A republic in the West Indies; located on the east of the island of Hispaniola.
Country in the West Indies (E Caribbean), occupying the eastern two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola, with Haiti covering the western third; the Atlantic Ocean is to the E and the Caribbean Sea to the W.
Although not a federal state, the Dominican Republic has a highly devolved system of 26 provinces (each administered by an appointed governor), and a national district, which includes the capital, Santo Domingo. The 1966 constitution provides for a president and a two-chamber congress, comprising a 30-member senate and a 120-member chamber of deputies, all elected by universal suffrage for a four-year term. The president is head of both government and state and chooses the cabinet.
The island was inhabited by Arawak and Carib Indians when Christopher Columbus arrived 1492, the first European to visit the island. He named it Hispaniola (“Little Spain”). It was divided between France and Spain 1697, and in 1795 the Spanish part (Santo Domingo) was ceded to France. After a revolt it was retaken by Spain 1808. Following a brief period of independence 1821, it was occupied by Haiti until a successful revolt resulted in the establishment of the Dominican Republic 1844. From 1845 to 1878 the new republic was dominated by two caudillos (military rulers), Pedro Santana and Buenaventura Báez. Not only was democracy stifled, but the country faced bankruptcy. In an attempt to stabilize the economy and defend the Dominican Republic against attacks by Haiti, in 1861 Santana allowed Spain to annex the country. Four years later, amid growing dissatisfaction, the Spaniards were evicted by General Gregorio Luperón. The late 19th century saw the country’s rulers commit themselves to heavy borrowing from t
he US. The years of dictatorship by Ulisses Heureux 1882–99 left the country in a state of political and financial collapse. In 1908, the US established a customs receivership which managed to reduce the republic’s debt. However, domestic politics became so chaotic that in 1916 the US occupied the Dominican Republic, not withdrawing until 1924.
In 1930 the elected president was overthrown in a military coup, and General Rafael Trujillo Molina became dictator. He was assassinated 1961, and in 1962 Dr Juan Bosch, founder and leader of the left-wing Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD), who had been in exile for over 30 years, won the country's first free elections. Within a year he was overthrown by the military, who set up their own three-person ruling junta.
An attempt to reestablish Bosch 1965 was defeated with the intervention of US forces, and in 1966 Joaquín Balaguer, a protégé of Trujillo and leader of the Christian Social Reform Party (PRSC), won the presidency. A more democratic constitution was adopted, and Balaguer, despite his links with Trujillo, proved a popular leader, being reelected 1970 and 1974.
The 1978 election was won by the PRD candidate, Silvestre Antonio Guzmán. The PRD was again successful in the 1982 election, and Salvador Jorge Blanco, the party's left-wing nominee, became president-designate. After allegations of fraud by his family, Guzmán committed suicide before he had finished his term, and an interim president was chosen before the start of Blanco's term. Blanco steered a restrained course in foreign policy, maintaining good relations with the US and avoiding too close an association with Cuba.
The economy deteriorated, and in 1985 the Blanco administration was forced to adopt harsh austerity measures in return for help from the International Monetary Fund. The PRD became increasingly unpopular, and the PRSC, under Joaquín Balaguer, returned to power 1986. Balaguer was reelected 1990, but by a paper-thin margin, and his party lost its legislative majority. His reelection 1994 was disputed by his opponents and questioned by the US State Department but eventually declared valid, with the condition that he serve a reduced two-year term.