Faustin E. Wirkus
February 5, 1938
pages 14-15

From one who has vivid reason to know whereof he speaks -- The facts behind a scarlet reign of massacre and terror

If we do intervene, it will be in the name of humanity, to protect the people of those two countries.

Despite all efforts to suppress it, news of grave import continues to trickle north out of the Caribbean -news of massacre, of the massing of troops, of war brooding over the Haiti-Santo Domingo border.

Mediators representing the United States, Mexico, and Cuba are trying to settle the disputes between the sister republics-but the tension along the border still exists, and the bitterness increases.

Everything that can be done to prevent war is being done. And yet, almost any day, in my opinion, it may be necessary for the United States to intervene and send the marines to the island.

If we do intervene, it will not be for the protection of American lives nor of American capital. We will do so in the name of humanity, to restore law and order, to protect the people of those two countries-and, I have no doubt, to oust the present dictator of Santo Domingo, Rafael Leonidas Trujillo.

So long as Trujillo is in power, there will be trouble, let the mediators do what they will.

Since Haiti became acquainted with the United States marines, it has been more than friendly to America. The marines brought sanitation and order, cleared the country of bandits, made it financially solvent, gave it a fine, efficient, well trained military force, the Garde d'Haiti. Thousands of Haitians wept the day the marines left the island. Haiti, therefore , wants to do nothing whereby it will embarrass the United States. But at the same time it is not likely the nation will let its people be slaughtered with impunity. Many demonstrations have occurred recently in an attempt to make the government take action.

It has been reported that Trujillo and his soldiers massacred anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 Haitians, men, women, and children, last October -- rounded them up in droves, herded them on to the docks, mowed them down with machine guns, dumped their bodies into the sea.

Georges Leger, Haiti's Foreign Minister, declared, in a talk with President Roosevelt, that the number killed was about 5,000. The news was rigorously suppressed, in both Haiti and Santo Domingo, at the time. Haitian officials feared riots and attempts at reprisals. Santo Domingo considered the affair "a closed incident."

The victims of the massacre, so far as can be learned, had offended the dictator of Santo Domingo in no way, except that they were living on Dominican soil. They were peasants who had lived there for many years, before the boundary had been definitely fixed; who could not understand why they should leave.

Santo Domingo has a population of approximately 1,475,000 and an area about twice that of the State of New Jersey. Haiti occupies about half that much territory, and has more than 2,500,000 citizens.

There wasn't work in Haiti for all the Haitians, so thousands of them went across the line, hoping to find jobs. They are expert workers, and much in demand on the large sugar plantations. But there are no such plantations in the region of the massacre.

Haiti and Santo Domingo occupy the island of Hispaniola, discovered during Columbus' first voyage. For many years the island was known as Haiti, but recently it took back its old name. There never was any bond of affection between the two republics that divided the island. There never could be, for the Dominicans are the descendants of the Spanish conquerors and the native Indians, while the Haitians are the children of the slaves brought over from Africa by the Spaniards and the French.

There have been disputes over the boundary line. There have been numerous crises rising out of border feuds. But no "incident" in recent years has stirred such bitter feeling on both sides as this slaughter of innocents.

I have spent many years in Haiti. I know the Haitians well. They are my friends. Yet I have no bias against the Dominicans, many of whom I have met and liked. My feeling is that of every American who has spent any length of time in Hispaniola -- that one man alone is responsible for the present crisis, and that man is Trujillo.

A recent report made by the Foreign Policy Association, which is usually accurate and reliable in its statements, gives a good picture of him. He is a mulatto. He was fairly well educated. He entered the National Guard of Santo Domingo during the American occupation, was trained by the marines, and in time became commander of the Republican forces. It has been stated that he was a member of the United States Marine Corps; but this is untrue.

He was bitterly opposed when he offered himself as a candidate to succeed President Vasquez. But he won. He betrayed Vasquez. He betrayed Rafael Estrella Urena who made him President. All his opponents died suddenly or vanished or fled, as Vice-President Urena fled.

Among those who did not escape were some of the most prominent men in the country. Virgilio Reyna, who was a member of Vasquez's cabinet, was slain. Two men walked into his home, where he was ill with appendicitis. They shot him in the stomach and, while he was dying, killed his wife. I was in Santo Domingo at the time, having retired from the Marine Corps.

As another cabinet minister left a theater, an auto drove up and men in it riddled him.

A general, walking with his fiancée on the main street of Santiago, was also slain in this gangster fashion. Probably thousands of men were killed by Trujillo, the Foreign Policy Association report says. Some of those imprisoned, especially elderly men arrested on political charges, were forced to labor in the hot sun until they succumbed to illness, insanity, or death. Countless others were led off to prisons and never heard of again.

But murder is only one of the sins charged against Trujillo. He is accused of being the racket boss of the island. His Dominican Party is the only political organization allowed to exist. He controls all industries, all businesses. Everybody " kicks in."

Before Trujillo made himself supreme, the Italian consul in Santo Domingo, as agent for an American tobacco company, did a tremendous business. Trujillo threw him into jail and took over the business. He still has it. The consul was released, but not until after Mussolini had threatened to send an Italian gunboat.

All the labor unions were abolished by Trujillo. There are no strikes. Soldiers see to that. He has an army of about 2,500. He pays them fairly well; he can afford to. He also controls the newspapers, and keeps them slavishly subservient. Their slogan is "God and Trujillo."

The man is extraordinarily vain. He has changed the name of the capital, founded and named by Columbus, from Santo Domingo to Ciudad Trujillo-Trujillo City. Numerous streets and avenues are called after him, or his father or his mother, or his illegitimate son, Ramfis. Numerous bridges also bear his name.

When Ramfis was eight, Trujillo made him a colonel. And woe to the soldier or officer -- or civilian -- who didn't salute the boy and give him his " due honor "!

Trujillo is not only a stockholder in every important concern in his country, and many lesser ones; he owns a 3,000-acre ranch, and is reputed to have millions of dollars deposited in American and English banks.

There have been several attempts to assassinate him, but all have failed. There has never been any serious attempt to oust him. One reason is that he keeps the bulk of his soldiers close to him. These men, whom he can trust, are well armed. Troops in outlying districts haven't twenty rounds of ammunition apiece.

There is not much danger of a popular uprising. The marines confiscated all weapons during their occupation of Santo Domingo some years ago. Nor is there much danger of an armed invasion by Haitian mobs-for the marines also left the Haitians weaponless.

However, the troops of both countries are massing on the border. Therein lie the seeds of trouble.

Haiti's army numbers about 3,000 men under native officers. These men have been well trained by the United States marines. A Haitian team of sharpshooters tied for second place in the Olympics some years ago.

I know that quite a number of Haitians would like to have the marines back. And I believe the Dominicans would--at least, until the trouble is abated.

It would take not more than 2,500 marines to settle all difficulties and to insure peace in Hispaniola.

President Roosevelt has assured President Stenio Vincent of Haiti that he hopes peace may be maintained. He has told Trujillo that this country " trusts " he will welcome the proposed mediation.

The mediators are at work. The machine guns are silent, temporarily. But who can say they will not begin to chatter before the mediators' work is done?


Editor's Note: The author of this article spent more than thirteen years in Haiti with the United States marines during the American occupation. During most of this time he was an officer in the Garde d'Haiti. For one year he served as District Commander of Cerca la Source, on the Haitian-Dominican border. But he is best known for his administration of the island of La Gonave, forty miles off the coast of Haiti. He was so popular there the natives crowned him king-"the white king of La Gonave."

The opinions and assertions contained in this article are the private ones of the writer and are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the Nave Department or the Naval Services at large.

Signed: Faustin E. Wirkus
Gy., Sgt. F. M.C. R.


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