Dictatorships in Hispaniola: Duvalier in Haiti & Trujillo in the Dominican Republic

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  • 0:02 Hispaniola
  • 0:28 Haiti
  • 1:32 Baby Doc
  • 2:20 Dominican Republic
  • 3:09 U.S. Support
  • 4:02 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will highlight the brutal dictatorships of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. In doing so, it will chronicle the regimes of Duvalier and Trujillo. It will also note US involvement in these countries.


The island of Hispaniola is unique in that it houses two countries, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Although these two countries have some differences in geography and socio-economic status, they also have some similarities. Sadly, one thing they share is a history of brutal dictatorships. In today's lesson we'll discuss this brutality as we explore the Duvalier regime of Haiti and the Trujillo regime of the Dominican Republic.


As the poorer of the two countries, we'll start with Haiti. For much of modern history, Haiti has been in disarray. This is very true of the early 1950s, when the country was plagued by revolution and military coups. However, these coups ended when Francois Duvalier nicknamed Papa Doc, came to power in 1957 and firmly placed the country under his thumb. Sadly for the people of Haiti, they had moved from the frying pan and into the fire.

Upon taking power, Duvalier reduced the size of the country's army. In its place he formed his own private force, known as Tontons Macoutes. Like a group of legitimized thugs, they tortured or assassinated any opposition to Duvalier.

According to history books, the brutality of Duvalier is hard to exaggerate. As if suffering from a massive case of paranoia, it's reported he imprisoned, then murdered, his head of staff. Due to his blatant brutality and disregard for law, Haiti lost its U.S. foreign aid. This spiraled Haiti's people further into poverty.

Baby Doc

Despite the actions of the U.S. and other world powers, Duvalier's quest for power continued. Some even say he considered himself to be god-like, and in the mid-1960s, he declared himself president for life!

Tragically for the people of Haiti, he lived up to this title. Ruling until he died in the early 70s, his reign saw over 30,000 lives lost. Upon his death, his son Jean-Claude Duvalier, nicknamed 'Baby Doc', continued the legacy of violence.

Finally, in the mid-80s a successful coup tossed him from Haiti, yet the damage in Haiti was done. Although their dictator had been ousted, the country remained and still remains in poverty and disarray.

Dominican Republic

On this down note, let's turn to the Dominican Republic. Sadly, the story here is much the same. For the early part of the 20th century, the United States occupied the Dominican Republic. However, when they rolled out in the 1920s, horror rolled in as Rafael Leónidas Trujillo took complete control in the early 1930s.

Once in power, Trujillo used the army as his own personal goon patrol to put down anyone who dared get in his way. He also set up a network of spies to sniff out any hints of rebellion. In addition, he massacred over 20,000 innocent Haitians living in his lands. Nothing seemed below him - not intimidation, torture, or genocide.

Rather than a country, it seems Trujillo viewed the Dominican Republic as his very own empire. He even changed the name of the capital from Santo Domingo to Trujillo City.

U.S. Support

Despite all of this, and this is hard to say, Trujillo had the support of the United States. Many assert his wealth and his stance against communism was the reason for this. However, when he began trying to take over the American-held sugar companies of his country, the U.S. started to pull back its friendly hand.

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