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A Brief History of the Dominican Republic

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Little concrete is known about the pre-Columbian history of the Dominican Republic. The island of Hispaniola was inhabited by several nations of Taino Indians, indiginous peoples who lived throughout the Carribean.

The island was visited by Chrisopher Columbus on his first voyage to America. Within a few short years, Spain had established a military and religious outpost at present-day Santo Domingo.

In 1586, the country was plundered by the English explorer Francis Drake, and came under English power until 1655, when Spain regained control of the island. The territory of the present day Dominican Republic emerged from a partition made at the peace treaty of Ryswick (1697) which divided the island of Hispaniola into two: the western part (now Haiti) was granted to France, while Spain won the eastern part. In 1795, with the treaty of Basel, Spain ceded the colony to France.

By this time, slave labor from Africa, the West Indies, and indigenous people had built a sugar trade and contributed to a diverse population reflected in the present-day Dominican Republic.

French troops maintained control over present-day DR during the Haitian Revolution of 1801, but ceded control to Spain in 1814. Dominicans declared their own independence in 1821, but were annexed by Haiti the following year. The unified island was under Haitian power until 1844, when rebels in Santo Domingo defeated the Haitian garrison and established the Dominican Republic. In 1861, the country was re-annexed by the Spaniards once more, but the Spanish occupation only lasted 4 years. In 1865, the country became independent again.

It has retained nominal independence since, although the United States has exercised varied degrees of control. In 1906, the country signed a 50-year treaty with the United States: the administration and the customs services were transferred to the control of the Americans in exchange for the payment of the debt. In November 1916, the Americans occupied the country until 1924.

Trujillo and beyond

U.S. occupation ended with the establishment of a weak democracy. In 1930, a period of instability saw the election of Rafael Trujillo with the support of the United States. Trujillo quickly consolidated a brutal dictatorship built a merciless repression and a cult of personality without reservations. He led a policy of large-scale works and achieved a sound financial footing. But, he imprisoned and killed many Dominicans and was personally responsible for the rape of many young women.

Trujillo lost the protection of the United States after arranging the assassination of Venezuelan president Betancourt. On 30 May 1961 he was assassinated.

In December 1962, the first free election after forty years brought to power the old exiled Juan Domingo Bosch, chief of the Dominican Revolutionary Party. He was accused of sympathy with the Castro regime, and was overthrown by a military coup supported by the elites of the country with help from the United States. In April 1965, another military coup led to a battle between leftists and rightists which killed thousands and brough about another armed intervention by the United States.

A provisional government was formed with the mission to prepare the elections of June 1966, with the victory of the former Trujillo operative Joaquín Balaguer, head of the Partido Reformista Social Cristiano (PRSC). Income from the sugar income, foreign investment, and the development of tourism saw the Dominican Republic experience a certain prosperity, constantly threatened by clashes between the army and the left opposition.

Balaguer was re-elected in 1970, but was defeated in 1978 by Sylvester Antonio Guzmán, candidate of the Partido Revolucionario Dominicano. Balaguer regained power in the presidential election of 1986, and was reelected in 1990 and 1994, only retiring in 1996.

The 21st century has seen the DR become a more full, representative democracy. Meanwhile, many Dominicans have moved to the United States and Puerto Rico, contributing to the Dominican economy with remitances. The DR has seen its own troubles adapting to immigration from Haiti.


Overview of your visit to the Dominican Republic
introduction *  when to go * things to do * events * getting there * getting around * food * history * attractions * music * favorite places * hotels