Global Politics

Dominican Dictatorship Remembered

The theme of justice figures in the Geo Quiz this time: we're looking for a city in the Caribbean once nicknamed "Ciudad Trujillo" or Trujillo's City. The name dates back to the 1930s when this city in the Dominican Republic was ruled by the dictator Rafael Trujillo. The city has since reverted to its older name. In 1496 Bartholomew Columbus gave the city a new name. By the way, he was the brother of Christopher Columbus. And he founded this city to serve as the first seat of Spanish colonial rule in the New World.

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But let's get back to the 20th century. Dominicans haven't forgotten Trujillo's iron-fisted rule — nor his many victims. There's now a museum opening dedicated to their memory. The timing is no coincidence: Trujillo was assassinated 50 years ago this weekend. He was gunned down by a group of men disgusted by the barbarity of his 30-year-rule. The new museum's located in the heart of the Dominican capital we want you to name.

The answer is Santo Domingo. Some Dominicans are actually nostalgic for the days of Trujillo. Reporter Tim Mansel looks at competing memories.

Luisa de Pe̱a shows me around the Museum of Resistance in the days before the opening. The museum, which opens in Santo Domingo on May 30th, includes photographs, documents and instruments of torture. The museum commemorates people who challenged 20th century Dominican dictators Рin particular, Rafael Trujillo.

Trujillo was one of the worst with his policy of extermination," De Peña said. "Trujillo was a very dark figure."

De Peña said in one two-week period in 1937, Trujillo ordered the massacre of 17,000 Haitians. He also eliminated political opponents.

"He would not only kill the person who opposed his regime. He killed the whole family," she said.

Fifty years ago this week, Trujillo was shot dead after a dramatic car chase along a stretch of highway leading out of the capital. There's a large monument that marks the spot where the gun battle took place. It ended with Trujillo's body sprawled across the highway.

One of the men who carried out the CIA-assisted plot was Antonio Imbert, who was driving the car that day. Imbert is 90 now. He remembers pulling in front of Trujillo's chauffeur-driven Chevrolet.

"Then we started shooting. And he came then in front of my car, so I shot him again," Imbert said and added that he doesn't regret what he did. "The only way to get rid of him was kill him."

Imbert was the only one of Trujillo's killers to escape reprisal. He hid in a friend's house and emerged six months later a national hero.
Ajusticiamiento

The way Trujillo died is not controversial in the Dominican Republic, said Bernardo Vega, a historian and former ambassador to Washington. Dominicans even have a term for it – "ajusticiamiento" – a word that contains the Spanish word for justice.

"We Dominicans react very negatively when the people who killed Trujillo are called assassins," Vega said, "because in Spanish, assassin is a very negative term. So 'ajusticiamiento' is a way to give it a positive twist. These are heroes who did this killing, and it was a good thing to do."

Not everyone sees it that way. Some Dominicans feel nostalgia for the Trujillo era and for Trujillo himself. Jose Miguel Ventura said the country is plagued by crime and drugs, and it needs a strongman again, someone who will bring law and order.

"Trujillo was a good dictator," he said, adding that the country doesn't have crime like it does now.

Jose Miguel lives in San Cristobal, Trujillo's hometown, where he runs a museum out of his tiny home. It's really a shrine to the dictator. Jose Miguel concedes that Trujillo killed a lot of people, but he said that was the way things were in those times.

The organizers of the new Resistance museum want to make sure that that those times don't return.

"Our slogan, like in other memorial museums, is never again," Luisa de Peña said.