1961-62: Dominican General Strike Ends Dictatorship

In the aftermath of the assassination of the Dictator Trujillo a general strike was initiated to oust his remaining cronies.

Submitted by Reddebrek on January 17, 2017

Dominican citizens general strike for free democratic elections, 1961-1962

Through several decades in the 20th century, the Dominican Republic remained under the rule of the dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina, nicknamed “El Jefe.” With major support from the United States, the Trujillo dictatorship remained intact for over thirty years, during which brutal oppression and secret killings of political dissidents were the norm. Newspapers and other media outlets were strictly censored and Trujillo’s gangs of secret police terrorized the public. During this time, it was not uncommon for a critic of the Trujillo regime to be kidnapped by thugs driving license-less black cars and to be found days later lying beaten, bloody, and broken in the sugarcane fields.

Thus, the assassination of El Jefe in May of 1961 brought major tumultuous changes to the small Caribbean nation. The killing initiated a national cry for democratic change and free general elections. Anti-Trujillo groups and the civilian-supported National Civic Union (NCU) demanded that President Joaquin Balaguer, who had been installed in office by Trujillo and who continued to implement the regime’s oppressive policies, resign from his position and allow free democratic elections to ensue.

When Balaguer refused to resign or consolidate power, the NCU called for a general strike to weaken the Balaguer government. Led by Dr. Viriato Fillao, NCU supporters and other anti-Trujillo groups effectively shut down businesses and felled trees across streets to block public transit. Violent disputes between the opposition and police forces often broke out as NCU supporters taunted soldiers with jeers of “Boo Boo Balaguer!”. Despite numerous arrests and the military’s use of tear gas and noise grenades, Balaguer was unable to quell the opposition.

By the twelfth day of the crippling strike, Balaguer agreed to incorporate the NCU and other opposition groups into his government, but refused to resign. After negotiations, Balaguer agreed to modify the state constitution and create a State Council that would include NCU members and other opposition group representatives. The State Council “…would exercise both legislative and executive powers until a new democratic constitution was drafted and free general elections were held one year later” (Pons, 383).

However, on 16 January 1962, Balaguer dissolved the State Council and installed a civilian-military junta in its place. Opposition leaders and their supporters struck back with a resumption of the general strike, which effectively dissolved the junta and forced Balaguer to resign from the Presidency. Two days later, Balaguer was ousted from the country.

The State Council was reinstated and served as a transitional government until free general elections were held on 20 December 1962. Juan Bosch of the Dominican Revolutionary Party was elected President, but remained in power for only 7 months as former regime leaders, including Balaguer, continued to vie for political power. With such political instability, the Dominican Republic fell into civil war. Throughout this tumultuous time, the United States played a major role in Dominican political affairs as it carried out several CIA operations in the country and deployed thousands of U.S. military troops to prevent Bosch and his supporters from regaining power. [Particularly, while warning of “communism,” the U.S. was afraid that Bosch would establish a socialist democracy in the DR. -GL]

Despite these later developments, the general strike that was initiated by the National Civic Union achieved its goals of removing President Joaquin Balaguer from office and introducing free democratic elections in the Dominican Republic. Although the victory was short-lived and the protesters could not maintain their victory due to several internal and external forces, the campaign was successful in achieving its initial goals.


“Dominican Republic: Revolution Aborted”. Time Magazine. 8 December 1961.
“Dominican Republic: Dancing in the Streets.” Time Magazine. 15 December 1961.

Kurlansky, Mark. “The Dominican Republic; in the Land of the Blind Caudillo.” New York Times. 6 August 1989.

Pons, Frank M. The Dominican Republic: A National History. First Markus Wiener Publishers. Princeton, 1995. Pp. 382-383.

Additional Notes:

US involvement in the Dominican Republic was especially high
during this time. US policy-makers were opposed to a Bosch-regime and thus carried out several CIA operations and deployed thousands of military troops to prevent Bosch and his supporters from assuming power. [Particularly, while warning of “communism,” the U.S. was afraid that Bosch would establish a socialist democracy in the DR. -GL].

Edited by Max Rennebohm (07/05/2011)

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy:

Aden Tedla, 20/02/2010

Published on the Global Nonviolent Action Database