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Dominican Republic History

The Dominican Republic occupies two-thirds or the island of Hispaniola. The remaining on-third is occupied by Haiti. The original inhabitants of the island where known as Taínos.

The Spanish first arrived under Christopher Columbus in December 5th 1492, where they were initially well-received. Various tensions broke out which led to the Tainos being enslaved to work in the gold mines. Over a few years, most of the Tainos died off.

In 1493, his Columbus's brother founded Santo Domingo as the new capital city. In 1503, Spain began to import African slaves into the island. In 1522, the first uprising amongst the slave led to some of them breaking free and forming their own colonies in the mountains.

Over the next few centuries, there were various tussles between Spanish, French and English for domination of all or part of the Island. Spain finally ceded the western end of the island (Haiti) to France in 1697.

In 1795, France gained control of the whole island under the Treaties of Basel, and a period of 22 years of Haiti’s domination of island ensued. This has long been a cause for bitterness between Haiti and the Dominican Republic as Haiti’s rulership was reportedly brutal.

The Dominican Republic finally gained its independence in 1844 and their first constitution was adopted on November 6th. Over the next century there were various military uprisings and interventions, with Spain regaining control of the country for a short period, and even the US occupying the country in the early 20th century.

The now infamous Rafael Leonidas Trujillo took over control of the country from the previous President Vazquez in 1930 and operated as a ruthless dictator until his assassination on May 30th 1961, after which time Joaquín Balaguer took over as leader.

Balaguer remained in power as president for 12 years. His tenure was a period of moderate repression, presumably to prevent pro-Cuba or pro-communist parties from gaining power in the country. Balaguer's rule was accompanied by a growing disparity between rich and poor. In 1978, Balaguer was succeeded in the presidency by Antonio Guzmán Fernández. From 1978 to 1986, the Dominican Republic experienced a period relatively free of repression and almost complete freedom of speech and expression.

Balaguer regained the presidency in 1986, and was re-elected in 1990 and 1994. The international community generally viewed the 1994 election as fixed, leading to political pressure for Balaguer to step down. Balaguer responded by scheduling another presidential election in 1996, which was won by the Dominican Liberation Party for the first time.

In August 2000 the center-left Hipólito Mejía of the PRD was elected president amid popular discontent over power outages in the recently privatized electric industry. His presidency saw major inflation and instability of the peso. During his time as president, the relatively stable unit of currency fell from 16 DOP (Dominican Pesos) to 1 USD (United States Dollar) to 60 DOP to 1 USD, and was in the 50s to a dollar when he left office. In the May 2004 presidential elections he was defeated by former president Leonel Fernández. Fernández instituted austerity measures to deflate the peso and rescue the country from its economic crisis, and in the first half of 2006, the economy grew 11.7%. The peso is currently at the exchange rate of approx 31 DOP to 1 USD.

leonel fernandez

Dominican Republic Newspaper in English