The island of Hispaniola, of which the Dominican Republic forms the
eastern two-thirds and Haiti the remainder, was originally occupied by
Tainos, an Arawak-speaking people. The Tainos welcomed Columbus in his
first voyage in 1492, but subsequent colonizers were brutal, reducing the
Taino population from about 1 million to about 500 in 50 years. To ensure
adequate labor for plantations, the Spanish brought African slaves to the
island beginning in 1503.
In the next century, French settlers occupied the western end of the
island, which Spain ceded to France in 1697, and which, in 1804, became
the Republic of Haiti. The Haitians conquered the whole island in 1822
and held it until 1844, when forces led by Juan Pablo Duarte, the hero
of Dominican independence, drove them out and established the Dominican
Republic as an independent state. In 1861, the Dominicans voluntarily returned
to the Spanish Empire; in 1865, independence was restored. Economic difficulties,
the threat of European intervention, and ongoing internal disorders led
to a U.S. occupation in 1916 and the establishment of a military government
in the Dominican Republic. The occupation ended in 1924, with a democratically
elected Dominican Government.
In 1930, Rafael L. Trujillo, a prominent army commander, established
absolute political control. Trujillo promoted economic development--from
which he and his supporters benefited--and severe repression of domestic
human rights. Mismanagement and corruption resulted in major economic problems.
In August 1960, the Organization of American States (OAS) imposed diplomatic
sanctions against the Dominican Republic as a result of Trujillo's complicity
in an attempt to assassinate President Romulo Betancourt of Venezuela.
These sanctions remained in force after Trujillo's death by assassination
in May 1961. In November 1961, the Trujillo family was forced into exile.
In January 1962, a council of state that included moderate opposition
elements with legislative and executive powers was formed. OAS sanctions
were lifted January 4, and, after the resignation of President Joaquin
Balaguer on January 16, the council under President Rafael E. Bonnelly
headed the Dominican government.
In 1963, Juan Bosch was inaugurated President. Bosch was overthrown
in a military coup in September 1963. Another military coup, on April 24,
1965, led to violence between military elements favoring the return to
government by Bosch and those who proposed a military junta committed to
early general elections. On April 28, U.S. military forces landed to protect
U.S. citizens and to evacuate U.S. and other foreign nationals.
Additional U.S. forces subsequently established order. In June 1966,
President Balaguer, leader of the Reformist Party (now called the Social
Christian Reformist Party--PRSC), was elected and then re-elected to office
in May 1970 and May 1974, both times after the major opposition parties
withdrew late in the campaign. In the May 1978 election, Balaguer was defeated
in his bid for a fourth successive term by Antonio Guzman of the PRD. Guzman's
inauguration on August 16 marked the country's first peaceful transfer
of power from one freely elected president to another.
The PRD's presidential candidate, Salvador Jorge Blanco, won the 1982
elections, and the PRD gained a majority in both houses of Congress. In
an attempt to cure the ailing economy, the Jorge administration began to
implement economic adjustment and recovery policies, including an austerity
program in cooperation with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In April
1984, rising prices of basic foodstuffs and uncertainty about austerity
measures led to riots.
Balaguer was returned to the presidency with electoral victories in
1986 and 1990. Upon taking office in 1986, Balaguer tried to reactivate
the economy through a public works construction program. Nonetheless, by
1988 the country slid into a 2-year economic depression, characterized
by high inflation and currency devaluation. Economic difficulties, coupled
with problems in the delivery of basic services--e.g., electricity, water,
transportation--generated popular discontent that resulted in frequent
protests, occasionally violent, including a paralyzing nationwide strike
in June 1989.
In 1990, Balaguer instituted a second set of economic reforms. After
concluding an IMF agreement, balancing the budget, and curtailing inflation,
the Dominican Republic experienced a period of economic growth marked by
moderate inflation, a balance in external accounts, and a steadily increasing
GDP that lasted through 2000.
The voting process in 1986 and 1990 was generally seen as fair, but
allegations of electoral board fraud tainted both victories. The elections
of 1994 were again marred by charges of fraud. Following a compromise calling
for constitutional and electoral reform, President Balaguer assumed office
for an abbreviated term.
In June 1996, Leonel Fernandez Reyna was elected to a 4-year term as
president. Fernandez' political agenda was one of economic
and judicial reform. He helped enhance Dominican participation in hemispheric
affairs, such as the Organization of American States and the follow up
to the Miami Summit. On May 16, 2000, Hipolito Mejia, the Revolutionary
Democratic Party candidate, was elected president in another free and fair
election. He defeated Dominican Liberation Party candidate Danilo Medina
49.8% to 24.84%. Former President Balaguer garnered 24.68% of the vote.
Mejia entered office on August 16 with four priorities: education reform,
economic development, increased agricultural production, and poverty alleviation.
Mejia also champions the cause of Central American and Caribbean economic
integration and migration, particularly as it relates to Haiti. The
Mejia Administration has supported the Coalition in Iraq, and cooperates
closely with the United States on law enforcement and immigration and counter-terrorism
matters. The government is also in consultation with the United States
on launching free trade negotiations.
Dominican Republic History Bibliography