"Bush get out," warned graffiti along fashionable George Washington Avenue and in the slums north of the capital. But troops blanketing the city today made sure the vice president of the United States remained insulated from protests after his arrival for a two-day state visit.
The motorcade that took Vice President George Bush from the airport to the U.S. ambassador's residence passed by only a few small clusters of people watching passively as soldiers from the Dominican Army, Navy and security forces held automatic rifles at the ready for any sign of trouble.
Leftist students trying to stage a march in the distant, desperately poor barrios this morning were arrested quickly by regular Army troops. A police spokesman said 43 persons were detained during the aborted march and other scattered incidents, but there were no confirmed reports of injuries.
"You can smell the trouble in the air," said a local journalist who has covered much of the Dominican Republic's turbulent recent past. "But at least up to now things are quiet."
In an effort to ensure a peaceful visit by Bush, secret police agents Friday arrested prominent leftist leader Jorge Puello. Four high school students were jailed and nine protesters seeking to deliver a letter denouncing the Bush visit to the U.S. Embassy were briefly detained, interrogated and photographed. The university and high schools will be closed Monday and Tuesday to stifle student protests.
Both the radical left and the government say they hope to avoid violent confrontation and the kind of mayhem once commonplace in this country, which is only now edging its way into democracy.
Certainly, the government of President Antonio Guzman has enough serious problems to discuss with Bush without the acrid smell of tear gas interrupting conversation.
Legislation now pending before the U.S. Congress, for instance, has Dominicans worried. A bill already passed by the Senate could raise the fixed price of sugar in the United States from 15 to 18 cents a pound. Under American law and given the current low price of sugar on the world market, the result would be an increase of almost 50 percent in the import fees on foreign sugar, including that of the Dominican Republic. Thirty percent of this country's gross national product depends on sugar, most of which is exported to the United States.
The Dominican Republic's secretary of the armed forces, Lt. Gen. Mario A. Imbert McGregor, said Friday that Bush may also be asked for increased military assistance, particularly for coastal patrol operations against the island's active drug trade.