Dominican Republic History

Dominican Republic

Dominican Republic (dəmĬn´Ĭkən), republic (2015 est. pop. 10,528,000), 18,700 sq mi (48,442 sq km), West Indies, on the eastern two thirds of the island of Hispaniola. The capital and largest city is Santo Domingo.

Land and People

The land ranges from mountainous to gently rolling, with fertile river valleys. It has a moderate subtropical climate, ample rainfall, and fertile soils. Periodic hurricanes can cause extensive damage. The majority of the population is of mixed African and European descent. Spanish is the official language, and Roman Catholicism the predominant religion. Population growth is a continuing problem in the Dominican Republic, and emigration to the United States, particularly to New York City, has been high.

There are large numbers of Haitian migrants in the Dominican Republic as well as a significant population of native-born inhabitants who are of Haitian descent. A constitutional court decision in 2013 declared all inhabitants of non-Dominican descent born in the country after 1929 to be noncitizens. In 2014 legislation was passed allowing the granting of citizenship to those affected by the decision, but many could not provide the required documentation; some 184,000 secured residency permits. In 2015 the government began deporting residents and migrants of Haitian descent or background, but many more fled, sending tens of thousands of refugees into Haiti.


The country's economy has traditionally depended on agriculture. Although sugarcane is the chief crop and sugar is an important export, sugar production has sharply declined in recent years. Other major crops are coffee, cotton, cocoa, tobacco, and rice. There are deposits of nickel, bauxite, gold, silver, and other minerals, and mining is of growing economic importance. Free-trade zones have led to an increase in light industry, especially the manufacture of textiles and clothing. Tourism is also important to the economy, and the service sector is now the country's largest employer. The United States, Mexico, and Colombia are the main trading partners.


The country is governed under the constitution of 2015. The president, who is both the head of state and the head of government, is elected by popular vote to a four-year term, and may serve for two terms. The legislature is the bicameral National Congress. The members of the 32-seat Senate and the 183-seat Chamber of Deputies are all directly elected for four-year terms. Administratively, the country is divided into 31 provinces and the National District. The major parties are the conservative Social Christian Reformist party, organized by Joaquín Balaguer, the rival and social-democratic Dominican Revolutionary party, organized by Juan Bosch, and the centrist Dominican Liberation party.


History to the Twentieth Century

The history of the country has been unusually turbulent and has been closely linked with that of the neighboring republic of Haiti. After Spain by the Treaty of Basel (1795) ceded the colony of Santo Domingo to France, the area now known as the Dominican Republic was conquered by Haitians under Toussaint Louverture. Toussaint was defeated by the French, who invaded Haiti under General Leclerc. The resident French commander was able to fend off the attacks of Jean Jacques Dessalines, but in 1808 the people revolted and in 1809, with the aid of an English squadron, ended French control of the city of Santo Domingo. Spanish rule was reestablished.

In 1821 the inhabitants expelled the Spanish governor, but in 1822 they were reconquered by the Haitians under Jean Pierre Boyer. A revolt broke out in 1844, the Haitians were defeated, a constitution was promulgated, and a republic was established under Pedro Santana. Frequent revolts as well as continued Haitian attacks led Santana to make his country a province of Spain in 1861, but opposition under Buenaventura Báez was so severe that Spain withdrew in 1865.

Unable to preserve order, Báez himself negotiated a treaty of annexation with the United States, which the Dominicans approved but which the U.S. Senate failed to ratify. All semblance of order vanished. There were kaleidoscopic changes in the presidency and a long (1882–99), ruthless dictatorship under Ulíses Heureaux, ended by his assassination and followed by more revolutions.

The Early Twentieth Century

The republic was hopelessly bankrupt by 1905 and faced intervention by European powers. U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt arranged a U.S. customs receivership. Although there was a marked improvement in finances, fiscal control brought virtual political domination by the United States. Disorder continued, however, and the country was occupied by U.S. marines in 1916. They were withdrawn in 1924 and the customs receivership terminated in 1941.

After the overthrow of Horacio Vásquez in 1930, Rafael Trujillo Molina became dictator. Border clashes with Haiti occurred, and in 1937, Dominican troops massacred thousands of immigrant Haitians. War was narrowly averted. Trujillo suppressed domestic opposition, and he and his retinue gradually turned the country into a private fiefdom. Material improvements in roads, agriculture, sanitation, and education contributed to the prolongation of the regime. Feuds with other Caribbean nations developed. In 1961, Trujillo was assassinated.

The Balaguer-Bosch Era

Joaquín Balaguer, who had been named president by Trujillo in 1960, initiated democratization measures and withstood attempts by the Trujillo family to regain power. Balaguer was deposed (Jan., 1962), but the governing council, after surviving a military coup, promulgated (Sept., 1962) a new constitution. In Dec., 1962, in their first free election since 1924, the Dominicans elected Juan Bosch president by a substantial majority. Bosch committed himself to an ambitious program of reforms, but right-wing opposition led to his overthrow in Sept., 1963. A civilian triumvirate was installed by the military leaders, and Donald Reid Cabral emerged as its chief member.

In 1965 civil war broke out again after military supporters of Bosch toppled the government. A cease-fire was negotiated by the Organization of American States (OAS) and in 1965 a compromise agreement was reached. In 1966, with Bosch and Balaguer the leading candidates, an election was held. Balaguer, the Social Christian Reform party (PRSC) candidate, won and took office on July 1. The authoritarianism of the Trujillo period continued under Balaguer, who enjoyed the support of the right, the military, and the Church.

Balaguer was reelected in 1970 and 1974. The political climate, however, remained uneasy, with the economy stagnant, and from 1978 to 1986 the Dominican Revolutionary party (PRD) held power. Rising prices resulting from a program of economic austerity cost the PRD its ruling position, and the aging Balaguer again won the presidency in 1986, in 1990, and (for a two-year term) in 1994, but he was barred from running again 1996.

Post-Balaguer Politics

Elections in 1996 led to a runoff that was won by the Dominican Liberation party (PLD) candidate, Leonel Fernández Reyna. A protégé of Bosch, Fernández was a lawyer who had been raised in New York City and had not previously held political office. Although the country enjoyed steady economic growth under Fernández, farmers and poorer Dominicans saw little improvement in their well-being, and his term was marred by corruption scandals.

In 2000, Hipólito Mejía Dominguez, an agronomist and businessman who was the PRD candidate, won the presidential election; he promised to aid those who had not benefited from the years of growth. The economy worsened, however, under Mejía, and he failed to win a second term in 2004, as voters elected his predecessor, Leonel Fernández, to the presidency. Also in 2004 the country agreed to join in a free-trade area with the United States and most Central American nations.

Improved economic conditions benefited Fernández's PLD in 2006, when the party secured a majority in the congressional elections, and Ferńndez himself was reelected in 2008. In 2010 the PLD again won the congressional elections. Danilo Medina, the PLD candidate, was elected president in 2012, defeating former president Mejía, and in 2016, benefiting from a prosperous tourism sector, he was reelected.


See S. Rodman, Quisqueya: A History of the Dominican Republic (1964); J. A. Moreno, Barrios in Arms: Revolution in Santo Domingo (1970); J. Galíndez Suárez, The Era of Trujillo (1973); H. J. Wiarda and M. J. Kryzanek, The Dominican Republic, a Caribbean Crucible (1982); M. J. Kryzanek, The Politics of External Influence in the Dominican Republic (1988); S. Grasmuck and P. R. Pessar, Between Two Islands: Dominican International Migration (1991).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Dominican Republic History: Selected full-text books and articles

The Struggle for Democratic Politics in the Dominican Republic By Jonathan Hartlyn University of North Carolina Press, 1998
The Dominican Intervention By Abraham F. Lowenthal Harvard University Press, 1972
Christianity in the Caribbean: Essays on Church History By Armando Lampe University of the West Indies Press, 2001
Librarian's tip: Chap. 5 "The Catholic Church and the State in the Dominican Republic, 1930-1960"
Culture and Customs of the Dominican Republic By Isabel Zakrzewski Brown Greenwood Press, 1999
Looking for a topic idea? Use Questia's Topic Generator
Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.