By Ronald Alum in The Miami Herald:
50 years after Trujillo's death, Dominican Republic thrives as Cuba
For 31 years, Rafael Trujillo — Latin America's bloodiest dictator — tormented the Dominican Republic until 1961. As the U.S. commemorates Memorial Day on May 30, Dominicans mark his assassination 50 years ago. This milestone offers an opportunity to reflect on historical developments there compared to neighboring Cuba.
The DR achieved independence earlier than Cuba, yet by the 1950s Cuba's standard of living was superior. Both countries emerged from militaristic dictatorships about the same time, 1961 with Trujillo's end, and 1959 for Cuba, after Fulgencio Batista's flight out. Prior to Fidel and Raúl Castro's totalitarianism, Trujillo's despotism had no precedence in the Americas.
Cuba's remarkable record was accomplished despite Batista's dictatorship (1952-58) and the widespread corruption of the preceding republican epoch (1902-52). Conversely, conditions were miserable in Trujillo's DR. The brief 1965 civil war ended with the joint OAS-U.S. military intervention which paved the way for stability and relative prosperity. While the DR moved toward an open society, Cuba went in the opposite direction with the Castro brothers' tropical version of the Soviet mold.
Five decades after Trujillo, the DR is one of the region's least militarized societies, with an enviable freedom of expression, religion and movement. There are no political exiles, prisoners or firing squads. Opposition — reflecting all ideologies — is tolerated, and the private business sector and the labor movement thrive. All this sharply contrasts with Cuba, a stagnant, closed society.
The 1966 Dominican constitution established a tripartite government with an executive, a congress and an independent judiciary. Since 1966, the DR has elected five presidents from three alternating political parties (two presidents won re-election repeatedly). But Cuba is still ruled by the same 1959 clique whose average age is now 80.
Dictatorships usually foster foreign apologists who extol alleged achievements. Trujillo even received an honorary doctorate from a U.S. university five years after his 1937 massacre of thousands of Haitian immigrants. Likewise, the Castro duo is continually praised in intellectual circles for supposed attainments, such as in healthcare, notwithstanding contradicting evidence.
As ethnologist Katherine Hirschfeld documents in Health, Politics and Revolution in Cuba since 1898, Cuba's statistics are largely fabricated, medical care for the masses is substandard and, in any case, it depends on generous care-packages from Cubans abroad. (These are the same overseas Cubans relentlessly maligned by Havana's hate-mongering propaganda.)
Unquestionably, Fidel Castro enjoyed enormous initial popular support; but it soon vanished as he hijacked the liberal-inspired revolution, eliminated pro-democratic dissidents, and turned Cuba into a nightmarish Orwellian dystopia.
There are revealing parallels between the Castro and Trujillo methods of control:
• Trujillo was a product of the army; Fidel Castro was a lawyer. But both militarized their countries; the military became a privileged caste with immense control over economic activities.
• Like Hitler, both granted themselves grandiose titles: "Nation's Benefactor" for Trujillo, "Maximum Leader" for Fidel Castro.
• Both instituted hegemonic, single-party states encompassing spy networks (of which former collaborators became conspicuous victims).
• Virtually everybody labored for the "highest leaders" — from athletes to physicians — even if limited private sector activities were permitted. Illustratively, Fidel Castro remarked that the brain of a female neurosurgeon wishing to emigrate "belonged to the Revolution" — and, thus, by implication to Fidel the comandante.
• Cronyism and nepotism reigned. The titular power was passed at whim from elder to younger brother — to Héctor Trujillo and Raúl Castro — as each was gifted the rank of "general." Thus, both Caribbean countries morphed into ridiculous hereditary quasi-monarchies.
The post-Trujillo Dominican journey can serve as an instructive fountain of experiences for a post-Castro Cuba transitioning to a gentler, open society. Along with lessons from former communist Eastern Europe, a new Cuba could learn from the successes, as well as the admitted faults, of the Dominican liberal-democratic experiment.
The DR still has educational, public-health and poverty issues to improve upon, but it has come a long way. Its post-1966 democratic project has outperformed Cuba's statist economy. For example, the DR's 2010 GDP growth was about 4.2 percent — almost three times that of Cuba's at 1.5 percent (ranked 78th and 166th, respectively, of 216 countries). And that's accepting Cuba's suspect figures. Now impoverished "socialist" Cuba imports most foodstuffs — even sugar! — despite its blessed agricultural soil.
The DR is a country we rarely hear about in positive terms, other than supplying outstanding baseball players. Yet, there is much to celebrate in that beautiful country as it confidently commemorates its first half century free of despotism, as opposed to Cuba, still suffering anachronistic totalitarianism.
Roland Alum, a former Fulbright Scholar in Santo Domingo, is a consultant with ICOD Associates.
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