Chapter 1 – Dominican History, the United States in the Caribbean, and the Origins of the Good Neighbor Policy

Chapter 2 – The Dominican Revolution of 1930 and the Policy of Nonintervention

Chapter 3 – The Bankrupt Neighbor Policy: Depression Diplomacy and the Foreign Bondholders Protective Council

Chapter 4 – What Will the Neighbors Think? Dictatorship and Diplomacy in the Public Eye

Chapter 5 – Genocide Next Door: The Haitian Massacre of 1937 and the Sosua Jewish Refugee Settlement

Chapter 6 – Gold Braid and Striped Pants: The Culture of Foreign Relations in the Dominican Republic

Chapter 7 – Fortress America, Fortaleza Trujillo: The Hull-Trujillo Treaty and the Second World War

Chapter 8 –The Good Neighbor Policy and Dictatorship


Roorda, Eric Paul. 1998. The dictator next door: The Good Neighbor Policy and the Trujillo regime in the Dominican Republic, 1930-1945. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. 


Notes and Questions by Dave Pier 


1. Roorda says that the influence of official US diplomats is usually overestimated by historians. Other coalitions—from business, the military, etc.—act independently, with equal or surpassing effectiveness. Was this especially the case in the D.R. under Trujillo? Was this particular U.S. diplomatic corps especially ineffectual/divided, and/or this military especially strong? How was the balance of power between business, the military, state power, etc. tipped by a particular historical context? What political advantages do military occupiers have generally anywhere in the world?  

2. Do we chalk up the lax U.S. diplomatic response to the massacre of Haitians to Good Neighborliness (unwillingness to interfere), the U.S.’s racist myopia, the Haitian government’s timidity, all or none of the above? 

3. To what extent are/were the Western hemisphere “neighborhood” and “Fortress America” purely empty and adaptable signifiers? Could one argue (perhaps following Rodgers) that the more substantial ‘neighborhood’ especially at this time was the trans-North-Atlantic one?  

4. Rodgers writes that U.S. progressives imitated European institutions out of sincere—if naive—admiration and envy. Roorda describes another, characteristically post-colonial, over-effusive kind of imitation of the institutions of one dominant nation by another submissive one. Did Trujillo effectively play the eager, obsequious ‘servant’ to the U.S.? How much did the surface appearances Trujillo worked hard to cultivate really change minds? Did he cause anyone other than his military cronies to view him in a truly favorable light?

5. Would Roorda be able to make his case less convincingly had he not had access to Dominican government documents? 



Dictatorship defining problem of 20th century. Mass media made it “impossible to ignore.” (2) Also “difficult to discern who really spoke and acted for the United States.” (2) 

Trujillo (Henceforth ‘T.’) was not “a pliable client of the United States” (3) U.S. did not have a unified policy. Multiple actors.  

20’s: Backlash against “costly military involvement.” But hard to justify non-intervention when former US interventionism had caused present problems. (4) 

30’s: ‘Fortress America’ vs. European and Asian fascism.  

Chapter 1: “Dominican History, the U.S. in the Caribbean, and the Origins of the Good Neighbor Policy” 

Columbus lands. Island: ‘Hispaniola’. Briefly a center of Spanish colonization, then the Indians die/are killed off. Better pickings elsewhere for Spain. French move in. Saint Domingue and Santo Domingo. French import lots of slaves. 1790 Haitian revolution. Obstructs U.S. commerce. US backs independence of Eastern colonies. Samaná Bay considered a strategic asset. (11) 

U.S. takes authoritarian control of D.R. 1911-1916. Presidents hand-picked. Government revenues controlled. (16). 1916 Wilson sends in Marines. Marine occupation for 19 years (16). “Progressive imperialism”: public works,etc. also US buys up 80% of the sugar land. (17). Harding elected, critical of occupation. Hughes-Peynado plan turns power over to American-trained D.R. police.  


Trujillo not upper class. Marine-trained and –loved. Charged with rape and extortion. (21) 


Failure of gunboat, dollar diplomacy (22). Try another tack.

Notion of pan_American neighborhood has deep American intellectual roots. (23) 

CHAPTER 2:”The Dominican Revolution of 1930 and the Policy of Non-Intervention.” 

Vasquez ruling D.R. since 1924. Kept extending his term. Acquiesced to Trujillo’s military demands. Trujillo stages mock-revolution and coup. US minister Curtis unable to summon a US gunboat to stop it. US non-intervention policy also produced dictators in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Cuba, Nicaragua. 

Diplomats Curtis and Cabot disliked Trujillo because 1 they figured him for a dictator, 2 because he’d fooled them into thinking he was supportive of Vasquez, 3 because he was lower-class and dark-skinned. (43) 

RECOGNITION POLICY: De facto gov’ts recognized 1. if in firm control 2. if willing and able to pay debts. Diplomats disliked T. Business interests wanted stability and wouldn’t mind T. Marines and Navy liked T. The first friendly visit by a gunboat. San Zénon hurricane: diplomats blocked US help, marines wanted to do more. US attitudes polarized. 


CHAPTER 3: The Bankrupt Neighbor Policy: Depression Diplomacy and the Foreign Bondholders’ Protective Council. 

Old Latin American-US debts: often “akin to extortion” (63). Hoover State Response: no pressure/no aid. Convention of 1924: US intervention authorized if D.R. defaults. US lenders thought this would work in their favor. Dominican Emergency Law of 1931: provisional moratorium on payments (66) This was encouraged behind the scenes by US diplomats. Trujillo wanted more than a moratorium: he wanted a big loan. (68) Took the reprieve he was allotted and spent it on an air force and luxuries (71)  

FBPC – a private group set up by the US gov’t (75) so that the US gov’t wouldn’t have to take and be associated with a hard-line stance. Loans are a business problem, not a state problem (81) FBPC and T. reach an agreement. US/DR relationship warms up. Convention of 1924 revived. US installs a “fully empowered customs receivership” – a sore thumb for Trujillo and Good Neighborliness. The pros for T.: no mention of dictatorship; money, prestige; he “learned that U.S. officials responded with alacrity when he mixed his threats of unilateral action with testimonials of cooperation.” (86) This is a major theme. 


CHAPTER 4: “What will the neighbors think? Dictatorship and diplomacy in the public eye.” 

“Good neighbor” as a nebulous and adaptable slogan for Roosevelt. “From the perspective of Dominican interests, the Good Neighbor policy was mainly rhetoric and symbolism.” (89) 

T.’s death squads roll. Censorship, and at the same time encouragement of access by foreigners. Never a hermit kingdom. Political Exiles (Ureña, Michelena) form an interventionist bloc in the US. Welles does not support them but does not support T. either. March of Time attacks T. T. responds angrily. Radio City Music Hall pulls the short after one showing. (107) 

Another contingent: the American colony. T. courts and bribes. (112) 

INFRASTRUCTURE SYMBOLS: Columbus lighthouse. Columbus remains. Columbus as a symbol of inter-Americanism. (117) George Washington symbols: invoked sovereignty. “symbolic trinity of Dominican foreign relations—Columbus, Washington, and Trujillo.” (118) 

Trujillo mimicked U.S. “diplomatic and political projects.” Bhaba – post-colonial style appropriation of signifiers. (118). A “too-effusive imitation of inter-Americanism” (120) 

1935, T. jails Mussolini’s consul and gets into trouble. Gets out of it. 

CHAPTER 5: Genocide 

At least 12,000 killed in Haiti. (127) Where does this # come from? Does not match # in Roorda’s footnote. Estimating number who died later from starvation and disease? (132)Massacre in October 1937. Haitian victims were migrant workers near permeable eastern border. In this area, creole spoken, different currency, African religions. (129T. pays a pittance to Haiti. US response lax. Haiti fears attack. Roosevelt convenes meeting w/ Mexico, DR, and Cuba. 

T. concedes “Anti-War pledge”. Agrees to arbitration, but doesn’t follow through. Agrees not to seek reelection, but continues to rule behind a puppet. Roosevelt sees portrays results as a triumph of diplomacy. T. Agrees to accept 100,000 Jewish refugees. Ends up accepting a few hundred only. ) Similar offer from Haiti turned down. Explanation? T. seeks to replace Haitians with whites (Jews or Puerto Ricans)  

“two unattractive truths about US foreign relations:”

1. goals of stability and cooperation meant ignoring reprehensible actions by dictators. (146)

2. racial and ethnic slants. Anti-black, anti-Semitic. (147) 


CHAPTER 6: “The Culture of Foreign Relations in the Dominican Republic” 

“two cultural spheres”: military and diplomatic. (149) Alliances—“relations”—formed based on cultural affinities, not necessarily along lines of nationality. Trujillo liked military and they liked him. Liked the uniforms and parades. Ship commanders liked his refurbished ports. SURFACES. Trujillo wanted to create a “culture of the soldier” (187). This meant “cocktail culture.” (188). DR had liquor during prohibition. 

T. appropriated symbols of colonialism to control the former colonists (191) 

Diplomats who were high-class thought Trujillo was low-class. Made more of his skin tone. T. self-conscious about skin-- wore whitening makeup (177) T. used diplomats for symbolic purposes every chance he got. 

US Military acts on its own accord. Sees diplomats as unable to understand Realpolitik. Roosevelt worked to create a professional, expanded foreign service.  

Gunboats make friendly stops. A threatening symbol transformed for the Good Neighbor Policy.  

1940 – T. offers full support – a “blank check” – for war effort.  

CHAPTER 7: Fortress America, Fortaleza Trujillo: The Hull-Trujillo Treaty and the Second World War. 

D.R. strategically placed on the path to the Panama Canal. During war, Good Neighbor Policy turns into an active alliance. Weapons start to flow from US. Lend-Lease Act. Weapons accumulation intensifies post-War. Brief cooling of relations between US and DR, stanching of flow of weapons, as new US diplomats come into power, Roosevelt dies, Good Neighbor in limbo. Military aid resumes in 1947. 

T. flirts with Axis powers even as he courts US (204). Ideologically more like a Fascist than otherwise. 

FBPC lost its role. T. wrests control of the “purse strings (194) August 1940: U.S. Receivership of Dominican Customs dismantled. Hull-Trujillo Treaty praised as exemplar of Good Neighborliness (212)  

CHAPTER 8: The Good Neighbor Policy and Dictatorship 

“basic dilemma: “the repression and militarism of authoritarian systems make them morally repugnant to deal with, while refusing to deal with such governments seldom serves U.S. commercial or strategic interests.” (232) 

How was T. able to achieve his stature when US diplomats opposed him? Answer: diplomats are only a part of the “complicated equation” (234) Plus diplomats “surrendered the field” by not pressing a case against dictatorship. (240) 

The personal and the political overlap. Actors make decisions based on their personal impressions, not on political imperatives. (236). “relations” is “the aggregate of these interpersonal interactions.” 

There is “the enduring notion that order among non-white people can be maintained only by strong discipline.” (241)