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Dr. Theresa L. Kraus
Military Studies Branch
U.S. Army Center of Military History

For the most part, historian's examining the relationship between the Dominican Republic and the United States have naturally concentrated on the 1965 intervention. The decision to intervene, however, was the culmination of a strained, and often hostile, relationship that deteriorated throughout the 195" and early 1960s. Decisions made by both President Eisenhower and Kennedy helped shape public and congressional opinion of the Dominican government and ultimately led to support for Lyndon Johnson's actions in 1965. Hence, Operation Power Pack, the 1965 U.S. intervention in the Dominican Republic, can be better understood in the overall context of U.S.-Dominican relations between 1959 and 1964.

Disenchanted with the Trujillo regime and convinced that the Dominican leader had become a political embarrassment to U.S. hemispheric policy, the successive administrations of Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy worked to liberalize the political structure of the Dominican Republic. Neither was prepared to coexist with a second Cuba, and both openly and actively worked to depose Trujillo and to impose a pro-American government. Responding more quickly and harshly to the crisis in the Dominican Republic than they had to the continuing crisis in Cuba, Eisenhower and Kennedy "engaged in the most massive intervention in the internal affairs of a Latin American state since the inauguration of Franklin D. Roosevelt's Good Neighbor Policy" in 1933. To achieve their ends, both used a wide variety of instruments of power and influence: the threat of overt military intervention, covert aid to Dominican dissidents, multilateral diplomacy and political pressure through the OAS, and unilateral economic sanctions.1

Throughout the twentieth century, the crucial objective of U.S. policy in the hemisphere had been to prevent the rise to power of any government or political movement that could threaten the security of the United States. In practice, the safest way to do this was to support the existing, generally conservative, governments in Latin American and to use U.S. influence to maintain the political status quo. The political character of Latin American regimes was irrelevant, if they maintained internal order and supported U.S. policies abroad.

Raphael Trujillo came to power in the Dominican Republic in 1930, and for nearly 30 years no one more fervently adhered to U.S. policies and desires. But, in the early 1950s his political support weakened as economic problems and increasing violence disrupted Dominican life. Trujillo faced a growing internal crisis as a number of clandestine opposition groups formed and the political situation became turbulent. Faced with internal and external criticism, the dictator became more ruthless as he tried to sustain power.2

By the late 1950s, U.S. opinion of the Trujillo regime also eroded as the dictator's grip on his country began to slip. The general Dominican environment, with its endemic instability, violence, and the complete absence of democratic and effective political institutions, was considered uncomfortably similar to that during the final days of Batista in Cuba. Serious concern developed first in the Eisenhower and then during the Kennedy administrations that Trujillo's sudden collapse would lead to chaos and the emergence of a second Castro.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower was determined to prevent the establishment of a Dominican government antagonistic towards the United States. In January 1960 he approved a State Department policy paper which outlined possible courses of action in the event of the flight, death, or overthrow of Trujillo. Realizing that "there may not be time quietly to encourage a moderate, pro-United States leadership among the civilian and military dissident elements," State Department planners concluded that the President would have to be willing to employ, if necessary, military and naval units. This naturally raised the question of whether the United States should try to forestall a pro-Castro takeover by actively seeking to bring about the early overthrow of Trujillo.3

After concluding that Trujillo must be unseated, the administration contemplated several plans of action. Secretary of State Christian Herter, anxious to avoid unilateral commitment of military forces, encouraged the President to work through the OAS. Eisenhower agreed with this cautious approach, saying "we must not seek to dominate the affair, but must move very carefully, inducing the OAS to take the lead."4 But if events moved too rapidly for the OAS to act, the President approved a contingency plan. If the situation deteriorated further "the United States would immediately take political action to remove Trujillo from the Dominican Republic as soon as a suitable successor regime can be induced to take over with the assurance of U.S. political, economic, and--if necessary--military support."5

While Eisenhower and his advisors debated what course of action to take, Trujillo forced the administration into a decision. In April he aided an unsuccessful attempt by right-wing Venezuelan military officers to overthrow the Romulo Betancourt government. Two months later, on 24 June, the dictator's agents tried to assassinate President Betancourt, detonating a bomb placed near his passing automobile. That same month Trujillo legalized the Communist Party and attempted to establish close political relations with the Iron Curtain countries.

Both the-assassination attempt and the maneuver toward the Iron Curtain6 provoked immediate condemnation throughout Latin America. once its representatives confirmed Trujillo's complicity in the assassination attempt, the OAS, for the first time in its history, decreed sanctions against a member state. On 20 August, at the Sixth Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Relations at San Jose, Costa Rica, the foreign ministers agreed, by a 19 to 0 vote, to break diplomatic relations with the Dominican Republic and to a limited suspension of economic relations.7 Trade in arms and all implements of war was immediately stopped.

The United States severed diplomatic relations on 26 August and in January 1961 suspended the export of trucks, parts, crude oil, gasoline and other petroleum products. Eisenhower also took advantage of OAS sanctions to cut drastically purchases of Dominican sugar, that country's major export. This action ultimately cost the Dominican Republic almost $22,000,000 in lost revenues at a time when its economy was in a rapid decline.

While working with the OAS, Eisenhower, as he had done with Castro, also turned to the CIA and to covert activity to assure that U.S. interests were protected. As early as February 1960 Eisenhower had considered a program of covert aid to Dominican dissidents. He subsequently gave approval to the CIA to furnish arms and munitions to Dominican dissidents--the CIA knew that dissidents wanted to obtain weapons for an assassination attempt on Trujillo.8 These groups made abundantly clear to their CIA contacts that the regime could not be toppled unless the dictator himself was eliminated.

When Eisenhower broke relations with the Dominican Republic and recalled the U.S. ambassador and most of the embassy personnel, Henry Dearborn remained as Consul General and de facto CIA Chief of Station. Dearborn worked closely with the dissidents and kept the administration appraised of the Dominican situation. As conditions in the country deteriorated he wrote Under Secretary of State Thomas Mann, "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," Dearborn continued, "you will remember it was necessary to drive a stake through his heart to prevent a continuation of his crimes."9

By November, as the United States elected its next president, John F. Kennedy, diplomatic and economic pressure had failed to stabilize the Dominican situation. The Eisenhower administration left office unable to resolve the Caribbean crisis.

Kennedy, like his predecessor, was generally less interested in Caribbean economic development than in achieving political stability in the region. And particularly after policy failures in Cuba and the Bay of Pigs fiasco, Kennedy wanted to establish a progressive democracy in the Dominican Republic that would serve as a stalwart supporter of U.S. foreign policy goals. The new president recognized that continuation of the Trujillo regime would increase the endemic instability throughout the Caribbean.

Kennedy's Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, agreed that the Dominican dictator had become a threat, but speculated that despite continued internal difficulties there was no solid evidence that Trujillo would soon be driven from office. As Rusk wrote Kennedy, "Trujillo rules by force and will presumably remain in power as long as the armed forces continue to support him."10 Unable to formulate quickly a coherent Dominican strategy and preoccupied with Cuba, Kennedy continued Eisenhower's reliance on overt OAS actions and covert CIA operations.

Dominican dissidents assassinated Raphael Trujillo on the evening of 30 May 1961. Atlantic Fleet units, already steaming toward Hispaniola, became Kennedy's primary coercive tool for protecting U.S. lives and interests in the Dominican Republic and for assuring that a new Castro did not emerge from the resultant chaos.11 One hour after Trujillo's death, Rear Admiral Robert L. Dennison, Commander in Chief Atlantic Fleet (CINCLANT), informed his naval commanders that the "situation in the Dominican Republic may require intervention in (the] near future on short notice. "12

The day after the Dominican leader's death, the Caribbean Ready Amphibious Squadron (TG 44.9), permanently stationed in the Caribbean since Castro seized power in 1959, was patrolling off Ciudad Trujillo and planning for a possible hostile landing on Dominican shores.13 Additional forces, previously alerted, were enroute to the Caribbean. Those forces included 2 additional amphibious squadrons with approximately 5,000 Marines embarked, 3 aircraft carriers--Intrepid (CVA 11), Shangri-La (CVA 38), and Randolph (CVA 15)--l submarine, and about 50 surface combatants and 280 aircraft.14 The U.S. government also made arrangements to have two destroyers visit the Haitian ports of Port au Prince and Cape Haitian. Admiral Dennison believed the presence of both ships would help stabilize the shaky Haitian government in light of the Dominican situation and would also provide key intelligence information to Washington regarding the political climate on Hispaniola.15

The JCS had the naval task force establish air and surface surveillance in the Windward Passage; air surveillance around the Dominican Republic; and ordered that the carrier Randolph arriving off Ciudad Trujillo should remain not less than 40 miles from the city, and all other surface units including the amphibious task group to remain 100 miles from the coast.16 The following day, on 2 June, the JCS ordered Dennison to reduce the ships' distance from shore to not less than 50 miles.17

Dennison, however, believed that the 50-mile distance would prohibit effective naval action if units were needed to protect U.S. interests ashore. As Dennison later recalled: "Our policies toward the Dominican Republic seem to me to have never been really firmed up or understood. . . . we have a tremendous stake in that area, but we were so hamstrung really as to what exactly to do about it." The admiral felt particularly hampered by the decision to keep naval units out of sight of land. "I hate to keep disagreeing with some of the things the State Department has done, or did, but this is typical. A show of force was supposed to include naval forces puls air power, but my ships were supposed to stay so far offshore that they couldn't even be seen. My idea of a show of force was to steam right along the coast where you could throw a baseball on the beach if you wanted to, and if we were going to do any air demonstrations to do them where everybody could see them....What good is a show of force if nobody except dolphins are going to look at it "18

On 9 June, when the immediate crisis seemed over, the JCS ordered Dennison to decrease the over-all readiness posture, but to retain a relatively small amphibious force in the area ready for immediate action. The rest of the force was to maintain a 72-hour reaction time."19 Dennison ordered I amphibious squadron with its embarked Marine battalion landing team, 1 destroyer division, and I mine division to remain in the Caribbean. The rest of Task Force 122 phased into exercise Axle Grease from 14-17 June to test Caribbean Contingency Plan 310-60.20

Once the immediate crisis was over, Kennedy postulated that there were only three possible future scenarios in the Dominican Republic. In descending ' order of U.S. preference, Kennedy's list included the formation of a democratic regime, a continuation of a Trujillo family dictatorship, or the creation of a Castro-type regime. As the President told his advisors, "We ought to aim at the first but we really can't renounce the second until we are sure of the third."21 In the aftermath of the assassination the Kennedy administration worked to stabilize the government of Joaquin Balaguer, with the ultimate objective of creating a democratic, anti-Communist government. Balaguer, at the time, was legally the chief executive, having served as puppet ruler for Trujillo. Raphael "Ramfis" Trujillo, Jr., however, controlled the armed forces and in reality ruled the country after his father's death.

While Kennedy and his advisors discussed how best to deal with the Dominican situation, the president maintained naval units offshore. The President also continued economic sanctions in hopes of pressuring the Dominican government to liberalize its policies and prepare the country for elections. Throughout this period, Kennedy maintained: "It should be made clear to Balaguer that we are not going to back him in any circumstances simply because there is a threat that the Dominican Republic may be Cubanized. Indeed, a failure on Balaguer's part to provide real reform is the best possible assurance that this threat will become a fact. If Balaguer proves intransigent, he and Ramfis should be provided with a vivid description of the difference between retiring on the Riviera and being drawn and quartered in the streets of Ciudad Trujillo."22

The ideal situation, according to Kennedy's State Department advisors, would be to strengthen President Balaguer and moderates within the government and to encourage and support an anti-Castro, middle-of-the-road opposition. Those elements, however, were weak and untested and faced those who hoped to continue the Trujillo era with as few changes as possible.23

Ramfis Trujillo was an unknown factor. Although he outwardly worked with President Balaguer to implement moderate political reforms, U.S. observers worried about his possible ulterior designs. Assistant Special Counsel Richard Goodwin recommended that for the time being the administration should "accept the fact of Ramfis remaining in power and bargain to create an acceptable democratic facade which will win the confidence--if reluctant confidence of the opposition--and create the conditions under which future democratic government may be possible." Goodwin concluded that the U.S. "should negotiate with Ramfis under the shadow of the U.S. Fleet."24

Within three months of the initial June naval deployment, the Dominican situation again worsened as riots and strikes threatened the new government. On 15 September the JCS warned the Navy to prepare for a second deployment.25 Although it proved unnecessary to send fleet units at that time, one month later, as tensions in the Dominican Republic again increased, Dennison moved the Caribbean Ready Amphibious Squadron to a position 50 miles south of Ciudad Trujillo.26

In November the second crisis came to a head when Hector and Arismendi "Petan" Trujillo, two of the late dictator's brothers, returned to the Dominican Republic on 16 November in an attempt to block the liberalization process and restore the family dictatorship. President Kennedy again decided to take whatever steps necessary to prevent the restoration of a Trujillo regime.27

In addition to the Caribbean Ready Amphibious Squadron already in the area, Kennedy ordered a naval task force consisting of the carrier Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVA 45), the helicopter carrier Valley Forge (CVA 45), and other amphibious ships with 1,800 Marines on board, the cruiser Little Rock (CLG 4), 12 destroyers, and a number landing craft off the Dominican coast. The naval force remained just outside the 3-mile limit but in plain sight of Santo Domingo (Ciudad Trujillo renamed after Trujillo's death). Beginning at first light on 19 November, Little Rock, Hyman (DD 732), Bristol (DD 453), and Beatty (DD 756) steamed back and forth in front of the capital city in a show of force operation codenamed Seagull.

During the 19th, the U.S. task force observed attacks by Dominican Air Force-planes against ground targets. Shortly after twelve o'clock the American consul general requested that Amphibious Squadron 8, then out of sight of land, feint toward the beach. As the ships neared the city, Hill cancelled his request and the squadron returned to its former station. On the same day, jet fighters from VMA 224 at Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico, streaked along the Dominican coastline in a display of force designed to intimidate the Trujillos. That afternoon operation Seagull was extended west to the city of Barahona. Three days later, as fighting continued, an additional patrol was established to the north of Santo Domingo off the city of Puerto Plata.28

On the evening of the 19th, with continued jet overflights and as Spanish broadcasts from the offshore ships warned the Dominicans that the Marines were prepared to come ashore, Ramfis and his uncles decided to flee the country the following morning. Over the next several months, the Kennedy administration continued to pressure the Dominican government for further democratization. Kennedy backed diplomatic efforts with economic sanctions and the presence of the Caribbean Amphibious squadron in the region. Under the watchful eye of the U.S. Navy, the various factions within the country agreed to create a council of state to provide interim rule. On 19 December, Balaguer stepped aside in favor of a seventeen-man Council of state, which was dominated by the conservative, but anti-Trujillo, Union Civica Nacional (UCN). This council would serve as a transitional body, ruling only until the election, scheduled for December 1962, was held. Operation Seagull ended on 19 December, and shortly thereafter, OAS sanctions were lifted and the United States resumed diplomatic relations.

During 1962 the political situation in the Dominican Republic remained chaotic. There were several changes among those who controlled the government, as well as continued rebellions by both rightist and leftist elements. U.S. warships kept an almost constant vigilance over the Dominican Republic throughout the year.

On 20 December 1962 the Dominican electorate selected Dr. Juan Bosch as its new president. Even before his inauguration, the Kennedy administration granted Bosch's new government a 3.5-million dollar loan. Despite its show of faith in the new government, Kennedy and his advisors remained unconvinced that Bosch could create long-term stability in the country or that he could prevent a Communist takeover. As CIA analysts observed: "The Communist danger in the Dominican Republic is ot immediate, but potential. It is none the less serious. Given present freedom to organize and agitate, the Communists will become better prepared to exploit some future opportunity. If, through administrative ineptitude, Bosch should fail to satisfy the expectations of the Dominican masse, or if he should be overthrown by a reactionary coup, the Communists will be in position to seize the leadership of the popular revolutionary movement.29

Despite solid attempts at liberalization and democratization, Bosch's administration failed to create a solid, stable, political structure. Perhaps Bosch's first major error occurred when he angered and hence lost the support of the Dominican armed forces. He advocated a controversial constitutional amendment declaring the military to be an apolitical institution and permitting the use of the armed forces to foster social and economic development. In addition, his tolerance of the Communist Party angered the more conservative officers, especially Colonel Elias Wessin y Wessin, the rightwing leader of the Dominican loyalists and the commander of the Armed Forces Training Center located at San Isidro Airfield.

On 25 September 1963 Wessin y Wessin and the other military leaders, angered by Bosch's refusal to outlaw the Communist Party, stormed the presidential palace and arrested Bosch. The military leaders dissolved the national assembly and abrogated the 1963 Constitution. A civilian council sanctioned by the military took over the government pending the 1965 elections.

The Kennedy administration, never fully persuaded that the Bosch government could succeed, did little to either stop the military coup or aid it. As one State Department observer commented: "In his seven-months tenure, Bosch has failed to capitalize on his landslide election victory and to consolidate his position. His cabinet was weak, ineffective, and even in part unsavory. Bosch, attempting to govern alone, moved from crisis to crisis without facing up to the country's major problems. Additionally, he persistently refused to adopt a firm policy against Communism and Castro, despite repeated warnings from the military and recent well-attended anti-Communist demonstrations.30

During this crisis, the United States again suspended diplomatic relations and cut off economic aid. The Caribbean Ready Amphibious Squadron was alerted for response; the alert was cancelled on 14 December.

The civilian "Triumvirate" which came to power after Bosch's overthrow was threatened from the outset by opponents from the right and left. Donald Reid Cabral headed the Triumvirate in the last year of its existence. Cabral embarked upon an economic stabilization program and took the first steps toward reform of the military establishment. He proved unable, however, to attract significant popular support and his government's position remained precarious.

Until Bosch's overthrow, U.S. short-term policies in the Dominican Republic had proven successful. As a direct result of its combined military threats and economic leverage the United States was able to induce all major Dominican actors to conform to its wishes. These policies, however, proved disastrous in the long ran.

Two months after the coup and before a new U.S. Dominican policy had been established, President Kennedy was assassinated. It was left to Lyndon Johnson to determine how to stabilize the situation. Within two years, President Johnson landed the Marines on Dominican shores.


1. Jerome Slater, Intervention and Negotiation: The United States and the Dominican Revolution (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1970), p. 7.

2. Furthermore, the 1956 kidnapping and murder of Dr. Jesus de Galindez, an outspoken critic of Trujillo, outraged Americans -and marked the beginning of the end of Trujillo's tacit alliance with the United States. The Columbia University professor was seized on the streets of New York and was executed in the Dominican Republic.- Charles Murphy, an American pilot who claimed he had participated in the kidnapping and had flown de Galindez to the Dominican Republic, subsequently disappeared mysteriously from his Ciudad Trujillo apartment.

3. Memo, Herter to DDE, "Possible Action to Prevent Castroist Takeover of Dominican Republic," 14 Apr 1960, Herter, Christian April 1960 (1), box 10, Dulles-Herter Series, Ann Whitman Files, DDE Library.

4. Memcon, Herter, Clark, Goodpaster, DDE, 26 Apr 1960, Staff Notes April 1960 (1), box 49, DDE Diary Series, Ann Whitman Files, DDE Library.

5. U.S. Congress, Select Committee to Study Governmental operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders, An Interim Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, Together with Additional, Supplemental, and-Separate Views (hereafter cited as Alleged Assassination Plots), 94th Cong., Ist sess., Rept. No. 94-465, p. 192.

6. Traditionally Caribbean countries, when they were politicking for additional U.S. aid, threatened to align with the Iron Curtain. As with the Dominican Republic, the United States government rarely took such threats seriously.

7. By 9 September 1960 all OAS nations except Paraguay had broken relations with Dominican Republic--7 had broken before OAS sanctions, 13 after.

8. Alleged Assassination Plots, pp. 192-194.

9. Ibid, p. 195.

10. Memo, Rusk to JFK, 15 Feb 1961, DOMREP General 1/61-6/61, box 66-67, NSF Countries series, JFK Library.

11. After Trujillo's assassination, the OAS, under U.S. leadership, established a presence in DOMREP in the form of a four-nation committee which included the United States, and for the next 18 months the United States was able to use this opening as well as the prospect of the resumption of normal diplomatic and economic relations to exert great influence on internal Dominican affairs. During. his reign, Trujillo occasionally relinquished the office of the presidency to a puppet, but he never once permitted anyone other than himself to control the armed forces. Trujillo recognized that the armed forces constituted his major source of power, but also realized they represented the greatest threat to his rule.

12. Msg, CINCLANT to COMJTF 122/CG CONARC/ COMTAC/CINCLANTFLT 31354Z May 1961, Flagplot Briefers, DOMREP Ops #1, Operational Archives, Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C. (hereafter cited as OA).

13. Msg, CTG 44.9 to COMCARIBSEAFRON 010515Z Jun 1961, Flagplot Briefers, DOMREP Ops #I(C), OA.

14. Msg, CINCLANT to JCS 03173OZ Jun 1961, Blue Flag Files microfilm,143(S), OA.

15. Msgs, CNO to CINCIANTFLT/COMSECONDFLT/COMCARIBSEAFRON 031955Z Jun 1961, Blue Flag Files microfilm 141(C); COMNAVB GTMO to AMEB PORT AU PRINCE 021116Z; CINCLANTFLT to COMCARIBSEAFRON 02180OZ; CNO to CINCLANTFLT 041627Z; and Tel, DEPTSTATE to AMEM PORT AU PRINCE, I Jun 1961(C), Flagplot Briefers, DOMREP Ops #1, OA.


17. JCS to CINCLANT 020043Z Jun 1961, Blue Flag Files microfilm 143(C), OA.

18. "Reminiscences of Admiral Robert Lee Dennison," U.S. Naval Institute, 1975, p. 457, OA.

19. Msg, JCS to CINCLANT 092314Z Jun 1961, Flagplot Briefers, DOMREP Ops #I(C), OA.

20. Msg, CINCLANT to JCS 101753Z Jun 1961, Flagplot Briefers, DOMREP Ops JI(S). In addition to the elements of Second Fleet which included amphibious and mine warfare ships and Marine ground and air components, Headquarters Command elements of the Air Force Tactical Air Command and the Strategic Army Command participated in this exercise, OA.

21. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1965), p. 769.

22. Memo, "The Dominican Republic,n 12 Jul 1961, DONREP General 1961, Box 115A, President's Office Files, Countries, JFK Library.

23. "Courses of Action in the Dominican Republic," 17 Jul 1961, DOMREP General 7/61-8/61, Box 66-67, NSF Countries Series, JFX Library.

24. Memo, Goodwin to JFK, 3 Oct 1961, D0MREP subjects: Murphy Trip 8/61-5/63, Box 66-67, NSF Countries Series, JFK Library.

25. Msg, JCS to CIMCLAMT 152339Z Sep 1961, Blue Flag Files, microfilm 147, OA.

26. Msg, CINCLANT to JCS 201712Z Oct 1961, Flagplot Briefers DONREP #9, OA.

27. Msgs, ANCONSUL CIUDAD TRUJILLO to OSD, 15 Nov 1961(S) and CINCLANT to CJTF 122 180016Z Nov 1961(C), Flagplot Briefers, DOMREP Ops #9, OA.

28. Second Fleet, "Report of Operations During Dominican Crisis Caused by Unwelcome Return of the Lately Assassinated Dictator Trujillo's Brothers," ser 009, 26 Feb 1962, Post World War II Reports File(C), OA.

29. CIA Memo (Coordination Draft), "President Bosch and Internal Security in the Dominican Republic," 7 Jun 1963, DONREP Subjects: Juan Bosch 6/10/63 Tabs 1-4, Box 66-67, NSF Countries Series, JFK Library.

30. Memo, Hughes to Acting SECSTATE, "Bosch Overthrown in Dominican Republic," 25 Sep 1963, Domrep Cables 9/25/63, Box 6667, NSF Countries Series, JFK Library.

24 February 2003