Latin America


Dominican Republic

Alberto Gutiérrez-does not share Randy Black's enthusiasm for Sosúa in the Dominican Republic: "Twenty years ago Sosua was a urban disaster, like most places in the Dominican Republic except for Casa de Campo and other splendid tourist resorts. I had a lot of personal experiences of life in that country in those years . The only country in the world where I stood in the dark, naked in a bathtub full of soap, with no more water and no electricity. The only country in the world where a drunk police officer ever booked me. But at least for the time being I will not elaborate". RH: When you feel like it, do.

Randy Black disagrees with Alberto Gutiérrez on Sosúa, Dominican Republic: "My personal experiences with Sosua began in 1987. Since then, I have made at least 20 trips to the place on the Dominican Republics's North Coast. Contrary to what it might have been prior to 1984, using Mr. Gutierrez's date and memory, the place has one of the prettiest, crescent white sand beaches I've seen on the island. I have met folks from all over the world there who went there on vacation and never went home. They simply sent power of attorney back to Philadeliphia or Detroit, sold everything including their winter clothes and settled in and around Sosua.

Several restaurants/hotels on perched on the cliffs overlooking the small bay, traffic is not a problem, it's relatively inexpensive living compared to other resort destinations, and crime is not the issue that it is in many US cities.
Certainly, I have also experienced power brown outs and water shortages in the Dominican Republic, as Mr. Gutierrez did, but then the place is not New York City. Come to think of it, NYC has its power failures.

I never expect things to be as good as "back home" when I'm out of the USA, thus the occasional electrical problems in the Dominican Republic are not particularly disturbing. Their power grid is oil fired, and occasionally the ship with the oil doesn't arrive on time. Most of the decent resorts and nearly all "foreigner houses" have their own generators and cisterns on roofs to collect rain water, for emergencies are common.

Dominicans have a cultural quality that is unique to the Caribbean. The men are hard working and the women are beautiful! have always felt welcome in the Dominican Republic, never threatened as in Jamaica and elsewhere. Even the street urchins are resourceful, never asking for a hand out but instead offering a service in return for some small payments. If you're parking a car on a street in the tourist areas, it's common for a 10 or 11 year old boy to offer to "watch" your car while you're shopping. He'll watch it for two hours for perhaps a dollar or less, and when you return, he'll have placed palm fronds on the windshield to shade the car's interior from the heat. He might have even washed it.

In Puerto Plata, perhaps 30 miles from Sosua, tens of thousands of Dominicans have jobs, medical care and housing thanks to the US's Caribbean Based Initiative established there during the Reagan years. America is very popular in the DR. One of the city's main streets is named Calle J.F. Kennedy.

The entire North Coast is very popular with North and South Americans depending upon season and with Europeans year around.

Sosua Bay

It's possible to buy a two-bedroom home with pool, walking distance to the ocean, in the Sosua area for about $60,000 USD. I rate the DR as a must enjoy/must see destination in the Caribbean".

RH: I first visited the Dominican Republic during the dictatorship of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo /1931-61), who was assassinated. It was a nasty place then. What do Dominicans now say about him?

I said I was first in the Dominican Republic during the dictatorship of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo (21931-61). Randy Black says: "Wow! During Trujillo's time! What was the place like then? The statue of Jesus on top of the 3,000 foot Mt. Isabel de Torres, overlooking Puerto Plata is said to have had the dictator's "execution and torture" chambers in its base. The theory is that no one would have suspected such a horrible place under the Body of Christ. Today, an aerial tram takes tourists to the top, which is surrounded by botanical gardens and is usually 20 degrees cooler than on the beaches. I don't know what they think about the old dictator. I would imagine you'd have to ask someone who was alive in that era". RH: One story about the Trujillo dictatorship concerns the Spanish refugee Jesús Galíndez, who fell afoul of Trujillo and succeeded in fleeing to the US. I was a speaker at the Columbia University bicentennial, and there I met Galindez. We had a long talk in which he described the attempts of Trujillo agents to kill him. The whole thing was so crazy that I thought Galíndez was mad. Shortly afterwards he was killed by Trujillo agents and his body thrown from a plane into the Atlantic.
We discussed the dictatorship (1931´61) of Rafael Leoidas Trujillo of the Dominican Republic. Linda Nyquist says: "May I refer WAISers to Bernard Diederich's excellent Trujillo: the death of the goat. It is a fine account of the events leading to the death of Trujillo and, as an additional benefit, Diederich writes well. It's a "good read." RH: Here is a summary.On May 30, 1961, a hail of bullets ended the life of Generalissimo Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, known to his countrymen as "The Goat" for his many revolting excesses, after thirty-one years of brutal rule over the Dominican Republic. This book is a riveting, minute-by-minute account of the plot to kill Trujillo, who was then the Western Hemisphere's most ruthless dictator, and the ferocious wave of revenge that ensued before his regime collapsed. The book also reveals the vacillating role of the United States-and the CIA-in first propping up the dictator, and then supplying weapons to slay him. Bernard Diederich knew most of those involved in the plot, and painstakingly recreates the events in a gripping book that reads like a novel, which also offers essential insights into the history of a troubled Caribbean nation".

The Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, who seems to be a friend of Diederich, has told the same story in novel form. Here is an excerpt from a review: His new novel of the Dominican Republic's Trujillo regime, The Feast of the Goat,"reminds us that throughout most of history tyranny has worn an all too human face -- and that it always shows us the dark aspect of our most prized qualities. The book begins in the capital of Santo Domingo in 1996, with the arrival of an unforgiving judge of the nation's past, Urania Cabral, estranged daughter of General Rafael Trujillo's former secretary of state, Agustín. An official of the World Bank, she comes bearing a degree from Harvard Law School and the name of the Greek muse of astronomy, but the cold, Northern eye she trains on the land she left 35 years earlier conceals a heart filled with implacable rage. The passages describing her visit to her silent, decrepit, despised father alternate with accounts of the last day of Trujillo's life in May 1961, told both from the perspective of "the Benefactor" and that of the assassins who wait for him at the side of a highway".

The Dominican Republic: the Jews of Sosúa

Supplementing what he said about Sosúa, the refuge form European Jews on the north coast of the Dominican Republic, Randy Black calls our attention to an article he wrote:
http://www.travellady.com/articles/article-puertoplata.html
Randy said Yiddish was spoken there: "In the thirteenth century, the Jews tended to migrate eastward to escape persecution. Thus, Yiddish arrived in eastern Germany, Poland, and other eastern European territories for the first time. The exposure of Yiddish to the Slavic languages prevalent in the east changed it from a Germanic dialect to a language in its own right. Consequently, a division began to develop between the eastern Yiddish of the Jews living in Slavic lands, and the western Yiddish of the Jews who had remained in France and Germany.

...The attitudes of the western European Jews, who were desperate to be integrated into their surroundings, were largely informed by the non-Jewish attitude toward Yiddish. Because the language was incomprehensible to them, and because of the general hatred of Jews throughout Europe, Yiddish had long been regarded with suspicion. In the eyes of the masses, it had come to symbolize the "moral corruption" of the Jews...The attitudes of the western European Jews, who were desperate to be integrated into their surroundings, were largely informed by the non-Jewish attitude toward Yiddish. Because the language was incomprehensible to them, and because of the general hatred of Jews throughout Europe, Yiddish had long been regarded with suspicion. In the eyes of the masses, it had come to symbolize the "moral corruption" of the Jews....
http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/History/yiddish.html

RH: German Jews do not speak yiddish. At a WAIS conference, they angrily pointed this out. In the US, relations between German and East European Jews were such that the latter were no allowed to join the formers' fraternities, so they formed their own. It would be interesting to know how the two groups get along in Sosúa. I have no information.

Cameron Sawyer calls our attention to West Yiddish, which is almost dead: "It is not true that German Jews do not (or did not) speak Yiddish – there is a West Yiddish language, which was spoken in French and Germany, which is almost dead. Some German Jews perhaps deny Yiddish because it is a rural, pidgin language, possibly quite unknown to the highly assimilated Jews of German cities, who were often of high social standing, and doubtless cultivated elegant German like any other higher class Germans. Yiddish is the language of the shtetl – the language of unassimilated, rural immigrants. Naturally it flourished in Poland, Ukraine, and Lithuania". RH: An authoritative reference on Germanic languages says "West Yiddish is said to be extinct".
Cameron Sawyer calls our attention to West Yiddish, which is almost dead: "It is not true that German Jews do not (or did not) speak Yiddish – there is a West Yiddish language, which was spoken in French and Germany, which is almost dead. Some German Jews perhaps deny Yiddish because it is a rural, pidgin language, possibly quite unknown to the highly assimilated Jews of German cities, who were often of high social standing, and doubtless cultivated elegant German like any other higher class Germans. Yiddish is the language of the shtetl – the language of unassimilated, rural immigrants. Naturally it flourished in Poland, Ukraine, and Lithuania". RH: An authoritative reference on Germanic languages says "West Yiddish is said to be extinct".


The Common Weal

Dick Hancock writes: "In regard to the lack of charitable activity on the part of wealthy people in Latin America, I believe that the answer is to be found in the lack of appreciation of Latin Americans for the common weal. In this, I refer to all Latin Americans, not just the wealthy. Latin American charity is focused on family, friends, and employees; they just do not seem to have much concept of the common weal.

I can cite dozens of anecdotes that exemplify this thought. As the Peace Corps director in San Salvador, I was invited to US Embassy parties. At one of these parties, I joined a group of men from the first "fourteen families" of El Salvador who were discussing their Mayan Indian collections. One of the men indicated to me that one member of the group had a Mayan collection that was more important than that held by the Museum of Guatemala. They were talking about bringing some one from Harvard's Peabody museum to design a private museum to house these great collections. When I naively asked why they couldn't use the new government museum which had been recently built, one man said, "I would rather burn my collection than turn it over to the government." All the others in the circle nodded in agreement.

The point is that these men were not willing to get involved in politics sufficiently to ensure that the museum was properly run; this would be against the unwritten code of the upper class. They preferred to form a museum of their own which would probably have an entrance fee that would limit admittance of members of the general public.

I have encountered many incidents of this type in my long experience in Latin America. These people were very much involved politically on a sub rosa basis to protect their own interests, but were not willing to provide leadership to the nation as a whole. There are many capable, highly-educated people in Latin America who do not seek political office because of peer pressure. It is sad that natural leaders cannot become leaders because of the pressure of their peers.

This incident occurred over 40 years ago in El Salvador, but I find that this same attitude exists today in Chihuahua although not to the extreme that I found in El Salvador".

Tim Brown replies to Dick Hancock: "This is in part a bum rap. Historically Latin American have in fact done a great deal of charitable work, albeit through the Church - hospitals, schools, orphanages (I work with several of these at times), refuges for women and so forth. I agree that public service is less widespread than in the US or Western Europe, but they are not entirely unengaged. I, too, served in El Salvador, but I suspect their concern was not just that they did not want to engage politically to help a museum but a lack of trust in the government's ability to protect artifacts in the long term. This is a valid concern when dealing with irreplaceable items I have run into in many Latin American countries. In the case of El Salvador, the national museum system is, or was, hardly the place in which I myself should have reposed much trust".

Hank Levin says: "Tim Brown's experience defies my own in Mexico (where we lived) and Venezuela and Colombia, where our non-Spanish and non-US families live. Of course, these countries do not have the tax incentives that the U.S. has for charitable giving. But, even the presence and magnitude of volunteerism is lacking. It is true that the Church has sponsored charitable institutions, but middle and upper-class families do not participate directly to any great extent. In some cases the institutions are less than charitable. Many of the Jesuit-sponsored schools in Latin America exist to provide an elite education for the children of the "best" families, not the poor".

Tim Brown answers Hank Levin: "Apparently Mr. Levin and I had very different experiences. While I was serving in Merida, Mexico, a number of our friends were actively involved in charitable work and some as directors of charitable institutions or schools; in Honduras some volunteered to help in various ways; in Paraguay there was a wives' group that was very active in charities; in Nicaragua I know persons who work diligently at orphanages and women's shelters; in Honduras, Embassy wives regularly joined local women to do much the same; in Costa Rica doing charitable work or donating to charitable works is important. I cannot speak to Colombia or Venezuela. Maybe we just ran in different kinds of circles.

I, too, believe that volunteerism in Latin America is less visible and less extensive that in the US. But it isn't negligible. But then in the US it's not as prominent as in Scandinavia. As to church schools in Latin America, Jesuit schools for the elite are greatly outnumbered by church schools for the poor. Are private Jesuit schools for the elite there superior to public and less well known church schools. Probably. But then such private schools here as Choate and Georgetown Visitation (where I sent two daughters - and I'm not even Catholic!) are superior to most public school in this country, so I'm not sure what the shot at Jesuit schools demonstrates, except that the better off send their children to better schools no matter where they live".

Ronald Hilton -


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