Dominican Republic - language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion, agriculture, climate

Read about Dominican Republic: language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion, agriculture, climate ...


Dominican Republic

Dominican Republic, country in the West Indies, occupying the eastern two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola. The country of Haiti occupies the western third of the island. The 315-km (195-mi) frontier with Haiti also marks a cultural divide. The Dominican Republic was a colony of Spain for about three centuries, and most of its people are of mixed Spanish and African descent. Today, Dominicans speak Spanish and follow many Spanish traditions. The people of Haiti, by contrast, are primarily of African descent and French in their traditions. The name of the Dominican Republic in Spanish is República Dominicana.

Hispaniola is one of the islands where explorer Christopher Columbus landed on his first voyage across the Atlantic in 1492. The city of Santo Domingo was founded in 1496 by Columbus’s brother and is the oldest surviving European settlement in the Americas. Today, Santo Domingo is the capital of the Dominican Republic as well as its largest city.

The Dominican Republic has had a troubled history. It gained independence from Spain in 1821, but independence did not bring internal peace or economic prosperity. Between 1844 and 1930 it was beset by numerous revolutions, economic instability, and corruption in government. From 1930 to 1961 it came under the dictatorial control of Rafael Trujillo. Although Trujillo brought economic stability, he allowed no political freedom. From the late 1960s on, elected presidents have held office, but they have not been able to solve the Dominican Republic’s economic problems.

The Dominican Republic is a mountainous country with several areas of lowland plains. Plains along the southeastern coast are chiefly used for growing sugar. Sugar has long been the country’s chief product and chief export. Today, manufacturing and tourism also contribute to the country’s economy, but most of the people remain poor. The economy is vulnerable to world food prices and also to the hurricanes that periodically strike the country. Because of poverty, unemployment, and economic instability, many Dominicans have chosen to leave their country and seek a better life elsewhere.


The Dominican Republic is bounded on the north by the Atlantic Ocean; on the east by the Mona Passage, which separates it from Puerto Rico; on the south by the Caribbean Sea; and on the west by Haiti. It has an area of 48,400 sq km (18,700 sq mi). Its greatest length from east to west is about 380 km (about 235 mi) and its maximum width, in the west, is about 265 km (about 165 mi).

The Dominican Republic is a fertile, well-watered, mountainous country. About 80 percent of the country is covered with a series of massive mountain ranges. They run roughly parallel and cross the country from the northwest to the southeast. The highest mountains are known as the Cordillera Central or Cibao Mountains. In the central part of these mountains Pico Duarte rises to 3,098 m (10,164 ft). It is the highest peak in the country and in the West Indies. Tucked among these mountains are lightly populated valleys.

The Cibao Valley lies between the Cordillera Central and the Cordillera Septentrional, a narrow and lower range to the north. The Cordillera Septentrional separates the Cibao Valley from coastal plains along the Atlantic Ocean. The valley is among the most fertile and best-watered areas of the country. The coastal plain in the southeast is another fertile region. Many of the Dominican Republic’s people live in the Cibao Valley or on the coastal plains.

At the eastern end of the island is a low plain, cut off from the Cibao Valley by heavily forested limestone ridges. This plain is dominated by the Dominican capital, Santo Domingo. Sugarcane grows on plantations on the fertile limestone soils of the plain. Nearly a third of the island’s people live east of Santo Domingo.

The coastline of the Dominican Republic, 1,288 km (800 mi) in length, is irregular and indented by many bays forming natural harbors, notably Ocoa Bay in the south and the Samaná Bay in the northeast. A number of adjacent islands, among them Beata and Saona, are possessions of the Dominican Republic.

Rivers and Lakes in Dominican Republic

The Cibao Valley is drained to the northwest by the Yaque del Norte river and to the east by the Yuna and Camú rivers. The Yaque del Norte is about 200 km (125 mi) long and is the longest river in the country. The southwestern part of the Cordillera Central is drained by the Yaque del Sur river.

The principal lake is the large saltwater Lago Enriquillo, situated in the southwestern part of the country. It extends 43 km (27 mi) in length and lies 44 m (144 ft) below sea level.

Climate in Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic has a semitropical climate, tempered by the prevailing easterly winds. Temperatures of more than 23°C (more than 74°F) are registered in the lowlands throughout the year. During the summer months temperatures range between 27° and 35°C (80° and 95°F) in these regions. The highlands are considerably cooler.

Throughout the country, winter is the driest period and summer the wettest. Most rain falls at the end of summer, coinciding with the hurricane season. Annual precipitation averages about 1,500 mm (about 60 in), but considerably more moisture is received by the mountainous areas of the north. Mountain slopes exposed to prevailing northeast winds receive more than 2,000 mm (80 in) of annual rainfall, and tropical rain forests flourish on these slopes. Drier climates occur on the south coast. Tropical hurricanes occasionally strike the country and can cause enormous damage.

Natural Resources of Dominican Republic

The main resources of the Dominican Republic are agricultural. The fertile soil in the valleys is well-suited to farming. Many of the mountain slopes are covered with forests, although the government restricts logging in an effort to halt deforestation. The country also has valuable deposits of nickel, gold, and silver.

Plants and Animals in Dominican Republic

The vegetation of the Dominican Republic, like that of the other islands of the West Indies, is extremely varied and luxuriant. Among the species of indigenous trees are mahogany, rosewood, satinwood, cypress, pine, oak, and cacao. Many species of useful plants and fruits are common, including rice, tobacco, cotton, sugarcane, yam, banana, pineapple, mango, fig, grape, and breadfruit.

The most noteworthy mammal among the indigenous animals is the agouti, a rodent. Wild dogs, hogs, and cattle are abundant, as are numerous reptiles, notably snakes, lizards, and caimans. Humpback whales congregate off the northern coast of the Dominican Republic during the winter months, which is their breeding season. Manatees and sea turtles also live in Dominican waters. Common birds include blue herons, glossy ibis, flamingos, and brown pelicans.

Environmental Issues in Dominican Republic

Urban dwellers of the Dominican Republic enjoy good access to safe water, but rural communities do not. While current water use is low relative to available resources, water shortages do occur.

Although deforestation was once a serious problem in the Dominican Republic, by the beginning of the 21st century, the annual rate of deforestation had decreased significantly. In 2007, 67 percent of the land area was officially protected in some way, but the country lacks the institutional and legal frameworks necessary for effective environmental management. The government has ratified international environmental agreements pertaining to climate change, desertification, endangered species, marine dumping, marine life conservation, and ozone layer protection.


Most of the population of the Dominican Republic is of mixed Spanish and black-African descent. Dominican society has long been characterized by class distinctions based on skin color. The elite, primarily light-skinned and of European descent, have traditionally dominated the professions and included most of the large landholders. Dark-skinned people of African descent generally make up the urban and rural poor. In the middle are people of mixed descent, with skin colors ranging from light to dark, who work in trade, government, or agriculture. Urban dwellers make up 60 percent of the population.

The population of the Dominican Republic (2008 estimate) is 9,507,133, giving the country an overall population density of 197 persons per sq km (509 per sq mi). Many of the people are poor and have little opportunity of improving their lot.

Principal Cities of Dominican Republic

Santo Domingo, the capital and the leading port, had an estimated population of 2,302,759 in 2006. Santiago, known in full as Santiago de los Caballeros, is a center of trade, industry, and transportation in the north. It is the country’s second largest city, with a population of; 908,250) in (2006. Other important cities include San Pedro de Macorís (2002; 217,141), a seaport on the Caribbean coast; La Vega (2001 estimate; 241,917), a commercial center for the agricultural north; and San Francisco de Macorís (2002; 156,267), a commercial center for the eastern Cibao Valley and northeastern lowlands.

Language and Religion in Dominican Republic

Spanish is the official language of the Dominican Republic. English is also spoken, and a French dialect is heard along the Haitian frontier. Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion. There is a small Protestant community, and a small percentage of the people follow African animist religious beliefs.

Education in Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic provides free, compulsory education to children between the ages of 5 and 13. Some 85 percent of the population aged 15 or older is literate. In the 2000 school year 1.4 million pupils attended primary schools. While virtually all children attend primary school, only 59 percent of secondary school-aged children were enrolled.

The Autonomous University of Santo Domingo, the oldest university in the western hemisphere, was authorized in 1538, although classes did not begin until 1558. Four faculties were established, those of philosophy, medicine, theology, and jurisprudence, and the university attracted students from Mexico, Cuba, Venezuela, and elsewhere in Central America. The institution was originally called the Universidad de Santo Tomás de Aquino and was run by Dominican friars. It now occupies a modern campus known as University City.

The Catholic University Madre y Maestra was founded in Santiago in 1962. Other universities include Pedro Henríquez Ureña National University (1966) and Eugenio María de Hostos University (1981), both in Santo Domingo; Northeastern Catholic University (1978) in San Francisco de Macorís; and Central University of the East (1970) in San Pedro de Macorís. Art and music are taught in the national School of Fine Arts, and there is also a National Conservatory of Music.

Culture of Dominican Republic

The first permanent colony of Europeans in the western hemisphere was established in the Dominican Republic. Santo Domingo, founded in 1496 by the brother of Christopher Columbus, was the first permanent city in the New World. Some of the old colonial buildings are still standing, fine examples of which are in Santo Domingo. The colonial center of Santo Domingo was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990.

Art, music, and literature developed in part along Western patterns, with a strong African cultural component. The African heritage is especially notable in the country’s folk culture, particularly the music. The two traditions—African and Spanish—blend in the popular national song and dance, the merengue. Merengue music can be heard everywhere on the island, and every summer Santo Domingo holds a two-week merengue festival at which the world’s finest merengue bands and merengue dancers appear.

Most of the country’s major cultural institutions are in Santo Domingo. They include the Museo de las Casas Reales (Museum of the Royal Houses), a museum of colonial life; the Museo del Hombre Dominicano (Museum of the Dominican Man), with exhibits on pre-Columbian life on the island; and the Museo de Arte Moderna (Museum of Modern Art), with works by Dominican artists. The National Aquarium and National Botanical Garden, also in Santo Domingo, feature impressive displays. Puerto Plata on the north coast of the island has the Museo de Ambar, which displays unusual pieces of Dominican amber with plants and insects and other animals embedded inside them.

Among the country’s most beloved writers is Salomé Ureña de Henríquez, who is considered a national poet. She lived in the second half of the 1800s and in 1881 organized the Instituto de Señoritas, the first Dominican center of higher education for women. Her two sons, Pedro and Max Henríquez-Ureña, became distinguished Latin American writers and thinkers. Other Dominican writers include Gastón Fernando Deligne, a modernist poet of the late 1800s and early 1900s; Fabio Fiallo, author of delicate love lyrics in the early 1900s; Manuel de Jesús Galván, author of Enriquillo (1882), a historical novel based on an early Native American revolt against the Spaniards; and Manuel del Cabral, a versatile 20th-century poet whose work showed his strong sympathies with the country’s impoverished blacks.

Juan Bosch, president of the republic in 1963, was also the most distinguished Dominican writer of the mid-20th century, well known as a novelist, short-story writer, and essayist. Joaquín Balaguer, the republic’s president from 1986 to 1996, was also an accomplished writer on many topics. Much of the best-known Dominican writing today comes from Dominicans who have emigrated. Julia Alvarez, who moved with her family from the Dominican Republic to New York City at the age of 10, has written about the collision of the two cultures in such works as the novel How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents (1991) and the children’s book How Tia Lola Came to Stay (2001).


Baseball is the national sport of the Dominican Republic. Every town, even the poorest, has a baseball park. The first Dominican to play major league baseball in the United States was pitcher Ozzie Virgil, who joined the Detroit Tigers in 1958. Dominican pitcher Juan Marichal, who played for the San Francisco Giants, earned the nickname “Dandy Dominican” for his high leg kick. Famous Dominican players of the early 2000s included outfielders Vladimir Guerrero, Manny Ramirez, and Sammy Sosa, and pitcher Pedro Martinez. Although born in the United States, infielder Alex Rodriguez grew up in the Dominican Republic, where his father was a professional baseball player. Sosa was born in San Pedro de Macorís, which calls itself “The City Which Has Given the Most Major Leaguers to the World.”


The economy of the Dominican Republic was traditionally based on agriculture, especially sugar. However, today only 16 percent of the workforce is still employed in farming or raising livestock, and services employ 63 percent of the working population.

The Dominican government began to diversify the economy in the 1970s and 1980s and to place more emphasis on mining, tourism, and manufacturing. Today, industry and tourism surpass agriculture in economic importance. However, these efforts have not lessened the wide gap between rich and poor or alleviated poverty in the Dominican Republican. In addition, the economy remains vulnerable to the effects of hurricanes and to sharp fluctuations in the prices paid for its primary exports, sugar and other agricultural products. The Dominican economy also is highly dependent on the economy of its leading trade partner, the United States, for export purchases and tourist revenue. Money sent back by Dominicans living abroad also contributes to the nation’s income. There is a large Dominican community in New York City.

In 2006 the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) totaled $31.8 billion, or $3,312.20 per person. GDP is a measure of the value of all the goods and services a country produces. In 2006 the national budget included $5.7 billion in revenues and $5.2 billion in expenditures.

Agriculture of Dominican Republic

The principal cash crops of the Dominican Republic are raised on large plantations. Sugarcane is the main cash crop; the largest plantations are in the southeast. Most Dominican farmers, however, engage in subsistence cultivation, growing barely enough for their own needs. In 2006 some 5.2 million metric tons of sugarcane were produced. Other important crops (with 2006 production in metric tons) were fruits and berries, especially bananas (1,479,685); rice (700,000); coffee (43,525); cacao (31,361); and tobacco (12,000). Cattle, hogs, and poultry are raised primarily for local consumption. The main crops for local consumption are rice, beans, cassava, and plantains, the mainstays of the Dominican diet.

Forestry and Fishing in Dominican Republic

Some 28 percent of the land of the Dominican Republic is forested. The government fosters conservation and has regulated the forest industry since the early 1960s, but serious deforestation continues. The main woods cut are mahogany, satinwood, pine, and cedar.

The fishing industry is underdeveloped, mainly because of a lack of deep-sea fishing equipment and refrigeration facilities. The catch, which typically includes mackerel, tuna, bonito, and snapper, totaled 12,086 metric tons in 2005.

Mining in Dominican Republic

Ferronickel, mined in the central part of the Dominican Republic, dominates the country’s mineral production. Production of bauxite, formerly the Dominican Republic’s dominant mineral export, virtually ended in the early 1980s. Mineral products in 2000 included nickel (40,000 metric tons), gold (650 kg/1,400 lbs), and silver (4 metric tons).

Manufacturing in Dominican Republic

Sugar refining is a leading industrial activity in the Dominican Republic, accounting for about half the country’s manufacturing income. Annual output of refined sugar in 2006 was 463,856 metric tons. Other manufactured products include textiles, cement, clothing and footwear, leather goods, paper, glassware, food, and drinks.

Tourism of Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic has gained popularity as a tourist destination since the 1990s as a result of its extensive beaches, varied scenery, and low-priced resorts. Beach resorts are located along both the Atlantic and Caribbean coasts. The country draws large numbers of tourists from Europe as well as from the United States. In addition to enjoying the white-sand beaches, visitors to the island engage in windsurfing, surfboarding, scuba diving, and snorkeling. In winter, whale-watching is a popular activity. Santo Domingo has interesting buildings from the colonial period and a number of museums. The impressive national aquarium, national zoo, and national botanic garden are all in Santo Domingo. Mountain biking and hiking are two ways of seeing the scenery in the country’s interior. Excursions by jeep to the mountains of the interior are also available. The national parks are places to enjoy the country’s birdlife and tropical vegetation.

Energy in Dominican Republic

Some 89 percent of the Dominican Republic’s electricity is produced in thermal plants; hydroelectric installations generated the remainder. In 2003 the country produced 12.6 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity.

Interruptions in the electricity supply seriously disrupted the country’s economy, starting in the 1990s. Electricity blackouts lasted up to 20 hours a day. The government’s failure to solve the energy crisis led to widespread protests. Hurricanes also damaged electricity transmission and distribution networks.

Currency and Banking of Dominican Republic

The unit of currency in the Dominican Republic is the peso (33.40 pesos equal U.S.$1; 2006 average). The republic has several commercial banks; one, the Banco de Reservas, is government controlled. The Central Bank of the Dominican Republic is the sole bank of issue. Bank fraud involving embezzlement during the late 1990s and early 2000s contributed to the country’s economic woes. The second-largest Dominican bank collapsed in 2003, and the national debt soared as the Central Bank reimbursed depositors and covered the failed bank’s liabilities.

Foreign Trade in Dominican Republic

The principal exports of the Dominican Republic typically are sugar and sugar products, ferronickel, coffee, cocoa, and tobacco. Sugar and sugar products usually make up a considerable part of all export earnings. Machinery, iron and steel, foodstuffs, petroleum and petroleum products, and chemicals are leading imports. In 2001 the total value of exports was $814 million and of imports $5.5 billion. Tourism revenues help make up the foreign trade deficit. The United States is the leading trade partner of the Dominican Republic. In 1995 the Dominican Republic joined the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), a free trade group. The ACS is composed of the members of the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) and 12 nations bordering the Caribbean.

Transportation in Dominican Republic

The road system of the Dominican Republic totaled 12,600 km (7,829 mi) in 1999. Almost all travel in the country is by road. Most of the 1,650 km (1,025 mi) of railroad in use is privately owned and serves the sugar plantations. Aside from the Santo Domingo port, other large ports are located at Puerto Plata in the north and Barahona in the southwest. The country is served by international and domestic airlines. International airports are located at Santo Domingo, Puerto Plata, Barahona, La Romana, Samana, and Santiago.

Communications in Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic had 130 commercial radio stations and 10 television networks in the year 2000. The country has an average 178 radio receivers for every 1,000 inhabitants and 99 television sets per 1,000 inhabitants. In 2004 there were 11 daily newspapers, with a combined daily circulation of 230,000; El Caribe and Listín Diario, both issued in Santo Domingo, are influential. There are 101 telephone mainlines in use for every 1,000 inhabitants. The government regulates the media in the Dominican Republic, although it rarely interferes with television and radio programs.

Labor in Dominican Republic

The labor force of the Dominican Republic included 4.1 million workers in 2006. An estimated 63 percent of all Dominican workers hold jobs in services, and another 21 percent work in industry. The Confederación de Trabajadores Dominicanos, and the Unión General de Trabajadores Dominicanos, two of the nation’s leading labor unions, merged in 1988.


The Dominican Republic is governed under a constitution adopted in 1966 and amended in 1994 and 2002.

Central Government of Dominican Republic

Executive power in the Dominican Republic is vested in a president, who is popularly elected for a term of four years. The president appoints a cabinet and may also introduce bills in congress. The constitution was amended in 2002 to permit the president to serve two terms in succession.

Legislature of Dominican Republic

The bicameral congress of the Dominican Republic is composed of an upper chamber (the Senate), which has 32 members, and a lower chamber (the Chamber of Deputies), with 150 deputies. All legislative members are popularly elected for terms of four years.

Judiciary in Dominican Republic

The highest tribunal in the Dominican Republic is the Supreme Court of Justice, made up of at least 11 judges. The National Judiciary Council appoints the judges to the Supreme Court judges, and they appoint judges to the other courts. Lower courts include courts of first instance, courts of appeal, and a land tribunal.

Political Parties of Dominican Republic

The Dominican Party was the only legal party between 1930 and 1961, when it was dissolved and new parties were established. The principal parties are the center-left Partido Revolucionario Dominicano (Dominican Revolutionary Party, or PRD), the centrist Partido de la Liberación Dominicana (Dominican Liberation Party, or PLD), and the Partido Reformista Social Cristiano (Christian Social Reform Party, or PRSC). The conservative PRSC draws support from the peasant and middle classes, and the PRD is composed largely of landless peasants and urban workers. The two have been archrivals since the 1960s. The PLD was formed by breakaway members of the PRD in 1973 and was originally to the left of the PRD, but it has since become known as a centrist party.

Local Government of Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic is divided into 31 provinces plus the Distrito Nacional (National District), which encompasses Santo Domingo, the capital. The provinces are subdivided into municipalities and townships.

The 31 provinces of the Dominican Republic are administered by governors, who are appointed by the country’s president. Each municipality and the Distrito Nacional elect a mayor and a municipal council as the administrative body.

Health and Welfare in Dominican Republic

Different administrations have sought to raise health standards in the Dominican Republic, and various government programs provide health services. A law passed in 2000 created universal health-care insurance. One of its aims was to improve maternal and child health. Malnutrition is common among the children of poor families. Health care is provided by both public and private institutions, but facilities for the urban and rural poor are inadequate. Migration from rural areas to large cities, where unemployment remains high, has created slum conditions on the edges of the cities. Clean water and adequate sewage facilities are largely lacking in these urban slums. In 2004 the country had 532 inhabitants for every physician.

Defense of Dominican Republic

In 2004 the armed forces of the Dominican Republic comprised an army of 15,000, a navy of 4,000, and an air force of 5,500. Military service is voluntary.


Christopher Columbus landed in 1492 at the island he called Isla Española (Spanish Island), a name that later turned into Hispaniola. He left about 40 men at a fort, La Navidad, that he built in what is now northern Haiti. On his return in 1493 he found that the settlement had been wiped out by natives. Columbus established a new settlement farther east, near present-day Puerto Plata, and left his brother Bartholomew in charge while he continued his voyage. In 1496 Bartholomew Columbus, acting on instructions from his brother, founded the city of Santo Domingo on the southern coast. It became the first permanent settlement established by Europeans in the Americas.

The native inhabitants whom Columbus encountered on his arrival in Hispaniola were Arawak-speaking Taíno people. The Taíno lived in villages, headed by chiefs, and engaged principally in farming and fishing. By the mid-1500s the Taíno people had died out in the Dominican Republic as a result of smallpox and brutal treatment by the Spanish settlers who tried to enslave them. In the late 1990s the paved plazas and walls of a large Taíno city were uncovered in the Dominican Republic’s East National Park.

After the Taíno people died out, the Spanish brought Africans into Hispaniola to work as slaves in place of the Taíno laborers. In time the Spanish settlers migrated from Hispaniola to South America, and for about a century the island was sparsely populated. Although Spain claimed the entire island of Hispaniola, the Spanish were unable to prevent French encroachment on the western end. In 1697, by the Treaty of Ryswick, the western third of Hispaniola was formally ceded to France and became known as Saint-Domingue; it is now Haiti. The remaining Spanish section of the island was called Santo Domingo. It is now the Dominican Republic.

Shifting Rule

The French in their part developed a flourishing plantation economy and a lively trade. The Spanish area, bypassed by commerce and shown little interest by the administrative authorities, declined. Many people left, and much of the land remained unpopulated. During much of the 1700s, the island was fought over by Spain, France, and England. Spain finally ceded the colony of Santo Domingo to France in 1795.

In the 1790s slaves in Saint-Domingue (Haiti) staged a revolt, led by François Dominique Toussaint Louverture and others. The revolt ended slavery in Saint-Domingue. With France in upheaval during the French Revolution (1789-1799), Toussaint was able to take control of the island. In 1801 he captured the neighboring colony of Santo Domingo and ended slavery there. Although French forces later defeated Toussaint, France had lost interest in its New World possessions. Haiti declared its independence in 1804. In 1809 Spain regained control of Santo Domingo.

After 1814, however, the Spanish administration became increasingly tyrannical, and in 1821 the Dominicans rose in revolt, proclaiming their independence. It was short-lived. The following year, in 1822, Haitian President Jean-Pierre Boyer led his troops into the country and annexed it to Haiti, thus bringing the entire island under his control. Boyer ruled until 1844, when Dominican forces led by Juan Pablo Duarte revolted. On February 27, 1844, Santo Domingo declared its independence again and took the name República Dominicana (Dominican Republic). A constitution modeled on that of the United States was put forth in November 1844. Dominicans celebrate February 27 as their independence day.

A Period of Strife

The first president of the new Dominican Republic was Pedro Santana, who served for three terms between 1844 and 1861. Both his administrations and the subsequent ones were characterized by popular unrest and frequent boundary disputes with Haiti. The internal strife was most clearly discernible in the two political groups that took root within the republic: One faction advocated return to Spanish rule and the other, annexation to the United States.

For a brief period, from 1861 to 1863, the Dominican Republic returned to Spanish rule, led by former president Santana, who hoped thereby to perpetuate himself in office. A popular revolt between 1863 and 1864 and subsequent military reverses and U.S. intervention forced the Spanish government to withdraw its forces and to annul the annexation. The second Dominican Republic was proclaimed in February 1865. Political turmoil continued, however, through the rest of the 19th century.

The government financed its military forces through huge foreign loans on which it paid exorbitant commissions and interest. In 1869 President Buenaventura Báez negotiated a treaty for the annexation of his country by the United States as a means of solving its financial problems. This treaty, though it passed the Dominican legislature, failed in the U.S. Senate because of opposition to President Ulysses S. Grant.

Other revolutions and new regimes followed until, in 1882, General Ulises Heureaux forced his way into the presidency. He dominated Dominican political life until 1899, when he was assassinated by Ramón Cáceres, who himself later became president. Although under Heureaux there was relative internal peace, his financial transactions increased the country’s foreign debt.

By 1904 foreign governments were exerting heavy pressure on the Dominican government for repayment of loans. In 1906 the Dominican government signed a 50-year treaty with the United States, turning over to the United States the administration and control of its customs department. In exchange the United States undertook to adjust the foreign financial obligations of the Dominican government. Internal disorders during the ensuing decade finally culminated in the establishment of a military government by the U.S. Marines, who occupied the country from 1916 to 1924. Control of the country was, however, gradually restored to the people, and in 1924 a constitutional government under an elected president assumed control.

The Trujillo Era

The outstanding political development of the subsequent period was the dictatorship established by General Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina. Elected to the presidency in 1930, Trujillo forcibly eliminated all opposition, thereby acquiring absolute control of the nation. For the next 31 years, although he personally occupied the presidency only half that time (from 1930 to 1938 and again from 1943 to 1952), Trujillo presided over one of the tightest dictatorships in the world. Even when out of office, Trujillo kept an office in the presidential palace, and the leading government officials reported directly to him. After taking power he renamed Santo Domingo, the country’s capital, Ciudad Trujillo (Trujillo City) after himself.

With the military as the basis of his power, Trujillo and his family directed practically every aspect of the nation’s life, from the courts down to the pettiest bureaucrat. The national economy, while greatly expanded and modernized, was run as the dictator’s personal corporation, and the political process was completely dominated by his Dominican Party. Backed at first by the United States, Trujillo used this support to his own advantage in shoring up his power. Discontent and criticism, widespread especially after World War II ended in 1945, were met with terror and self-serving propaganda.

During Trujillo’s years in power, however, considerable material progress was made. Many new hospitals and housing projects were finished, a pension plan was established, and public health facilities, harbors, and roads were improved. A boundary dispute with neighboring Haiti, going back to 1844, was settled in 1935. Trujillo repaid the country’s foreign debt by 1947, and in 1941 the U.S. government terminated its administration of the Dominican customs.

In 1948 the Dominican Republic became a charter member of the Organization of American States (OAS), which in subsequent years frequently condemned the Trujillo regime both for interference in the internal affairs of neighboring countries and “flagrant and widespread violations of human rights.” OAS criticism culminated in 1960 in a resolution calling for severance of diplomatic relations with the Dominican Republic; the United States did so shortly afterward. These external pressures were coupled with growing internal resistance to the regime. The regime’s difficulties were intensified by an economic crisis, which was brought on by heavy expenditures on armaments, large sums sent abroad by the Trujillos, and a boycott imposed by the OAS on certain goods. The Trujillo era ended with the dictator’s assassination on May 26, 1961.

Democracy Restored—and Toppled

President Joaquín Balaguer had assumed office in 1960 as a Trujillo puppet. He began the ticklish process of dismantling the dictatorship. Political parties were allowed to organize and exiles began to return home. Opposition groups, however, rallied against Balaguer, and in January 1962 he was overthrown by the military.

In December 1962 the Dominican Republic held its first free election in nearly four decades. Juan Bosch, a returned exile, won by a wide margin and was inaugurated early in 1963. He designed a program to push economic development, bring about fundamental social reforms, and give the country democratic freedoms. Almost immediately, opposition to his regime began to develop. Bosch was criticized as being too tolerant of communist groups and supporters of Cuba’s leader Fidel Castro, and the republic’s business community felt threatened by changes in the country’s economic policy. In September 1963 Bosch was deposed by a military coup. The leaders of the coup installed a three-man civilian junta to run the country. To indicate disapproval of the coup, the United States withheld recognition until the new regime promised to hold elections by 1965.

The United States Intervenes

Throughout 1964 restlessness within the country was manifested by strikes and sabotage and by conflicts within the junta. In 1965 a group within the army rebelled against the government with the avowed purpose of restoring Bosch as president. Air force and navy elements opposed the insurgents, and Santo Domingo became the battleground of a civil war. The United States landed troops, at first under the guise of protecting American citizens and other foreign nationals in Santo Domingo. Later, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson defended the intervention by claiming that communist elements were attempting to take control of the rebel movement.

The Balaguer Government

In May 1965 the OAS arranged a cease-fire in the Dominican civil war and established an inter-American peacekeeping force. U.S. Marines were withdrawn. Negotiations were held to establish a Dominican government that would be acceptable to both the loyalists and the rebels (who called themselves “constitutionalists” to indicate their desire to restore the constitutionally elected government of Bosch). Hector García-Godoy, former foreign minister under Bosch, assumed the presidency in September.

A presidential election was held in 1966, which former president Balaguer, a conservative, won. His administration, although not entirely democratic, restored relative stability to the country. The economy showed strength, aided by high sugar prices, foreign investment, and increased tourism, enabling Balaguer to win reelection easily in 1970 and 1974. The Partido Revolucionario Dominicano (PRD), led by Bosch, boycotted both elections, charging restrictions on its campaign activities.

The PRD Wins Power

In the mid-1970s a sharp decline in world sugar prices adversely affected the Dominican economy, and Balaguer’s support began to dwindle. In the 1978 elections he was turned out of office, defeated by the PRD candidate, Silvestre Antonio Guzmán. After foiling a plot by right-wing military men to prevent him from taking office, Guzmán purged the armed forces of many Balaguer supporters, released some 200 political prisoners of the previous regime, and eased press censorship. The economy remained troubled by low sugar prices and high oil prices and was further damaged by two severe hurricanes in 1979.

The PRD chose not to nominate Guzmán in 1982. He died in July of that year, an apparent suicide, shortly after Senator Salvador Jorge Blanco, the PRD candidate, was elected to succeed him. To rescue the country from its deepening economic crisis, Jorge Blanco turned to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which demanded that the Dominican government institute austerity measures in exchange for a three-year IMF loan package. These measures, including price increases for basic foods and gasoline, led to protest riots throughout the nation in 1984 and 1985. PRD promises to redistribute land and end corruption went unfulfilled, and the party proved unable to halt killings and illegal detentions by the police. Balaguer was returned as president in 1986 by a slim margin. Deficits and foreign debt mounted; water and power service faltered. In 1988, Jorge Blanco was tried in absentia and found guilty of corruption during his presidential years.

In the 1990 presidential election, Balaguer barely defeated Bosch. He was reelected in 1994 but agreed to serve only a two-year term after he was accused of electoral fraud. In a presidential runoff election held in June 1996 Leonel Fernández Reyna of the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) defeated José Francisco Peña Gómez of the PRD to win the presidency. The PRD was not in opposition for long, however. In 2000 the party returned to power with the election of Hipólito Mejía to the presidency. Although Fernández was credited with helping make the Dominican Republic a popular tourist destination in the late 1990s, his tenure was tainted by corruption scandals.

Bank Collapse and Ouster of Mejía

Mejía served only one term. In the 2004 presidential election he was defeated by Fernández, who ran again as the candidate of the PLD. Mejía’s term was marked by the collapse of Banco Intercontinental, the country’s second-largest bank. His decision to bail out the bank’s depositors, many of whom were wealthy supporters of the PRD, reportedly caused the devaluation of the Dominican currency and led to an additional $2 billion in foreign debt. The resulting economic crisis, one of the worst in decades, saw a rise in food prices, an unemployment rate of 17 percent, and frequent electricity shortages. Fernández was widely credited with helping the country out of its economic slump, and in 2008 he was reelected president.

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