Located south of Guadeloupe and northwest of Martinique, the Caribbean island of the Dominican Republic is known for its luscious rainforests and warm, tropical climate. It is a major tourist destination and home to some of the richest cultural traditions in the world, combining aspects from the Kalinago, French, and English—reflecting the power struggles of the last 500 years that ended with its independence.
Ahead of its independence, some Afro Latinos or Afro-Dominicans did so much to fight off invaders and eventually demand freedom and racial justice. Many of them suffered as a result, including Ramón Leocadio “Cayo” Baez, who helped lead the fight against the U.S. Military Intervention in the Dominican Republic.
A peasant, he was tortured by the American troops that invaded the Dominican Republic from 1916 to 1924. The troops inflicted scars on him and those scars eventually exposed the world to U.S. brutality in Dominican territory.
Born in 1892 in the community of Guanábano, today Cayetano Germosén Municipality in the Espaillat province, Baez was a peasant, like his father. He was from a humble family and was not so good academically but his love for his country made him a hero who would be admired by many.
In 1916 when the Americans invaded the Dominican Republic following internal disorder, Baez fought against them. He was later captured by the Americans, who forced him to reveal the hiding place of his fellow fighters who were against the U.S. occupation. Baez refused to reveal the names and whereabouts of his compatriots, despite being tortured with a hot machete that made it difficult for him to walk.
Some sources state that Baez was jailed by the U.S. troops and had scars almost all over his body when he was released. Baez was photographed after his torture and the photo was published by Horacio Blanco Forbona’s magazine “Las Letras” whose printing press would later be closed by the military government.
The magazine’s photo of Baez’s scars was circulated in newspapers around the world through international media. The world got to know the pain and suffering of the Dominicans at the hands of the Americans. People around the world condemned the abuses.
Baez’s last days were in Bonao, where he passed away in poverty at age 91 in 1983. It is reported that the government failed to properly recognize him, receiving a very low pension until his death. He remains a symbol of U.S. brutality in the Latin Caribbean, historians say.
In 2013, the city council of the municipality of Salcedo, where Baez came from, formally unveiled a small square at kilometer 2 of the Salcedo-Tenares highway in honor of him.
Baez’s story reminds many of runaway slave, Gordon, who was nicknamed “Whipped Peter”. He was photographed at a union camp upon escaping slavery in the south. Gordon’s photograph displaying his very conspicuous scourged back stunned Americans in the north when it was widely circulated during the Civil War as anti-slavery propaganda. The photo was extensively reproduced and helped to turn public opinion against slavery.