In an effort to forestall what he claims will be a “communist dictatorship” in the Dominican Republic, President Lyndon B. Johnson sends more than 22,000 U.S. troops to the island nation. Johnson’s action provoked protests in Latin America and skepticism among many in the United States.
Troubles in the Dominican Republic began in 1961, when long-time dictator Rafael Trujillo was assassinated. Trujillo had been a brutal leader, but his strong anticommunist stance helped him retain the support of the United States. His death led to the rise of a reformist government headed by Juan Bosch, who was elected president in 1962. The Dominican military, however, despised Bosch and his liberal policies. Bosch was overthrown in 1963. Political chaos gripped the Dominican Republic as various groups, including the increasingly splintered military, struggled for power. By 1965, forces demanding the reinstatement of Bosch began attacks against the military-controlled government.
In the United States government, fear spread that “another Cuba” was in the making in the Dominican Republic; in fact, many officials strongly suspected that Cuban leader Fidel Castro was behind the violence. On April 28, more than 22,000 U.S. troops, supported by forces provided by some of the member states of the Organization of American States (a United Nations-like institution for the Western Hemisphere, dominated by the United States) landed in the Dominican Republic. Over the next few weeks they brought an end to the fighting and helped install a conservative, non-military government.
President Johnson declared that he had taken action to forestall the establishment of a “communist dictatorship” in the Dominican Republic. As evidence, he provided American reporters with lists of suspected communists in that nation. Even cursory reviews of the list revealed that the evidence was extremely flimsy–some of the people on the list were dead and others could not be considered communists by any stretch of the imagination.
Many Latin American governments and private individuals and organizations condemned the U.S. invasion of the Dominican Republic as a return to the “gunboat diplomacy” of the early-20th century, when U.S. Marines invaded and occupied a number of Latin American nations on the slightest pretexts. In the United States, politicians and citizens who were already skeptical of Johnson’s policy in Vietnam heaped scorn on Johnson’s statements about the “communist danger” in the Dominican Republic. Such criticism would become more and more familiar to the Johnson administration as the U.S. became more deeply involved in the war in Vietnam.