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The Big Read- Before We Were Free  

This guide will give students insight to the historical relationship to the author and her life during communistic rule of the Dominican Republic
Last Updated: Oct 22, 2014 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates
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The Big Read at Brookdale CC

Keynote Speaker - Julia Alvarez

Author Julia Alvarez will speak to middle school students about the themes of her books "Before We Were Free" & "In the Time of the Butterflies".

Event Location: Brookdale Community College SLC Navesink Rooms, 765 Newman Springs Road, Lincroft, NJ 07738

Date: Tue, Nov 25, 2014
Time: 10:00am – 11:30am


Before we were Free- By Julia Alvarez

Cover Art
Before We Were Free - Julia Alvarez
Call Number: FIC ALV
ISBN: 9780440237846
Publication Date: 2004-04-13
Anita de la Torre never questioned her freedom living in the Dominican Republic. But by her 12th birthday in 1960, most of her relatives have emigrated to the United States, her Tío Toni has disappeared without a trace, and the government’s secret police terrorize her remaining family because of their suspected opposition of el Trujillo’s dictatorship.

Using the strength and courage of her family, Anita must overcome her fears and fly to freedom, leaving all that she once knew behind.


Historical Reference: Communism & the Dominican Republic

The Trujillo Dictatorship

In 1930, Rafael Trujillo,  overthrew the government and established an authoritarian dictatorship that lasted for more than three decades. Ruthlessly suppressing all opposition to his regime, he was faced with governing a poverty-stricken nation with an empty treasury, a huge foreign debt, and a capital city destroyed by a hurricane. Within two decades, Trujillo paid off the nation's foreign debts, developed a national infrastructure, and laid the groundwork for economic development by promoting industrialization. Sugar exports accounted for the majority of government revenue. In the process, he accumulated a personal fortune of almost $1 billion. The cost of fiscal solvency during the era of Trujillo was the loss of personal freedom for the Dominican people: Trujillo's seven intelligence agencies enabled the dictator to establish one of Latin America's most brutal authoritarian dictatorships. One of Trujillo's most notorious acts was the massacre of 12,000 Haitians in the northern border region in 1937. To deflect criticism of his regime, Trujillo offered sanctuary to 100,000 Jewish refugees from Europe.

By the end of the 1950s, Trujillo had lost the support of the nation's elites, the Catholic Church, and the U.S. government. In 1956, Trujillo authorized the kidnapping of Jesús Galíndez in New York City. An outspoken critic of the Trujillo regime, Galíndez had just completed his doctoral defense at Columbia University. The doomed Galíndez was flown back to the Dominican Republic on a small plane piloted by American Gerald Lester Murphy. After Murphy became vocal about his participation in the abduction of Galíndez, Trujillo's henchmen concocted an elaborate scheme to kill him and cover up his death. Trujillo's failed attempt to assassinate Venezuelan president Rómulo Ernesto Betancourt Bello in 1960 further convinced the United States that continued support of the Trujillo dictatorship could damage U.S. hegemony in the Caribbean. The murder of three elite sisters—Minerva, Patria, and Maria Teresa Mirabal—on November 25, 1960, convinced elite sectors of the Dominican population to increase anti-Trujillo activities. On the evening of May 30, 1961, Trujillo was assassinated by a group of conspirators made up of both former accomplices and victims of the dictatorship. The conspirators, armed with weapons provided by the United States, assassinated Trujillo as he was preparing to visit one of his numerous mistresses. Attempts by Trujillo's son Ramfis Trujillo to continue the dictatorship were futile, and the entire Trujillo family had fled the island by the end of 1961.

The Balaguer Years

In December 1962, the Dominican people began their first experiment in democratic government. In U.S.-supervised elections, Juan Bosch, who had lived in exile for most of the Trujillo dictatorship, was elected president with 60 percent of the vote. Initially hailed by John F. Kennedy's administration as a potential showcase for democracy, the Bosch administration soon lost the support of the Dominican military and the United States. Even U.S. ambassador John Bartlow Martin, who initially believed that the democratic experiment could work, became disillusioned with Bosch. U.S. officials were disturbed by Bosch's rhetoric, which they interpreted as being soft on communism. When Bosch attempted to limit the power of the Dominican military, General Elías Wessin y Wessin (b. 1923–d. 2009) orchestrated a military coup that removed Bosch from office on September 25, 1963. Bosch left the country, and the United States severed diplomatic relations and suspended all economic and military assistance.

In December 1963, President Lyndon B. Johnson recognized the governing junta led by Donald Reid Cabral (b. 1923–d. 2006) and appointed W. Tapley Bennett Jr. to serve as U.S. ambassador. Reid Cabral's government, which implemented austerity measures, received extensive support from the U.S. government. In April 1965, a group of pro-Bosch military officers known as Constitutionalists and led by Francisco Caamaño Deñó (b. 1932–d. 1973) staged a revolt to return the exiled Bosch to power. Loyalists within the army, who were supported by the nation's elites, instead rallied around General Antonio Imbert (b. 1920– ), one of Trujillo's assassins. Civilians stole weapons from the National Police and began to kill police officers. The counterrevolution, launched on April 24, 1965, which took Ambassador Bennett by surprise, resulted in a civil war.

On April 28, the United States sent 400 marines to restore order. Johnson, under the initial pretense of humanitarian concerns (the protection of U.S. citizens), eventually sent 23,000 U.S. troops, led by General Bruce Palmer, to restore order and stability. Although the Organization of American States quickly sanctioned the intervention, code-named Operation Power Pack, this was the first overt use of U.S. military forces in Latin America since marines were withdrawn from Haiti in 1934. Johnson rationalized his decision to intervene as an attempt to prevent the spread of communism in the Western Hemisphere. His decision, however, was also based on domestic political concerns as well as manipulation by the Dominican elite of U.S. government officials. On August 31, 1966, the United States implemented the Act of Dominican Reconciliation with prominent Constitutionalists and Loyalists. Héctor García Godoy (b. 1921–d. 1970), who had been Bosch's foreign minister and was acceptable to both sides in the conflict, was chosen as president of a provisional government until elections could be held. Both Wessin y Wessin and Caamaño Deñó were sent into exile.

Source:"Dominican Republic, 1900 to present." In Thomas M. Leonard, ed. Encyclopedia of Latin America: The Age of Globalization, vol. 4. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2010. Modern World History Online. Facts On File, Inc.

ItemID=WE53&iPin=ELAIV0123&SingleRecord=True (accessed October 22, 2014). 


Map of Dominican Republic

Dominican Republic                       Map Legend


Rafael Trujillo


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