By Nelson Santana
June 14, 2017
Today marks the 58th anniversary of the June 14th expedition. In 1959, a group of freedom fighters risked their lives when they scheduled an aerial and land attack to dethrone the repressive government of dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina (1891-1961), who came to power in 1930 and whose dictatorship lasted until his death on May 30, 1961. Nonetheless, the effort of the men and women who participated in the movement served as a catalyst to inspire future men and women to denounce Trujillo’s government and eventually topple it.
Trujillo ruled with an iron fist from the moment he took the presidency on August 16, 1930, eliminating any and all opposition. Similar to authoritarian regimes in other parts of the world such as the Somoza Dynasty (Nicaragua), Augusto Pinochet (Chile), Ngo Ninh Diem (Republic of Vietnam), the United States paved the way for Trujillo’s ascension during its eight-year occupation (1916-1924) of the Dominican Republic. U.S. military personnel ensured to disarm the Dominican population, making it difficult for Dominicans to organize and take back their country.
Within the first few years of his “presidency,” Trujillo demonstrated his undemocratic and repulsive nature. In his first year as president, he forced all adults to register under the newly formed political party, Partido Dominicano; imprisoning anyone who opposed joining. That same year (1930), from late August to early September, Hurricane San Zenón battered the City of Santo Domingo, causing structural damage. Renamed Ciudad Trujillo in 1936, the city became one of several towns, monuments, etc. named or renamed after the dictator; such as Monumento de la Paz de Trujillo (Monumento a Los Heroés de La Restauración andProvincia de Trujillo (Provincia San Cristóbal). Among the many atrocities committed against humanity, Trujillo’s regime raped many girls, teenagers, and women; and murdered countless Dominicans and immigrants, including many people of Haitian ancestry (different sources list the numbers from 10,000 to more than 100,000).
Strong-willed Hero José Mesón Acosta
Military personnel who served under the dictatorship witnessed first-hand the atrocities committed by the regime. José Mesón Acosta is one person who witnessed the barbarism. A revolutionary and military leader, Mesón Acosta served his nation in different capacities including as sergeant in the Dominican Navy. Through his years of service to the government, Mesón Acosta gained the trust of the Trujillo family, eventually serving as bodyguard of Trujillo’s son, Ramfis, and he also worked as a machinist for the Trujillo clan’s personal yacht, the Angelita (named after the dictator’s daughter).
Tired of the undemocratic ways of the dictatorship, Mesón Acosta fled Trujillo's grip while on a trip to New York when he accompanied Ramfis. During the visit in the Big Apple, Mesón Acosta connected with like-minded people interested in putting an end to the regime. He joined an anti-Trujillista group led by Manuel Batista Clisante in 1958. The group trained to launch an armed offensive from Miami, however, the plan had to be abandoned once the regime learned of the plot on July 29, 1958.
Expedition of Constanza, Maimón, and Estereo Hondo
Never losing sight of his goal for a free nation and determined to end the Trujillato, Mesón Acosta remained to conspire with fellow freedom fighters. In a sense, the Cuban Revolution brought hope and inspired these men and women warriors to continue their efforts. They continued their training in Havana, Cuba, joining forces with the Movimiento de la Liberación Dominicana (Dominican Liberation Movement), whom with the support of Fidel Castro founded the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (National Liberation Army). Once training commenced, the freedom fighters planned to arrive in three different locations: Constanza in the province of La Vega and Maimón and Estero Hondo in the province of Puerto Plata, hence the name: Expedition of Constanza, Maimón, and Estereo Hondo. The three groups planned to reach the island on June 14, 1959. However, only the aerial attack arrived on the 14th, while boats did not disembark until days later because of sabotage and inclement weather.
Commanded by José Horacio Rodríguez and later captained by Mesón Acosta, the Carmen Elsa disembarked in Maimón with 96 expeditionaries on June 20. On their voyage from Cuba to Dominican Republic, Carmen Elsa experienced what many perceived to be sabotage and nearly sunk had it not been for Mesón Acosta's experience and agile thinking when he fixed the boat’s rudder and captained his colleagues to safety.
Upon arrival, Trujillo's military forces greeted the revolutionaries with firepower from land and air. Military personnel included the navy and coast guards, as well as air fleets instrumental in dropping bombs. Many freedom fighters lost their lives or wounded during battle. Injured during the fighting, Trujillo’s heavily-armed forces captured Mesón Acosta.
Once captured, Mesón Acosta was taken to San Isidro Aerial Base and later to La 40, the prison reserved for the Trujillato’s most loathed enemies. Prisoners—men, women, teenagers—succumbed to torture including sleep deprivation, electric shock, removal of nail, as well as other methods. Having worked closely with the Trujillo family as a bodyguard and his former past with the Dominican military provided more fuel for the torture that Mesón Acosta experienced. Labeled a traitor by Ramfis, the regime employed castration and electrocution toward Mesón Acosta, notwithstanding other methods. The final image of Mesón Acosta alive is a photograph taken during his last moments while sitting on an electric chair. Afterward, henchmen dismembered his body and displayed it in town as to warn potential “traitors” of what awaited them.
Participants became known as the Heroes of the June 14th Movement. This is not the only movement that aimed to topple the Trujillato. Years earlier in 1947, rebel forces aimed to topple Trujillo in what today is known as the Expedition of Cayo Confites. Thinkers and intellectuals such as Juan Isidro Jimenes Grullón and Juan Bosch challenged Trujillo openly from the very beginning; some going as far as publishing books and articles. There are some heroes and heroines such as the Mirabal Sisters whose stories will forever be remembered as they have been immortalized in works such as Julia Alvarez’s In the Time of the Butterflies (1994). The teenager Mayobanex Vargas, a colleague of Mesón Acosta, participated in the June 14th Movement, arrived via airplane and landed in Constanza. Like Mesón Acosta, the regime captured him. One of the few people to survive the ordeal, Vargas is the last-known surviving expeditionary. He passed away in December of 2016.
May we reflect on this day to pay respect and honor the lives of the men and women who sacrificed their lives to end despotism and bring freedom to the Dominican Republic. Let us remember those whose names have been etched in stone or whose stories have been shared, but let us also honor the ones who have remained nameless.