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Juan Pablo Duarte

Juan Pablo Duarte

Juan Pablo Duarte. Although Juan Pablo Duarte spent much of his life in exile, today he is celebrated as the father of the Dominican Republic.

Although Juan Pablo Duarte (1813–1876) spent much of his life in exile, even during important revolutionary events, today he is celebrated as the father of the Dominican Republic.

Duarte, who was born in Santo Domingo, studied in Europe from 1828 to 1833, where he embraced the liberal and socialist ideas popular there at the time. These would inspire his call to fight for independence for a Dominican Republic which Haiti had ruled since 1822. Haiti seized control of both sides of the island of Hispania in that year during the brief Dominican Independence from Spain gained in 1821 and its consequential power vacuum.

In 1838 he helped found La Trinitaria, a secret reformist movement whose members felt determined to regain control of Spanish Haiti, the name given to the short lived independent republic. They felt entitled to rule what they saw as their side of the island and that the very different political ideology of Haitians and Spanish Haitians made co-existence functionally impossible. La Trinitaria believed that their liberal and socialist values would be impossible to implement with the Haitians. Haitian president Jean-Pierre Boyer had rejected calls from Haitian critics to reform government and institute a parliamentary democracy.

Later, Duarte created another, not so secret group called La Filantrópica, which boldly advocated independence from Haiti by staging theatrical performances. Duarte’s leadership in organizing and promoting independence resulted in his exile in 1843, when he took up residence in Venezuela. The following year however, La Trinitaria gained support for their cause after releasing a pro-independence manifesto. On February 27, 1844, an army of independence supporters, lead in part by a cattle rancher named Pedro Santana, stormed and seized the Ozama Fortress and pushed out all Haitian officials in a matter of days. Dominicans still celebrate this day as Dominican Independence Day. Duarte returned from Venezuela that same year anxious to begin designing the future of the new Dominican Republic that he had fought so hard to achieve. 

After Santana’s important role in commanding armies that won independence from Haiti, he continued defending the new republic against Haitians. Duarte supporters were eager to freely elect as president the original father of the independence movement, whose intellectual mind had envisioned a progressive nation. In the wake of Santana’s growing military power, and with the support of his army however, Santana claimed power for himself. He included a clause in the new country’s constitution, adopted less than a year after gaining independence and modeled on the U.S. constitution, which guaranteed his own right as dictator as long as Haitian attempts to invade and reclaim the Dominican Republic continued. Acting as dictator, he exiled Duarte.

Duarte briefly returned to The Dominican Republic in 1865 to support the fight against the decision by Santana, still in power more than twenty years after adopting the U.S. based constitution, to annex the country with Spain. Duarte left, never to return, when given the task of touring South America to recruit support for effort to fight the annexation.

Today, Dominicans still celebrate the memory of the father of their country. A number of monuments bear his name including a Juan Pablo Duarte statue, square, and school in New York City. 

Image by Karenblixen