Political Asylum in Puerto Rico

1961 Mario Antonio Read Vittini with little Mario and my dad, Puerto Rico

Mario Antonio Read Vittini with little Mario and my dad, Puerto Rico

A couple of years ago my mother gave me a huge scrapbook that she had put together about my father. Among other things, there are invitations to most of the receptions that he attended around the world, to things like presidential inaugurals and Queen Elizabeth’s coronation which my father, not only attended, but led the Dominican delegation to. The book also contained newspaper clippings from when my father defected to Puerto Rico in 1960 and asked for political asylum. I had never read all of them before and, on further inspection of the articles, I had the AHA! moment. I never realized the historical importance of what my father did, at the time that he did it. Ironically, I don’t think my father did either… and if Trujillo had known the avalanche he was starting, I am sure he would have changed things.

In 1953 my father had gone from being Sub-secretary of state and sub-chief of the Dominican navy, to being a political prisoner and spending 22 months in jail. He was allowed out as long as he worked for Felix Benitez Rexach’s as captain to his yacht the Moineau and captain to some of his merchant ships. (Felix Benitez was a French, turned US citizen, turned Dominican citizen who was a civil engineer and owner of one of the largest construction companies in Puerto Rico and the renown Normandy hotel, where at the hotel inaugural, his wife, Moineau, jumped naked in the pool and the guests left. He was in with Trujillo and had built almost all of the big government projects in the island, such as the port in Santo Domingo, becoming a multimillionaire ) The government refused to give my father a passport so he couldn’t leave the island except in the yacht and a merchant ship that he commanded the rest of the time, and was still in the “enemies of the state” list.

There is a story of how Benitez got to be in with Trujillo. Apparently, he heard that the Dominican Republic was looking for a company to build the port of Santo Domingo, but that it was a massive undertaking and would need a considerable amount of machinery, including a huge dredge. Benitez had located one but needed the money to buy it. Porfirio Rubirosa and his wife Flor de Oro (who was Trujillo’s oldest daughter) were living in Paris. They had made a bid for the contract. Flor wanted to show her father that she was capable of doing a big project like that and, at the same time, make good money. Trujillo had named Ruby ambassador to France. So, Felix had his wife, Moineau, seduce and have an affair with Ruby. Once this affair was established, Moineau introduced Ruby to Felix. They became friends and Felix got ruby and Flor de Oro on board as investors in the dredging venture. Flor de Oro then introduced Felix to Trujillo. Once Felix had access to Trujillo, he strikes a friendship with the dictator. Not needing Ruby and Flor de Oro any longer, he then convinces Trujillo to put up the money to get an even better dredge and to drop Flor and Ruby. They had already bought the dredge and lost all their money, while Don Felix got in with Trujillo and proceeded to make millions in civil engineering projects for years to come. Trujillo found Felix very entertaining.

By the 1960’s, Trujillo’s government was in trouble. The corruption and violence had gotten to levels that the society could no longer tolerate. The US was pulling the plug after keeping him in power for 32 years. Cuba had just fallen into the hands of Fidel Castro because of the corruption of the dictatorship of Batista, which was backed up by the US and supported by the US-Italian mafia. Trujillo had been Batista’s host after his fallout, and stayed long enough to raise the money Trujillo extorted him with to allow him to leave the country. The US was afraid that the same dictatorship-out-of-control-situation existed in the Dominican Republic (except for the mafia) and were starting to pay attention to the oppression and atrocities of the dictatorship.

Internationally, Trujillo had also become a menace:

There was the Galindez scandal. In 1956–Jesús de Galindez, an intelligent and highly principled Basque who taught law at Columbia University, was a Spanish Republican, helped get anti-Francoists out of jail in Spain and was something of a spiritual leader for Latinos in the US. He was also an CIA informer and a writer. An article he wrote for the New York Times, critical of Trujillo, may have provoked Trujillo to have him kidnapped in the center of Manhattan. It is believed that he was taken to the DR, tortured and killed. Then Trujillo had everyone involved killed, including Murphy, the pilot of the airplane used for the kidnapping. Both Galindez and Murphy were US citizens. This was a huge problem.

In 1960, Venezuela produced evidence that agents sent by Trujillo had tried to assassinate their newly elected president Rómulo Betancourt – while Venezuela’s former dictator, Pérez Jiménez was visiting Trujillo. Venezuela appealed to the Organization of American States, the OAS, which agreed on an embargo on arms sales to Trujillo. The U.S., which had already been embargoing the arms went further. President Eisenhower sent Congress a message requesting permission to take back the 32,000 tons of Cuban sugar quota assigned to the Dominican Republic. They really put on the pressure. They stopped short of a full embargo because Russia sent delegates to the DR to offer Trujillo aid if he became an ally and the US was afraid of another Cuba.

At the same time, the Catholic Church read a sermon in all of the churches in the country expressing their outrage of all the recent atrocities and human rights violations. Trujillo went after several priests and has a few tortured and killed, accusing them of enticing the masses by condemning the recent atrocities committed by Trujillo and Johnny Abbes. The Vatican ex-communicated him and broke relations with the Dominican government.

With all this going on, the sugar quota cut, an arms embargo, and the whole world looking, Trujillo’s cash flow stopped. In a desperate scheme, he and Felix Benitez Rexach started dumping Dominican cement in Puerto Rico. (Smuggling a product then selling it as another and making a huge profit). My father was the captain of the Rio Haina, a merchant ship owned by don Felix. In the first shipment, the week before, my father took 32,000 bags of Dominican Cement to San Juan. They sold them for .56 a bag = $1,790,000. PR cement cost 1.45 a bag then. (Very interesting… the same amount as the sugar quota that the US was cutting). The following week, my dad took a second shipment of smuggled cement to PR. Arriving in San Juan, he found out that his life was in danger if he returned to the DR, so he jumped ship, turned over the ship with the full cargo of cement on board to the US Customs in San Juan, Puerto Rico, told them about the dumping scheme, and asked for political asylum. He denounced Trujillo publicly and stated that the lives of his brothers, his wife and his children were in Trujillo’s hands and he was solely responsible for their welfare. He was the highest ranking officer to defect from Trujillo’s armed forces.

A week later, the Ship Worker’s Unions of San Juan, New York – and I believe New Jersey also – started a boycott on Dominican ships as a direct result of dad’s declarations about the smuggling scheme. The unions were very upset about the fact that the cement was being smuggled and, to do so, Benitez and Trujillo had not payed them to unload. Any ship bringing products from the DR sat in the ports and nothing was unloaded. No one would touch them. From that moment on, Trujillo’s dollars stopped. The last resort to keep the cash flow going failed and all because my dad defected and turned in the cement cargo. This is a small world after all.

I am amazed that we are alive. There really had to be an angel protecting us… Idi Amin would have eaten us for dinner the next day. After all this, I can’t believe that the only thing Trujillo did was to kill our dogs and take all our properties and have people harass my mother. He denounced my father in the papers and had, yet, another phony trial sentencing my dad to yet, another 30 years in jail upon his capture for supposedly stealing things from the navy – That is another story…

My dad died a very sad and frustrated man. He was never reinstated in the navy. In 1978, President Balaguer awarded him a pension of $US300, a month. A joke, right? My dad didn’t even bother to go pick it up. He didn’t get any recognition for his heroic acts and his conviction to morals and honor.  And now looking back, he should have been decorated as a hero. But, sadly, only the ones that steal, kill and hold their place in the government are remembered and con-decorated in the DR.

Although he and I never saw eye to eye because we were from two totally different worlds, I am very proud of my father’s actions. I am seeing my life in a whole new light realizing how precarious our lives were. How dangerous those times were. And how my father and mother navigated through all, staying alive and keeping us from harm. It is almost as if I had seen a movie, but I lived through it, I know it all happened.

Soon, I will write about my mother’s side of the story. She was the one that remained in the island, had to deal with the persecution, the moving, hiding, protecting her children and surviving.



This is an excerpt about how Benitez Rexach got in with Trujillo and totally burned his daughter Flor de Oro and her husband Porfirio Rubirosa in the process. I have not been able to find it in English. Don’t think it was ever translated.

Del libro “La Impresionante Vida de un Seductor Porfirio Rubirosa”, by Lipe Collado.

La pareja optó por incursionar en los negocios con los 50 mil pesos de la “dote” que les depositó Trujillo Molina sujeta a su firma. Lo convencieron a pesar de que el dictador puso objeciones al hecho de que intentaran comprar una draga usada para las excavaciones en la construcción del nuevo puerto de Santo Domingo. Enviaron a Nueva Orleans a Federico Peynado González, uno de sus “amigotes” -como siempre llamó Rubirosa a sus amigos de esta etapa de su vida- a comprar una draga usada que luego arrendaron a Félix Benítez Rexach, ingeniero contratado para la construcción y dragado del Puerto de Santo Domingo. Aún se comenta entre personas de avanzada edad una supuesta bisexualidad del ingeniero Rexach, lo que para ellos explica suficientemente la relación BenÍtez Rexach-la francesa Mome Moineau y Porfirio Rubirosa. Esta íntima triangulación -con períodos de batallas ensordecedoras y arreglos felices- se inició desde semanas antes del 70L Lipe Collado dragado, siguió durante el mismo hasta una primera ruptura; continuó en París y luego se quebró tumultuosamente.

Rubirosa sirvió de canal de comunicación entre Trujillo y Benítez Rexach en la ejecución inicial del contrato de construcción citado. En el curso de las ejecuciones le propuso el arrendamiento de una draga, a la que bautizó “10 de febrero”. Dice Rubi en sus memorias que el ingeniero, poco a poco, fue dejándolo de lado, estableciendo contacto directo con el dictador Trujillo Molina. De ahí en adelante se propuso sacarlo de juego con pretextos fútiles como el de que la draga o era insuficiente o era de vapor e iba a estallar. Le hizo trabajar duro y se negó a pagarle. Rubirosa, vestido de Capitán del Ejército, pistola en mano, le agredió .Y le exigió el pago. Según Rubirosa, aquel se desplomó y luego prometió pagarle.

La verdad se oculta bajo su versión. El mayúsculo incidente y los diferentes bloqueos y pretextos del ingeniero Rexach fueron ciertos, pero es el caso que había surgido un triángulo amoroso: Mome Moineau, ex vendedora de flores de bar en bar en París, “casada” ahora con el boricua Rexach, era a la vez amante de Rubirosa. El rumor se había extendido por todo el puerto, por los barrios de la parte baja de la ciudad y había llegado, consiguientemente, a los oídos de Trujillo, y particularmente a los de Flor de Oro. Rexach habría permitido esta relación -y quién sabe si la había planeado y estimulado- a fin de mantener a corta distancia al “inflluyente” yerno del Presidente, pero enterado de que la hija del Presidente estaba al tanto del triángulo amoroso, habría optado por establecer convenientemente una relación directa con el dictador y cortar abrupta y casi públicamente con Rubirosa a fin de evadirse como objetivo en caso de una reacción de la hija o del mismo dictador haciendo fracasar el contrato que en ese momento tanto necesitaba este ingeniero (que ganaría fama y dinero más adelante).