Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina (1891-1961) was the dictator of the Dominican Republic from 1930 until 1961, ruling as president (1930-1938, 1942-1952) and as an unelected military strongman between official terms.
Trujillo was born to poor mixed race parents in San Cristóbal. During the United States occupation (1916-1924), Trujillo joined the National Guard, trained by the United States Marines to maintain order after the occupation. Quickly rising to high rank, Trujillo overthrew President Horacio Vásquez in 1930. After a devastating hurricane destroyed much of Santo Domingo, Trujillo devised a rebuilding plan to modernize the city, which he renamed Ciudad Trujillo (Trujillo City). He also renamed the highest mountain of the country Pico Trujillo after himself.
Trujillo gained international attention for his rather open policy of allowing Jewish emigration from Europe in the 1930s, at a time when larger and wealthy nations were turning back Jewish refugees. Many historians regard this gesture as a public relations ploy and perhaps as an attempt by Trujillo to "whiten" the predominantly mixed race nation. While encouraging European immigration, he ordered Dominican troops to massacre Haitian squatters in 1937. Trujillo, who himself was of mixed ancestry, was said to have worn makeup to give himself a whiter appearance, and favored garish uniforms and other militaristic trappings.
Trujillo symbolically sided with the Allies during World War II, and its anticommunist policies initially gained the favor of the United States. Trujillo undertook many public works projects and openly encouraged foreign investment, giving the Dominican Republic the appearance of a prospering nation. However, corruption became deeply imbedded in Dominican society, and by the late 1950s it was estimated that the majority of the country's wealth was in the hands of the Trujillo family.
Ultimately, Trujillo's blundering attempts at intervening in the affairs of other nations led to his isolation. Foreign assassinations and kidnappings of political opponents, and Trujillo's poorly concealed involvement in an attempt on the life of Venezuelan President Rómulo Betancourt led to economic sanctions from the United States and other Latin American countries. By 1960, the Organization of American States had unanimously approved to attempt to destabilize the Trujillo regime by contining harsh sanctions and ending diplomatic ties.
With the rug pulled from under his megalomaniacal regime, Trujillo was assassinated by members of his own armed forces on May 30, 1961 while traveling in an automobile. He was buried in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, France.
His son, Ramfis Trujillo took power and after brutally repressing any elements believed to be connected with his father's death, and was overthrown and exiled later in 1961. He became an international socialite but died on December 28, 1969 in Spain from injuries suffered in a car accident.
While the Trujillo regime was officially ended and places named after Trujillo were restored to their original names, former Trujillistas maintained much of their power within the country until the early 1990s.
Mario Vargas Llosa wrote a historical novel about Trujillo and his hold over the country entitled The Feast of the Goat.