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Dominican Republic - Ulises Heureaux, 1882-99

Ulises Heureaux, Luperon's lieutenant, stood out among his fellow Dominicans both physically and temperamentally. The illegitimate son of a Haitian father and a mother originally from St. Thomas, he, like Luperon, was one of the few black contenders for power. As events would demonstrate, he also possessed a singular thirst for power and a willingness to take any measures necessary to attain and to hold it.

During the four years between Baez's final withdrawal and Heureaux's ascension to the presidency, seven individuals held or claimed national, regional, or interim leadership. Among them were Ignacio Maria Gonzalez Santin, who held the presidency from June to September 1878; Luperon, who governed from Puerto Plata as provisional president from October 1879 to August 1880; and Merino, who assumed office in September 1880 after apparently fraudulent general elections.

Heureaux served as minister of interior under Merino; his behind-the-scenes influence on the rest of the cabinet apparently exceeded that of the president. Although Merino briefly suspended constitutional procedures in response to unrest fomented by some remaining baecistas, he abided by the two-year term established under Luperon and turned the reins of government over to Heureaux on September 1, 1882.

Heureaux's first term as president was not particularly noteworthy. The administrations of Luperon and Merino had achieved some financial stability for the country; political conditions had settled down to the point where Heureaux needed to suppress only one major uprising during his two-year tenure. By 1884, however, no single successor enjoyed widespread support among the various caciques who constituted the republic's ruling group. Luperon, still the leader of the ruling Blue Party, supported General Segundo Imbert for the post, while Heureaux backed the candidacy of General Francisco Gregorio Billini.

A consummate dissembler, Heureaux assured Luperon that he would support Imbert should he win the election, but Heureaux also had ballot boxes in critical precincts stuffed in order to assure Billini's election.

Inaugurated president on September 1, 1884, Billini resisted Heureaux's efforts to manipulate him. Thus denied de facto rule, Heureaux undermined Billini by spreading rumors to the effect that the president had decreed a political amnesty so that he could conspire with ex-president Cesareo Guillermo Bastardo (February 27-December 6, 1879) against Luperon's leadership of the Blues. These rumors precipitated a governmental crisis that resulted in Billini's resignation on May 16, 1885. Vice President Alejandro Woss y Gil succeeded Billini.

Heureaux assumed a more prominent role under the new government. A number of his adherents were included in the cabinet, and the general himself assumed command of the national army in order to stem a rebellion led by Guillermo. The latter's death removed another potential rival for power and further endeared Heureaux to Luperon, a longtime enemy of Guillermo. Luperon accordingly supported Heureaux in the 1886 presidential elections.

Opposed by Casimiro de Moya, Heureaux relied on his considerable popularity and his demonstrated skill at electoral manipulation to carry the balloting. The blatancy of the fraud in some areas, particularly the capital, inspired Moya's followers to launch an armed rebellion. Heureaux again benefited from Luperon's support in this struggle, which delayed his inauguration by four months but further narrowed the field of political contenders. Having again achieved power, Heureaux maintained his grip on it for the rest of his life.

Several moves served to lay the groundwork for Heureaux's dictatorship. Constitutional amendments requested by the president and effected by the Congress extended the presidential term from two to four years and eliminated direct elections in favor of the formerly employed electoral college system. To expand his informal power base, Heureaux (who became popularly known as General Lilis, thanks to a common mispronunciation of his first name) incorporated both Reds and Blues into his government. The president also established an extensive network of secret police and informants in order to avert incipient rebellions. The press, previously unhampered, came under new restrictions.

In the face of impending dictatorship, concerned Dominican liberals turned to the only remaining figure of stature, Luperon. The elections of 1888 therefore pitted Heureaux against his political mentor. If the dictator felt any respect for his former commander, he did not demonstrate it during the campaign. Heureaux's agents attacked Luperon's campaigners and supporters, arresting and incarcerating considerable numbers of them. Recognizing the impossibility of a free election under such circumstances, Luperon withdrew his candidacy, declined the entreaties of those of his followers who urged armed rebellion, and fled into exile in Puerto Rico.

Although plots, intrigue, and abortive insurrections continued under his rule, Heureaux faced no serious challenges until his assassination in 1899. He continued to govern in mock-constitutional fashion, achieving reelections through institutionalized fraud, even as repression worsened. Like Santana and Baez before him, Heureaux sought the protection of a foreign power, principally the United States.

Although annexation was no longer an option, the dictator offered to lease the Samana Peninsula to the United States. The arrangement was never consummated, however, because of opposition from the liberal wing of the Blue Party and a number of concerned European powers. In spite of protests from Germany, Britain, and France, in 1891 Washington and Santo Domingo concluded a reciprocity treaty that allowed twenty-six United States products free entry into the Dominican market in exchange for similar duty-free access for certain Dominican goods.

Under Heureaux, the Dominican government considerably expanded its external debt, even as there was considerable blurring between his private holdings and the state's financial affairs. Some improvements in infrastructure resulted, such as the completion of the first railroads. Initial attempts at professionalizing the army and bureaucratizing the state were made, and educational reforms were introduced.

As a result of favorable state policies, modern sugar estates began to replace cattle-ranching estates, even as exports of coffee and cocoa expanded. Yet, onerous terms on the major external loan, corruption and mismanagement, and a decline in world sugar markets, all exacerbated both domestic budget deficits and external balance of payments shortfalls.

Despite the dictator's comprehensive efforts to repress opposition — his network of spies and agents extended even to foreign countries — opposition eventually emerged centered in the Cibao region, which had suffered under Heureaux's policies favoring sugar interests in Santo Domingo and San Pedro de Macoris. An opposition group calling itself the Young Revolutionary Junta (Junta Revolucionaria de Jovenes) was established in Puerto Rico by Horacio Vasquez Lajara, a young adherent of Luperon. Other prominent members of the group included Federico Velasquez and Ramon Caceres Vasquez. The three returned to their plantations in the Cibao and began to lay the groundwork for a coordinated rebellion against the widely detested Heureaux.

The conspirators decided that the only way to end the despotism was to take the life of the negro ruler. The young men in the plot drew lots to see who would carry out the deed. To the one who drew the slip of paper that appointed him executioner Caceres said: “Give it to me; you can not kill him. I shall do it myself.” And he did. Caceres met Heureaux in the village of Moca, where the despot had gone to levy more tribute. Caceres fired, and Heureaux, after some effort, pulled his own revolver. But it was too late. He was able only to say “Assassin!” as he breathed his last, to which Caceres replied: “You murdered my father.” That act was the beginning of the political life of Ramon Caceres, and in the revolution that followed the killing of Heureaux he became General Caceres.

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Page last modified: 23-06-2017 14:16:14 ZULU