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date: 29 March 2023

Dominican Baseball and Latin American Pluralism, 1969–1974free

Dominican Baseball and Latin American Pluralism, 1969–1974free

  • April YoderApril YoderDepartment of History, University of New Haven


Record-setting Dominican attendance at the championship game of the 1969 Amateur Baseball World Series attested to the local and international stakes in the competition between the United States and Cuba. Both teams reached the final game of the round-robin tournament, having defeated all nine of the opposing teams representing nations and government systems as varied as Nicaragua’s rightest dictatorship, the Dutch Antilles’ constitutional commonwealth, and Venezuela’s guerrilla-threatened democracy. Dominican sportswriters described the game as a competition between two opposing government systems and two conflicting sporting systems: the decentralized, largely privatized U.S. system that used amateur ball as a stepping stone to professionalism and the Cuban system that developed state amateurs who educated themselves, worked, and played ball in the service of the nation. The meeting between the U.S. and Cuban teams in the Dominican Republic suggested that the systems might coexist at a time when the Dominican government headed by President Joaquín Balaguer began to experiment with new models for political and economic development. Balaguer used the domestic openness and conciliatory attitude toward Cuba to legitimate controversial economic policies and submerge political discontent through national projects around international events like the Amateur World Series in 1969 and the XII Central American and Caribbean Games in 1974. With the international stage provided by the sporting events, Balaguer offered his Third Way as a model for Latin America. This local pluralism, though brief and perhaps disingenuous, allowed Balaguer to project himself and the Dominican Republic as leaders in a movement for Latin America solidarity built on pluralism and respect for sovereignty.


  • History of the Caribbean
  • 1945–1991
  • Cultural History

On the night of August 26, Santo Domingo’s Estadio Quisqueya buzzed with nervous excitement as more than 18,000 people, mostly Dominican, crammed together to watch the Cuban and U.S. teams meet in the final game of the 1969 Amateur World Series. When the Series began just two weeks earlier, sportswriters had criticized organizers for scheduling the U.S.–Cuba game last. They expected that the round-robin tournament would already have been decided by then, undermining the great revenue potential of a game that, as sportswriters explained, represented the competition between two diametrically opposed government systems, as well as two of the region’s best baseball nations.1 As fate would have it, both the Cuban and U.S. teams took the field that Tuesday night eager to defend undefeated records.

The relative calm as the U.S. team took an early 1–0 lead through the seventh inning revealed the ambivalence most Dominicans felt toward the governmental and baseball systems represented by the United States and Cuba. Dominicans reveled in their baseball connections to Major League Baseball, where Dominican ballplayers served as the country’s best representatives. Yet more than a decade of experience with U.S. professional baseball, celebrated in 1967 with a five-game exhibition series between Dominican All-Stars and the Pittsburgh Pirates, revealed the limitations of professional baseball as a base for national identity. U.S. dominance of the commercial sport cast Dominicans as raw materials to be developed by U.S. technology while discounting their local baseball institutions and innovations in player development. The Pirates’ diplomatic exchange with Dominican baseball fans had been intended to alleviate animosity toward the United States after the U.S.-led intervention and occupation of 1965–1966, but suspicions remained. Dominicans wanted a new model, one that boosted the nation through amateur sport as Cuba had done since the Castro government banned professional sport in 1961.

Dominican sportswriters and officials anticipated the opportunity that welcoming the Cuban National Baseball Team to their country could have for the Dominican Republic’s political reconciliation with their island neighbor. Sporting fraternity could mend ties severed by politics, renew visits by Cuban technicians to train Dominican athletes, and ensure sporting exchanges between the two countries. As relations with Cuba warmed throughout the region and tensions grew over U.S. violations of Latin American sovereignty and U.S.-led proxy wars on Latin American soil, Dominicans imagined a Third Way in baseball and politics: a model that would balance the personal interests embedded in capitalist democracy and seen in professional baseball with the equal opportunity protected by the communist system, where amateurism predominated.

Intermittent cheers of “¡Cuba, Sí! ¡Yankees, No!” (Cuba, Yes! Yankees [United States], No!) escaped from the crowd to expose Dominicans’ excitement over the opportunity to rebuild a partnership with their estranged brothers. These cheers escalated in the bottom of the eighth inning as the Cubans attacked with their bats. The lead-off man singled, followed by a sacrifice and another single to push in the tying run. A similar rally scored what would be the winning run, with Rigoberto Rosique earning the game-winning RBI (run batted in). The Cuban team was champion, defeating the U.S. team in what Cuban Premier Fidel Castro later called a moral victory for sports without mercantilism.2 After receiving the trophy, Cuban sports official Jorge García Bongó demonstrated the sporting fraternity highlighted by the Dominican press throughout the event with his declaration that “the prize obtained by Cuba ‘belongs as much to the Dominican Republic and all of Latin America as to Cuba.’”3 Through Cuban achievements over the United States, all of Latin America had come together; Latin America had united in countering the United States. While Dominican fans and sportswriters celebrated the sporting fraternity exemplified by the Series, the Dominican government emphasized the order and security that nourished this fraternity despite earlier fears that Cuban ballplayers would proselytize communism or incite public demonstrations against the government. The order demonstrated the ability of the Dominican government headed by President Joaquín Balaguer to forge a Third Way for the Dominican Republic and lead Latin America and the Caribbean in an era of pluralism.

Even before the transition to democracy that followed the 1961 assassination of dictator Rafael Trujillo, Dominican citizens had projected their democratic aspirations onto baseball and negotiated with the governments to make those aspirations a reality.4 Baseball and sport more generally were particularly important during the Balaguer government known as the doce años (twelve years), as Dominicans reconciled their desire for a society that provided economic opportunity and political participation for all citizens with the realities and insecurities of the Cold War. The process of democratization and development during the doce años was unique in Latin America because the Dominican Republic passed laws and implemented projects similar to those that led to the early spikes of neoliberal development under bureaucratic authoritarian regimes in Brazil and in Argentina under a civilian constitutional government.

After years of U.S.-based historiography centered on the Trujillo regime, historians such as Elizabeth Manley are examining Balaguer’s doce años to understand how he balanced coercion and populism to oversee the democratic transition in 1978.5 Political scientist Jonathan Hartlyn characterized Balaguer’s twelve years within a tradition of “neopatrimonial mode of politics” built on the centralization and personalization of power.6 While Hartlyn’s work provided a helpful base for understanding continuities and changes from the Trujillo Regime to the democratic transition in 1978, his analysis missed the details of how Balaguer projected himself to the nation and the international community. This article builds on Hartlyn’s description of Dominican politics to describe a little bit about how Balaguer presented himself and his nation to the international community, especially to the developing countries of the Americas that sought a Third Way to the place in the sun of democratic freedom and economic opportunity. The Balaguer government supported the exhibition series with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1967, the Amateur World Series in 1969, and the XII Central American and Caribbean Games in 1974 to cast the Dominican Republic as an international actor and model of American solidarity at home and abroad. After easing domestic hostility toward the United States with the Pirates, if incompletely, the reconciliation with Cuba in the 1969 Amateur World Series and the regional fraternity in the XII Games projected Balaguer as a leader of a pluralistic Latin American fraternity modeled on a Third Way to democracy at home.

Reconciliation and Third Way Leadership

For Dominicans, excitement over the 1969 Amateur World Series centered on Cuba. As the country prepared to host sporting delegations from ten countries for two weeks, concerns about security, schedules, and the Dominican reputation as hosts were heightened because of the presence of Cuban athletes in the country for the first time in more than a decade. Welcoming the Cuban delegation was the first step in renewing the sporting relationship built through regular exchanges between the two countries prior to 1959. Dominican sports officials hoped that the Series might lead to competition against Cuban teams, advice from Cuban officials, and training by Cuban technicians that would help build the Dominican amateur program. To broaden public support for the expense of the event, sports officials stressed the opportunity to build the country’s reputation for hospitality, which, they hoped, would lead to increasingly prestigious sporting events and boost the budding tourist industry. Military officials and their critics worried for different reasons over security, while other officials weighed the risk of an embarrassing public incident—likely involving the military—against the benefits that a successful Series might have for the country’s political reputation in the region. Balaguer and his advisors saw reconciliation with Cuba as a necessary first step to asserting the Dominican Republic’s place in a growing movement toward Latin American solidarity that would serve as a counterweight to U.S. dominance in the Americas.

Leading up to and throughout the Cuban visit, the press balanced its fraternal celebrations with questions about the armed forces’ ability to manage an event of this magnitude, the largest to take place in the country. In two articles that appeared on the front page of the independent paper El caribe under the headline “Cuba Gives Credit to Dominican Directors,”7 references to sport and the sporting fraternity softened the image of Dominican security forces. The tone in the articles concerning reports that more than one hundred uniformed and plain-clothes members of the police and military, armed with rifles and gas bombs, had maintained order at the airport for the Cubans’ arrival was reassuring rather than cautious. Increasingly vocal opposition to Balaguer’s campaign for reelection in 1970 and publicity about what Time magazine called “old-style political killings and repression”8 quieted down amid claims of sporting fraternity.

Tensions remained below the surface, even when an article entitled “The Security” reported that two syndicalists had been arrested for shouting anti-Castro slogans at the airport and that groups of university students affiliated with the left-leaning Federation of Students had been detained on their way to greet the Cubans. The article reminded readers that threats existed, but eased fears that the Cubans would break the sporting camaraderie by inciting Dominicans with shouts in support of socialism, or worse, that the armed forces might cause an international incident by responding to demonstrations with violence they had otherwise managed to keep covert. At the same time, reports about the procedures for entering the games and about the security forces warned potential demonstrators of the risks of making a scene. In a testament of goodwill, security and sporting officials promised that “the Cubans will act here like the other foreign visitors, with liberty, and without problems of any kind.”9

Interest in the Cubans exposed the significance of their presence as the true test of sporting fraternity and the Dominican Republic’s ability to uphold it. One columnist celebrated the power of sport while poking fun at the hype surrounding the Cubans and fears about their political affiliation.10 The title of the column—“How Weird the Cubans Are!”—made light of the anxiety around the visit, while the text reminded readers that the Cubans were not so different from themselves, even after the Castro Revolution. The Cubans demonstrated resilience by their continued participation in international sporting events despite fears that one might defect or start a fight on the field, and Dominicans should honor their own achievement in allowing the visit to occur. By welcoming the Cubans, Dominicans would realize the power of sport to remind people of their common humanity. Despite Cuba’s estrangement from American institutions like the Organization of American States (OAS), the Series would allow Dominicans to see that “despite Fidel, the Cubans … are not, definitely, so rare and out of this world as we imagine the nonexistent Martians.”11 Fears of communism and a decade of estrangement from Cuba had made Cubans and their system seem otherworldly. Now, the Series would realign those worlds, or at least bring them onto the same playing field.

For Dominicans, the Series brought the two worlds of communism and democracy together, not in competition to determine the best system but in partnership for the greater purpose of Latin American solidarity. After a decade and a half as conquests in the U.S.–Soviet contest to demonstrate the relative merits of democratic liberalism or communism,12 Latin American nations looked to one another rather than to the superpowers to improve life for their citizens. They longed for a Third Way, one that would combine Cuban successes in sport, education, and health care with the economic growth of places like the Dominican Republic.13 García Bongó’s sharing of the victory with all of Latin America performed this unity, but excluded the United States. El caribe’s explanation of the “Yankees, No!” cheers clarified that this exclusion was political rather than sporting: “‘The protests,’ said one [foreign broadcaster] ‘reflect the discontent among Latin Americans against the policies pursued by the United States toward our continent.’”14 The citizens of the nations represented at the Amateur World Series recognized that the best way to counter U.S. policies that had supported the Brazilian military coup in 1964 and occupation of the Dominican Republic in 1965 was to stick together. Welcoming Cuba back to the fold offered a new, Latin American model that borrowed from Cuba’s successes in the realms of sport—and, hopefully, health and education—while maintaining the individual protections and incentives offered by the U.S. model. Citizens of these Latin American nations accepted elements of the U.S. model and U.S. assistance, but on their own terms.

The constitutional government in the Dominican Republic acknowledged a more equitable partnership among Latin American nations and embraced a new relationship with communist Cuba. For many years, this fraternity stretched only to sport and cultural exchange, but it was a start, and a desirable base for the Dominican Republic’s international reputation. Two days after sports director Veras declared the unifying power of sport in the trophy ceremony, El caribe reported his recommendation that the Dominican Republic send a national team for a friendly baseball exchange in Cuba.15 By opening its baseball fields to Cuba and returning the visit, Balaguer’s Dominican Republic demonstrated its openness to multiple paths to development and the respect for national sovereignty for which Latin American nations advocated in the OAS. Beyond proving the capacity of the armed forces to maintain order and of sports officials to organize international events, the Amateur World Series elevated the country as a protector of Latin American sports fraternity amid divisive politics at home and abroad. The election of socialist Salvador Allende in Chile a year later continued this trend of Latin American unity against U.S. influence. Yet the coup against Allende in 1973 signaled that the United States and its anticommunist allies were not ready to allow a revolutionary government in South America. Balaguer avoided Allende’s fate by balancing his assertions of independence from the United States with his economic policies using sport. In 1970, the Dominican Republic secured the rights to host the XII Central American and Caribbean Games in 1974, building a national project around the Games that legitimated Balaguer’s conception of Third Way leadership at home while distinguishing the Dominican Republic in the growing movement for Latin American solidarity.

The XII Central American and Caribbean Games

Hosting the XII Central American and Caribbean Games in 1974 raised the fraternal, organizational, and security obligations of the Amateur World Series by multiple orders of magnitude. More than double the number of countries represented at the Series sent delegations to participate in events from eighteen different disciplines. As host, the Dominican Republic entered participants in every discipline, which required the organization of new sporting federations, outside expertise, new facilities, and further development of amateur sport overall. While doubters remained until opening day and internal conflicts slowed completion, the XII Games represented a victory for the Dominican people and the Balaguer government in particular for establishing their support for Latin American solidarity and Balaguer’s Third Way.

The XII Games offered a microcosm of the Balaguer model, with its combination of social benefits with military organization and security. Internationally, the XII Games in Santo Domingo extended the American sporting fraternity represented by Cuba’s sharing of its Amateur World Series victory into a more formal political unity to protect Latin American sovereignty. Still, global political and economic forces threatened even the most basic efforts toward regional solidarity, including those in sport. As leaders and officials across the hemisphere, including Henry Kissinger, U.S. President Richard Nixon’s assistant for national security affairs,16 struggled to order a world of ideological pluralism, the XII Games presented Balaguer’s model for international approval and secured his rule at home for another four years.

From the preparations for the XII Games through the closing ceremonies, Dominican and regional officials conspicuously constructed the country as a model actor in the movement for regional solidarity. Speeches to the visitors reminded them that the European heritage they all shared originated in Santo Domingo, the site of the first European settlement in the Americas. Organizers reminded participants that from Santo Domingo, “civilization spread to the other confines of the Hemisphere”17 and called on them to carry forward the Dominican assumption of the Games as a compromiso de todos (duty of all) by “embracing one another, as brothers, at the 1974 Twelfth Games.”18 The Cuban delegation demonstrated this sporting ethic by hanging photographs of national independence leaders, including Pan-American hero José Martí, in their area of the Villa Centroamericana instead of the photos of Prime Minister Fidel Castro displayed at previous international sporting events.19 The fact that the Cubans also featured an image of Máximo Gómez, a Dominican who contributed to independence movements in both countries, furthered the fraternal atmosphere.

The substitution of heroes of international solidarity for Castro represented a Cuban gesture toward the emerging Latin American solidarity that some defined as Latin American nationalism. Months before the XII Games, counselors from eighteen members of the Organization of American States met in Bogotá, Colombia, to determine common bases for restructuring the inter-American system, and especially their relationships with the United States.20 Dominican Chancellor Víctor Gómez Bergés, one of the leaders in the meeting, echoed the sentiments in the earlier “¡Cuba, Sí! ¡Yankees, No!” cheer by calling for “new paths of equality and justice” free from the paternalism of the past between the people of the hemisphere and the United States.21 Specifically, the chancellors called on Henry Kissinger to reorient U.S. actions in the hemisphere toward fostering an atmosphere of equality and mutual respect for sovereignty. Promoting equality required structural reforms in the economic system to loosen the dependency many Latin American countries diagnosed in their international trade. In addition, they advocated for a policy of no intervention in their political affairs. Representatives from countries with political systems as varied as Costa Rica’s social democracy and Chile’s military dictatorship installed by a U.S.-sponsored coup just two months before agreed that a common front was the best way to ensure each of their interests against those of the United States. They called for a reorganization of the OAS in line with current political realities—what many interpreted as a bid to end OAS sanctions against Cuba—and explicitly sided with Panama in its negotiations to secure full control over the Canal.22 Together, Latin American diplomats hoped to foster an inter-American community of “ideological pluralism,” united in a spirit of no intervention.23

Regional unity protected individual nations from inter-American challenges, but global forces threatened the atmosphere of solidarity at the extraordinary meeting of the OAS, as well as at sporting events like the XII Games. Though glossed over in the press, fears that “leftist” protests against the Chilean foreign affairs minister, Admiral Ismael Huerta, might disrupt the Bogotá meetings forced the delegates to meet outside the city.24 The presence of military leaders representing parties that benefited from U.S. intervention must surely have raised eyebrows among the delegates as they discussed ways to base international affairs on democratic principles.25 Yet pluralism meant allowing the Right as well as the Left.

In baseball, the divisions were more clearly defined than in politics. In 1973, Nicaraguan, Italian, and U.S. officials formed the World Federation of Amateur Baseball (Federación Mundial de Béisbol Amateur, FEMBA), leading an exodus from the International Baseball Federation (FIBA, Federación Internacional de Béisbol Amateur) that had governed international baseball since 1938. Baseball leaders from member nations blamed issues ranging from hard politics to administrative incompetence for the divide. Cuban representatives diagnosed the division as political, an attempt to undermine their dominance on the field and influence in the administration of international baseball. Although he denied Cuba’s allegations, the president of Belgium’s baseball federation, Roger Panaye, implicitly confirmed them with his call for an administrative reform based on “democracy and friendship.” He blamed FIBA’s problems on disorder caused by Caribbean attempts to maintain control of the organization.26

Both the Latin American solidarity fostered in the Bogotá meetings, with its underlying tensions, and the FIBA divide manifested themselves during the XII Games. The Dominican Baseball Federation reasoned that maintaining affiliation with FIBA, which was recognized by the International Olympic Committee, would protect the legitimacy of the XII Games as an Olympic event. Yet the conflict between FIBA and FEMBA undermined regional unity around one of the most popular sports among the Central American and Caribbean participants. Only six of the twenty-three countries represented at the Games sent baseball teams: the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Venezuela, Dutch Antilles, Puerto Rico, and Mexico.27 Despite attempts by Dominican sportswriters and others to promote conciliatory officials to lead FIBA in negotiations with FEMBA officials, the status quo prevailed. Philosophical support for mutual respect and ideological pluralism did little to protect even sports fraternity against Cold War political interests and divisions. The XII Games revealed cracks in the ability of sport to overcome politics that Dominicans had so enthusiastically celebrated at the Amateur World Series.

Despite weaknesses in multipolar politics, the XII Games demonstrated the positive outcomes of the pluralistic domestic policies of Balaguer and legitimated his version of the Third Way path. To the Balaguer Government, the Games were a chance to remind regional peers that Dominicans had achieved a rise in national production (GDP) of 7.5 percent in 1971 and 12.5 percent in 1972. Borrowing from Balaguer’s campaign promises to lead a bloodless revolution (Revolución sin sange), OAS representative Gómez Bergés attributed the increased production to “one of the most profound revolutions that any country in Latin America has achieved in recent times within a constitutional order of liberty and respect for the human dignity of people.”28 The press portrayed the XII Games as a way for the Balaguer government to reinvest the proceeds of this revolution in the Dominican people. Advertisements and articles of congratulations from sportswriters and industrial leaders across the country highlighted Balaguer’s good leadership in the construction of modern sporting installations that would serve Dominican youth for decades to come. One advertisement hailed the XII Games as an “international testimony of the progress that the government of Dr. Joaquín Balaguer has given the country.”29

Everywhere they looked, industrialists and sportswriters saw the physical evidence of the development resulting from approximately US$20 million in public investment for the construction of the Juan Pablo Duarte Olympic Center, the Sports Palace, track, and the Villa Centroamericana. Without denying the benefits of the Olympic Center for the “strengthening of the youth and the formation of their character,”30 officials promoted the Villa Centroamericana, where delegations were housed, as an example of Balaguer’s ability to ensure that government investment benefited the population. The apartment buildings in the Villa Centroamericana were constructed in cooperation with the national housing authority and would be sold to Dominican families in need after the Games.31

The visible friendship between Dominican and Cuban delegates at the Games demonstrated Balaguer’s commitment to the population and the benefits of this friendship. Since renewing their sporting relationship five years before, Dominican and Cuban sports teams had competed against one another, trained together, and exchanged technical knowledge. Lessons borrowed from Cuban policies that promoted sport as a human right benefited female athletes in particular—Dominican women earned a bronze medal in basketball—and ensured that the XII Games would be remembered even forty years later for establishing the bases of Dominican sport.32 After securing another term in the May 1974 elections, Balaguer fulfilled a campaign promise to reorganize sport closer to the Cuban model by creating the Secretary of Sport, Physical Education, and Recreation as a cabinet position. By creating this position, Balaguer maintained a reputation of concern for the Dominican people despite supporting economic policies, such as the 1968 Industrial Incentives Law and wage freezes, that eroded economic opportunity for many.33

Even while advocating friendship with Cuba, Balaguer maintained the security necessary to assure foreign and domestic investors of his commitment to capitalist development and exercised the political astuteness and power necessary to smooth over economic and political divisions. The press lauded Balaguer’s leadership in ensuring that all Dominicans fulfilled their duty in preparation for the Games. He passed laws to quell political divisions and wisely provided military oversight of key projects, including food and transportation. These assignments overlapped with security more generally, for which the police joined the armed forces. Despite a lack of intrigue in the Cuban delegation compared to the Amateur World Series in 1969 and the relative ease and brutality with which the military had dismantled an attempted guerrilla movement the year before, Dominicans remained heightened to the risk of an incident. The day of the opening ceremonies, El caribe reported that “the police monitor groups considered ‘subversive,’”34 and guaranteed order during the Games. The National Police vowed to work with the military to protect athletes, visitors, and the population in general from alleged threats by the armed wing of the Communist party, the Dominican Popular Movement (Movimiento Popular Dominicano). To ease fears about this military cooperation so soon after the coup in Chile and Dominican experiences with military violence, the police added that “those who provoke incidents in this country are those intent on violating the law,” not the police or military.35 The police and military had accepted their duty with the Games; Dominicans need only worry about those who had not.

Labeling those who criticized the Balaguer government as delinquents delegitimized their concerns and deflated popular dialogue about the future of the country. Dominicans could participate in their democracy, but only by voting and by requesting patronage in Balaguer-approved projects. Rather than the pluralism advocated by the rhetoric of fraternity, building the Dominican nation through sport required consensus behind Balaguer and his leadership. Good Dominicans accepted the government’s provision for their future through investment in sporting infrastructure and tournaments and aligned themselves with the projects to improve themselves with sports training.36

The Balaguer government fulfilled its obligation to Dominican youth by providing access to sport, even borrowing from Cuban models to do so. Those who did not accept their duty to the nation were dismissed as bored teenagers intent on upsetting the order or violating the law. Across the continent, political leaders disregarded demonstrations in support of social reforms or protests against war as indicative of a “generation gap” between those who understood the dangers of revolution and those who aspired for change. Balaguer formalized this paternalistic attitude in his regime by incorporating the youth into his sports program and into the preparations for the XII Games. Those who refused his efforts or criticized them in any manner stronger than carefully worded suggestions for improving his projects were subversives intent on disturbing the national peace. The XII Games, then, provided an international stage for projecting the social achievements of Balaguer’s Third Way and the extension of some of the benefits of the Cuban Revolution to the Dominican people. Still, Dominicans accessed these benefits only through Balaguer’s authority.

From the late 1960s to the mid-1970s, Latin American countries undertook various experiments in political and economic development, including the Peruvian model of military-led social reform begun in 1968, Salvador Allende’s democratic socialism in Chile in 1970, the bureaucratic authoritarian neoliberalism of the Pinochet regime in Chile beginning in 1973, and Balaguer’s Third Way civilian authoritarianism. After nearly two decades of bipolar competition, nations sought new paths in an atmosphere that Kissinger described as politically multipolar, if still dominated militarily by the superpowers. In the spirit of multipolarity and with diminishing fears of Cuba’s proselytization of communism until the intervention in Angola in 1975, many Latin American nations considered the possibility of renewed relations with Cuba. Still, this multipolarity was unsettling to some and resulted in the establishment of military-led dictatorships or bureaucratic authoritarian regimes across the region. After defeating Trujillo in 1961 and organizing in 1965 to resurrect the democratic dreams squashed by the military coup of 1963, Dominicans refused this fate. They elected Balaguer in 1966 as a compromise with the United States, one that ceded Dominican demands for a civilian leader and a constitutional framework in exchange for anticommunist stability and economic reforms in line with U.S. designs for development. The political assassinations and repression committed during the Balaguer administration mirrored those by military regimes in such places as Brazil, Chile, and later Argentina, but took place in a nominally democratic system.

Balaguer leaned on sport to balance the contradictions of repression with claims to protect civil freedoms. While the success of Dominican ballplayers in the United States affirmed the individual economic opportunities provided by Balaguer’s protection of professional baseball and industry more generally, the Amateur World Series and XII Games promised to build the nation through amateur sport. This combination of individual and collective interests characterized the first period of his program to develop the country and the population through sport. This Third Way model protected Balaguer from criticisms of favoritism for industrialists at the expense of the popular interest. With his populist credentials confirmed and his third consecutive term secured by 1975, the government retooled the sports-development model toward professional baseball with support for the Cibao Summer League and Dominican Republic Summer League. These independent, Dominican-centered organizations became the Dominican Summer League that today receives funding from Major League Baseball (MLB) to organize the summer tournament among academy teams.

During the period of Latin American solidarity of the late 1960s through the first half of the 1970s, the Balaguer government projected itself as a political and economic Third Way that protected both individual economic opportunity and collective national interest. The international stage offered by events such as the Amateur World Series in 1969 and the XII Games in 1974 legitimated this model to audiences at home and abroad. Under Balaguer, the nation achieved projects that outshone those of the Trujillo regime previously renowned for its façade of modernity. Balaguer offered a new model of civilian authoritarianism that replaced the paternal machismo of the Trujillo era with a scholarly bureaucracy run by a concerned son and brother. While earning Balaguer honors as the “godfather of democracy” in the Dominican Republic, his model had more in common with authoritarianism in Chile and Cuba than with the participatory democracy Dominicans tried to create with the assassination of Trujillo in 1961 and the popular democratic movement of 1965.37

Discussion of the Literature

A historiography of sport in Latin America would incorporate nearly all themes of a historiography of Latin America more generally. Historians have used sport, like other components of popular culture, to examine important questions about modernity, political and social development, and the impact of gender, race, and class. As a microcosm of society, sport offers a window to the interactions of social, political, cultural, and economic factors in individual countries or on a regional or global scale. Brenda Elsey’s work on working-class organization, mobilization, and civic education through local soccer clubs in Chile exemplifies this flexibility with sport.38 Elsey’s emphasis on working-class identity and the place of masculinity and gender in its formation joins studies about popular versus elite attitudes and identities in Argentina by Matthew Karush and on Mexican American agricultural workers and their identities by José Alamillo.39 These works expose the discursive process of identity formation among working-class citizens and between citizens of various classes. Sport also shows how these discussions happen transnationally, as demonstrated by Louis A. Pérez, Jr’s On Becoming Cuban (1999) and William H. Beezley’s conception of the “Porfirian persuasion” in Judas at the Jockey Club (1987).40

Scholarly work on baseball in the Dominican Republic has centered on the question of U.S. control over the national pastime. Historian Rob Ruck and anthropologist Alan Klein both raised this question in their early studies, though Ruck’s first book was more concerned with explaining the historical significance of baseball in the Dominican Republic.41 His second book on Dominican baseball aligns with Klein’s early work to conclude that Major League Baseball colonized the Dominican sport.42 More recent scholarship, including Klein’s more recent work and Daniel A. Gilbert’s global study of baseball free agency, has pushed back against the early declarations of U.S. hegemony by emphasizing Dominican contributions to the baseball industry.43 Although the industry is dominated by Major League Baseball, Dominican contributions ensure that at least some of their needs are met.

Similar questions based on Gramscian relations of coercion and consent and the role of culture in political discourse underlay much of the historiography of the Dominican Republic. Not surprisingly, earlier generations of U.S.-based historians of the Dominican Republic examined dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo’s combination of military force, U.S. support, patronage, and an aura of invincibility that dominated Dominican politics and society for more than thirty years. Work by Eric Roorda, Richard Turits, and Lauren Derby are essential reading on the Trujillo dictatorship.44 The next generation of historians has begun to turn questions raised by Roorda, Turits, and Derby to the various regimes of Joaquín Balaguer and those that have followed. Political scientist Jonathan Hartlyn provides a helpful characterization of the political regimes in the country, while historians like Elizabeth Manley have deepened these understandings through examinations of gender and other social and cultural factors.45 A historical approach to understandings of race from the Trujillo era to the twenty-first century is needed to fully appreciate how these periods contributed to the development of democracy in the Dominican Republic and to contextualize the animosity toward Haitian migrants and Dominican citizens of Haitian descent. Work on race in the Dominican Republic by Ginetta Candelario and on Dominican nationality in relation to Haiti by historians Anne Eller and April Mayes provide important starting points for examining these questions.46

Scholarship on the Cold War in Latin America has benefited from the convergence of interest by historians of foreign affairs and historians of popular culture likely inspired by the trend in transnational history. This article employs the methodology of examining “transnational contact zones” through popular culture to explain Cold War interventions and the reasons behind them.47 The meeting of superpower ideologies and local or regional interests at these “contact zones” exposed contradictory understandings of concepts thought to be common, such as democracy. As Greg Grandin has explained, these differences led to some of the greatest conflicts in the hemisphere during the Latin American Cold War.48 As the site of the first boots-on-the-ground intervention by the United States in the Latin American Cold War and as a key ally for the United States in the region, the Dominican Republic offers a case that illustrates how the clash between different understandings of democracy affected domestic politics as well as U.S.–Latin America relations. A more sustained analysis of the Dominican Third Way in the international context outlined in work such as Tanya Harmer’s Allende’s Chile (2011) would shed more light on how Latin American countries worked together against U.S. intervention in the region, especially through the 1970s.49 The Dominican Third Way under Balaguer offers a first-step for putting the Dominican case into this context while considering how Latin Americans negotiated disparate understandings of democracy amid the changing policies of the Cold War to implement a version suitable to their immediate interests on the way to a democratic transition.

Primary Sources

Details about the Amateur World Series and the XII Central American and Caribbean Games are best accessed through collections of the Dominican newspapers El caribe and Listín Diario, digitized at the Archivo General de la Nación (AGN) in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, or on microfilm at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. These newspapers also contain valuable editorials and sports columns to orient studies about the meanings that Dominicans and their government projected onto sport as they negotiated their democratic future. The newsmagazine ¡Ahora!, hailed for its advocacy of democratic dialogue, contributed to these discussions as well. After years of online digital access, ¡Ahora! is now available at the Biblioteca Juan Bosch in Santo Domingo or in hard copy at the AGN.

For Dominican government documents related to the development of sport and the national projects surrounding the expansion of amateur sport in the late 1960s–1970s, as well as the XII Central American and Caribbean Games, see documents from the Secretary of Sports, Physical Education, and Recreation (SEDEFIR) in the Presidency collection. Although SEDEFIR existed only from 1975 to 2010, the collection contains correspondence between the Dominican presidents and the Sports Director (1943–1975) or Secretary of Sport since the Trujillo Era. Letters and telegrams from Dominican constituents to Dominican presidents, administrative secretaries, or sports officials provide additional insight into the support that the government provided for sport as well as the means by which Dominicans solicited this patronage.

Collections of government documents, newspapers, and a series of baseball histories by Cuquí Córdova also detail the Dominican government’s relationship with professional baseball. Although not explicitly integrated into this analysis, the development of professional baseball in the Dominican Republic paralleled political development in the country and figured prominently in debates over the ways a democratic government should ensure opportunity for its people. SEDEFIR documents and Dominican newspapers, especially editorials, provide the Dominican perspective on the development of the baseball industry. The Santiago-based paper La Información, also available at the AGN, adds a slightly different perspective on industrial incentives to the capital-based newspapers cited previously. Córdova has compiled ten or more histories of key moments and players in Dominican baseball history. His books, which look like magazines or long sports programs, are available at the AGN and the Library of Congress, and for sale at bookstores in Santo Domingo. Some volumes may be borrowed from U.S. libraries. The relatively recent rise of the Dominican baseball industry allowed me to rely heavily on oral histories with former baseball players and current and former sportswriters and sports officials for insights on this development. Digital archives of Sports Illustrated magazine at the SI Vault website offer a U.S. perspective on Dominican and other Latin American baseball industries. These sources complement testimonies by Felipe Alou in a 1963 article for Sport magazine and his 1966 autobiography.50

Dominican and other Latin Americans have articulated their observations and analyses of the political context surrounding international sporting events and Dominican sport policies in sports columns, editorials, and other news articles. ¡Ahora! and El caribe offered more analysis on these matters in the 1960s and 1970s. The main outlines of U.S. policy in Latin America can be gleaned from various volumes of the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) collections now available as experimental e-books from the U.S. Department of State, Office of the Historian.

Further Reading

  • Derby, Lauren. The Dictator’s Seduction: Politics and the Popular Imagination in the Era of Trujillo. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009.
  • Elsey, Brenda. Citizens and Sportsmen: Fútbol and Politics in Twentieth-Century Chile. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2011.
  • Fortunato, René. La violencia del poder: Los doce años de Balaguer. DVD Documentary. Santo Domingo: Videocine Palau, S.A., 2003.
  • Gilbert, Daniel A. Expanding the Strike Zone: Baseball in the Age of Free Agency. Amherst and Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 2013.
  • Grandin, Greg. The Last Colonial Massacre: Latin America and the Cold War. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.
  • Harmer, Tanya. Allende’s Chile and the Inter-American Cold War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011.
  • Hartlyn, Jonathan. The Struggle for Democratic Politics in the Dominican Republic. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.
  • Joseph, Gilbert M., and Daniela Spenser, eds. In from the Cold: Latin America’s New Encounter with the Cold War. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008.
  • Klein, Alan. Dominican Baseball: New Pride, Old Prejudice. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2014.
  • Moya Pons, Rafael Francisco De (Frank Moya Pons). “Industrial Incentives in the Dominican Republic, 1880–1983.” PhD Diss., Columbia University, 1987.
  • Pérez, Louis A., Jr. On Becoming Cuban: Identity, Nationality, and Culture. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999.
  • Ruck, Rob. The Tropic of Baseball: Baseball in the Dominican Republic. Westport, CT: Meckler, 1991.


  • 1. Alvaro Arevalo hijo, “Temas Deportivos: Notas de la Serie,” El caribe, August 16, 1969, 14.

  • 2. Alvaro Arevalo hijo, “Efectivo Relevo,” El caribe, August 27, 1969, 1, 15. On Castro’s response, see Prensa Asociada (hereafter AP), Miami, August 28, 1969, “Habla Castro,” El caribe, August 29, 1969, 16.

  • 3. Miguel A. Reinoso Solís, “Buena Labor PN,” El caribe, August 27, 1969, 15.

  • 4. April Yoder, “Pitching Democracy: Baseball and Politics in the Dominican Republic, 1955–1978,” PhD Diss. (Georgetown University, 2014).

  • 5. Elizabeth Manley, The Paradox of Paternalism: Women, Transnational Activism, and the Politics of Authoritarianism in the Dominican Republic, 1928–1978 (Gainsville: University of Florida Press, 2017).

  • 6. Jonathan Hartlyn, The Struggle for Democratic Politics in the Dominican Republic (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998), 9.

  • 7. “Cuba da Crédito Dirigentes de RD,” El caribe, August 13, 1969, 1.

  • 8. “Closer to Chaos,” Time 95.15, April 13, 1970, 36.

  • 9. Rafael A. Rodríguez G., “La Seguridad,” El caribe, August 13, 1969, 16.

  • 10. Pedro Gil Iturbides, En esta esquina (column), “¡Que Raros son los Cubanos!” El caribe, August 14, 1969, 10.

  • 11. Ibid.

  • 12. See, for example, Greg Grandin, The Last Colonial Massacre: Latin America in the Cold War (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004).

  • 13. The Dominican Republic led the region in economic growth between 1960 and 2005. Laura Jaramillo and Cemile Sancak, “Growth in the Dominican Republic and Haiti: Why Has the Grass Been Greener on One Side of Hispaniola?” Working Paper 07/63 (International Monetary Fund, March 2007).

  • 14. Reinoso Solis, El caribe, August 27, 1969, 15.

  • 15. “Veras Favorece Club Dominicano Viaje a La Habana; Aclara Primero Necesita La Invitación Oficial,” El caribe, August 29, 1969, 16.

  • 16. Henry A Kissinger, “Central Issues of American Foreign Policy,” in Foundations of Foreign Policy, 1969–1972, vol 1, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969–1976, ed. The Office of the Historian (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2003).

  • 17. “Mensaje del Presidente de Honor de los Docejuegos,” El caribe, February 26, 1973, suplemento deportivo, 12.

  • 18. Ibid.

  • 19. Prensa Asociada (AP), “Cubanos Exhiben en Villa Foto Apostal José Martí,” El caribe, February 28, 1974, 17.

  • 20. Javier Baena, AP, Bogotá, “Pastrana Abre La Conferencia De Cancilleres,” El caribe, November 14, 1974, 1, 12.

  • 21. Gómez Bergés in “La RD Favorece Consolidación De la Libertad,” El caribe, November 14, 1973, 1.

  • 22. Ary Moleon, AP, Bogotá, “Pastrana Exhorta Países de América,” El caribe, November 15, 1973, 1, 10; Prensa Unida Internacional (UPI), Bogotá, “Cancilleres del Hemisferio Manifiestan Preocupación Por Poca Receptividad de EU Hacia Reforma Sistema,” El caribe, November 16, 1973, 1, 14.

  • 23. Ary Moleon, AP, “Reafirmarán su Decisión A Principios Democracia,” El caribe, November 15, 1973, 14.

  • 24. Moleon, AP, “Pastrana Exhorta Países de América,” 1.

  • 25. Moleon, AP, “Reafirmarán su Decisión A Principios Democracia,” 14.

  • 26. “Comments by Roger Panaye [in response to ‘Rift in World Baseball’],” Baseball Mercury 5, February 1974, 2–3.

  • 27. Miguel Guerrero, Prensa Unida Internacional, “Seis Equipos Participarán Torneo Beisbol XII Juegos,” El caribe, February 26, 1974, suplemento deportivo, 33.

  • 28. Gómez Bergés in “La RD Favorece Consolidación De la Libertad,” 15.

  • 29. Compañía Anónima Tabacalera, paid advertisement, El caribe, February 27, 1973, 3.

  • 30. Tomás E Montás, “Deporte es Fuente de fortaleza de la Juventud; Pueblo Cumplió el Compromiso—Martínez Brea,” El caribe, February 28, 1974, 17.

  • 31. Mario Alvarez, “Más de 2,000 Atletas Inician Hoy XII Juegos,” El caribe, February 27, 1974, 1, 8; “Construcción de la Villa es Buena Concepción Oficial,” El caribe, February 26, 1973, suplemento deportivo, 8.

  • 32. Ramón Rodríguez, Reportaje Especial, “Los XII Juegos de 1974 cumplen 40 años,” Listín Diario, February 24, 2014, El Deporte, Online.

  • 33. On Balaguer’s economic policies, see Francisco de Moya Pons (Frank Moya Pons), “Industrial Incentives in the Dominican Republic, 1880–1983,” PhD Diss. (Columbia University, 1987).

  • 34. Rafael Rodríguez Gómez, “La Policía Vigila Grupos Considera ‘Subversivos,’” El caribe, February 27 1974, 2.

  • 35. Ibid.

  • 36. For example, see Carta, March 20, 1973, Gaspar L [Vilchez] Suero, José María D’Soto Sánchez, Dr. Felipe Ant. Moquete C, y demás, Azua, al Dr. Joaquín Balaguer, Presidente Constitucional de la República Dominicana, SEDEFIR 16528.

  • 37. Historiador Grimaldi afirma Balaguer es el padrino de la democracia dominicana,” La Nación, September 4, 2008, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

  • 38. Brenda Elsey, Citizens and Sportsmen: Fútbol and Politics in Twentieth-Century Chile (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2011).

  • 39. Matthew Karush, Culture of Class: Radio and Cinema in the Making of a Divided Argentina, 1920–1946 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012); and José M. Alamillo, Making Lemonade out of Lemons: Mexican American Labor and Leisure in a California Town, 1880–1960 (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2006).

  • 40. Louis A. Pérez, Jr., On Becoming Cuban: Identity, Nationality, and Culture (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999); and William H. Beezley, Judas at the Jockey Club and Other Episodes in Porfirian Mexico (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1987).

  • 41. Rob Ruck, The Tropic of Baseball: Baseball in the Dominican Republic (New York: Westport, CT: Meckler, 1991); and Alan Klein, Sugarball: The American Game, the Dominican Dream (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1991).

  • 42. Rob Ruck, Raceball: How the Major Leagues Colonized the Black and Latin Game (Boston: Beacon, 2011).

  • 43. Alan M. Klein, Growing the Game: The Globalization of Major League Baseball (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006); Klein, Dominican Baseball: New Pride, Old Prejudice (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2014); and Daniel A. Gilbert, Expanding the Strike Zone: Baseball in the Age of Free Agency (Amherst and Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 2013).

  • 44. Eric Roorda, The Dictator Next Door: The Good Neighbor Policy and the Trujillo Regime in the Dominican Republic, 1930–1945 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998); Richard Lee Turits, Foundations of Depotism: Peasants, the Trujillo Regime, and Modernity in Dominican History (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003); and Lauren Derby, The Dictator’s Seduction: Politics and the Popular Imagination in the Era of Trujillo (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009).

  • 45. Jonathan Hartlyn, The Struggle for Democratic Politics in the Dominican Republic (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998); and Elizabeth Manley, The Paradox of Paternalism: Women, Transnational Activism, and the Politics of Authoritarianism in the Dominican Republic, 1928–1978 (Gainsville: University of Florida Press, 2007).

  • 46. Ginetta Candelario, Black behind the Ears: Dominican Racial Identity from Museums to Beauty Shops (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007); Anne Eller, “‘All Would Be Equal in the Effort’: Santo Domingo’s ‘Italian Revolution,’ Independence, and Haiti, 1809–1822)”, Journal of Early American History 1.2 (2011): 105–141; and April J. Mayes, Mulatto Republic: Class, Race, and Dominican National Identity (Gainsville: University Press of Florida, 2014).

  • 47. Gilbert M. Joseph and Daniel Spenser, eds., In from the Cold: Latin America’s New Encounter with the Cold War (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008).

  • 48. Greg Grandin, The Last Colonial Massacre: Latin America in the Cold War (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004).

  • 49. Tanya Harmer, Allende’s Chile and the Inter-American Cold War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011).

  • 50. Felipe Alou with Arnold Hano, “Latin-American Ballplayers Need a Bill of Rights,” Sport, November 1963, 20–21, 76–79; and Felipe Alou with Herm Weiskopf, My Life and Baseball (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1967).