United States occupation of the Dominican Republic (1916–1924)

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United States occupation of the Dominican Republic (1916–1924)
Part of the Banana Wars
Marines of the 4th regiment with a captured rebel mitrailleuse at Santiago
Date5 May 1916 – 27 December 1924

American victory

  • Occupation of the Dominican Republic.
  • Establishment of an American sponsored puppet Government in the Dominican Republic.
 United States
Dominican Republic Dominican National Guard (from 1917)
Dominican Republic Dominican rebels
Commanders and leaders
Dominican Republic Desiderio Arias
1,800 marines
1,000 militia
Casualties and losses
144 marines killed[1][2]
50 wounded[2]
40 sailors dead[3]
950 killed or wounded[2]

The first United States occupation of the Dominican Republic lasted from 1916 to 1924. It was one of the many interventions in Latin America undertaken by the military forces of the United States in the 20th century. On May 13, 1916,[4] Rear Admiral William B. Caperton forced the Dominican Republic's Secretary of War Desiderio Arias, who had seized power from President Juan Isidro Jimenes Pereyra, to leave Santo Domingo by threatening the city with naval bombardment.[4] The Marines landed three days later and established effective control of the country within two months. The U.S. occupations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic led to clashes that killed 290 U.S. Marines, over 3,000 Haitians, and hundreds of Dominicans.[5] Despite having much greater firepower, it took the U.S. Marines five years to suppress an insurgency in the eastern provinces of El Seibo and San Pedro de Macorís.


The piecemeal invasion resulted in the United States Navy's occupation of all key positions in government and controlling the army and police. The first landing took place on May 5, 1916, when "two companies of marines landed from the USS Prairie at Santo Domingo."[6] Their goal was to offer protection to the American legation and the American consulate and to occupy Fort San Geronimo. Within hours, these companies were reinforced with "seven additional companies."[6] On May 6, American forces from the USS Castine landed to offer protection to the Haitian Legation, a country under a similar military occupation by the United States. Two days after the first landing, constitutional President Juan Isidro Jimenes resigned.[7]

Admiral Caperton's forces occupied Santo Domingo on May 15, 1916. Colonel Joseph H. Pendleton's Marine units took the key port cities of Puerto Plata and Monte Cristi on the 1 June and enforced a blockade.[8] The marines were able to occupy Monte Cristi without meeting any resistance. However, when the marines attacked Puerto Plata, they were met with resistance from about 500 pro-Arias Dominicans. Though they were under heavy fire, the marines persisted in attempting to enter the city, and sustained several casualties such as the death of Captain Herbert J. Hirschinger, who was the first marine killed in combat in the campaign.

The first major engagement occurred on June 27, at Las Trencheras, two ridges, which had been fortified by the Dominicans and long thought to be invulnerable, since a Spanish army had been defeated there in 1864. There the Dominican troops had dug trenches on two hills, one behind the other, blocking the road to Santiago. The field guns of Captain Chandler Campbell's 13th Company, along with a machine gun platoon, took position on a hill commanding the enemy trenches and opened fire at 08:00 hours. Under the cover of this fire, the Marines launched a bayonet charge on the defenders' first line of defense, covered until the last possible moment by the artillery barrage. The Marines came under heavy but inaccurate rifle fire, which caused some casualties. The Dominican soldiers were forced to retreat to their trenches on the second hill. They rallied there briefly, then broke and had to retreat again as the American field guns resumed their shelling of the hill. Within 45 minutes from the opening artillery shots, the Marines had forced the Dominicans to fall back. During the battle, five Marines were killed[9] and four were wounded, and five Dominicans were killed.[10] This engagement set the pattern for most Marine contact with the Dominican forces. Marines overpowered Dominicans with modern artillery, machine guns, small-unit maneuver, and individual training and marksmanship.[10]

The Marines encountered another entrenched rebel force at Guayacanas, where the rebels kept up single-shot fire against the automatic weapons of the Marines before the Marines drove them off, killing 27 Dominicans while the Marine Corps only death was Corporal George Fravee.[11]

U.S. Marines in the Dominican Republic

Two days after the Battle of Guayacanas, on July 3 the Marines moved onto Arias' stronghold in Santiago de los Caballeros.[12] However, "A military encounter was avoided when Arias arrived at an agreement with Capteron to cease resistance."[13] Three days after Arias left the country,[4] the rest of the occupation forces landed and took control of the country within two months,[4] and on the 29 November the United States imposed a military government under Captain (later Rear Admiral) Harry Shepard Knapp, Commander of the Cruiser Force aboard his flagship, USS Olympia (which still exists today in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States).[4][14]

Dominican forces in San Francisco de Macoris refused to lay down their weapons and occupied a local fort. This was in direct violation of the terms imposed by the military government installed by the United States. A small squad of Marines that were close by were able to make their way inside the fort and surprise the defenders, securing it before any organized resistance could take place.[15]


U.S. Marines during the occupation
The Flag of the United States waving over Ozama Fortress, c. 1922

Marines claimed to have restored order throughout most of the republic, with the exception of the eastern region, but resistance to the occupation from Dominicans continued widespread in both, direct and indirect forms in every place.[16] The US occupation administration, however, measured its success through these standards: the country's budget was balanced, its debt was diminished, economic growth directed now toward the US; infrastructure projects produced new roads that allowed the movement of military personnel across all the country's regions for the first time in history;[17] a professional military organization that took away the power from local elites and made soldiers more loyal to the national government, the Dominican Constabulary Guard, replaced the former partisan forces responsible for the civil war with groups under the control of US Marines.[18][19] The Constabulary Guard, later known as the National Guard, would persecute and torture those who opposed the occupation.[19]

With the United States occupation of Haiti to the west of the Dominican Republic, the United States Marines controlled all of Hispaniola "through censorship, intimidation, fear, and military force", according to Lorgia García Peña.[19] Like Haiti, the finances of the Dominican Republic were controlled by National City Bank of New York, subsequently allowing American businesses to acquire Dominican properties to cultivate sugar.[19] American corporations would then force Haitians to migrate to the Dominican Republic and work on sugar plantations in poor conditions.[20] American culture also influenced Dominicans, with cockfighting being replaced with baseball as the "national pastime". In addition, some Afro-religious groups being banned by occupying forces resulted in a stigma being placed against practicing communities that has continued into the 21st century.[19] Marines also spread white supremacist ideology throughout the nation based on Jim Crow laws existing in the United States.[19]

Most Dominicans greatly resented the loss of their sovereignty to foreigners, few of whom spoke Spanish or displayed much real concern for the welfare of the republic. A guerrilla movement, known as the gavilleros,[4] with leaders such as General Ramón Natera, enjoyed considerable support from the population in the eastern provinces of El Seibo and San Pedro de Macorís.[4] Having knowledge of the local terrain, they fought from 1917 to 1921 against the United States occupation.[21] Imprisoned guerillas were mistreated by US forces according to Congressional investigations.[22] The fighting in the countryside ended in a stalemate, and the guerrillas agreed to a conditional surrender:[23]

"There are revolutionaries striving for self-determination in Santo Domingo, they are called gavilleros and they are better fighters than the "cacos" of Haiti. One band has announced a determination completely to exterminate the white foreigners and makes a practice of horribly mutilating the dead and wounded. More than thirty marines have been killed in this insurrection as opposed to only four in Haiti."

Among protestors to the occupation was the Junta Patriótica de Damas, a group of feminist writers.[24] Rosa Smester Marrero was a Santiago-born educator typical of feminist resistance to the occupation,[25][26] publishing articles in literary magazines.[24] Smester refused to speak English as a form of civil resistance,[27] claiming that if she spoke that language, the Americans would also have occupied her mind.[28][better source needed]


USS Memphis wrecked at Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, where it was thrown ashore by rogue waves on the afternoon of August 29, 1916

Dominican migrants in Cuba began a successful campaign to denounce the US occupation while Latin American governments also protested.[22] According to the United States Department of State, US Senate investigations "proved embarrassing" to the Wilson administration after Dominican witnesses argued that the government's actions violated international law, were against Wilson's Fourteen Points, and that occupying forces abused captives.[22]

After World War I, public opinion in the United States began to run against the occupation.[4] Warren G. Harding, who succeeded Wilson in March 1921, had campaigned against the occupations of both Haiti and the Dominican Republic.[4] In June 1921, United States representatives presented a withdrawal proposal, known as the Harding Plan, which called for Dominican ratification of all acts of the military government, approval of a loan of $2.5 million USD for public works and other expenses, the acceptance of United States officers for the constabulary, or National Guard, and the holding of elections under United States supervision. Popular reaction to the plan was overwhelmingly negative.[4] Moderate Dominican leaders, however, used the plan as the basis for further negotiations that resulted in an agreement between U.S. Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes and Dominican Ambassador to the United States Francisco J. Peynado on June 30, 1922,[29] allowing for the selection of a provisional president to rule until elections could be organized.[4]

Under the supervision of High Commissioner Sumner Welles, Juan Bautista Vicini Burgos assumed the provisional presidency on October 21, 1922.[4] In the presidential election of March 15, 1924, Horacio Vásquez Lajara, an American ally who cooperated with the United States government, handily defeated Peynado. Vásquez's Alliance Party (Partido Alianza) also won a comfortable majority in both houses of Congress.[4] With his inauguration on July 13, control of the republic returned to Dominican hands.[4]


Despite the withdrawal, there were still concerns regarding the collection and application of the country's custom revenues. To address this problem, representatives of the United States and the Dominican Republic governments met at a convention and signed a treaty, on December 27, 1924, which gave the United States control over the country's custom revenues.[30] In 1941, the treaty was officially repealed and control over the country's custom revenues was again returned to the government of the Dominican Republic.[30] However this treaty created lasting resentment of the United States among the people of the Dominican Republic.[31]

According to Lorgia García Peña, the occupation resulted in increased inequality in the Dominican Republic and contributed to the establishment of an economic and political system that benefits rich companies, while subjecting most Dominicans to poverty.[19] American support for future dictator Rafael Trujillo, who rose through the ranks of the National Guard with the help of the US Marines, was instrumental for establishing his base of support within the Dominican armed forces.[32]

The Dominican Campaign Medal was an authorized U.S. service medal for those military members who had participated in the conflict.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ayres (2008). A Military Miscellany. ISBN 9780307488251.
  2. ^ a b c "Congressional Bills 117th Congress". GovInfo.
  3. ^ Boot, Max (2014). The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power. p. 169. ISBN 9780465064939.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n "USA Dominican Republic Resistance 1917-1921". The Dupuy Institute. December 16, 2000. Retrieved June 29, 2014.
  5. ^ Hans Schmidt, The United States Occupation of Haiti, 1915-1934 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1995), p. 103; and “Americans Killed in Action,” American War Library, http://www.americanwarlibrary.com/allwars.htm.  Schmidt cites 146 Marine deaths in Haiti; and the American War Library cites 144 Marines killed in action in the Dominican Republic.
  6. ^ a b United States Naval Institute (1879). Proceedings of the United States Naval Institute. Annapolis, Md: U.S. Naval Institute. p. 239.
  7. ^ Atkins, G. Pope & Larman Curtis Wilson. (1998). The Dominican Republic and the United States : from imperialism to transnationalism. Athens, Ga.: Univ. of Georgia Press. pp. 49. ISBN 978-0820319308.
  8. ^ Musicant, Ivan (1990). The Banana Wars. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co. pp. 247–252. ISBN 978-0025882102.
  9. ^ Fredriksen, John C (2011). The United States Marine Corps: A Chronology, 1775 to the Present. ABC-CLIO. p. 76. ISBN 978-1-59884-542-6.
  10. ^ a b Fuller, Stephen M.; Cosmas, Graham A. (1974). "Marines in the Dominican Republic (1916-1924)" (PDF). US Marine Corps History and Museums Division. p. 16. Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  11. ^ Tulsa Daily World, July 7, 1916, p. 1.
  12. ^ Musicant. Banana Wars. pp. 253–263.
  13. ^ Atkins and Wilson (1998). The Dominican Republic and the United States. p. 49.
  14. ^ Domingo, United States Congress Senate Selected Committee on Haiti and Santo (1922). Inquiry Into Occupation and Administration of Haiti and Santo Domingo: Hearings Before a Select Committee on Haiti and Santo Domingo, United States Senate, Sixty-seventh Congress, First and Second Sessions, Pursuant to S. Res. 112 Authorizing a Special Committee to Inquire Into the Occupation and Administration of the Territories of the Republic of Haiti and the Dominican Republic ... U.S. Government Printing Office.
  15. ^ Battle of San Francisco de Macoris
  16. ^ Franks, Julie (June 1995). "The Gavilleros of the East: Social Banditry as Political Practice in the Dominican Sugar Region 1900-1924". Journal of Historical Sociology. 8 (2): 158–181. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6443.1995.tb00085.x.
  17. ^ Emmer, P. C., Bridget Brereton, B. W. Higman (2004). "Education in the Caribbean," a chapter in General History of the Caribbean: The Caribbean in the Twentieth Century. Paris, London: UNESCO. p. 609. ISBN 978-0-333-724590.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  18. ^ Haggerty, Richard A. (1989). "OCCUPATION BY THE UNITED STATES, 1916-24". Dominican Republic: A Country Study. Library of Congress. Retrieved June 29, 2014.
  19. ^ a b c d e f g García Peña, Lorgia (May 25, 2016). "One Hundred Years After the Occupation". North American Congress on Latin America. Retrieved January 4, 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  20. ^ Joos, Vincent (2021). The struggle of non-sovereign Caribbean territories: neoliberalism since the French Antillean Uprisings of 2009. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. ISBN 9781978815742.
  21. ^ McPherson, Alan (2013). Encyclopedia of U.S. Military Interventions in Latin America. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. pp. 223–2. ISBN 978-1598842609.
  22. ^ a b c "Dominican Republic, 1916-1924". United States Department of State. August 20, 2008. Retrieved January 4, 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  23. ^ "The Herald of Asia: A Review of Life and Progress in the Orient". 1921.
  24. ^ a b Peguero, Valentina (2005). "Women's Grass-Roots Organizations in the Dominican Republic: Real and Imagined Female Figures". In Knight, Franklin W.; Martínez-Vergne, Teresita (eds.). Contemporary Caribbean Cultures and Societies in a Global Context. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press. pp. 163–4. Retrieved February 11, 2023.
  25. ^ Peguero, Valentina (2005). "Women's Grass-Roots Organizations in the Dominican Republic: Real and Imagined Female Figures". In Knight, Franklin W.; Martínez-Vergne, Teresita (eds.). Contemporary Caribbean Cultures and Societies in a Global Context. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press. pp. 163–4. Retrieved February 11, 2023.
  26. ^ Jaime Julia, Julio, ed. (2001). Rosa Smester: Maestra de Maestras (in Spanish). Santo Domingo: Impresora El Siglo.
  27. ^ "Rosa Smester (Maestra de Maestras)" (PDF). Instituto Montecristeño de Antropología e Historia. Retrieved February 9, 2023.
  28. ^ Mercedes Morel, Luz; M. Cruz, Raysa (2022). Literary Anthology On Dominican Heroes (in French) (3rd ed.). Santiago de los Caballeros: Universidad Abierta Para Adultos. p. 42.
  29. ^ Calder, Bruce J. (1984). The Impact of Intervention: The Dominican Republic during the U.S. Occupation of 1916–1924. Markus Wiener Publishers. p. 223. ISBN 978-1-55876-386-9. Retrieved September 22, 2011.
  30. ^ a b "Dominican Republic-United States". The American Journal of International Law. 36 (4): 209–213. 1942. doi:10.2307/2213777. JSTOR 2213777. S2CID 246011614.
  31. ^ American foreign relations: a history. Since 1895, Volume 2, pg. 163
  32. ^ Roorda, Eric (1998). The dictator next door : the good neighbor policy and the Trujillo regime in the Dominican Republic, 1930-1945. Durham: Duke University Press. ISBN 9780822321231.

External links[edit]

Links in Spanish