Life With The Generalissimo

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Our general manager, Mr. Marionneaux, was anxious over this. Not only was the horse of enormous value, but the loan presaged some favor Trujillo would ask in return. For a couple of months men guarded that animal night and day, in terror lest it catch a cold or injure a limb.

One day the sergeant came back with his truck. “El Generalisimo is pleased to take back his horse,” was all he said.

Two weeks later a convoy of gray army trucks carrying fifty soldiers entered the compound and snaked its way over to the motor pool. An officer got out of the lead truck and saluted the pool manager.

“El Generalisimo is pleased to accept your kind offer of the loan of fifty jeeps,” he said. Dropping the salute, he bellowed at the soldiers, who scrambled to man the jeeps on hand. Those left over sat down to await the return of the vehicles still out in the fields. After all the jeeps had departed, our general manager wondered when, if ever, they would be back. In the meantime the field supervisors went back to using oxen and horses.

The following week we read in El Caribe of the annual military review, a late-summer event in which Trujillo invited the heads of other Latin states to stand on the balcony with him while Dominican armed might marched and motored below them. This military patchwork consisted of some old tanks and trucks, plus every organization that could muster a uniform, including the Boy Scouts. It was rumored that some of the scanty mechanized forces looped around to pass in review more than once, to bolster the impression of large resources. One front-page photo showed platoons of jeeps occupied by stern-faced soldiers.

The next day, the truck convoy returned, followed by the borrowed jeeps. “El Generalisimo is pleased to give back your jeeps,” the officer said.

Each jeep had been painted gray, tires and all, with the thickest, gloppiest paint imaginable, and not carefully. The instruments were painted, and so were the floors. It was as if buckets of battleship paint had simply been poured over the little cars, which might indeed have been the case. Our motor pool manager got tears in his eyes when he saw them.

I could go on with such stories, but they all would convey the same message: that life in a totally controlled society buys its vaunted orderliness at an intolerable cost. That cost is the demise of the human spirit. Even for those who reside, as my wife and I did, as guests in a totalitarian regime, the pressure can become insupportable.

After a mere eight months I resigned, and we departed. Getting off the plane in Miami, I was overwhelmed by a great wave of emotion. While the vacationers behind me gaped, I dropped my hand luggage and knelt down on the runway. I kissed that oily, baking, stinking concrete and cried aloud, “Thank God for the U.S.A.”

That was in 1958. I’m still saying it four decades later.

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