“The PLD at the Heart of April”, an article by Dr. Leonel Ferná;ndezApril 25, 2016
The 1965 April Revolution was the direct consequence of the September 1963 coup d’état against the government of Dr. Juan Bosch. The two events together marked the end of the first phase of the Dominican Republic’s democratic transition after the collapse of the dictatorship of Rafael Leónidas Trujillo.
The end of the Trujillist period had fanned the hope amongst the Dominican people of seeing a regime based on liberties and social
justice established in their country. It was this hope that underpinned their overwhelming support for the presidential bid of the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD), headed by professor Juan Bosch, in the elections of December 1962.
But even before the elections, a campaign had been unleashed against Bosch on the basis of his supposed Communism. This led to the famous dispute with Father Lautico García just days before the holding of the elections, when the Jesuit
priest retracted his allegations and tipped the electorate to support the PRD candidate.
Nonetheless, the accusations against Bosch would continue even after his electoral triumph. Although Bosch himself was no longer slated as a Communist, it was said that he was very tolerant of Dominican organizations and individuals branded as sympathetic to the ideas of Karl Marx.
The White Party’s government was heavily pressured to shut down a political
science institute directed by Dr. Dato Pagán Perdomo that supposedly engaged in Communist indoctrination. Likewise, several directors of leftist organizations saw themselves become the targets of opposition demands for deportation.
In the face of all this, president Bosch stood firm. He understood that a democratic regime must accept the diversity of ideas circulating throughout society—that no citizen should be persecuted or expulsed from his/her homeland simply due to
his/her way of thinking.
But none of that was understood, and the antagonists of social change and the development of an authentic Dominican democracy put an abrupt end to the first democratic experiment in the Dominican Republic in the aftermath of the Trujillo dictatorship.
The April Revolution
Popular reaction against the coup did not happen immediately. In fact it took a full year and seven months to materialize.
During this period, Juan Bosch, from his place of exile in Puerto Rico, came in contact with a group of young officers who were indignant over the direction the Armed Forces in particular and the country in general had taken after the coup that toppled the PRD government.
Among these young officers was Colonel Rafael Tomás Fernández Domínguez, who alongside several high-ranking officers such as Colonel Hernando Ramírez had been organizing the so-called Enriquillo
Movement, dedicated to rescuing the Dominican constitutional order and democratization and reforming the Armed Forces.
With the Triumvirate government growing more unpopular with every passing day due to economic stagnation, social callousness, and political repression, efforts to topple it in turn became increasingly obvious.
That was how the episode of April 24, 1965, came about. That day, the Army chief of staff, General Rivera Cuesta, summoned four
officers and members of the Enriquillo Movement to his office to be imprisoned under suspicion of conspiracy against the Triumvirate government headed by Dr. Ronald Reid Cabral.
And that is what happened—but in the process it sparked an internal rebellion, in which then-Captain Mario Peña Taveras, chief of administrative matters at headquarters, himself took General Rivera Cuesta prisoner.
The news was instantly transmitted to other officers who
supported the revolt, as well as PRD leader Dr. José Francisco Peña Gómez, who was at that moment doing his party’s “Democratic Tribune” broadcast. He seized the moment to inform the country and urge the people to take the streets in defense of their trampled democratic rights.
Thus began the epic story of the 1965 April Revolution, one of the most splendid and patriotic acts of heroism in Dominican history—when an impassioned citizenry, alongside
a contingent of honest soldiers, demanded the return of the 1963 Constitution and the return to power of president Juan Bosch.
The San Isidro Group responded to the popular rebellion by bombarding the city of Santo Domingo. In the face of the superior firepower of the conservative forces, the people’s cause appeared destined to fail. The U.S. ambassador, William Tapley Bennet Jr., seemed to agree, refusing to call for talks between the parties to the
It was then, when the armed triumph appeared impossible, that Colonel Francisco Alberto Caamaño Deñó emerged as a figure whose courage, patriotism, and determination would make him a leader of the revolutionary movement.
Led by Coronel Caamaño, the people took up arms in the titanic Battle of Duarte Bridge, where CEFA tanks were prevented from crossing to the west side of the city.
From then on the situation tipped to favor
the Constitutionalists. Victory for democracy and freedom seemed guaranteed. But at that precise moment, the United States decided to intervene—in theory to save U.S. lives, but later, quite transparently, to frustrate the triumph of the Constutionalist revolution, on the basis that it had fallen into the hands of a Communist leadership.
The birth of the PLD
There is no doubt that the Cold War, and especially the Cuban Revolution, played an
important role in how the April Revolution played out.
But what really stands out, from a political perspective, is that both the coup d’état in 1963 and the U.S. military intervention in 1965 posed a dilemma for progressive forces on how to access power, as the events seemed to have forestalled such access via the democratic route. All paths in that direction appeared blocked.
For Dr. Juan Bosch—whose leadership had developed through the
struggle against dictatorships and in favor of democracy—this represented the challenge of how to move forward in defending the values of his people.
In the search for solutions to these new challenges, Dr. Bosch set himself to reflecting and formulating ways to reorient the political struggle, not just in the Dominican Republic but in all of Latin America and the Caribbean.
This was the seed of his entire political, ideological, and intellectual output
during his stay in Benidorm, Spain, which resulted in the publication of works like Dominican Social Composition; From Christopher Columbus to Fidel Castro; Pentagonism: Substitute for Imperialism; Dictatorships with Popular Support; and A Brief History of the Oligarchy.
This new conception of history and politics likewise required a corresponding organizational structure with
new strategic objectives that arose, which could not be pure and simple electoral participation in the absence of adequate conditions to reach power.
These new ideas and new ways of conceiving political participation raised tensions within the Dominican Revolutionary Party, in which an important sector espoused the idea of a rapprochement with liberal circles in Washington, with the aim of retaking power.
These tensions, among other factors, culminated
in 1973 with a split in the PRD that give rise to the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD), raising among its founding principles the aim of finishing the job begun by Juan Pablo Duarte.
In any case, what’s clear is that without the 1965 April Revolution the PLD would never have happened. The PLD is thus the direct offspring of one of the greatest events in Dominican history: the struggle for independence, national sovereignty, democracy, and social
For these reasons, the PLD is and always will be at the heart of April.