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Trivial pursuit

15 July 2009

The Bastille Day trivia question was:

Besides Mexican diplomat Gilberto Bosques, who arranged for European refugees to flee the Nazis via Casablanca, another Latin American political figure has an important connection to the film, Casablanca.  Who was he, and what was his connection to the movie.

Trivia answer: The Latin American political figure connected with “Casablanca” was Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo, who was an extra in the final scene, He is one of the people at the airport (he’s watching a propeller go round) as Rick says his good-byes to Ilsa (and then plugs Major Strassner).

While it’s true that Trujillo welcomed Jews and other European refugees into the Dominican Republic he might have better played one of the Nazis.  His stated purpose in welcoming European refugees was to “whiten” the population, after the slaughtering  Haitians during a bloody pogram in 1937.  Trujillo had set  himself up as the undisputed leader of a party based on a cult of personality, and modeled his regime on both Francisco Franco and Josef Stalin.  U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull said of Trujillo, “He’s a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch”.

Following the Second World War, Trujillo was supported by the United States as a bulkward against Communism.  However, his attempts to assasinate the “Father of Venezuelan Democracy”, Romulo Bettencourt, followed by persecution against Bishops who had turned against the regime, cost him the support of both the U.S. and the Vatican.  When anti-Trujillo forces turned to Cuba for asistance (and Cuba sent a small invasion force), it became clear that Trujillo and Trujilloismo had to go… it was only a question of whether a Cuban-backed or U.S. backed coup would overthrow him.  The CIA and the Papal Nucio both provided clandestine support to the officers and others who finally assassinated “the Goat” in 1961.

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