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Dominican Republic - History

The Taino Indians moved into Hispaniola in around AD 650. They lived relatively peacefully until the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492. The Tainos welcomed Columbus when he arrived, but subsequently the Spanish were brutal, reducing the Taino population from around 1 million to about 500 in 50 years. Part was due to the way they were treated and part due to the diseases the Spaniards brought with them, to which the Tainos had no resistance. At the beginning of the 16th century, to ensure adequate labour for the sugar plantations, the Spanish brought African slaves to the island. In the next century, French settlers occupied the western part of the island, which Spain then ceded to France in 1697, and which, became the Republic of Haiti in 1804. The Haitians conquered the whole island in 1822 and held it until 1844. On February 27, 1844 the three Founding Fathers of the Dominican Republic, Duarte, Mella, and Sánchez, known as the Trinitarios, declared independence from Haiti and the Dominican Republic was born. However unrest continued, and President Wilson ordered the American occupation of the Dominican Republic. U.S. Marines landed on May 16, 1916, and had control of the country two months later. Opposition to the occupation was strong, both in the USA and the Dominican Republic and the occupation eventually ended in October 1922, with the first democratic elections held in March 1924.

Following a few different presidents, General Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina, then stood for election himself, and in May 1930 was elected president, virtually unopposed, after a violent campaign against his opponents. His period as President was filled with fear, repression of human right and mass murders. He was involved in an assassination attempt on President Rómulo Betancourt of Venezuela, which made the United States and other Latin Countries impose economic sanctions on Dominican Republic. He is thought to have arranged the massacre of around 25,000 Haitians and he ordered the murder of the Mirabal Sisters who were political activists and revolutionaries. The sisters, who were involved with a group trying to overthrow the government, were driving home after visiting their husbands in prison when they were led into a sugar cane field and beaten and strangled to death. Trujillo was eventually assassinated on May 30, 1961.

After the death of Trujillo, in February 1963, a democratically elected government under leftist Juan Bosch, one of the Founding Fathers, took office but was overthrown in September. In April 1965, after 19 months of military rule, a pro-Bosch revolt broke out and days later, once again the U.S. occupied the country. They were afraid that the DR would go the same way as Cuba. They left after just over a year supervising elections in 1966 won by Joaquín Balaguer, a close associate of Trujillo. He remained in power as president for 12 years. On the one hand he let no one disagree with him with a band of thugs disposing of anyone who did, much like Trujillo, but on the other hand he led an ambitious infrastructure programme, which included large housing projects, sports complexes, theatres, museums, aqueducts, and roads. There is no doubt though that during his presidency the gap between rich and poor increased dramatically.

In 1978, Balaguer was beaten by the candidate from the PRD (Dominican Revolutionary Party) and again in 1982. He regained the presidency in 1986, and was re-elected in 1990 and 1994. The 1994 elections were rigged and he was forced to stand down. There was then another election in 1996, and Leonel Fernández achieved the first-ever win for the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD), which Bosch founded in 1973. Fernández oversaw a fast-growing economy, with growth averaging 7.7% per year, a drop in unemployment, and stable exchange and inflation rates.

In 2000 the PRD's Hipólito Mejía won the election. This was a time of severe economic troubles, including the collapse of one of the major banks, Baninter, and Mejía was defeated in 2004 by Fernández, who won yet again in 2008. Fernández is credited with initiatives that have moved the country forward technologically, such as the construction of the Metro underground railway in Santo Domingo, but on the other hand, his administration has also been accused of corruption. New presidential elections are due to be held in May 2012 and as Fernandez is not allowed to run for more than two consecutive terms, the PLD candidate is Danilo Medina with Leonel Fernández’ wife as his running partner. The PRD candidate is once again Hipólito Mejía.

This guide was compiled with the help of Lindsay de Feliz, a British expat blogger living in the Dominican Republic. Visit her blog at

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