By Amaury Rodríguez
If there ever was a rara avis amongst Dominican intellectuals and politicians in the 20th century, the title would fall to Juan Isidro Jiménez Grullón. A prolific and fine writer, Jiménez Grullón left his mark on the fields of history, politics, science, and literature in the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and the United States. Politically, he was a man of the left; a tireless revolutionary who participated in the resistance against the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic.
But despite the sheer volume of his scholarship and his prominent role as one of the most important organizers of the anti-Trujillist resistance in exile, his name has been relegated to the margins. In fact, he must be one of the most underrated authors in the country and the region. (Sadly, no major translation of his works has been published in English).
Jiménez Grullón was a serious researcher. As the bibliographical record indicates, he never ceased to publish his meticulously researched findings even under duress. Moreover, the exact number of his unpublished writings remains a mystery.
Breaking with the past
Jiménez Grullón was one of the few Dominicans travelled to Europe in the 1920s to study medicine. It could not have been any other way as he came from a well-known upper-class family whose members left an everlasting mark on both cultural and political life.
However, he chose to disengage himself from his own privileged position to dedicate his life to the transformation of society. Theories of revolutionary strategy and tactics preoccupied him. So it is not surprising that he publicly declared himself a Marxist by the late 1960s.This decision exemplifies the classical case of former members of the middle and upper class turned radicals and artists. The break with his past, like any new birth, was painful. There was a high price to pay in a country where the status quo used naked violence to silent any oppositional stand.
Thus, for most of his entire life, Jiménez Grullón led a humble existence.
Human emotions were important in his life and work as an artist. He cultivated the art of poetry throughout his life. Years later, he would form a romantic bond with Puerto Rican poet Julia de Burgos. In his 20s, he joined Plus-Ultra, a literary group whose members would later play an important role in liberal and nationalist politics.
He was, foremost, an educator who laid the foundations for the autonomous university movement in the Dominican Republic. In the 1930s, Jiménez Grullón and the renowned poet Domingo Moreno Jiménez -his cousin- founded the Universidad Popular Libre del Cibao (Cibao's People Free University) which was indebted to the University Reform movement that spread to the region after the 1918 student-led reforms in Cordoba, Argentina. Jiménez Grullón taught history at the Santo Domingo Autonomous University (UASD), the state university.
In the 1940s, Jiménez Grullón along with other Dominican exiles founded the oldest Dominican party, the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD, for its Spanish initials). The PRD was founded in Cuba where a number of prominent political exiles lived. (While in exile, Jiménez Grullón and others organized several guerrilla expeditions with the aim of overthrowing Trujillo such as Cayo Confites(1947) and the Constanza, Maimón y Estero Hondo (1959).Unfortunately, the two armed attempts to overthrow the dictator ended in disaster.
At the same time, many historians and commentators have assumed that Juan Bosch, the popular short story writer and politician, was one of its founders. But in many essays and books, Jiménez Grullón denied such a claim.
Both Bosch and Jiménez Grullón were political exiles during the Trujillo dictatorship and in many occasions worked together to organize the anti-Trujillist resistance.
There were also irreconcilable political rivals. Like Janus, their quarrel could be represented as that of two opposite faces on a coin. When Bosch moved right, Jiménez Grullón moved left. Theirs is not only the story of two prominent political exiles and intellectuals who had an impact in the island and beyond but that of the diverging paths that the Dominican liberation movement in exile embarked on.
Additionally, their paths diverged with regards to intellectual pursuits. While Bosch had a keen interest in the social conditions of the rural countryside, Jiménez Grullón was passionate about philosophy and experiments in poetry which reflected a more urban concern. Aside from literature, their paths diverged in the realm of politics. In fact, while Bosch tossed aside his radical anti-imperialist stance at the end of his life, Jiménez Grullón remained firmly committed to anti-imperialist politics until the end of his life.
A political mistake
In 1963, Bosch became the first democratically-elected president after the fall of the Trujillo regime. Seven months later, he fell after being overthrown by a military coup. The coup makers invited Jiménez Grullón to participate in the new government known as the triumvirate. His party, the Social Democratic Alliance (ASD, for its Spanish initials) accepted the offer. Thus, some of its members joined the illegitimate government.
Ever since it was rumored that Jiménez Grullón took part in the coup. But that is far from the truth. Actually, Jiménez Grullón did not participate in any shape or form in the coup that overthrew Bosch despite his political oppositional stance.
In reality, he made a political mistake--which he always regretted-- by agreeing to participate in the coup government backed by rising conservative politician Viriato Fiallo.
In the 50s, Fiallo and Jiménez Grullón worked together as part of the anti-Trujillist resistance. This resistance movement was a heterogeneous group comprised of conservatives and progressive elements who worked closely to achieve their goal: the overthrow of the regime. A sense of mutual respect developed between the two during those years of isolation and persecution inside the country and abroad. As confirmed by Juan José (Leon David), Jiménez Grullón son, in an interview with Hoy newspaper, According to Juan Jose, Fiallo approached Jiménez Grullon about joining the government installed by the coup makers.
However, that does not explain why Jiménez Grullón would make such a gaffe. In fact, there were political weaknesses in his thinking at the time that need further scrutiny.
The difficult task ahead
For a long time, mainstream Dominican historians have ignored Jiménez Grullón life and work. First, there is the lack of information about his early years as a young man growing up in a world transformed by capitalist relations; little has been written on his stay in Paris in the 1920s. He belonged to a generation marked by war and revolution. So why there have not been any systematic research on the impact of both the Mexican and Russian revolutions on Jiménez Grullón and his ilk?
Additionally, there have been no in-depth analysis about his exile years throughout Latin America and the U.S.‒specially with an emphasis on the City of New York. Clearly, most mainstream Dominican historians and politicians have erected a wall of silence around his political role during and after the 1965 popular revolt to restore Juan Bosch to power. Some questions have remained unanswered. For example, what factors contributed to his political evolution? What made him abandon political activism and dedicate himself to writing?
And last but not least, there have been no re-assessment of his vast literary output‒which included disparate genres such as testimony, poetry, literary criticism, and letters.
A re-appraisal of his work and legacy is urgently needed. It is up to a new generation of historians and literary critics to rescue Jiménez Grullón's work from the dustbin of history in order to have a better understanding of the man, and the lost world he grew up in. This will be the type of historical research that can contribute to elucidate the hidden, radical history made by a number of people and organizations which played a central role in shaping Dominican--and Latin American-- social and political life for most of the last century. It is a monumental and difficult task whose end results are worth the trouble.