Lago Enriquillo in the Dominican Republic is mind-blowing.
Located to the southwest near Haiti, it is the largest lake in the Caribbean (375 square kilometers) as well as the lowest point in the entire region and on any ocean island in the world falling 45 m bellow sea level. It is a hypersaline lake with waters three times saltier than the seawater and has no outlet. The lake is located only 53 miles to the north-east from the highest point in the Caribbean, Pico Duarte, and is one of only a few saltwater lakes in the world inhabited by crocodiles. It has the largest documented population and highest concentration in the world of the endangered American crocodile, about 18 crocs per square mile. Rhinoceros Iguanas, anotherr threatened endemic species, also proliferate near the shores, and flamingos visit the lake’s only island, Isla Cabritos.
It takes us two days to get there from our anchorage in Luperon, we start in the afternoon. First we drive south to Santo Dominigo and from there we start going west. The land gradually becomes dryer, we drive across a salty desert now, cacti by the road. We spend the night at a roadside motel, terrible place, everything dirty and broken, sheep roaming among junk in the backyard, but cheap…
The next day we keep driving west and sometime before noon the road brings us along the shores of Lago Enriquillo. There are not many people in this part of the country. It is a beautiful hot day and the lake sleeps under clear skies.
Here we meet the iguanas who are almost tame waiting for handouts near the visitor’s center and we even have a close encounter with the crocodiles. After a short walk through tangles shrubs and dead trees near the shores we suddenly notice someone is watching us from the water. I start taking picture thinking the crocodile will soon get scared and run away, but instead it slowly turns towards us and starts swimming in our direction. Well then, we get scared and run away instead. At the visitor’s center a guy explains that it is nesting season and the crock-mamas are protecting their eggs deposited in nests of sand and mud near the water’s edge, so good thing we left the scene on time. I still snap a picture though!
Guided boat tours are organized daily starting from the visitors’ center and going around the lake and to Isla Cabritos where hundreds of wild American Crocodiles live undisturbed. But it is very expensive unless there are at least 10 people sharing the boat and its cost. But there is no other visitors than us, so we skip the tour. Plus we already saw a crocodile, didn’t we?
Instead we walk around the shores. We wander and we wonder. Why so many dead trees? The shores look flooded. And they are. Local people explain that after a great hurricane which brought much rain and inundation a few years ago, the lake expanded and flooded much of the shores. Many people lost their lands and crops.
From the lake’s visitors center the small town of Descubierta is just a few miles to the west. It is a charming little town near the lake with a park where the river has been captured to form a big natural pool, they call balneario, and the entire town’s population gathers here on weekends to chill and bathe. Young and old swim and jump, and soap each others hairs. There are a few restaurants around the pool and the music never stops.
For only $12 we rent a room in Descubierta in a big old house built and owned by a high-ranked official in the Trujillo’s government.
After his death, his daughter and her husband, now a retired old couple, transformed the big house into a hostel with 5 or 6 rooms. They live in one of the rooms and rent the rest.
We are welcome to use all common spaces, the kitchen, the living-room, the backyard, and we get a complementary bag of mangoes (it’s mango season in the Dominican Republic and mangoes are all over the place). It feels like we are guests at some old friends’ house. It is a great house and the best hostel we ever been to. Our room has two huge double beds, it is clean and we have a big ventilator. The kids love it, what to move in and live permanently.
For me, the best part of this house is its story and background. I can’t hide my amazement at hearing the whole thing about Trujillo’s high ranked official building this house and now we sleeping in it. I spend hours talking to the daughter and the son-in-law who turns out is a retired school inspector and Philosophy graduate from the university in Ciudad Trujillo (Santo Domingo was named Trujillo during the dictatorship period). They are great people, very cultured, very open and welcoming. We talk politics.
In short, they tell me that Trujillo’s government „was not such a bad government“ in terms of progress achieved (if we don’t count the horrible massacres, assassination of political opposition, and plots against other countries and their presidents, among other horrors).
Trujillo, a short history lesson
The beginning of the 20th century was for the Dominican Republic a time of political and economic instability and civil wars escalating in a political deadlock in 1914 with a few presidents assassinated.
As a result, in May 16, 1916 U.S. Marines occupied the Dominican Republic and established a military government. Censorship and limits on public speech were imposed. A professional National Guard which later became the National Army was created. The guerrilla war against the occupation U.S. forces was met with brutal response.
But there were also some positive aspects of the U.S. occupation regime which kept most Dominican laws and institutions. The economy was revived, the enormous Dominican debt reduced, and a road network that interconnected all regions of the country was built.
Opposition to the occupation continued, however, and in October 1922 the U.S. government in Dominican Republic ended. The victor of the 1924 elections which followed was Horacio Vásquez Lajara, who gave the country six years of good government, in which political and civil rights were respected and the economy grew strongly, in a peaceful atmosphere.
In February 1930, when Vásquez attempted to win another term, opponents rebelled, in secret alliance with the commander of the National Army General Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina. Vásquez resigned. Trujillo was elected president.
The Trujillo iron-fisted regime supported by the U.S. and the Dominican elite was a time of violent political repressions, massacres, plots against other countries, absolute repression and the copious use of murder, torture, and terrorist methods against the opposition. However, it was also a time of considerable economic growth. There was progress in healthcare, education, and transportation, with the building of hospitals and clinics, schools, roads and harbors, an important housing construction program and the creation of a pension plan. Trujillo also negotiated an undisputed border with Haiti in 1935, achieved the end of the 50-year customs agreement with USA in 1941, instead of 1956 and made the country debt-free in 1947. He also became the country’s wealthiest person and one of the wealthiest people in the world.
But Trujio will forever be remembered for the inconceivable crimes he and his government has committed.
Some famous crimes committed by Trujillo
He promoted propaganda against the large Haitian population in the DR and in 1937 ordered the mass-killong of Haitians living on the Dominican side of the border. During the Parsley Massacre or, El Corte (The Cutting) Army soldiers using machetes killed an estimated 17,000 to 35,000 Haitians over six days, from the night of October 2, 1937 through October 8, 1937.
On November 25, 1960 Trujillo killed three of the four Mirabal sisters, nicknamed Las Mariposas (The Butterflies). The victims were Patria Mercedes Mirabal, Argentina Minerva Mirabal, and Antonia María Teresa Mirabal. Minerva was an aspiring lawyer who was extremely opposed to Trujillo’s dictatorship since Trujillo had begun to make rude sexual advances towards her. The International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women is observed on the anniversary of their deaths.
In 1960 Trujillo’s agents attempted to assassinate the Venezuelan president, Rómulo Betancourt.
Trujillo was assassinated on May 30, 1961.