer of funds would be withdrawn. [Page 979] The Department’s support of this position should serve to bring matters to a satisfactory conclusion: either the Dominican Government will within the stipulated period of eight months build the road, or the credit of $65,000 of our Government’s money will be released for use elsewhere.

4. Distribution by the Dominican Government of commodities important to the war effort and in restricted supply:

The Embassy submits that when our Government subtracts from the amount of a given commodity available for war use a proportion for civilian use in any foreign country, the responsibility of our Government does not end with the making of the allocation and the release of the order for shipment abroad. It is my belief that our Government has a proper and legitimate further interest, which extends to the honest distribution of that commodity in a foreign country, and that when evidence has been adduced that such distribution abroad involves a substantial degree of corruption, profiteering, or inefficiency, the problem should be brought to the attention of the foreign government concerned, and if not corrected should affect future allocations by the United States.

An effort to interest the Department in this principle with respect to the gross abuses involving the sale of Amierian [American] lard in the Dominican Republic last July was not successful. The matter is again being raised in connection with a far more important commodity, namely tires, and the Department’s decision in the premises will be eagerly awaited. (Aside from the principle involved, I may mention that our continuing to furnish tires for distribution under present conditions is building up resentment against—and lack of respect for—the United States on the part of the Dominican consuming public. This may well be converted into hostility against American tires and other export products, once the war is over.)

5. Payment of Dominican Lend-Lease account.12

The Dominican Government had been in arrears since July 1943 with respect to a $300,000 Lend-Lease account, and since July 1944 with respect to a $142,000, account, the total ($442,000) representing our bill to the Dominican Government for arms, munitions, et cetera, valued by our Government at approximately $790,000.

The Dominican Government showed no eagerness to pay this bill which was referred last November to the Embassy in Ciudad Trujillo, after unfruitful correspondence between the Department of State and the Dominican Embassy in Washington. Several discussions [Page 980] of the matter with the Dominican Foreign Minister were required in order to obtain payment, which was finally made by check transmitted to the Dominican Embassy in Washington by the Dominican Treasury Department on December 29 last.

It will be recalled in connection with the account that when I first mentioned it to the Dominican Foreign Minister, he sought to retire behind allegations of “more generous treatment of Haiti” by our Government. Although our financial transactions with Haiti patently have no connection whatever with Lend-Lease acquisitions by the Dominican Government, it required several subsequent conversations—coupled with courteous insistence upon recognition of the facts of the Dominican commitment—to induce the local government to meet its obligation.

6. President Trujillo’s effort to mediate difficulties between the Argentine Republic and the United States:

President Trujillo’s desire to play a prominent role in inter-American relations (presumably for the purpose of fortifying his international position) led him last August to propose to our Government the utilization of Trujillo’s good offices in endeavoring to improve Argentine-American relations. This proposal, which ignored both the fact that the problem results from Argentina’s failure to abide by its commitments and the further fact that this failure is a matter of concern to all twenty of the other American Republics,13 obviously lacked merit per se and the Embassy while agreeing to the Foreign Minister’s insistent request that it be transmitted to Washington, gave no indication that it would be received favorably there. The Dominican Government was nevertheless apparently irritated by our Government’s reply and the Foreign Minister shortly thereafter made a trip to Washington, where he implied that my failure to make an adequate presentation of the situation was responsible for its lukewarm reception by the Department. The Department’s explanation of its position in the matter, along precisely the lines already set forth by me on the Department’s behalf, resulted in the Dominican Government’s immediately abandoning the project. The Department’s attitude of support for what I had already said had the further effect of facilitating discussions with the Dominican Government in connection with subsequent Argentine and inter-American matters.

7. Efforts of the Dominican Government to refund the foreign debt:

For approximately a year the Dominican Government has been announcing in vague but confident terms its intention to retire the foreign debt—a perfectly legitimate aspiration which testifies to the strength [Page 981] of the Government’s financial position and the competent administration of Dominican Government funds by the Trujillo Government. However it may be recalled that upwards of 25 percent of the par value of the approximately $12,000,000 outstanding is held in the Dominican Republic, and a part of the proposal is to force the holders of this portion of the debt (including a number of American Companies operating here) to cancel their 5½-percent existing bonds, secured by the Hull-Trujillo Treaty,14 for a domestic Dominican issue, presumably at a substantially lower rate of interest. Moreover as the plan developed it likewise involved a proposal to have two large American sugar companies with headquarters in New York City act as guarantors of a refunding loan. The Department’s observations on the latter phase of the operation resulted in the cancellation of the plan in question. This produced some transitory irritation in Ciudad Trujillo, but has in my opinion increased the respect of the Dominican Government for the American Government. The former has recently approached the Embassy in a somewhat more realistic frame of mind, which it is hoped may favorably affect future loan negotiations.

Returning to my secret despatch no. 70 of July 5, 1944, 1 wish to call attention to the paragraph stating that “insistence upon honesty on the part of the Dominican Government in its dealings with us is absolutely essential to our relations and to our self-respect,” and expressing the view that regardless of whatever his personal feelings may be, President Trujillo cannot effectively oppose such a policy. It was pointed out that cordial official relations with the United States represent an important weapon in the arsenal whereby Trujillo maintains his dictatorship, since there would be few developments so comforting to his enemies both in the Dominican Republic and without, as the belief that the American Government does not view the present Dominican administration with favor.

Trujillo, as I declared in that despatch, is a Dominican problem, for solution by the Dominican people. But in our estimate of his government it cannot be ignored that Trujillo rules the Dominican Republic by fear, based on his demonstrated willingness—on the record—to employ sudden, ruthless and repressive measures against any individual who opposes him. He has established that record with [Page 982] abundant proof insofar as the citizens of this country are concerned, and the shadow of apprehension lies across the land. Dominicans gathered together speak with caution, and the sound of laughter is rarely heard on the streets of the capital. The most representative gesture of a Dominican citizen is looking over his shoulder to see whether he is being overheard. Freedom of the press and expression exist only in the memory of Dominicans antedating the “Era de Trujillo” (as public buildings constructed since 1930 are conspicuously labelled). Freedom from want is enjoyed by the President and his family and his friends, but by a very small percentage of the general population.

A dictator of the character of Trujillo—hard, competent, corrupt, ruthless and unbelievably vain—has no more use for appeasement in his international relations than in the personal relations between himself and the sycophants with whom he has surrounded himself in the Government. While as indicated in previous correspondence, Trujillo is probably not without patriotism, this is often expressed in terms of personal pride in his possessions—the Dominican Republic and all that therein is representing the possessions. An ounce of respect from such an individual is worth more than a cargo of superficially friendly expressions, as was well illustrated when on two separate occasions within the past six months I forestalled deliberate efforts to frame members of the Embassy staff in this capital.

In my despatch no. 70 last July, following four weeks of close study of the Dominican situation, I stated that

“The fact that Trujillo has declared himself to be ‘on our side’ in this war, and that he is collaborating with us in certain international matters, should not blind us to the realities of his domestic administration nor to the implications within the important area of our general international relations, of our doing business with Trujillo on any but our own carefully considered terms.”

I declared further that in my opinion those terms should be based on fair and honest dealings and on unwavering insistence upon reciprocal integrity in the dealings of the Dominican Government with us. Finally, I said that in that way we would also be of the greatest benefit to the people of the Dominican Republic.

I should like to point out that my despatch no. 70 of July 5, 1944 ended with the recommendation “that the policies outlined … constitute my terms of reference at this post.” In the absence of instructions to the contrary I have proceeded on the basis that the Department is in agreement with these views. Six months of additional service in the Dominican Republic have not served to modify the [Page 983] opinions expressed last July, and I respectfully recommend that they continue to constitute the Department’s policy in the Dominican Republic.

Respectfully yours,

Ellis O. Briggs
  1. ibid., p. 1015.
  2. Elie Lescot, President of Haiti.
  3. Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina, President of the Dominican Republic.
  4. M. A. Peña Battle.
  5. Joint Declaration by President Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, August 14, 1941, Foreign Relations, 1941, vol. i, p. 367.
  6. Not printed.
  7. Foreign Economic Administration.
  8. Not printed.
  9. Additional protocol relative to non-intervention, between the United States and the other American Republics, signed at Buenos Aires, December 23, 1936; for text, see Department of State Treaty Series No. 923, or 51 Stat. 41.
  10. J. R. Rodriguez, Minister Counselor at Washington.
  11. For policy on the settlement of Lend-Lease accounts in the American Republics, see pp. 231 ff.
  12. For documentation on the position of the United States, see pp. 366 ff.
  13. Convention between the United States and the Dominican Republic modifying the convention of December 27, 1924, respecting the collection and application of the customs revenues of the Dominican Republic, signed at Washington September 24, 1940. For text and accompanying exchanges of notes, see Department of State Treaty Series No. 965, or 55 Stat. (pt. 2) 1104.