Remedying Past Unlawful Military Interventions: The Case of the Dominican Republic

Congressman Adriano Espaillat* and Francesco Arreaga**


As the first Dominican American to serve in the United States Congress and a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, I deeply care about the United States’ relations throughout the Caribbean and commitments to ensuring that we are fulfilling our ideals of equality, liberty, opportunity, and democracy on the world stage. Maintaining diplomatic ties between the United States and the Dominican Republic is especially important to me as I was born in Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic and came to the United States as a young child. Fostering this important relationship requires acknowledgment and redress of the United States’ past military interventions and occupations of the Dominican Republic. Growing up, my family taught me about the United States’ military interventions, and I recall seeing U.S. Marines on patrol in the Dominican Republic in 1965 when I briefly returned to Santo Domingo, without yet fully understanding their significance or the impact their presence had on my community.

This essay details the United States’ history of intervention in the Dominican Republic, including President Ulysses S. Grant’s desire to annex the Dominican Republic, the 1916-1924 Occupation, U.S. support for the oppressive Trujillo regime, and the 1965-1966 Occupation. It then outlines how the two military occupations by the United States violated the Dominican Republic’s sovereignty. It concludes by explaining how legislation I introduced in the 117th Congress, H.R. 2725 – La Comisión de las Ocupaciones Norteamericas Act (Commission on United States Occupations Act) – is an important step to repairing the damage caused by the United States’ military interventions in the Dominican Republic, which will bolster the legitimacy of the United States’ defense of human rights and international law on the world stage.


A. President Grant Attempts to Annex the Dominican Republic

After gaining independence from Haiti in 1844 and Spain in 1865, the Dominican Republic faced a period of political instability, rising national debt, and the continued threat of invasion. At the same time, the United States adhered to the Monroe Doctrine, a policy establishing that countries in the Western Hemisphere were not to be considered subjects for colonization by any European powers.1 Monroe Doctrine, HISTORY (Sep. 20, 2019), [].

Fearing that a European power would take control of the Dominican Republic, on November 29, 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant entered into a treaty with the Dominican Republic to annex the nation in exchange for $1.5 million and payment of its debt.2 See President Ulysses S. Grant, Special Message to the United States Senate (May 31, 1870), available at []. On May 31, 1870, President Grant sent a message to the United States Senate regarding the treaty to annex the Dominican Republic, expressing that “the acquisition of San Domingo is an adherence to the Monroe doctrine; it is a measure of national protection; it is asserting our just claim to a controlling influence over the great commercial traffic soon to flow from east to west.”3 Id. The treaty required two-thirds of the votes in the Senate to be ratified. On June 30, 1870, the Senate, by a vote of 28-28, rejected the treaty of annexation.4 Rejected Treaties, U.S. SENATE, [] (last visited Sep. 27, 2022).

On January 12, 1871, Congress enacted a joint resolution creating a Commission of Inquiry to Santo Domingo.5 Forty First Congress. Third Session. House of Representatives. Petitions and Memorials., THE NEW YORK TIMES, Jan. 12, 1871 at 5, available at []. Frederick Douglass was a member of this Commission and supported efforts to annex the Dominican Republic.6 DeArbea Walker, In 1871, the US almost acquired the Dominican Republic. President Ulysses S. Grant hoped that ‘the entire colored population of the United States’ would move to the island., INSIDER (Jul. 11, 2022), []. The Commission of Inquiry issued its report to Congress detailing how the President of the Dominican Republic and his cabinet “manifested a liberal and accommodating spirit” to the treaty of annexation.7 U.S. COMM’N OF INQUIRY TO SANTO DOMINGO 31 (Washington, Gov’t Printing Office 1871). It also noted that people in the Dominican Republic would prefer independence to annexation, but assessed that “independence is impossible” – because the Dominican Republic had “never maintained any real independence” before.8 Id. at 32. The Commission did not make an official recommendation on annexation, as that was beyond their Congressional mandate.9 Id. Ultimately, the United States Congress did not move forward with President Grant’s desire to annex the Dominican Republic.

B. The American Occupation from 1916-1924

By 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt had established a new foreign policy doctrine to keep foreign powers out of the Western Hemisphere and ensure the payment of debts to international creditors. The Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine established that the United States would act as “an international police power” in the Western Hemisphere.10 Roosevelt, Theodore, Annual Message to Congress (Dec. 6, 1904). In practice, this doctrine served as a justification for U.S. intervention in several countries across the Western Hemisphere.11 DEP’T OF STATE, ROOSEVELT COROLLARY TO THE MONROE DOCTRINE, 1904, [].

In accordance with the Roosevelt Corollary, the Convention of 1907 between the United States and the Dominican Republic authorized the President of the United States to appoint a general receiver to collect customs duties accrued by the Dominican Republic until its outstanding bonds were paid.12 Convention of 1907, (Dom. Rep.-U.S., Feb. 8, 1907, T.S. No. 465). Following the assassination of Dominican President Ramón Cáceres in 1911, the Dominican Republic entered a period of continued political instability preventing it from meeting its fiscal obligations. The United States intervened by sending 750 Marines to the Dominican Republic, cutting off funds from the customs receivership, and placing Monseñor Adolfo Nouel as interim president. 13 DEP’T OF STATE, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC 1916-1924, [].

On May 5, 1916, approximately 280 American troops were deployed to support President Jiménez. Just two days later, however, President Jiménez resigned.14 Dynamic Analysis of Dispute Management (DADM) Project: (1) Dominican Republic (1902-present), UNIV. CENT. ARK. (last visited Sept. 30, 2022), [] [hereinafter Dominican Republic (1902-present)]. A civil war ensued, and the United States ultimately sent 3,000 troops to occupy the Dominican Republic.15 Id.  On July 4, 1916, Dominican General Carlos Daniel and Captain Maximo Cabral, resisted the American army that was advancing towards Santiago during the Battle of La Barranquita.16 Ruling party commemorates little-known US-DR battle, DOMINICAN TODAY (July 3, 2014), []. Cabral and most of his men died in combat on July 4, 1916.17 Id. Historical accounts indicate that U.S. Marines “frightened, insulted, abused, oppressed, injured, and even killed hundreds of Dominicans, combatants and noncombatants alike.”18 Bruce J. Calder, Caudillos and Gavilleros versus the United States Marines: Guerrilla Insurgency during the Dominican Intervention, 1916-1924, 58 HISP. AM. HIST. REV. 649, 662 (1978). Records from the U.S. Department of State admit that “U.S. Senate hearings proved embarrassing when Dominican witnesses argued that the occupation violated international law and contravened Wilson’s Fourteen Points, and discussed the mistreatment of imprisoned Dominican insurgents.”19 U.S. DEP’T OF STATE, WILSON’S FOURTEEN POINTS, 1918 (last visited Sept. 30, 2022), []. The American occupation of the Dominican Republic lasted eight years, causing great resentment amongst citizens of the Dominican Republic. At least 1,000 people were killed during this conflict.20 Dominican Republic (1902-present), supra note 14.

C. United States’ Support for Trujillo’s Oppressive Regime

During the American occupation of the Dominican Republic, the United States formed a constabulary composed of Dominican nationals trained by U.S. Marines to police the country. Amongst these nationals was Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina, a “favorite of the Marine staff.” 21 Raymond H. Pulley, The United States and the Trujillo Dictatorship, 1933-1940: The High Price of Caribbean Stability, CARIBBEAN STUD. 22, 22 (1965). When the United States withdrew from the Dominican Republic in 1924, Trujillo commanded the national army. In 1930, General Trujillo ran for the presidency and won, assuring “his election by machine-gun suppression of all opposition.”22 Id. at 23. 

Trujillo retained decisive control over the Dominican Republic for more than three decades, monopolized several industries to ensure that the economic gains disproportionately benefited his family, and assembled a secret police force to censor the press and kill dissenters.23 Editors, Rafael Trujillo, HISTORY (March 8, 2021), []. Trujillo and his family members took control of the salt, tobacco, and beer industries, while also acquiring approximately one third of the nation’s cultivated land.24 Rafael Leónidas Trujillo. GALE BIOGRAPHY IN CONTEXT. Web. (Oct. 1, 2010). By 1938, an American journalist and historian wrote that “Trujillo among other things, is a product of gangsterism, banditry, militarism, and our own marine occupation.”25 Pulley, supra note 22, at 25. Throughout President Roosevelt’s administration, the United States supported Trujillo despite his repressive regime because he served U.S. financial interests and protected foreign holdings in the Dominican Republic.26 Id. at 30.

By the 1950s, amid the Cold War, President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s administration was focused on preventing the spread of communism. In 1958, President Eisenhower ended arms shipments to Cuba and suspended military aid to Trujillo. In April 1960, President Eisenhower approved a State Department memorandum regarding policies to be followed “‘in the event of the flight, assassination, death, or overthrow of Trujillo.’”27 S. G. Rabe, Eisenhower and the Overflow of Rafael Trujillo, 6 JOURNAL OF CONFLICT STUDIES 34, 38 (Winter 1986). The memorandum detailed how the United States was ready to “dispatch warships to Dominican waters or to land troops on Dominican soil” to prevent the rise of a regime that was sympathetic to Fidel Castro in Cuba.28 Id. at 38. Subsequently, various representatives of the United States traveled to the Dominican Republic to convince Trujillo to resign. Trujillo resisted and stated, “you can come in here with the Marines, and you can come in here with the Army, and you can come in here with the Navy or even the atomic bomb, but I’ll never go out of here unless I go on a stretcher.”29 Id.

In June 1960, the Assistant Secretary of State for Latin American Affairs gave unofficial approval to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to provide clandestine assistance to dissidents in the Dominican Republic necessary to develop a force to overthrow Trujillo.30 Id. at 39. On May 30, 1961, Trujillo was assassinated by seven Dominican nationals.31 Id. at 41.

D. The Second Occupation of the Dominican Republic (1965-1966)

After the murder of Rafael Trujillo, Dominican Revolutionary Party founder Juan Bosch was elected president. Bosch was toppled by a military coup just seven months into his term, and the Dominican Republic plunged into political turmoil. On April 28, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered troops into the Dominican Republic through “Operation Power Pack” to protect American lives and property in the Dominican Republic.32 Statement by the President Upon Ordering Troops into the Dominican Republic., U.C. SANTA BARBARA: THE AMERICAN PRESIDENCY PROJECT (last visited Sept. 29, 2022), []. President Johnson, however, also declared that he had taken this military action to prevent the establishment of a “communist dictatorship.”33 U.S. Troops Land in the Dominican Republic in Attempt to Forestall a “Communist Dictatorship,” HISTORY (Apr. 27, 2021), []. Similarly, the U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic William Tapley Bennett, Jr., described how intervention was necessary to “prevent another Cuba.”34 Brendan J. O’Shea, “OPERATION POWER PACK – U.S. Military Intervention in the Dominican Republic”, ARMY (Apr. 20, 2010), [].

On April 28, 1965, more than 22,000 U.S. troops, supported by forces provided by several member states of the Organization of American States initiated a military intervention in the Dominican Republic.35 HISTORY, supra note 33 Ultimately, 42,000 American armed forces were deployed to the Dominican Republic and remained there until September 1966.36 Juleyka Lantigua-Williams, 40 Years Later, U.S. invasion Still Haunts Dominican Republic, PROGRESSIVE MAG. (Apr. 21, 2005, 6:08 PM), []. More than 3,000 Dominicans and 31 American servicemembers lost their lives.37 Id. 


A. The Chorzón Factory Case on Reparations

The principle of providing reparations to compensate for a breach of international law has existed since before the 1945 creation of the United Nations (UN) Charter. In 1927, the Permanent Court of International Justice held in the Chorzów Factory case that “it is a principle of international law that the breach of an engagement involves an obligation to make reparation in an adequate form.”38 Case Concerning the Factory at Chorzów (The Government of Germany v. The Government of the Polish Republic), Judgment, 1927 I.C.J. 21 (July 26), []. In addition, the court explained that reparations “must, as far as possible, wipe out all the consequences of the illegal act and reestablish the situation which would, in all probability, have existed if that act had not been committed.”39 See id. In other words, when a country engages in an action that violates international law, it not only has a moral obligation to correct that wrong, but also a legal obligation to do so under international law.

B. The UN Charter

After World War II, the United States coordinated with other nations to create the United Nations. The United States Senate ratified the UN Charter on July 28, 1945, by a vote of 89–2.40 93 CONG. REC. 8, 8190 (1947) (roll call) []. The Charter establishes the basic framework for the jus ad bellum standards which outline when a state may legally engage in armed conflict and reaffirms the UN’s commitment to respect the sovereignty of each UN member nation.

Article 2, paragraphs 1, 2, and 4 of the United Nations Charter declare that the members of the U.N. shall act in accordance with the following principles:

    1. The Organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members;
    2. All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means; and
    3. All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State.41 U.N. Charter art. 2, ⁋ 1, 2, and 4.

Article 33 states that “[t]he parties to any dispute, the continuance of which is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security, shall, first of all, seek a solution by negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice.”42 U.N. Charter art. 33, ⁋ 1.

Resolution 3314, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 14, 1974, defines aggression as “the use of armed force by a State against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Charter of the United Nations, as set out in this Definition.”43 G.A. Res. 3314 (XXIX), art. 1 (Dec. 14, 1974). Furthermore, “the invasion or attack by the armed forces of a State of the territory of another state, or any military occupation, however temporary, resulting from such invasion or attack, or any annexation by the use of force of the territory of another State or part thereof” qualifies as an act of aggression.44 G.A. Res. 3314 (XXIX), art. 3 (a) (Dec. 14, 1974).

Finally, Article 92 of the UN Charter establishes the International Court of Justice as the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, and Article 94 states that “[e]ach member of the United Nations undertakes to comply with the decision of the International Court of Justice in any case to which it is a party.”45 See U.N. Charter art. 92; See also U.N. Charter art. 94, ⁋ 1.

C. The United States’ Military Invasions of the Dominican Republic Constituted Violations of International Law

Based on the principles outlined in the previous section, it is clear that the United States’ military interventions in the Dominican Republic violated fundamental principles of international law. These military interventions were acts of aggression, as described in UN Resolution 3314  and disregarded the territorial and political sovereignty of the Dominican Republic. The Monroe Doctrine and Roosevelt Corollary were used to rationalize acts of aggression against countries in the Western Hemisphere like the Dominican Republic, but such rationalizations do not absolve our nation of the moral stain left by the violations of international law as well as the devastating impact these actions had on civil society.

D. Nicaragua v. United States

Any country seeking reparations from the United States for violations of international law, will likely be unable to successfully obtain a remedy from an international tribunal. The case of Nicaragua v. United States exemplifies the limits of international law by showing the barriers to enforcing judgments by international tribunals. Specifically, this case serves as a useful precedent to show why the Dominican Republic would likely be unable to obtain a remedy through an international tribunal for the United States’ military interventions in the twentieth century.

On April 9, 1984, Nicaragua filed an application to institute proceedings against the United States in the International Court of Justice (ICJ), “concerning a dispute relating to responsibility for military and paramilitary activities in and against Nicaragua.”46 Military and Paramilitary Activities in and Against Nicaragua (Nicar. v. U.S), Overview, []. Following the ICJ’s determination that it had jurisdiction to hear this case, the United States Department of State announced that it did not recognize the ICJ’s jurisdiction.47 Text of U.S. Statement on Withdrawal From Case Before the World Court, N.Y. TIMES (Jan. 19, 1985), []. On February 22, 1985, President Ronald Reagan affirmed during the first news conference of his second term that it was his objective to “remove” the “present structure” of the government in Nicaragua.48 Hendrick Smith, U.S. President Asserts Goal is to Remove Sandinistas, N.Y. TIMES (Feb. 22, 1985), [].

On June 27, 1986, the Court issued its judgement, holding that the United States was in “breach [of] its obligation under customary international law not to intervene in the affairs of another State” by “training, arming, equipping, financing and supplying the contra forces or otherwise encouraging, supporting and aiding military and paramilitary activities in and against Nicaragua.”49 Military and Paramilitary Activities in and Against Nicaragua (Nicar. v. U.S), Judgement, 1986, I.C.J.14,
¶ 292 (June 27).
In addition, the ICJ found that “the United States of America is under an obligation to make reparation to the Republic of Nicaragua for all injury caused to Nicaragua by the breaches of obligations under customary international law.”

The Court noted that the United States Congress “expressed the view that the Nicaraguan Government had taken ‘significant steps towards establishing a totalitarian Communist dictatorship.’”50 Id., at  ¶ 263. The Court, however, refused to “contemplate the creation of a new rule opening up a right of intervention by one State against another on the ground that the latter has opted for some particular ideology or political system.”51 Id. Such a finding would undermine the “principle of State sovereignty, on which the whole of international law rests, and the freedom of choice of the political, social, economic and cultural system of a State.”52 Id.

On July 31, 1986, the United States vetoed UN Resolution S/18250, which requested an “urgent and solemn call for full compliance with the judgment of the International Court of Justice” in Nicaragua v. United States.53 Elaine Sciolino, U.S. Vetoes Rebuke on Aid to Contras, N.Y. TIMES (Aug. 1, 1986), []. In October 1986, the United States vetoed a similar initiative, Resolution S/18428.54 On November 3, 1986, the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 41/31, calling for immediate compliance with the ICJ’s judgment and requesting that the Secretary-General keep the General Assembly informed about implementation of the resolution.55 G.A. Res. 41/31 (Nov. 3, 1986) (referencing Military and Paramilitary Activities in and Against Nicaragua (Nicar. v. U.S.), Judgment, 1986 I.C.J. 14 (June 27)). []. After sustained pressure, Nicaragua informed the ICJ in September 1991 that it no longer wanted to continue the proceedings against the United States and the case was removed.56 Military and Paramilitary Activities in and Against Nicaragua (Nicar. v. U.S.), Order, 1991 I.C.J. 47 (Sept. 26) [].

Apart from the challenges of obtaining reparations from international tribunals, the Supreme Court of the United States has also established that decisions by the ICJ are not binding domestic law.57 See Medellín v. Texas, 552 U.S. 491, 520–23 (2008) (holding that “particular treaty obligations” like complying with ICJ judgments “do not of their own force create domestic law” or “constitute binding federal law that pre-empts state restrictions”).

E. Congress Must Provide Remedies for Violations of International Law

The Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution makes treaties the supreme law of the land.58 U.S. CONST. art. VI, § 2. The U.S. Supreme Court held in Foster v. Neilson that in the United States, “[o]ur Constitution declares a treaty to be the law of the land. It is consequently to be regarded in courts of justice as equivalent to an act of the legislature, whenever it operates of itself without the aid of any legislative provision.”59 Foster v. Neilson, 27 U.S. 253, 254 (1829).

As a general matter, the United States does not recognize the jurisdiction of international tribunals. In Medellín v. Texas, the Supreme Court held that Article 94(1) of the United Nations Charter, which requires members of the UN to comply with decisions of the International Court of Justice in any case of which it is a party, is “not a directive to domestic courts” and “does not provide that the United States ‘shall’ or ‘must’ comply with an ICJ decision.”60 Medellín, 552 U.S. at 508. In addition, the Supreme Court expressed that the “U.N. reads like a ‘compact between independent nations’ that ‘depends for the enforcement of its provisions on the interest and the honor of the governments which are parties to it.’”61 Id. at 508–09 (quoting Head Money Cases, 112 U.S. 580, 598 (1884)).

Consequently, it is incumbent upon members of Congress to provide a legislative remedy for violations of international law. For this reason, on April 21, 2021, I introduced H.R. 2725, La Comisión de las Ocupaciones Norteamericanas Act (The Commission on United States Occupations Act), to start the process of acknowledging the violations of international law and injustices committed against the people of the Dominican Republic as a result of the United States’ military interventions.62 H.R. 2725, 117th Cong. (2021) [].


H.R. 2725, the first bill in the history of Congress to be named in Spanish, establishes the Commission to Study and Develop Reconciliation Proposals for the Dominican Republic. The Commission is charged with identifying and examining evidentiary documentation relating to the United States’ interest in incorporating the Dominican Republic as a U.S. territory in 1869, as well as the U.S. military occupations between 1916-1924 and 1965-1966. In addition, the Commission will compile accurate data regarding the number of casualties and destruction of private property, as well as the impact that the intervention had on the future of the Dominican economy. The Commission will then recommend to Congress appropriate remedies for the people of the Dominican Republic, including the issuance of a formal apology on behalf of the United States, as well as appropriate policies, projects, and recommendations to reverse the effects of the occupations. Importantly, the Commission must address how its recommendations for remedies comport with international standards of remedy for wrongs and injuries as understood by international protocols, laws, and findings.

If passed, this law would be the first Congressional act that recognizes the need to provide a remedy to the people of the Dominican Republic for being subjected to a foreign policy of military interventionism by the United States. In 2016, the Organization of American States (OAS), of which the United States is a member, apologized publicly for approving the military occupation of the Dominican Republic in 1965.63 OAS Says Sorry to Dominican Republic; Will The US Follow, DOMINICAN TODAY (June 16, 2016), []. The Declaration of Santo Domingo, acknowledges that the occupation disrupted the restoration of constitutional order in the Dominican Republic and reaffirmed the principles of international law, the United Nations Charter, and the Charter of the OAS.64 Id.

Enacting H.R. 2725 would affirm the United States’ commitment to upholding international law and thereby bolster our ability to lead other nations in support of human rights and respect for sovereignty on the world stage. As a global power that strives to protect human rights and democratic principles, the United States must reckon with the actions of previous administrations and demonstrate to the world that we will rectify past wrongs. This is both morally important and necessary to fulfill our obligations under international law.

* Member, United States House of Representatives (D-NY). B.A., Queens College, 1978. Congressman Espaillat serves on the House Appropriations Committee and the Committee on Education and Labor. He is the first Dominican American and formerly undocumented immigrant elected to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. Congressman Espaillat would like to thank Betzaida Sanchez for her work in introducing H.R.2725 – La Comisión de las Ocupaciones Norteamericanas Act, Jose Acosta for translating this article to Spanish, Candace Person and Monica Garay for their support, and the editors of the Harvard Journal on Legislation.

**J.D., University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, 2021; B.A., University of California, Los Angeles, 2017. Mr. Arreaga is a Policy Advisor to Congressman Espaillat. He has served as a fellow at the American Constitution Society, as well as a law clerk on the Senate Judiciary and Senate Banking Committee.