Former Dominican Chief of Military Intelligence: "I Was the Fly in the Conspiratorial Ointment"

Espaillat. Wide World
In his book -- Trujillo: The Last Caesar -- General Arturo Espaillat, Trujillo's chief of military intelligence, details the relationship between his boss, whom he calls "Old Man" throughout the book, and the US government.  Arturo Espaillat was the scion of a diplomatic family, a position which allowed him to enter West Point, and later to ascend the ranks of the Dominican military hierarchy. 

According to Espaillat, Trujillo saw himself as a US Marine, and that this blinded him to the reality of the US political machine. By 1960, relations between the US and the Dominican Republic had been virtually suspended; "Throughout 1960 the Old Man was bombarded by a mounting publicity campaign and the [US] ambassador, Joseph Farland, a political appointee, went underground for the duration. This was on orders, Trujillo learned from his spies in the American embassy. The State Department clipped all the news stories and forwarded them to Farland with instructions to stay out of the line of fire [page 7.]"

Espaillat says that most of the news stories were being generated by American correspondents, who would do little more than shuttle back and forth between the Hotel Embajador and the US Embassy. Washington was afraid that like Cuba, the Dominican Republic would fall to communism, fears which were exacerbated after guerrillas entered the DR in June of 1959, openly sponsored by Venezuela and Cuba. Trujillo had attempted an assassination of Venezuelan President Romulo Betancourt, a crime which led to the Dominican Republic being censored by the Organization of American States.

As international pressure mounted against Trujillo, his Washington backers grew afraid, and started plotting his overthrow. "The first hint that Washington would use force against Trujillo came in the summer of 1960.... A U.S. Embassy intelligence officer called the Palace and said it was urgent he talk with Trujillo... The Embassy official came to the Palace and told an odd story. He had come, he said, on his own. Such was his admiration of Trujillo that he was risking his career, the diplomat said solemnly, to warn of plans being made to oust the Chief. He had learned, our visitor continued, that Washington was planning to send the US Navy against Trujillo if he didn't resign. It was a transparent maneuver, a clumsy way to deliver a threat, and Trujillo treated it as such. The second ultimatum was delivered a few months later. This one was presented -- reluctantly, I think -- by Trujillo's good friend William Pawley. The former US ambassador to Peru and Brazil warned the Old Man that the time had come to call it quits [pages 7-8.]"

According to Espaillat, Trujillo simply "blew up." Espaillat reports that Trujillo's sharp memory and extreme attention to detail and memos allowed him to become aware by 1949 that Fidel Castro was a communist, information which he passed along to the US, where it was ignored. Especially after the June invasion of 1959, it stands to reason logically that Trujillo was indeed afraid of a communist takeover of the Dominican Republic.

Nonetheless, the United States pressed forward. A US government-controlled radio station on Swan Island stopped beaming anti-Castro propaganda to Cuba and instead took time to bash Trujillo. 

Norman Gall in his New Republic article -- How Trujillo Died -- wrote: "The assassination of Trujillo was carried out with assistance from the CIA. Arms for the May 30, 1961 slaying of the dictator were smuggled by the CIA into the country at the request of the assassins, according to highly qualified sources I interviewed in Santo Domingo shortly after the collapse of the regime. The CIA began shipping guns to the DR in late 1960."

Espaillat, however, argues that Gall "mistates the importance of the arms shipments to the conspirators. The guns were delivered as he describes, but the value of the weapons was entirely psychological. The conspirators had access to plenty of local firepower. Dominican officers, particularly of the higher ranks, usually had virtual arsenals in their homes, weapons issued or collected over the years. I myself had enough guns, from pistols to machine guns, to have equipped a full infantry platoon. The home of General Jose Rene Roman Fernandez was equally well stocked, as were those of other officers who took part in the conspiracy. But the arrival of weapons from the US government was, for the plotters, tangible evidence that the might of the US government was behind them. Without that support, there simply would have been no conspiracy [page 11.]"
Espaillat claims that the conspiracy was masterminded by two service officers who "held posts in the US Embassy until the rupture of relations, after which they had been transferred to the US Consulate." Espaillat does not name the two American conspirators -- calling them simply Mutt and Jeff [referred to as a CIA agent] -- but says that they asked a businessman, Manolin Alfaro, to ask Espaillat that Trujillo approve Mutt's transfer to the Consulate. But Espaillat suspected that Mutt was too eager, telling Trujillo not to approve the transfer, but "the Old Man, always anxious to please Washington and, as always, immune to advice, was only too happy to comply with Mutt's request. It was typical that Trujillo would always be the last to admit that US diplomats were knifing him in the back. It was this blind confidence which permitted the conspiracy to flower literally under his nose [page 12.]"

Espaillat explains that the State Department can be better skilled at "cloak and daggering" than the CIA, leading Trujillo to believe that ties would be restored in the weeks before his assassination. Trujillo was a very predictable man, his schedule was rock-solid and he often traveled without guards. Plotting when to kill him was the easy part, the hard part would be keeping his son Ramfis under control. "Somebody came up with a proposal. Ramfis made periodic trips to Europe. If Trujillo were killed while Ramfis was in Europe, he could be expected to come racing by air. But all regularly scheduled airline traffic between Europe and the DR passed through the US. If the US government cooperated, Ramfis could be stopped in New York. The US government could then keep him forcibly under wrap until Roman [Dominican conspirator] consolidated his position [page 16.]"

"Plans for the coup were logical and simple: Roman would announce that Trujillo had disappeared and, as Secretary of the Armed Forces, declare a national emergency and assume control of the machinery of state [page 17.]" A simple plan indeed, but Espaillat says that the flaw in the plan was Roman himself; "at the moment of truth, he wilted."

In an amazing coincidence that could only take place in the Dominican Republic, Espaillat was nearby when the assassination of Trujillo started: "I was just about to order cokes when I thought I heard bursts of machine gun fire in the distance. My first thought was that my ears were playing tricks on me. Then I suddenly remembered that Trujillo had passed in that direction a few moments before. That was enough. I swung back on the highway and raced toward the sound of shooting. In less than a minuted I came upon this scene:

Trujillo's Chevrolet was stopped in the center of the four-lane highway. On the right was a car facing
Trujillo's car. Duke
in the same direction as the Chevrolet. On the left was another car with bright headlights which illuminated the scene. A third car was beyond and to the right, facing Trujillo's car. I could see men firing furiously at the figure who staggered into the beam of the headlights. The Old Man fired a last bullet, then pitched forward on his face. Trujillo was dead. [pages 18-19.]"

Espaillat was only brought to his senses by the screams of his wife, and he quickly sped away from the ambush. Immediately, he realized that "officers were involved; civilians could not have secured so many automatic weapons."

At that point, Espaillat, fearing that the assassination would coincide with an invasion, raced to the home of General Roman, the head of the conspiracy. Espaillat told Roman that he himself had witnessed Trujillo die, but Roman suspected other motives, and hesitated to shoot Espaillat. Had Roman shot Espaillat right then and there, the conspirators would have fully succeeded in taking power, but Espaillat says that Roman "had no stomach for conspiracy. It was the measure of the man that he had insisted to the conspirators that he would take no action until he personally had seen Trujillo's corpse [page 20.]"

Once the conspirators learned that Roman had left his house with Espaillat, they panicked and went into hiding. "At 5:00 am that morning, Trujillo's body was found in the trunk of a car at the house of Juan Tomas Diaz -- two blocks from the American Consulate [page 20.]"