Rafael Trujillo, ruler of the Dominican Republic from 1930 until 1961, was very ingenious in maintaining his hold on power. His wide-ranging powers were constitutionally granted...that is, granted to him by a revised Dominican constitution and constitutional reforms that he himself had authored. In doing this, Trujillo always maintained a facade of constitutional legitimacy. His regime could more properly be called a tyranny than a true dictatorship.
He saw to it that his younger brother Hector and other cronies loyal to him were elected to the presidency during two intervals in his reign, while continuing to hold behind-the-scenes power, in order to create the impression that political competition existed in the Dominican Republic. Nepotism, in fact, was one of Trujillo's most identifiable characteristics. Dozens of his relatives occupied posts at every level of the government, or were granted controlling interests in major Dominican industries such as the media and sugar processing. He hoped his dynasty would live on forever, and groomed his oldest son "Ramfis" for the presidency almost from the day he was born in 1929. At the age of three, "Ramfis" was made a colonel in the army, and was only nine years old when promoted to the rank of brigadier general.
Extreme megalomania was another of Trujillo's traits. He granted himself a lengthy list of official titles, including "The Benefactor" and "His Excellency." He named provinces, villages, squares, the capital city, even mountaintops after himself. The degree to which he cultivated national worship of his greatness was rivaled in modern times only by that which Hitler and Stalin commanded.
His graft surely rivaled that of the Phillipines' Ferdinand Marcos. Trujillo's eventual fortune was estimated in 1961 to be $800 million. He reaped profits from the production of staples such as milk, meat, salt, and rice; from the domestic sale and export of goods such as sugar, tobacco and wood products, and exercised controlling interests in Dominican banking, insurance, and all media concerns. For most of Trujillo's reign, he felt bold enough to claim that the regular elections which kept returning he and his candidates to power were unanimous, with no dissenting votes at all cast. In the 1930 election, before he perfected his later election stealing techniques, he claimed to have been elected by more votes than there were people in the country at that time!
One of the methods he used most effectively to control the Dominican Republic's entire political system was requiring all legislators, judicial appointees and officials to submit their own signed resignations upon taking office, so that any one of them could be fired whenever Trujillo wished. Government turnover was incredible, with officials constantly being shuffled from one position to the next.
Immediately after World War Two, several Central and South American dictators fell from power (Ubico in Guatemala, Martinez in El Salvador). Trujillo feared that his reign could be next, and was very alarmed at stirrings of a Dominican labor movement. There was a week-long strike in the sugar fields in January, 1946 by workers demanding better conditions and pay.
In order to mislead international opinion into believing that his rule was benevolent, Trujillo relaxed his iron grip on power for a brief period. He allowed two opposition labor parties and even a small communist party to form in time for the 1947 elections. Votes were manipulated to elect one candidate from each of the two labor parties to congress, but of course Trujillo himself was overwhelmingly again elected president.
Following the elections, he cracked down hard on the small Communist party and a fledgling opposition student movement, but he did preserve some of the benefits granted to labor during this brief period. Like Peron in Argentina, he won support from workers because of this. Also like Peron, Trujillo set up a female branch of his ruling party. He encouraged a Dominican feminist movement in the early 1940's, granting women civil and political rights, including the right to vote, in hopes of ensuring new legions of electoral support for his regime.
His rule was maintained for as long as it was not because of massive repression but because he kept the country's living standards at subsistence levels, which ensured that mere survival, rather than demands for political participation, would be foremost in the minds of most Dominicans. By exercising the right to demand a sizable share of every economic activity/business enterprise in the country, Trujillo made certain that no one could make a living without demonstrating obedience to his regime.
All the same, the army, police force and security apparatus commanded by Trujillo was enormous. Political murders, tortures and disappearances occurred frequently enough to discourage any public opposition to Trujillo throughout most of the thirty years he remained in power. The gruesome murder of Jesus de Galindez in 1956 serves as proof of the brutality with which he dealt with his enemies and rivals. In closing, it seems clear to me that Trujillo truly was the most absolute, tyrannical, iron-fisted dictator that Latin America has ever known.
Source: The Era of Trujillo, Dominican Dictator (1973) by Jesus de Galindez (published posthumously)