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Dominican Republic History

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Before 20th Century

The island of Hispaniola was inhabited by Amer-Indians for at least 5,000 years before its discovery by Christopher Columbus. Multiple waves of indigenous immigration have been traced, from two principle places. Some of the early Amer-Indians came from Central America (probably Yucatan and/or Belize) and some came from South America, descendants of the Arawakan Indians in Amazonia. Taíno Indians that Columbus met on his arrival originated from the blending of these waves of indigenous immigrants.

By the end of the 15th century, the Taíno were well organized into five political units called cazicazgos and were considered to have been of the verge of civilization and central government. Recent estimates indicate there were probably several million Taíno living on the island at this time.

Columbus reached the island in 1492 and the site became the first permanent European settlement in the Americas, namely Santo Domingo, the country's capital and Spain's first capital in the New World. In Santo Domingo stand, among other firsts in the Americas, the first university, cathedral and castle.

After 3 centuries of Spanish rule, Spain ceded the colony of Santo Domingo, the area now known as Dominican Republic, to France. It has been later conquered by Haitians under Toussaint L'Ouverture. Toussaint was defeated by the French, who invaded Haiti under General Leclerc. In 1809 French control ended and Spanish rule was reestablished.

The country became independent in 1821 but was quickly taken over by Haiti. It attained independence in 1844, but over the next 72 years mostly suffered political turmoil and tyranny, and as well a brief return to Spanish rule.

The Twentieth Century

The republic was hopelessly bankrupt by 1905 and faced intervention by European powers. U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt arranged a U.S. customs receivership. Although there was a marked improvement in finances, fiscal control brought virtual political domination by the United States. Disorder continued, however, and the country was occupied by U.S. marines in 1916. They were withdrawn in 1924 and the customs receivership terminated in 1941.

In 1930 Rafael Trujillo Molina became dictator. Border clashes with Haiti occurred, and in 1937, Dominican troops massacred thousands of immigrant Haitians. Trujillo suppressed domestic opposition, and he and his retinue gradually turned the country into a private fiefdom. Material improvements in roads, agriculture, sanitation, and education contributed to the prolongation of the regime. Feuds with other Caribbean nations developed. In 1961, Trujillo was assassinated.

Joaquín Balaguer, who had been named president by Trujillo in 1960, initiated democratization measures and withstood attempts by the Trujillo family to regain power. In Dec., 1962, in their first free election since 1924, the Dominicans elected Juan Bosch president by a substantial majority. Bosch committed himself to an ambitious program of reforms, but right-wing opposition led to his overthrow in Sept., 1963. A civilian triumvirate was installed by the military leaders, and Donald Reid Cabral emerged as its chief member.

In 1965 civil war broke out again after military supporters of Bosch toppled the government. A cease-fire was negotiated by the Organization of American States (OAS) and in 1965 a compromise agreement was reached. In 1966, with Bosch and Balaguer the leading candidates, an election was held. Balaguer won and took office on July 1. The authoritarianism of the Trujillo period continued under Balaguer, who enjoyed the support of the right, the military, and the Church.

Balaguer was reelected in 1970 and 1974. The political climate, however, remained uneasy, with the economy stagnant, and from 1978 to 1986 the Dominican Revolutionary party (PRD) held power. Rising prices resulting from a program of economic austerity cost the PRD its ruling position, and the aging Balaguer again won the presidency in 1986, in 1990, and (for a two-year term) in 1994, but he was barred from running again 1996.

Elections in 1996 led to a runoff that was won by the Dominican Liberation party (PLD) candidate, Leonel Fernández Reyna. A protégé of Bosch, Fernández was a lawyer who had been raised in New York City and had not previously held political office. Although the country enjoyed steady economic growth under Fernández, farmers and poorer Dominicans saw little improvement in their well-being, and his term was marred by corruption scandals.

In 2000, Hipólito Mejía Dominguez, an agronomist and businessman who was the PRD candidate, won the presidential election; he promised to aid those who had not benefited from the years of growth. The economy worsened, however, under Mejía, and he failed to win a second term in 2004, as voters elected his predecessor, Leonel Fernández, to the presidency. Also in 2004 the country agreed to join in a free-trade area with the United States and most Central American nations. Improved economic conditions benefited Fernández's PLD in 2006, when the party secured a majority in the congressional elections, and Ferńndez himself was reelected in 2008.


Information by U.S. Department of State


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