– The war on refugees in the Mediterranean
– The Dominican Republic, April 1965: A powerful popular revolt unexpectedly explodes in the Yankee “back yard”
(AWTWNS 27 April 2015)

This AWTWNS news packet for the week of 27 April 2015 contains two articles. They may be reproduced or used in any way, in whole or in part, as long as they are credited.

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– The war on refugees in the Mediterranean
– The Dominican Republic, April 1965: A powerful popular revolt unexpectedly explodes in the Yankee “back yard”


The war on refugees in the Mediterranean

27 April 2015. A World to Win News Service. Within less than a week in April, two boats full of migrants from Middle East and Africa were left to sink in the Mediterranean Sea, resulting in the death of at least 1,300 people. This outraged people all over the world and provoked demonstrations in various countries.

When, in October 2013, a boat carrying refugees sank a short distance from the Italian island of Lampedusa and almost 500 people drowned, the world could not believe it. That tragedy caught the leaders of the Western European governments with blood on their hands. But rather than showing remorse or shame for this crime, they took measures to “deter” refugees that have now caused the loss of even more lives. Although shocking, these latest deaths were not unexpected. And more of the same or even worse could happen if the inhumane hostility against migrants is allowed to continue.

The number of refugees drowned in the Mediterranean Sea so far this year is estimated to be between 1,500 and 1,750. (BBC, 23 April 2015) That is more than 50 times as many people who died during the first months of 2014. The death toll has been climbing steadily for several years. The total number was nearly 3,500 in 2014, 600 in 2013 and 500 in 2012.

After the 2013 Lampedusa tragedy, the lack of interest and even deliberate indifference of the European leaders became even more apparent. In many cases, including this one, it was local fishermen and not the authorities who rescued the refugees. After that many people and humanitarian organisations demanded more action and resources from European leaders to help those who risk their lives to escape wars and misery zones. But instead the European leaders increased the chances of drowning by cutting funding to the already insufficient search operations.

Specifically, they decided to cancel the Italian Navy’s Mare Nostrum operations in October 2014. This programme is said to have saved the lives of some 170,000 refugees in 2014. Italy announced it would end the programme if the other European countries did not share the cost, a half a billion euros a year. But the EU decision to replace the rescue operations with a police mission was made for political and not financial reasons.

The new Operation Triton is run by the EU border agency Frontex. According to its director Klaus Rosler, its brief is “ensuring effective border control” and “monitor criminal networks” in North Africa and not to save lives. Under Operation Triton, Europe will provide just seven boats and three aircraft to cover a million square miles of sea. This was a deliberate act to deter the refugees from taking this route to Europe. The patrol boats being deployed instead of navy ships are too small and unequipped to rescue people. In fact, when one of these boats did take on refugees found floating in the water, most of them died of exposure on the voyage back to Italy because they were kept on an open deck and there were no trained rescue personnel on board.

The UK government took the most aggressive stand against refugees, making it clear that it “would not support any future search and rescue operation, including Triton, claiming the assistance simply encourages more people to risk the crossing.” (Guardian, 27 October 2014) British Prime Minister David Cameron all but explicitly declared that the EU should let migrants drown to discourage others from taking the sea route. But all the European governments agreed to this plan that everyone knew would condemn thousands of refugees to death. Now there is irrefutable evidence that “cutting the incentives” by ending rescue operations has not reduced the number of migrants risking their lives to cross the sea.

After the two April tragedies, EU leaders shed crocodile tears, pretending that the deaths of 1,300 men, women and children were not the direct and predictable consequences of their policies. They blamed traffickers and smugglers for the results of their own crimes. Germany’s Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière said, “We cannot and we will not tolerate these criminals sacrificing human lives on a large scale out of sheer greed.” (Guardian, 20 April 2015) Of course by “sheer greed” he did not mean the competition-driven profit system that leads to wars and massacres, the demolition of whole regions and the plunder of whole continents.

Philip Hammond, the British Foreign Secretary, spoke as if it were the traffickers who forced people to leave their homes. He stressed, “We must target the traffickers who are responsible for so many people dying at sea and prevent their innocent victims from being tricked or forced into making these perilous journeys.” (Independent, 20 April 2015) French President Francois Hollande reiterated that “the emphasis should be on disrupting people traffickers.” (BBC, 23 April)

So the choir of European imperialists and their media is once again synchronized to blame the traffickers for the consequences of imperialist-stoked wars and the functioning of the capitalist system worldwide. Refugees are not taking such a perilous route because of traffickers and their boats. If they believe that risking death by drowning is the best alternative they have, this should be understood as an indictment of what the imperialist system has done to them.

The fact is that the flow of refugees will not stop until there is an end to the factors that drive people to risk death. Increasing numbers of people have to leave their land or their job, their community and country and their family, and take such a dangerous path, whether or not the imperialists allow the “incentive” that they might just possibly not drown. Economic hardship in third world countries is caused by the functioning of the imperialist system, and for many people the globalisation of the last two decades has made their situation even more desperate. The wars that massacre people and make life hell for those who survive are also largely caused by direct or indirect imperialist involvement. It seems there is no end to these wars, especially in the Middle East and Africa. Now it is to be expected that people in Yemen – victims of the Saudi-led led military intervention backed by a U.S. aircraft carrier group and the major Western countries – will join refugees from Syria, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia and so on. Are the traffickers the ones forcing them to join these gathering waves of humanity?

The right to seek asylum is included in international agreements that almost all governments supposedly have signed. It has been declared a human right. But the European governments are making it extremely hard for people who have already gone through so much suffering because of the wars and misery in their own country. For example, the war in Syria has displaced about four million refugees, now mostly living in temporary camps in neighbouring countries. But the imperialists, whose meddling in Syria for their regional and global interests fanned the war and the rise of Islamist forces, are refusing to grant Syrians asylum. Apart from Germany, which because of its need for immigrants and political reasons pledged to take in 30,000 refugees, the other 27 countries, including France and the UK, are set to accept only around 10,000 altogether – Britain only 143.

The European states have spent billions on border control and put up all kinds of land barriers, such as the fence on the Greek border with Turkey. They have introduced draconian obstacles to legal entry for people from poor countries. Even when refugees succeed in getting to a destination country, they are criminalised and treated as “illegal” human beings. As other routes are closed to them, refugees are forced to the only alternatives. In fact, it is the imperialists who are creating “business opportunities” for the traffickers.

In the face of public outrage in April the European leaders met to deal with the situation (the public outrage, not the deaths). They agreed to restore funding for naval search operations in the Mediterranean to last year’s level. The details of how this is to be implemented are not yet clear. But they clearly agreed to “undertake systematic efforts to identify, capture and destroy vessels before they are used by traffickers”. This is another pretext to carry out more raids and invasions in North Africa, more military actions and wars of the kind that did so much to create refugees in the first place – now disguised as ‘humanitarian” actions. As usual, when their actions and their system cause horrible situations their only response is to use their killing machine to deal with the symptoms. Further, they are seeking to divert people’s attention from those really responsible. This is shameful. They cannot be allowed to create more tragedies.

The capitalist/imperialist system is the source of the misery of the people. People who cannot accept the brutalization and murder of their fellow human beings should target this system, and especially reveal the fact that the immigration “issue” is part and parcel of its functioning.

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The Dominican Republic, April 1965: A powerful popular revolt unexpectedly explodes in the Yankee “back yard”

27 April 2015. A World to Win News Service. This April marks two events a half a century ago that need to be remembered. One was the uprising that began apparently out of nowhere on 24 April 1965. Thousands of Dominican people, including some of the poorest, took up arms and, for a time, began to take their country and history into their own hands. It was one of those rare moments whose reverberations ripple for decades. The other was on 28 April 1965. Washington, terrified by the prospect of “losing” the Dominican Republic and all that would mean for global resistance throughout the U.S. empire, sent tens of thousands of U.S. troops to keep the republic in the hands of men Washington felt it could trust.

Those were complicated times in the Dominican Republic. A variety of forces were contending for power. There were the generals, some of the biggest exploiters, and the Catholic Church, who wanted to continue the regime built by General Rafael Trujillo. For three decades this notoriously sadistic tyrant had ruled through a combination of undisguised terror, generalized corruption and full backing by the U.S. but had become increasing isolated. After a dispute with the U.S., he was assassinated in 1961, probably with CIA complicity. There were other ruling class forces who sought their own arrangements with the U.S., nationalists of various sorts, and organizations that considered themselves revolutionary. Of the most prominent, one was very influenced by the Cuban revolution and the other by Mao Tsetung and the Chinese revolution. Because of the decades of open terrorist dictatorship, these previously clandestine groups were the country’s only real mass political parties.

The contending forces at the top fell into a stalemate and some called on the capital’s ordinary people to come into the streets. The strength, rapidity and determination of the popular response was unexpected by nearly everyone. Thousands of people began to arm themselves with Molotov cocktails and weapons given out by junior army officers or procured in raids against police stations, a particularly hated target because of the police’s direct and daily role in brutalizing and robbing people. Events slipped out of the control of those attempting to ride them.

A key point was the famous battle at the Duarte Bridge. Trujillo regime’s elite troops, trained by the U.S. to keep everyone in terror, even the rest of the army, left their fortress on the east side of the Ozama River and tried to penetrate into the heart of the capital. They were opposed by a few hundred organized soldiers and thousands of civilians from the surrounding slums and the middle classes. Reports from terrified American authorities labelled them a “mob”, “looters” and “rioters”, but they were organized into combat units called “commandos” with clear military aims.

In fighting extending five blocks along the main road running into and through the city, they beat back the regime’s troops. The regime’s aircraft took a heavy toll but could not turn the tide. The attacking army units, whose morale was not up to a real battle, fell into disarray. Even the regime’s tanks had to retreat toward the airport that was the main connection with the U.S., guarded by a small force of American soldiers. The rebels were on the verge of a counter-attack and the armed forces on the verge of collapse. What the CIA feared most was that the rebellion would spread to the countryside, link up with the desperately poor peasants and sugar cane workers who made up the majority of the country’s population, and go from an urban revolt to a full-scale revolutionary war.

It was then that the U.S. ships waiting offshore landed another 23,000 men, with a similar number in reserve. Although these troops quickly retook the Duarte Bridge, the armed rebels held the central business district and middle class area for several weeks. The U.S. and regime forces cut the capital in two to isolate the rebel areas from the rest of the city and the city from the countryside. Then American troops accompanied the newly rallied Dominican army as it moved through the Barrios Altos slums on the other side of the city, committing atrocities. The resistance went on another eight days.

There were furious protests throughout Latin America. At a time when Washington was trying to pose as a force for reform in a continent seething with discontent, the U.S. had shown its true face.

U.S. neocolonialism in the Dominican Republic

By 1930, Trujillo had quickly risen to command the Dominican Army the U.S. created after ending its direct rule over the country. As American consul Henry Dearborne later wrote, “He had his torture chambers, he had his political assassinations. But he kept law and order, cleaned the place up, made it sanitary, built public works, and he didn’t bother the United States. So that didn’t bother us.” By “didn’t bother the United States,” the ambassador meant that Trujillo did not interfere with U.S. business interests or challenge its political supremacy.

To give a few infamous examples of how Trujillo ruled: Considering himself the country’s supreme male, the patriarch of all patriarchs, he obligated every Dominican household to put up a plaque saying, “Here Trujillo is the jefe (boss).” He considered any woman of any social class fair game to be kidnapped and brought to him to be raped. His most infamous prison had seawater pits where he literally had political opponents and dissenters fed to sharks.

During World War 2, when the U.S. was fighting its German and Japanese rival imperialists in the name of “democracy”, President Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of State said of Trujillo, “He may be a son-of-a-bitch, but he’s our-son-of-a-bitch.” Not long after after Trujillo’s death decades later, the U.S. decided that his regime should be perpetuated under the Trujillo stooge Joaquin Balaguer. The “military and police machine built by Trujillo,” a senior U.S. intelligence officer noted, “is still intact.”

In order to give that regime stability and legitimacy, elections were organized, but the unexpected winner, the social democrat Juan Bosch, was not to Washington’s liking. Although some of Bosch’s economic and social reforms were not in themselves antagonistic to long-term American interests, whatever his game was, he was not considered a reliable protector of U.S. domination.

The stakes were international: that domination was being challenged not only in what the U.S. arrogantly called its “back yard”, as if proximity gave it the right to intervene, but throughout the world, including Vietnam where U.S. troops were already fighting. Revolts against colonialism and necolonialism were intertwined with the rise of the U.S.’s chief rival for world hegemony, the formerly socialist Soviet Union, now itself a capitalist and imperialist superpower. U.S. presidents and political pundits shamelessly declared their concern that the Dominican Republic could become “another Cuba”, a country that slipped out of the U.S.’s grip and into the Soviet orbit. Cuba had its admirers even among the Dominican elite and armed forces, to some extent exactly because the fall of the U.S. underboss in Cuba had not been followed by a process of revolutionary transformation of economic and social relationships and thinking.

U.S. President John F. Kennedy made the following analysis of the situation after Trujillo’s death: “There are only three possibilities… a decent democratic regime, a continuation of the Trujillo regime, or a Castro regime. We ought to aim for the first, but we really can’t renounced the second until we are sure that we can avoid the third.” This is the basic approach of the U.S. ruling class and all imperialist ruling classes in a nutshell: A “decent” regime endowed with the legitimacy of elections and democratic trappings is preferable, but countries must be kept under their control no matter what. The U.S.’s grip over the Caribbean, Central and South America through Trujillo-like regimes when deemed necessary should say a lot about the real nature of the monopoly capitalists ruling the U.S. and the limits of the “democracy” their empire offers.

The U.S. ambassador, sent to be the ultimate authority in the Dominican Republic from behind the scenes, complained that Bosch had refused to take his advice and run the country “with methods once used by the police in Chicago… illegal detention and often worse… I favoured such methods”. Bosch, he complained, was not assassinating “Castro/Communists” and had no political prisoners.

Kennedy’s successor Lyndon Johnson had attended Bosch’s inauguration as president of the only really elected government the Dominican Republic had ever known in many decades, if ever, but within months he ordered that Bosch be toppled. American intervention eventually brought Balaguer back to power and kept him there for another 12 years.

Of course, the U.S. insisted on “democracy”, in other words, elections, and sure enough Balaguer’s rule was consecrated through an election. The head of the CIA later admitted that president Johnson had ordered his agency to “arrange” Balaguer’s victory at the polls, but that victory was a foregone conclusion anyway. Bosch himself did not want a frontal confrontation with the U.S. on any playing field. He later said of the Trujillo regime and its continuation under Balaguer, “The Dominican government isn’t pro-American. It’s American property.” But he and his political heirs sought their own alliance with the U.S., and to some degree, eventually, they were to achieve it.

Yet the U.S. kept Balaguer on the stage until his work was done. That work was to attempt to erase the traces and spirit of the popular rebellion by hunting down and murdering, jailing or driving into exile a whole generation of revolutionaries. The game of electoral democracy could not be played until the playing field was mercilessly mowed. Under this prolonged attack and after, many of that generation’s rebels tried to get clarity on their goals and how to achieve them. Two crucial and interconnected issues were the nature of the revolution the country needed, and the relationship between this revolution and ruling class splits. There was a tendency to seek to organize a replay of April 1965 with a different outcome. At the same time, some of the dissident elements in the upper classes that had made the regime’s isolation in 1965 possible were being brought back into the fold.

Today’s Dominican Republic is not like in the Trujillo days. It has a bigger middle class, and many of the former peasants, especially their daughters, work for U.S. and other companies in the free trade zones, assembling parts made in other countries into consumer goods, or sewing clothing, all for export, mainly to the U.S. The country’s economy depends on these manufactured exports, mineral exports and the export of Dominicans themselves, the ten percent of the population who brought their labour power and political ferment to the U.S. Now the country’s most important “industry” is tourism, almost another kind of export. It hinders balanced economic development and promotes servitude and all sorts of unequal and oppressive social relations and outlooks throughout society, as does the drug trade, which, as in other Latin American countries, is one of the real main motors of economic development.

Economic development at what price – paid in the past, present and future? In discussing what to do after Trujillo’s death, a U.S. adviser wrote that the country had to be “reoccupied and reconstituted.” Today’s Dominican Republic, a product of the 1965 U.S. invasion despite changes since then, is still firmly in the grip of the U.S., and its people will never be able to begin to emancipate themselves until that grip is shattered.


For a detailed exposure of U.S. policies and actions in the Dominican Republic in those years, based largely on official U.S. documents and autobiographies by the leading U.S. criminals, see the Web site of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, ironically named after the U.S. president who ordered the first occupation of the Dominican Republic in 1916: (www.wilsoncenter.org./sites/default/files/CWIHP_Working_Paper_72_Hope_Denied_US_Defeat_1965_Revolt_Dominican_Republic.pdf). For a useful annotated bibliography of relevant materials, see www.oxfordbibliographies. Quotes in this article were taken from these two sources.

The novels The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Junot Diaz, Penguin, 2007) and In the Time of the Butterflies (Julia Alvarez, Plume, 1995) each have their own light to shed on the Trujillo period and its aftermath.

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