Today in history: U.S. invasion of Dominican Republic teaches lessons today

Fifty years ago, on April 28, 1965, U.S. armed forces landed in the Dominican Republic. Within weeks, more than 20,000 U.S. troops were fighting in support of a military regime, against the forces of the constitutionally elected government. Despite popular support, the constitutionalist forces could not hold out against the power of the U.S. military.

The U.S. invasion was justified as protecting American lives. Within days, this was changed to preventing a Communist takeover. Similar excuses had been given 49 years earlier, when U.S. troops had occupied the Dominican Republic. In each case, the real reasons could be found in the profits of the Wall Street banks and the U.S. sugar and mining interests.

The history of U.S. intervention in the Dominican Republic, and the stakes involved in the 1965 invasion, can be found in this account, published shortly after the invasion while the fighting was still in progress.

The U.S. invasion of the Dominican Republic was soon overshadowed by the far larger and longer war in Vietnam. But its history is worth revisiting, and not just for the historical significance of a 50 year anniversary.

Today, domination by multinational corporations and Wall Street banks is more likely to be imposed by bankers with briefcases, rather than marines with weapons. Low-wage factories in “special economic zones” have joined sugar plantations and bauxite mines as a source of corporate profits. Free trade” agreements have become a primary tool in guaranteeing that governments throughout the world (including our own) enforce rules created in secret by corporate lawyers in their own interests. (Military action, however, is always held as an option).

The latest example is the administration’s move to impose sanctions on Venezuela, because that country poses an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.” So absurd was the claim, and so unanimous the objections of Latin America’s countries, that President Obama admitted there is no threat – but is keeping the sanctions in place. The excuse now is that Venezuelan officials are guilty of corruption and human rights violations.

It seems a contradiction, after the incidents of police murder and torture in the past year alone, for the government of the U.S. to “sanction” another country for human rights violations. It seems a contradiction to single out Venezuela when several U.S. allies, including Colombia and Honduras, have received police and military aid, not sanctions, despite the worst human rights records in the region.

But U.S. policy is not contradictory. It is consistent. Just as U.S. corporate interests were behind the invasion of the Dominican Republic 50 years ago, the collective interests of corporate America explain our country’s policies in Latin America. What is the real complaint against Venezuela? Emile Schepers explains:

In the case of Venezuela, the two socialist-led governments of Hugo Chavez (1999-2013) and Nicolas Maduro (2013 to present) have done much to improve the living standards of their people, greatly increasing the school achievement levels and drastically reducing poverty levels. Chavez built alliances with other Latin American and Caribbean states which have killed off the United States’ former pet project, the Free Trade Area of the Americas. Instead, through mechanisms such as UNASUR, MERCOSUR, ALBA AND CELAC, Venezuela and its allies have managed to sharply increase mutual cooperation and horizontal integration of their economies, as well as increasing trade with China and other countries outside the region. 

This is a potential problem for the imposition of the Transpacific Trade Partnership (TPP) which the U.S. administration and ruling class are pushing in Congress.

Craig Gauthier, an American soldier who participated in the 1965 invasion reflected, “It opened up so many questions for me that it made me feel we had to do something here about our situation as African Americans… It seems as though the Dominican people… were set up as a place… [with] low wages and benefits and use those people as leverage” against workers in the U.S. Indeed, some 41 years later, the factory where Gauthier had worked and been union president closed, a victim of “free trade” agreements and low wages in other countries.

Growing numbers of American workers, especially union members, are coming to realize the threat that trade agreements are against their interests. Countries like Venezuela are a major obstacle to agreements like the TPP, negotiated in secret by corporate lawyers. Just as the U.S. invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965 added one more weapon to the corporate offensive against the working class in the U.S., the present campaign against the Venezuelan government is also aimed at U.S. workers and their unions.

Anyone in the U.S. who stands in solidarity with working people around the world should oppose U.S. actions against Venezuela. Anyone in the U.S. who sees the danger of TTP and other trade agreements should oppose U.S. actions against Venezuela. That is the lesson repeated many times in our history, not least 50 years ago in the Dominican Republic.

Photo: 1965 protest against the U.S. invasion of the Dominican Republic.  |  Bronx Documentary Center


Art Perlo
Art Perlo

Art Perlo lived in New Haven, Conn., where he was active in labor and community struggles. He did research and writing on economic issues in Connecticut, including work with the Coalition to End Child Poverty in Connecticut which helped pave the way for the movement for progressive tax reform in the state. He wrote on national economic issues for the People's World and was a member of the CPUSA Economic Commission.