Pedro Santana

The Dominican Republic military leader and president Pedro Santana (1801-1864) inflicted several decisive defeats on Haitian forces, at one time or another quarreled with all sectors of his country's society, and finally led the Dominican Republic into annexation by Spain.

Born in Hincha, Pedro Santana appears, from his portraits, to have been of mixed Caucasian, African, and Indian ancestry. Unlike his contemporary Buenaventura Baez, he was uneducated, rough, and uncouth; but like Baez, he did not lack for personal courage.

Fresh from military triumphs over the Haitians, on July 12, 1844, only 5 months after the Dominican declaration of independence, Santana and his troops deposed his country's provisional government. He called a convention which drafted the Dominican Republic's first constitution. It was promulgated on Nov. 6, 1844, and according to one of its provisions, that the convention select the president for the first two terms, Santana became his country's first constitutional president.

Baez acceded to the presidency after Santana's hand-picked successor refused to serve. Beset by financial problems and the ever present possibility of revolt, Baez resigned on Aug. 4, 1848, but was recalled to inflict still another defeat on the Haitians, who were trying to reconquer the Dominican Republic. Santana then again deposed a president and was given the title of "Liberator."

From the ensuing electoral confusion, on Dec. 24, 1849, Baez was chosen president. At the end of his term, on Feb. 15, 1853, he passed the power back to Santana. This was one of the rare occasions when a Dominican president served out his term and constitutionally and personally delivered up the office to his successor. However, Santana and Baez soon fell out, and the next decade of Dominican history revolved around their quarrels.

By July 1853 Santana had exiled Baez, accusing him of treason. Baez countered with accusations of despotism, which appeared to be accurate as Santana constantly fought with his Congress, banishing or shooting his opponents. In 1854 Santana called another constitutional convention, extended his own term to 6 years, and established the office of vice president.

Under Santana's second presidency, on Dec. 22, 1855, the final Haitian invasion was defeated. Nevertheless, by March 26, 1856, he had again resigned. This paved the way for the return of Baez, who promptly exiled Santana. But by mid-1857 he was back, and after prolonged strife he was instrumental in toppling the Baez government on June 12, 1858. Using the 1854 Constitution, Santana had himself declared president on Jan. 31, 1859, repudiated many outstanding European debts, and appealed to Spain to annex the Dominican Republic. This was arranged, and on March 18, 1861, while the United States was distracted by its Civil War, the Dominican Republic again became a Spanish colony. Santana was named governor and captain general, with the rank of lieutenant general in the Spanish army.

True to form, Santana soon quarreled with his Spanish subordinates, who opposed his increasingly harsh methods of rule. He resigned on Jan. 7, 1862, and was granted a title and a lifetime pension.

By August 1863 the Dominicans revolted against the Spaniards. To help crush the revolt, Santana was given command of a Spanish force but because of insubordination was removed from this command. On the verge of being shipped off in disgrace to Cuba, Santana died in the capital, Santo Domingo, on June 14, 1864. The revolt, known as the War of the Restoration, culminated in the final retreat of all Spanish forces on July 11, 1865, and the Dominican Republic was once again independent.

Further Reading on Pedro Santana

Probably the classic work on the Dominican Republic is Sumner Welles, Naboth's Vineyard (2 vols., 1928; new foreword, 1966), which explains and interprets the history, culture, and society of that nation. Another valuable work is Otto Schoenrich, Santo Domingo (1918). Current useful studies include Robert D. Crassweller, Trujillo (1966), and John Bartlow Martin, Overtaken by Events (1966).