Known as “El Jefe,” or “The Chief,” Rafael Trujillo ruled as dictator of the Dominican Republic for more than 30 years. During this time, more than 50,000 people were killed under Trujillo’s oppressive and corrupted regime. He was assassinated in 1961, less than a year after Ambassador Joseph Farland left the Dominican Republic. Farland served as Ambassador to the Dominican Republic from 1957 to 1960. His career also included positions in Panama, Pakistan, and Iran. In these oral history excerpts, he discusses his frequent meetings with the dictator and his delicate support for the underground. He was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning in 2000. You can read the account of Trujillo’s assassination and the Dominican Civil War, which followed soon after.
“We wanted to convince him to get the hell out of there”
Q: When did you move on to the scene that would lead to appointment as an ambassador?
FARLAND: In the early 1950s…, to be perfectly frank, I thought I had made enough money to support my family for the rest of my life. I wanted to do more. I wanted to do something for my country. This was a sincere motive that I had. What I had read about other men’s lives, I felt I was too young just to quit, so I had the opportunity of an introduction to Herbert Hoover, Jr., who was then Under Secretary of State. I went in to see him and I said, “Is there anything in the State Department that I can do to be of assistance to you and to my country?” …He called me in one day and said, “I want you to be an ambassador…. We’ve assigned you to Paraguay if you want it. We have another post that is exploding on us. It’s extremely dangerous. As a matter of fact, it might cost you your life. I want you to know that before you go any further. This is the Dominican Republic and the era of Trujillo. We are terribly concerned about what’s been going on. There’s been a kidnapping in New York. From the reports we’re getting, there is further activity that we should be concerned about. Would you be interested?” I said, “I had better again talk to my wife.” She said, “If that’s what you want to do, that’s what we will do.” So, that is what I did….
I went there in August of 1957. I left in 1960…. I was told, “You are to go down to the Dominican Republic. You are to be friendly with Trujillo, outwardly a close associate of Trujillo, as another ambassador has been, but I want you to get into the underground and find out what is going on and what is going to happen at this time and in the future. It’s a delicate operation, but your background and training make you the best possible selection we have in the Department. We do not want to eliminate Trujillo…. But we want him to take his loot and go off to Estoril or some other place and leave those people alone, let them be free.” We’d been accused of wanting to assassinate Trujillo. That was not my assignment. That would have been easy. What I had to do was try to convince him to get the hell out of there.
Q: Why were we so concerned in 1957 about the situation?
FARLAND: Well, human rights for one reason, definitely. There was an American citizen, a man by the name of Galinda, kidnapped on the streets of New York, flown to Miami, flown to the Dominican Republic, and killed. Part of my job was to find out the truth of that story. It was true. I found that out definitely. He was murdered in the Dominican Republic…. He was a Spaniard who had been a tutor for Ramphas and Rademus, Trujillo’s two sons. He left, went to Columbia University, and was teaching at Columbia. He was picked up off the street by Arturas Beyat’s organization (he was then consul general in New York) and flown to Miami and subsequently killed. One of the pilots on that plane was a man by the name of Adel Masa, who presumably hanged himself in a jail cell, but the fact was he was murdered by Trujillo.
Q: What was Galinda doing?
FARLAND: He wrote a biography of Trujillo. I’ve never seen it. There supposedly is a copy. Trujillo did everything in his power to eliminate every copy. I have been told (I can’t verify this for a fact, but I have a pretty good idea it’s true) that Ramphas came on the scene at a cabana when Trujillo’s mistress, in a period of spite, departs for Cuba and shacks up with Galinda. If that is in there, he would certainly kill anyone. That is what I heard was in that book….
“You’re nothing but a two bit dictator”
Q: What was happening in the Dominican Republic when you went out there?
FARLAND: Trujillo was in complete control. He was eliminating his opponents. Murder was in style. It was completely amoral…. When I got to the Dominican Republic, I found that there was no priest or rector in the Episcopal Church in Ciudad Trujillo. He had been killed at the crossing by Trujillo, murdered….
Q: Let’s talk about Trujillo and your overt relations with him.
FARLAND: We were great friends for a while…. And of course, the first Christmas, my wife receives from Tiffany’s a beautiful, beautiful tea set, which I returned with deep appreciation and a full explanation that American ambassadors aren’t supposed to do this sort of thing and we don’t let them do it, but that it was deeply appreciated and the kindness shall long be remembered.
Q: How about dealing with him personally? Did you get together?
FARLAND: I had lunch with him. He spoke a lot of English and my Spanish was not what you would call fluent. But I could speak a little. But the two of us understood what we were saying. He understood English perfectly….
He asked me one time, “How will I protect myself against assassination?” I said, “It’s almost impossible.” He said, “Well, first, can you tell me how an assassination might be done?” So, with the imagination that my father impressed me with, I said, “Well, it would be very simple and no one would know why. Just get a piece of uranium when you had your shoes made in the States or in England. Have a little piece of it put in your shoe and you put it on every morning and pretty soon you’ll be dead.” …He turned white. He asked me, “Where do I get those shoes?” Then he said, “You should be the head of the CIA.” I said, “I don’t think that’s the job for me. I’m satisfied where I am.”
Q: Were we giving him any help, assistance?
FARLAND: A little, but it was rapidly going downhill…. To come up abruptly to a period in 1960, I went down to tell him that all military equipment, every ounce of military equipment, was stopped. I went all by myself. He had his ambassador to the United States, the head of the army, the head of the navy, and the head of the air force standing there at attention. He blew up. He turned red. He proceeded then to do the unmentionable. He began a tirade against Eisenhower, my president. He called him “stupid,” said that he didn’t understand politics, didn’t understand what was going on in the Caribbean, and he called him (I hate to say this on tape) a “son of a bitch.” When he did that, my diplomacy took a flight out and I was a coal miner again. I decided the time had come when I would have to say a few words in support of my country, which I did, ending up by saying “As far as you are concerned, in my estimation, you’re nothing but a two bit dictator and your country compared to mine is nothing but a fly speck on a map.”
He turned redder than anything in this room. I suddenly realized, “Old Joe, if you blink, you’re dead. I’m all by myself. He’s wearing a gun. He has four million here who will support him. I’m a dead man if I blink.” But I didn’t blink. He blinked. He came walking around the corner of the desk and said, “Mr. Ambassador, my friend, in moments of stress, we oftentimes make comments that we really don’t mean. Let’s forgive and forget.” I couldn’t help myself. I said, “Trujillo, I am a Christian. I will forgive, but I won’t forget.” I turned on my heel and walked what looked like twenty-four miles across that office, all the time wondering if I was going to get a .38 in my back.
Q: What had caused this cutting off of everything?
FARLAND: My reporting on what he was doing. I had previously gone to see his older daughter. I drove out there in a Volkswagen that I had. I said, “Flora, I’ve come to talk to you about your father.” She said, “Why talk to me?” I said, “Flora, you’re the only one that I can talk to who has the guts to tell him what I’m going to tell you. Your father is going to be assassinated. There is no question in my mind whatsoever about that. It’s not the purpose of the United States to have that happen. We want him to retire and leave this country and let it become a normal way of life here in the Dominican Republic, which it can. This is a great country.” She said, “I know that.” Later in an article, she said I was the only ambassador that the United States ever had there who wouldn’t lick Trujillo’s boots. Then, at a party about five days later, she arrived at the party and said, “I talked to Daddy.” I said, “What did he say?” She said, “The ambassador said that? Yuck!” I said, “That’s the end….”
Why don’t you shoot him?
Q: How could you carry on these cordial relations – I’m talking about at the very beginning in 1957 – cordial relations with Trujillo, which had been more or less the pattern of other American ambassadors, and at the same time convince people who were opposed to him that we were not opposed to them?
FARLAND: Very carefully. That was very difficult, believe me. That is why it took so long. I had to do it individually. I couldn’t tell anybody else what I was doing. It was too dangerous…. Our message was that we would support the underground as we knew them. Johnny Puccini, who was one of the wealthiest young men in town, asked me one day, “We need twelve Enfield rifles.” I said, “Why in the hell do you want an Enfield rifle?” He said, “Well, we hear that they’re the best.” I said, “Well, I’ll take it up, but I’m not going to guarantee it.” I didn’t expect him to get them. But if I didn’t at least go back and say I asked for them, how much confidence would the underground have in me? So I had to make some kind of a visual effort, so I did. But I didn’t get them. They arrived later.
One boy said to me, “You know, you are right here. You look right into Trujillo’s bedroom. Why don’t you shoot him?” I said, “Johnny, why don’t you shoot him? You went to military school in the United States. You know how to shoot a rifle. Why do you want me to shoot him?” He said, “I want to go to the funeral….”
The support that I gave to the underground was the fact that they knew that the United States would back a democratic government. I didn’t give them a diddly darn thing as far as weaponry is concerned or any kind of apparatus of any kind. But they knew that I was on their side.