Thursday, June 3, 2021

Invading the Dominican Republic

Commander K "Invades"
the Dominican Republic

What is it that Christopher Columbus, President Johnson (LBJ), the US Marine Corps and actress Kim Novak all had in common?  They all have a strong connection to the Dominican Republic.

Columbus, LBJ and the US Marines all invaded The Dominican Republic.  And as for Kim Novak's surprising connection to the Caribbean island -- read on...

In Italy Invades: How Italians Conquered the World we pointed out how Columbus and the Italians left their mark on the Dominican Republic...

"The Dominican Republic gained its independence from Haiti in 1844, but Italians made their mark on the territory much earlier than that.

Palace of Diego Columbus
Santo Domingo, DR

One need not look far to find signs of Italian “invasions” in the Dominican Republic. A visitor to La Isabella will find the Casa Almirante, or Admiral’s House. This was the first American home of the famous Genoese explorer Christopher Columbus. The palace of Diego Columbus, the oldest son of Columbus, is in the capital of the Dominican Republic, Santo Domingo. Most impressively, the Columbus lighthouse, built in the shape of a cross and completed in 1992, casts incandescent beams from its 102-foot-high perch in Santo Domingo.

Christopher x 2!
Columbus & Kelly
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

Christopher Columbus has become a highly controversial figure in world history. His detractors have denounced him as racist, greedy for gold, a religious fanatic, and too comfortable with slavery. His defenders have pointed to his undoubted courage, his extraordinary seamanship, and his stubborn determination. They have also noted the impossibility of imposing twenty-first-century values onto the  fifteenth century and the unfairness of blaming Columbus for all the evils of subsequent European colonialism.

Christopher Columbus & Queen Isabella
Sacramento, CA

What is indisputable about Columbus is that he changed the world forever. To biologists, he is known as the father of the Columbian Exchange, which may arguably rank as the most consequential Italian invasion in history. As a result of the Columbian Exchange, Europeans received tomatoes, potatoes, cocoa, tobacco, and boatloads of silver from the New World. Spaghetti Bolognese did not exist before Columbus. There was no Swiss chocolate before the introduction of cocoa to Europe. The Spanish, in fact, kept the existence of chocolate a secret for a century after Columbus.

Columbus Plaque / Santo Domingo

Those living in what became known as the Americas received horses, pigs, the lowly earthworm, and Christian missionaries. Lacking immunities, they also received new diseases, such as the smallpox that eventually ravaged the indigenous population of two continents. It has been estimated that, thirty years after the first arrival of Columbus, over 90 percent of the native population of the island of Hispaniola was killed by enslavement and disease.

Not all exchanges are fair.

Some scientists have gone so far as to claim that Columbus, in a sense, reversed continental drift and restored Pangaea to the world. It seems inarguable to say that, for better or worse, the Genoese sea captain transformed our world, making it a smaller, more connected planet.

Rafael Trujillo
1891 - 1961

Rafael Trujillo, who ruled the Dominican Republic for thirty years, from 1930 until his assassination in 1961, was an admirer of Mussolini and received his first foreign decoration from Il Duce. The British foreign minister to the Dominican Republic went so far as to suggest that Trujillo “viewed himself as a prospective Dominican Mussolini.”

In spite of this, the two dictators clashed over tobacco interests in the 1930s, and Mussolini even threatened to dispatch elements of the Italian Navy to the Dominican Republic in 1935 over the Barletta incident.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Trujillo’s Dominican Republic joined the Allied side. Italian submarines prowled menacingly in the Caribbean waters surrounding the Dominican Republic until the Italian capitulation of 1943.

Dulcita Lieggi
Miss Dominican Republic 2012

The Italian diaspora has had a significant impact on the Dominican Republic. For example, Francisco Gregorio Billini, who was of Italian heritage, served briefly as the twenty-third president of the Dominican Republic in the 1880s. Much more recently, Miss Dominican Republic 2012 was the lovely Dulcita Lieggi, also of Italian stock."

In America Invades ( we discussed American invasions and their influence on this sun-washed Caribbean island...

"The Dominican Republic lies on the eastern side of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, with Haiti on the western portion. It has long had strong and close ties with the United States, and today more than a million people of Dominican origin live in the United States. The Dominican Republic is famous for (among many other things) beaches, a temperate climate, and amazing baseball players—today there are more Major League Baseball players from the Dominican Republic than from any other nation except the United States.

The Dominican Republic has also at times had a tumultuous political history. We have taken an interest in the Dominican Republic pretty much from the beginning of our history, and we have sent in the Marines a few times. Well, quite a lot of times, actually.

Monument to the Heroes of the Restoration
Santiago De Los Caballeros, DR

The Dominican Republic was first colonized by the Spanish and then the French. And some of our first military engagements in the area were against them. During the Undeclared War against the French, for instance, in 1800, marines from the USS Constitution under Captain Daniel Carmick captured the French ship Sandwich before spiking guns at Puerto Plata.

African slaves were imported to work the sugar-cane plantations. Toussaint L’Ouverture’s Revolution in the first decade of the nineteenth century meant that Haiti ruled the Dominican Republic until it gained its independence in 1844.

During the US Civil War, the Dominican Republic reverted to Spanish rule. Our distraction with fighting the Civil War made it difficult to enforce the Monroe Doctrine.

Teddy Roosevelt’s corollary to the Monroe Doctrine held that “the US had the responsibility to protect foreign lives and pay foreign debts” while keeping European powers from encroaching on the Western hemisphere. President Woodrow Wilson would cite Roosevelt’s corollary to justify his intervention in the Dominican Republic.

USMC Plaque
Katy Trail, MO

In April 1903, marines from the USS Atlanta landed to guard US diplomats in Santo Domingo City during conflict there.

Things got even busier in 1904 as the USS Detroit was dispatched to try to bring peace between the different factions in the country and protect US interests. In January, the USS Detroit landed marines at Puerto Plata. A few days later, the ship landed marines at Sosua. After a few more days, the USS Detroit and this time the USS Hartford were landing more US marines and sailors in the country. In February, it was the turn of USS Newark and Columbia to land marines and sailors, this time at Santo Domingo. The Clyde Line steamer New York had been  red upon by revolutionaries, and the revolutionaries also had opened  re on our landing party. With the assistance of naval gun re, our men drove the revolutionaries out of the city.

Things were a little more peaceful in 1905–1906. We kept a floating battalion in Dominican waters on board the USS Yankee, but in the end, they were withdrawn. Something similar happened with the USS Prairie in 1912.

In 1914, US ships intervened with gunfire to prevent the bombardment of Puerto Plata.

And in 1916, our forces went in again. President Wilson intervened on behalf of Jimenez, who was the  fifth Dominican president since 1911. Jimenez was engaged in a civil war with the anti-American defense minister Arias.

Admiral Caperton of the USN landed a party of six hundred bluejackets and marines at Santo Domingo on May 12, 1916, and on May 13, he delivered an ultimatum to Arias to get himself and his forces out of the city.

US occupation of the country followed with assorted operations. For instance, the USN gunboat Sacramento landed 130 marines at Puerto Plata on June 1, 1916. That day, H. J. Hirshinger became the  first US marine to be killed in the Dominican Republic. Colonel “Uncle Joe” Pendleton led an assault that captured Santiago. He declared, “We are not in an enemy’s country though many of the inhabitants may be inimical to us.”

USMC Museum
Triangle, VA

The US Marines would occupy the country from 1916 to 1924. They brought a kind of peace to the country and helped bring baseball to the Dominican Republic.

During World War II, the Dominican Republic joined the Allied side, and accordingly, we sent lend-lease military aid, including aircraft to the Dominican Republic. To some extent, military links continued after World War II. For instance, in 1947, the USN helped the Trujillo government intercept craft carrying rebels who were supported by Cuba. And throughout the 1950s, the United States sent military aid to the Dominican Republic, along with a variety of training missions.

Gradually, however, the United States began to distance itself from the repressive Trujillo regime. Military assistance was cut off in 1960, and in 1961, Trujillo was assassinated. And following the re-emergence of two of Trujillo’s brothers in the Dominican Republic, the USN put on a show of force to demonstrate US disapproval.

LBJ Invaded the Dominican Republic

A few years later, we sent in the troops again. After another civil war broke out, LBJ intervened in the Dominican Republic in 1965. The US Marines and two brigades of the 82nd Airborne were deployed alongside the forces of other OAS nations. At least nine US soldiers were killed, mainly by snipers in Santo Domingo."  (Source:

But what about Kim Novak?  What is her connection to the Dominican Republic?  In Hitchcock's 1958 Vertigo her cool blonde beauty reduced Jimmy Stewart to a Pygmalion puddle of nerves.  In 2016 Sight & Sound named Vertigo the greatest motion picture of all time.

Kim Novak: Could have "Invaded" the DR?!

Kim Novak briefly dated Ramfis Trujillo, the son of the Dominican dictator.  Ramfis Trujillo (1929 - 1969) was a playboy who later died in a high speed accident while driving a sports car in Spain.  He led a flamboyant life and also seems to have personally executed some of his father's assassins.  But Novak could, theoretically, have become the first lady of the Dominican Republic...!  Kim Novak is now 88 years old and lives quietly in California.

Santo Domingo

Travel Notes: Even during the Global COVID-19 Pandemic the Dominican Republic has remained open to tourists from the USA and many other countries.  Many go to Punta Cana on the eastern coast of the DR for sun and sand.

La Aurora Cigar Factory
Santiago De Los Caballeros

The DR has been an agricultural nation for many years growing sugar, fruit and, of course, tobacco.  Rum is the national spirit and the mojitos are delicious!  There are many cigar factories on the island.  I recently had the opportunity to visit the Aurora Cigar Factory in Santiago De Los Caballeros.  Here is their website...

Check this out for information on the Factory Tour at La Aurora...

A fine hotel from which to explore the fascinating ancient historical section of Santo Domingo is Casas Del XVI...

Commander Kelly says, "Visit the Dominican Republic, watch Vertigo and drink a mojito!"  

You can find signed copies of our books at these web sites...



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