The Dominican Republic was once ruled by Spain, including its neighbor, Haiti, which was once a French colony. The country being so diverse, with mountains, scenic landscape and a long coastline is a major tourist destination in the Caribbean. The Dominican Republic has free-trade zones that have become key revenue sources as well as top employers. Tobacco, sugar and coffee are some of the main export products of the country.
The country is generally composed of mixed races, mostly originating from Africa and Europe. The intermingling of culture is evidenced in art, literature and architecture. The colonial buildings that are found in the capital city of Santo Domingo attest to the great influence from the west. The country’s music is highly influenced by its African heritage. The influences of Europe and Africa gave way to a popular song and dance form, the merengue.
:: Background of Dominican Republic ::
Before Christopher Columbus set foot in the island he named Hispaniola, it was already inhabited by Amer-Indians believed to have come from Belize or the Yucatan and the descendants of the Arawakan Indians from Amazonia. The blend of these migrants created the Taíno Indians that Christopher Columbus met on the island. They were peaceful and generous with their hospitality and well organized, divided into political units. While Columbus gave the island the name Hispaniola, the Taínos call their island Bohio, Haiti or Quisqueya. They wore gold jewelry and ornaments made from gold found in the rivers of Hispaniola.
Columbus’ ship was destroyed in the reefs before he could return to Spain. The Taínos helped him salvage the valuables loaded on the ship and he created a small settlement and left 39 of his crew members on the island but pretty soon these Spaniards fought among themselves and offended the Indians by taking their wives and children and forced them to work as servants. A native chief, Caonabó led an attack on the Spanish settlement and killed all the Spaniards.
In this Country Profile
After years of resistance, another local chief Enriquillo and thousands of followers were able to escape toward the present border with Haiti and organized to raid Spanish plantations and fight with the Spanish patrol. They were successful after almost 15 years of fighting from 1519 to 1534 and the very first truce was reached between the natives and the Spaniards. The rebels were pardoned and they were provided with their own charter and their own town.
When the gold in the island was almost exhausted the Spanish looked for other countries to conquer and almost abandoned the island. The French were also making their own conquests in the Caribbean and were successful in colonizing neighboring Tortuga, inhabited by slaves, smugglers and pirates. Eventually in 1697 France was able to gain control of one third of the western portion of Hispaniola and named it Saint Domingue. France, using African slaves established a very rich colony in the part they ruled, the riches coming from sugar cane.
Slavery prevailed and disputes between the whites and the mulattos escalated, leading to slave revolts in the French colony in 1791 led by Toussaint L’ouverture, a French Black man. Spain had ceded the Spanish colony in the island to the French in 1795 so L’ouverture was able to claim and rule the whole of Hispaniola. L’ouverture and his successor Jean-Jacques Dessalines were able to establish order and renewed the economy but Napoleon Bonaparte was not amenable to having a Black man rule a French colony that was the richest at that time. He wanted slavery to be re-established but the expedition he sent was repelled by the Blacks and they declared their independence, which led to the establishment of the Republic of Haiti on the western side of Hispaniola although it was just one-third of the island. Although the eastern side was still under French rule, it was returned to Spain in 1809 and slavery returned. They raided Haiti, wanting to capture the Blacks. In retaliation and to remove the threat of slavery in Haiti, the president of Haiti, Jean-Pierre Boyer invaded and seized the eastern part of Hispaniola. They were successful in abolishing slavery and Santo Domingo became part of Haiti for 22 years.
The Spanish ruling class was resentful that they lost economic and political control during the occupation and they formed an underground resistance alliance called La Trinitaria, with Juan Pablo Duarte as head. The La Trinitaria is an organization composed three people per group and each group member had to recruit another three members, and so the resistance group grew. They led multiple attacked on the army of Haiti until they got victorious and declared their independence on February 27, 1844 and adopted the name Dominican Republic. Political opposition soon came and the La Trinitaria was removed from power after 6 months. For 70 years thereafter the Dominican Republic was constantly under civil uprisings. Different Spanish governors were appointed but they all were ineffective in bringing political and economic stability. They even invited the United States to take over the management of the colony. President Grant was supportive of the request but the US Congress vetoed the idea.
Amid the strife the economy in the southwest region transferred from ranching to the export of priced wood like oak, guayacán and mahogany. Tobacco to be used in the manufacture of the best cigars in the world as well as coffee became the major exports of the northern region.
A brutal dictator, General Ulysses Heureux came to rule the Dominican Republic in 1882. He was oppressive and violent and mismanaged the country. His corrupt regime came to a halt when he was assassinated in 1889. The succession of rulers proved chaotic for the country.
American entrepreneurs came and the sugar industry was revived. The Americans wanted to expand their influence in the country and used WWI to bring US Marines into the Dominican Republic. They occupied the country for eight years. They disarmed the population and disbanded the army and installed a puppet government headed by a US Marine commander. They removed import and customs barriers to enable them to bring American products into the country. The American succeeded in eliminating political violence and improved he educational system and the infrastructure, despite the losses incurred by local business due to the lifting of import duties.
The United States wanted to establish and train a local army. Rafael Leonidas Trujillo was the head of the Dominican Army at that time. Since the power was shifted from civilian to the military, he immediate came to power and used it for his personal advantage. There were embezzlement activities during Trujillo’s time, initially from military supply procurement. He used the army to enforce his dictatorship and for the repression, and elimination of opponents. He had a personal army and a network of spies. The US forces left the Dominican Republic in 1924 and by 1930 Trujillo had complete control of the country, treating it as a personal possession and even renamed Santo Domingo as Trujillo City. He was generous to his allies, including the United States. He continued to amass personal wealth buy confiscating control of local businesses. His greed led him to mess with the sugar industry, which was owned by the Americans. Trujillo became so arrogant and voiced his racist ideas. He disliked the black-skinned Haitians living in the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic and subsequently ordered his army to annihilate them. According to records about 17,000 men, women and children were massacred under his order. For over 30 years Trujillo remained in power but had alienated even his most ardent followers. He was implicated in the aborted assassination attempt on Rómulo Bétancourt, the president of Venezuela. On May 30, 1961, his personal car was ambushed and Trujillo and his driver perished. Trujillo was the richest man in the world at the time of his death, with a personal wealth amounting to US$500 million, including ownership of major agricultural lands and several large local industries.
Vice-President Joaquin Balaguer became president after the assassination of Trujillo, succeeded by Juan Bosch of the Dominican Revolutionary Party one and a half years later. He favored a socialist program that made the US paranoid about the possible spread of Communism and a coup d’etat was mounted to remove his from power. The US Marines came back to manage the affairs of the Dominican Republic until Dr. Balaguer was reelected in what was termed a rigged election with some help from the US. The citizens were dissatisfied with his rule and elected Dr. Antonio Guzman of the Dominican Revolutionary Party in 1978. However, upon learning that his close family members were involved in embezzlement and corrupt activities, Guzman committed suicide. His successor was not good either. Dr. Salvador Jorge Blanco continued the tradition of rewarding family members, political supporters and close friends with juicy posts in government, so massive fund misappropriation and corruption continued. He was later found guilty of corruption and sentenced with 20 yeas imprisonment.
Dr. Joaquin Balaguer was again reelected as president in 1986, 1990 and 1994. During his years in office, Balaguer is almost as dictatorial as Trujillo. The international community condemned the exploitation of the sugar cane workers from Haiti. Pressure was mounted and the government of the Dominican Republic deported all the Haitian workers in 1991. Disillusioned citizens wanted a new president and Jose Francisco Peña Gomez of the Dominican Revolutionary Party was the likely choice. The 1994 election was alleged to be rigged. Due to pressure, Balaguer negotiated with Peña Gomez that he will only remain in office for 2 more years and will not seek reelection but in the 1996 elections Balaguer gave his support to Peña Gomez’ opponent, Dr. Leonel Fernández.
Leonel Fernández needed the support of his party members and they must win the majority of the seat in the National Assembly in 1998. Before the elections Peña Gomez succumbed to cancer. During the elections, majority of the seats were won by the party of Peña Gomez. Fernández was voted out of office in the 2000 elections to give way to Hipólito Mejía of the Dominican Revolutionary Party. There was economic success and growth in the Dominican Republic and manufacturing and tourism were able to sustain the economy of the country and remittances from expats came in.
The economic recession in 2003, the bankruptcy of the Banco Internacional and political scandal proved disastrous for the Dominican Republic and the economy plummeted. Desperate for government reforms and upliftment of the economy the people again voted for Dr. Leonel Fernández. Faced with heavy international debts, more taxes were levied, which affected the working class. With billions of dollars of debt to pay, the government of Dr. Leonel Fernández and the citizenry are still hopeful that they will regain economic and political stability.
:: Geography of Dominican Republic ::
The terrain of the Dominican Republic is very much the same as that of Haiti, with the mountain ranges and rivers, emanating and ending in either in the Dominican Republic or its neighbor.
The Dominican Republic is situated in the Caribbean, occupying 2/3 of the island of Hispaniola. It is nestled between the North Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Its nearest neighbor is Haiti, which occupies 1/3 of the Hispaniola Island.
Geographic coordinates of the Dominican Republic is 19 ° 00’ North of the Equator and 70° 40’ West of Greenwich.
The total landmass of the Dominican Republic is 48,670 square kilometers, where land measures 48,320 square kilometers while water comprises 350 square kilometers.
Comparative Area Size
The Dominican Republic is the next to Cuba in size, making it the second largest country in the Caribbean. Comparatively it is two times the size of New Hampshire or the combined size of Jamaica, Bahamas, Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
Most of the land juts out to the sea, and the only land boundary of the Dominican Republic is with Haiti on its eastern side, for a total of 360 kilometers.
Since the country occupies more land area than Haiti, its coastline is much longer. It stretches for 1,288 km along the North Atlantic Ocean, the Mona Passage and the Caribbean Sea.
The Dominican Republic has a territorial sea claim of 6 nautical miles, with a contiguous zone of 24 nautical miles. Its exclusive economic zone extends for 200 nautical miles and a continental shelf of 200 nautical miles to the edge of its continental margin.
Lying on the hurricane belt, the Dominican Republics generally experiences tropical maritime climate, being almost surrounded by water. Temperature varies among the regions due to the presence of several mountains belonging to mountain ranges. Varied amounts of rainfall are also felt by the different regions, with some areas receiving higher rainfall than other regions while some are more arid most of the year.
The terrain is quite rugged, with coastal plains, highlands and plateaus of varied elevation. Five mountains ranges traverse the country with peaks of different heights. The mountains are found all over the country interspersed with fertile valleys.
Lake Enriquillo is the lowest point in the Dominican Republic. The largest saltwater lake in the Caribbean and also the lowest, Lake Enriquillo, measuring 265 square kilometers is 46 meters below sea level. In contrast, the highest peak in the country is Pico Duarte, located at the Central Range. It rises to a height of 3,175 meters. The mountain is named after one of the founding fathers of the Dominican Republic, Juan Pablo Duarte. His bronze bust is placed on a stone pedestal on the summit of the mountain, together with a cross and a flagpole flying the republic’s flag.
The country has rich deposits of gold, nickel, silver and bauxite. The mineral deposits have attracted foreign investors to mine the minerals, contributing to the economy of the Dominican Republic. One of the world’s largest gold producers, Barrick has gold exploration near Santo Domingo. Nickel mining, which was stopped due to low demand, is expected to resume in March 2011.
Total arable land, usually the fertile valleys that dot the landscape of the Dominican Republic is about 22.49%, and an additional 10.26% is planted with permanent crops. The rest of the land or about 67.25%, according to the 2005 estimates are allocated for other uses.
The Dominican Republic is prone to periodic droughts but cannot escape the occasional flooding brought about by the severe storms that pass the country, as it is located in the middle of the hurricane belt. The more severe storms occur around the start of June up to October.
Current Environmental Issues
The country is currently faces with water shortages due to the changing weather patterns. It is also facing deforestation while soil erosion is causing damage to its coral reefs.
International Environmental Agreements
The law of the sea had been signed but not yet ratified. The Dominican Republic also entered into various international environmental agreements including marine dumping, marine life conservation, hazardous wastes, endangered species, desertification, ozone layer protection, wetlands and ship pollution. It has also become a party to climate change-Kyoto protocol, biodiversity and climate change.
:: People of Dominican Republic ::
The population of the Dominican Republic is around 9,956,648 according to the July 2011 estimates, with a median age of 26.1 years, with the females slightly edging the males by a few months. Based on the estimates for 2011, the population growth is about 1.331%. The birth rate is about 19.67 births for every 1,000 inhabitants. The death rate is lower, pegged at 4.35 deaths for every 1,000 persons. Net migration in the Dominican Republic is almost non-existent. According to the estimates done in 2011, the net migration is -2.01 for every 1,000 people. The total fertility rate according to the 2011 estimates is 2.44 children born for every woman in the Dominican Republic.
In the age structure, the disparity between males and females across all age groups is almost even. In the zero to 14 years age group, which is 29.5% of the population, there are 1,493,251 males while there are 1,441,735 females. Sixty-four percent of the population is in the 15 to 64 age group, with 3,120,540 females and 3,251,419 males. The section of the population aged 65 years and over comprises 6.5%, broken down into 349,458 females and 300,245 males.
The sex ratio is almost 1:1, with the males edging the females very slightly across all age groups. At birth there are 1.04 males for every female. It is the same in the under 15 years and the 15 to 64 years age brackets. It goes lower in the 65 years and over age group, where there is 0.86 male for every female in the population of the Dominican Republic.
Infant Mortality Rate
The average infant mortality rate for the whole country is 22.22 deaths for every 1,000 live births. Between sexes, there are more male babies that die at birth, around 24.21 for every 1,000 live births than the females, which, according to 2011 estimates is about 20.14 deaths for every 1,000 live births.
Life Expectancy at Birth
The women outlive the men by a few years in the Dominican Republic. Life expectancy at birth, for the whole country averages 77.31 years. The female average life expectancy is 79.55 years, compared to only 75.16 years for the males.
According to the 2009 estimates, adult prevalence of HIV/AIDS is about 0.9%. In that same estimate, there are 57,000 persons living with HIV/AIDS in the Dominican Republic and there have been 2,300 deaths directly related to HIV/AIDS.
The adjective given to the citizens of the Dominican Republic is Dominican. The singular noun form in Dominican and the plural is Dominicans. Spanish is the official language spoken all over the country.
Through the course of its history, there were several groups of people from different countries that have worked, migrated and settled in the Dominican Republic that the ethnic groups have been mixed through inter-marriages. Currently the mixed ethnic groups comprise about 73% of the population. The whites comprise 16% while the blacks are about 11%. About 95% of the population is Roman Catholic although 5% of the population follows other forms of religion.
Education is highly valued in the country and people aged 15 and over can read and write. On the average a student stays in school for 12 years with the female staying two years longer than the males. Literacy for the whole population is placed at 87%, with 87.2% for the females and 86.8% for the males.
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