History of the Dominican Republic

History of the Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic occupies the eastern two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola, in the Greater Antilles. Successive waves of Arawak migrants, moving northward from the Orinoco delta in South America, settled the islands of the Caribbean. Around A.D. 600, the Taíno Indians, a late Stone Age culture, arrived on the island, displacing the previous inhabitants. They were organized into "cacicazgos" (chiefdoms), each led by a "cacique" (chief). The final Arawak migrants, the Caribs, began moving up the Lesser Antilles in the 1100s, and were raiding Taíno villages on the island's eastern coast by the time the Spanish arrived.-

The arrival of the Europeans

Christopher Columbus reached the island on his first voyage, on December 5, 1492, naming it La Española. Believing that the Europeans were in someway supernatural, the Taínos welcomed them with all the honors availableFact|date=October 2008. This was a totally different society from the one the Europeans came from. Guacanagarix, the chief who hosted Christopher Columbus and his men, treated them kindly and provided them with everything they desired. Yet the Taínos' allegedly "egalitarian" system clashed with the Europeans' feudalist system, with more rigid class structures. This led the Europeans to believe the Taínos to be either weak or misleading, and they began to treat the tribes with more violence. Columbus tried to temper this when he and his men departed from Quisqueya — as the Taínos called the island — and they left on a good note.

Columbus had cemented a firm alliance with Guacanagarix, who was a powerful chief on the island. After the shipwrecking of the Santa María, Columbus decided to establish a small fort with a garrison of men that could help him lay claim to this possession. The fort was called La Navidad, since the events of the shipwrecking and the founding of the fort occurred on Christmas Day. The garrison, in spite of all the wealth and beauty on the island, was wracked by divisions that evolved into conflict amongst these first Europeans. The more rapacious ones began to terrorize the Taíno, Ciguayo and Macorix tribesmen up to the point of trying to take their women.Viewed as weak by the Spaniards and even some of his own people, Guacanagarix tried to come to an accommodation with the Spaniards, who saw his appeasement as the actions of someone who submitted. They treated him with contempt and even took some of his wives. The powerful cacique of the Maguana, Caonabo, could brook no further affronts and attacked the Europeans, destroying La Navidad. Guacanagarix was dismayed by this turn of events but did not try too hard to aid these guamikena, probably hoping that the troublesome outsiders would never return. However, they did return.

In 1493, Christopher Columbus came back to the island on his second voyage and founded the first Spanish colony in the New World, the city of Isabella. In 1496, his brother Bartholomew Columbus established the settlement of Santo Domingo de Guzmán on the southern coast, which became the new capital. An estimated 400,000 Tainos living on the island were soon enslaved to work in gold mines. As a consequence of oppression, forced labor, hunger, disease, and mass killings, it is estimated that by 1508 that number had been reduced to around 500,000. By 1535, only 60,000 were still alive. [Jonathan Hartlyn, The Struggle for Democratic Politics in the Dominican Republic, p.24, The University of North Carolina Press, 1998]

During this period, the Spanish leadership changed hands several times. When Columbus departed on another exploration, Francisco de Bobadilla became governor. Settlers' charges against Columbus of mismanagement added to the tumultuous political situation. In 1502, Nicolás de Ovando replaced de Bobadilla as governor, with an ambitious plan to expand Spanish influence in the region. It was he who dealt most brutally with the Taínos.

One rebel, however, successfully fought back. Enriquillo, leading a group of those who had fled to the mountains, attacked the Spanish repeatedly for fourteen years. Finally, the Spanish offered him a peace treaty. In addition, they gave Enriquillo and his followers their own city in 1534. The city did not last long, however; several years after its establishment, a slave rebellion burned it to the ground, killing anyone who stayed behind.

African enslavement

In 1501, the Spanish monarchs, Ferdinand I and Isabella, first granted permission to the colonists of the Caribbean to import African slaves, which began arriving to the island in 1503. These African importees arrived with a rich and ancient culture that has had an influence second only to that of Europe on the racial, political and cultural character of the modern Dominican Republic. In 1510, the first sizable shipment, consisting of 250 Black Ladinos, arrived in Hispaniola from Spain. Eight years later African-born slaves arrived in the West Indies. Sugar cane was introduced to Hispaniola from the Canary Islands, and the first sugar mill in the New World was established in 1516.Sugar Cane: Past and Present, Peter Sharpe http://www.siu.edu/~ebl/leaflets/sugar.htm] The need for a labor force to meet the growing demands of sugar cane cultivation led to an exponential increase in the importation of slaves over the following two decades. The sugar mill owners soon formed a new colonial elite, and convinced the Spanish king to allow them to elect the members of the Real Audiencia from their ranks. Poorer colonists subsisted by hunting the herds of wild cattle that roamed throughout the island and selling their hides.

The first major slave revolt in the Americas occurred in Santo Domingo during 1522, when enslaved Muslims of the Wolof nation led an uprising in the sugar plantation of admiral Don Diego Colon, son of Christopher Columbus. Many of these insurgents managed to escape to the mountains where they formed independent maroon communities.descended from tainos mix with runaway Africans,who reach the cacique.


While sugar cane dramatically increased Spain's earnings on the island, large numbers of the newly imported slaves fled into the nearly impassable mountain ranges in the island's interior, joining the growing communities of "cimarrónes"-literally, 'wild animals'. By the 1530s, "cimarron" bands had become so numerous that in rural areas the Spaniards could only safely travel outside their plantations in large armed groups. By the 1540s, the Caribbean Sea had become overrun with English, French and Dutch pirates. In 1541 Spain authorized the construction of Santo Domingo's fortified wall, and decided to restrict sea travel to enormous, well-armed caravans. In another move, which would destroy Hispaniola's sugar industry, Havana, more strategically located in relation to the Gulf Stream, was selected as the designated stopping point for the merchant "flotas," which had a royal monopoly on commerce with the Americas. In 1564, the island's main inland cities Santiago de los Caballeros and Concepción de la Vega were destroyed by an earthquake.

Colonial decline, French encroachment and the Haitian Revolution

With the conquest of the American mainland, Hispaniola quickly declined. Most Spanish colonists left for the silver-mines of Mexico and Peru, while new immigrants from Spain bypassed the island. Agriculture dwindled, new imports of slaves ceased, and white colonists, free blacks and slaves alike lived in poverty, weakening the racial hierarchy and aiding "intermixing," resulting in a population of predominantly mixed taino, Spaniard and African descent. Except for the city of Santo Domingo, which managed to maintain some legal exports, Dominican ports were forced to rely on contraband trade, which, along with livestock, became the sole source of livelihood for the island dwellers. In 1586, Sir Francis Drake captured the city of Santo Domingo, collecting a ransom for its return to Spanish rule.

In 1605, Spain, unhappy that Santo Domingo was facilitating trade between its other colonies and other European powers, attacked vast parts of the colony's northern and western regions, forcibly resettling their inhabitants closer to the city of Santo Domingo. [Knight, Franklin, "The Caribbean: The Genesis of a Fragmented Nationalism", 3rd ed. p.54 New York, Oxford University Press 1990] This action, known as the "devastaciones", proved disastrous; more than half of the resettled colonists died of starvation or disease. ["Rough Guide to the Dominican Republic", Pg. 352] French and English buccaneers took advantage of Spain's retreat into a corner of Hispaniola to settle the island of Tortuga in 1629, which France established direct control over in 1640, reorganizing it into an official colony and expanding to the north coast of Hispaniola itself. Spain ceded the western end of the island to France in 1697, under the Treaty of Ryswick. In 1655, Oliver Cromwell dispatched a fleet, commanded by Admiral Sir William Penn, to conquer Santo Domingo. After meeting heavy resistance, the English retreated, taking the island of Jamaica instead.

The House of Bourbon replaced the House of Habsburg in Spain in 1700 and introduced economic reforms that gradually began to revive trade in Santo Domingo. The crown progressively relaxed the rigid controls and restrictions on commerce between Spain and the colonies and among the colonies. The last "flotas" sailed in 1737; the monopoly port system was abolished shortly thereafter. By the middle of the century, the population was bolstered by emigration from the Canary Islands, resettling the northern part of the colony and planting tobacco in the Cibao Valley, and importation of slaves was renewed. The population of Santo Domingo grew from about 6,000 in 1737 to approximately 125,000 in 1790. Of this number, about 40,000 were white landowners, about 25,000 were black or mulatto freedmen, and some 60,000 were slaves. However, it remained poor and neglected, particularly in contrast with neighboring French Saint-Domingue, which became the wealthiest colony in the New World. [ [http://countrystudies.us/dominican-republic/3.htm Dominican Republic - THE FIRST COLONY ] ] As restrictions on colonial trade were relaxed, the colonial elites of St. Domingue offered the principal market for Santo Domingo's exports of beef, hides, mahogany and tobacco.

With the outbreak of the Haitian Revolution, the rich urban families linked to the colonial bureaucracy fled the island, while most of the rural "hateros" (cattle ranchers) remained, even though they lost their principal market. Spain saw in the unrest an opportunity to seize all, or part, of the western third of the island in an alliance of convenience with the British and the rebellious slaves. They were defeated by the forces of the black Jacobin General Toussaint Louverture, and in 1795, France gained control of the whole island under the Treaties of Basel. In 1801, L'Ouverture arrived in Santo Domingo, proclaiming the abolition of slavery on behalf of the French Republic. Shortly afterwards, Napoleon dispatched an army to subdue the island. Even after their defeat by the Haitians, a small French garrison remained in the former Spanish colony. Slavery was reestablished and many of the émigré Spanish colonists returned. In 1805, after crowning himself Emperor, Jean-Jacques Dessalines invaded, reaching Santo Domingo before retreating in the face of a French naval squadron. In their retreat through the Cibao, the Haitians sacked the towns of Santiago de los Caballeros and Moca, slaughtering most of their residents and helping to lay the foundation for two centuries of animosity between the two countries.

The French held on in the eastern part of the island, until defeated by the Spanish inhabitants at the Battle of Palo Hincado on November 7, 1808 and the final capitulation of the besieged Santo Domingo on July 9, 1809, with help from the Royal Navy. The Spanish authorities showed little interest in their restored colony, and the following period is recalled as La España Boba – 'The Era of Foolish Spain'. The great ranching families such as the Santanas came to be the leaders in the south east, the law of the "machete" ruled for a time. Spanish lieutenant governor José Núñez de Cáceres declared the colony's independence as the state of Spanish Haiti (Haiti Español) on November 30, 1821, requesting admission to the Republic of Gran Colombia, but Haitian forces, led by Jean-Pierre Boyer, occupied the whole island just nine weeks later.

Haitian occupation

The twenty two year Haitian occupation that followed is recalled by Dominicans as a period of brutal military rule, though the reality is more complex. It led to large-scale land expropriations and failed efforts to force production of export crops, impose military services, restrict the use of the Spanish language, and eliminate traditional customs such as cockfighting. It reinforced Dominicans' perceptions of themselves as different from Haitians in "language, race, religion and domestic customs." [Moya Pons, Frank "Between Slavery and Free Labor: The Spanish-speaking Caribbean in the 19th Century". Baltimore; Johns Hopkins University Press 1985] Yet, this was also a period that definitively ended slavery as an institution in the eastern part of the island.

Haiti's constitution forbade whites from owning land, and the major landowning families were forcibly deprived of their properties. Most emigrated to Cuba, Puerto Rico or Gran Colombia, usually with the encouragement of Haitian officials, who acquired their lands. The Haitians, who associated the Roman Catholic Church with the French slave-masters who had exploited them before independence, confiscated all church property, deported all foreign clergy, and severed the ties of the remaining clergy to the Vatican. Santo Domingo’s university, the oldest in the Western Hemisphere, lacking both students and teachers, closed down. In order to receive diplomatic recognition from France, Haiti was forced to pay an indemnity of 150 million francs to the former French colonists, which was subsequently lowered to 60 million francs, and Haiti imposed heavy taxes on the eastern part of the island. Since Haiti was unable to adequately provision its army, the occupying forces largely survived by commandeering or confiscating food and supplies at gunpoint. Attempts to redistribute land conflicted with the system of communal land tenure ("terrenos comuneros"), which had arisen with the ranching economy, and newly emancipated slaves resented being forced to grow cash crops under Boyer's "Code Rural". ["Terrenos comuneros" arose because of “scarce population, low value of the land, the absence of officials qualified to survey the lands, and the difficulty of dividing up the ranch in such a way that each would receive a share of the grasslands, forests, streams, palm groves, and small agricultural plots that, only when combined, made possible the exploitation of the ranch.” (Hoetink, The Dominican People: Notes for a Historical Sociology transl. Stephen Ault Pg. 83 (Johns Hopkins Press: Baltimore, 1982)] In rural areas, the Haitian administration was usually too inefficient to enforce its own laws. It was in the city of Santo Domingo that the effects of the occupation were most acutely felt, and it was there that the movement for independence originated.


In 1838 Juan Pablo Duarte, Ramón Matías Mella and Francisco del Rosario Sanchez founded a secret society called "La Trinitaria" to win independence from Haiti. In 1843 they allied with a Haitian movement in overthrowing Boyer. By revealing themselves as revolutionaries working for Dominican independence, the new Haitian president, Charles Riviere-Hérard, exiled or imprisoned the leading Trinitarios. At the same time, Buenaventura Báez, an Azua mahogany exporter and deputy in the Haitian National Assembly, was negotiating with the French Consul-General for the establishment of a French protectorate. In an uprising timed to preempt Báez, on February 27, 1844, the Trinitarios declared independence from Haiti, backed by Pedro Santana, a wealthy cattle-rancher from El Seibo who commanded a private army of peons who worked on his estates.

Independence from Haiti

The Dominican Republic's first constitution was adopted on November 6, 1844. It adopted a presidential form of government with many liberal tendencies, but it was marred by Article 210, imposed by Pedro Santana on the constitutional assembly by force, giving him the privileges of a dictatorship until the war of independence was over. These privileges not only served him to win the war, but also allowed him to persecute, execute and drive into exile his political opponents, among which Duarte was the most important. During the first decade of independence, Haïti mounted five invasions to reconquer the eastern part of the island: in 1844, 1845, 1849, 1853 and 1855-56. Although each was repulsed, Santana used the ever-present threat of Haitian invasion as a justification for consolidating dictatorial powers. For the Dominican elite-mostly landowners, merchants and priests-the threat of re-conquest by more populous Haïti was sufficient to seek annexation by an outside power. Offering the deepwater harbor of Samaná bay as bait, over the next two decades, negotiations were made with Britain, France, the United States and Spain to declare a protectorate over the country.-

Without adequate roads, the regions of the Dominican Republic developed in isolation from one another. In the south, the economy was dominated by cattle-ranching (particularly in the southeastern savannah) and cutting mahogany and other hard woods for export. This region retained a semi-feudal character-with little commercial agriculture, the "hacienda" as the dominant social unit and the majority of the population living at a subsistence level. In the Cibao Valley, the nation's richest farmland, peasants supplemented their subsistence crops by growing tobacco for export, mainly to Germany. Tobacco required less land than cattle ranching and was mainly grown by small holders, who relied on itinerant traders to transport their crops to Puerto Plata and Monte Cristi.

Santana antagonized the Cibao farmers, enriching himself and his supporters at their expense by resorting to multiple peso printings that allowed him to buy their crops for a fraction of their value. In 1848, he was forced to resign, and was succeeded by his vice-president, Manuel Jimenes. After returning to lead Dominican forces against a new Haitian invasion in 1849, Santana marched on Santo Domingo, deposing Jimenes. At his behest, Congress elected Buenaventura Báez as President, but Báez was unwilling to serve as Santana's puppet, challenging his role as the country's acknowledged military leader. In 1853 Santana was elected president for his second term, forcing Báez into exile. Three years later, after repulsing the last Haitian invasion, he negotiated a treaty leasing a portion of Samaná Peninsula to a U.S. company; popular opposition forced him to abdicate, enabling Báez to return and seize power. With the treasury depleted, Báez printed eighteen million uninsured pesos, purchasing the 1857 tobacco crop with this currency and exporting it for hard cash at immense profit to himself and his followers. The Cibaeño tobacco planters, who were ruined when inflation ensued, revolted, recalling Santana from exile to lead their rebellion. After a year of civil war, Santana seized Santo Domingo and installed himself as President.

Annexation by Spain and War Restoration

Pedro Santana inherited a bankrupt government on the brink of collapse. Having failed in his initial bids to secure annexation by the U.S. or France, Santana initiated negotiations with Queen Isabel II and the Captain-General of Cuba to have the island reconverted into a Spanish colony. The American Civil War rendered the United States incapable of enforcing the Monroe Doctrine. In Spain, Prime Minister Don Leopoldo O'Donnell advocated renewed colonial expansion, waging a campaign in northern Morocco that conquered the city of Tetuan. In March 1861, Santana officially restored the Dominican Republic to Spain.

This move was widely rejected and on August 16, 1863, a national war of restoration began in Santiago, where the rebels established a provisional government. Spanish troops reoccupied the town, but the rebels fled to the mountains along the ill-defined Haitian border. Haitian President Fabre Geffrard provided the Dominican rebels with sanctuary and arms, sending a detachment of his presidential guards (the "Tirailleurs") to fight alongside them. Santana initially was named Capitan-General of the new Spanish province, but it soon became obvious that Spanish authorities planned to deprive him of his power, leading him to resign in 1862. Condemned to death by the provisional government, Santana died under mysterious circumstances in 1864, and is widely believed to have committed suicide. Restrictions on trade, discrimination against the mulatto majority, rumors that Spain intended to reimpose slavery, and an unpopular campaign by the new Spanish Archbishop against extramarital unions, which were widespread after decades of abandonment by the Church, all fed resentment of Spanish rule. Confined to the major towns, the Spanish army was unable to defeat the guerillas or contain the insurrection, and suffered heavy losses due to Yellow Fever. Spanish colonial authorities encouraged Queen Isabel II to abandon the island, seeing the occupation as a nonsensical waste of troops and money.

However, the rebels were in a state of political disarray, and proved unable to present a cohesive set of demands. The first president of the provisional government, Pepillo Salcedo (allied with Báez) was deposed by General Gaspar Polanco in September 1864, who, in turn, was deposed by General Antonio Pimentel three months later. The rebels formalized their provisional rule by holding a national convention in February 1865, which enacted a new constitution, but the new government exerted little authority over the various regional guerilla "caudillos," who were largely independent of one another. Unable to extract concessions from the disorganized rebels, when the American Civil War ended, in March 1865, Queen Isabel II annulled the annexation and independence was restored, with the last Spanish troops departing by July. [http://lcweb2.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?frd/cstdy:@field(DOCID+do0017)]

econd Republic

By the time the Spanish departed, most of the main towns lay in ruins and the island was divided among several dozen "caudillos." José María Cabral controlled most of Barahona and the southwest with the support of Buenaventura Báez's mahogany-exporting partners, while cattle rancher Cesáreo Guillermo assembled a coalition of former "Santanista" generals in the southeast, and Gregorio Luperón controlled the north coast. From the Spanish withdrawal to 1879, there were twenty-one changes of government and at least fifty military uprisings. [ Frank Moyna-Pons, "Dominican Republic: A National History" Pg. 222 (Hispaniola Books: New Rochelle, N.Y., 1995)] In the course of these conflicts, two parties emerged. The Partido Rojo represented the southern cattle ranching latifundia and mahogany-exporting interests, as well as the artisans and laborers of Santo Domingo, and was dominated by Buenaventura Báez, who continued to seek annexation by a foreign power. The Partido Azul, led by Gregorio Luperón, represented the tobacco farmers and merchants of the Cibao and Puerto Plata and was nationalist and liberal in orientation. During these wars, the small and corrupt national army was far outnumbered by militias organized and maintained by local "caudillos" who set themselves up as provincial governors, which were filled out by poor farmers or landless plantation workers impressed into service who usually took up banditry when not fighting in revolution.-

Within a month of the nationalist victory, Cabral, whose troops were the first to enter Santo Domingo, ousted Pimental, but a few weeks later General Cesáreo Guillermo led a rebellion in support of Báez, forcing Cabral to resign and allowing Báez to retake the presidency in October. Báez was overthrown by the Cibao farmers under Gregorio Luperón, leader of the Partido Azul, the following spring, but Luperón's allies turned on each other and Cabral reinstalled himself as President in a coup in 1867. After bringing several "Azules" into his cabinet the "Rojos" revolted, returning Báez to power. In 1869, Báez signed a treaty with President Ulysses S. Grant, selling the country to the United States for $150,000. [Ian Bell,"The Dominican Republic" Pg. 59 (Westview Pres: Boulder, Co., 1981)] Supported by Secretary of State William Seward, who hoped to establish a Navy base at Samana, in 1871 it was defeated in the U.S. Senate through the efforts of abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner. [*Dennis Hidalgo, "Charles Sumner and the Annexation of the Dominican Republic," Itinerario (Volume XXI, 2/1997): 51. (Published by the Centre for the History of European Expansion of Leiden University, The Netherlands).] In 1874, the "Rojo" governor of Puerto Plata, Ignacio Maria González, staged a coup in support of an "Azul" rebellion, but was deposed by the "Azules" two years later. In February 1876, Ulises Espaillat, backed by Luperón, was named President, but ten months later troops loyal to Báez returned him to power. One year a new rebellion allowed González to seize power, only to be deposed by Cesáreo Guillermo in September 1878, who was in turn deposed by Gregorio Luperón in December 1879. Ruling the country from his hometown of Puerto Plata, enjoying an economic boom due to increased tobacco exports to Germany, Luperón enacted a new constitution setting a two-year presidential term limit and providing for direct elections, suspended the semi-formal system of bribes and initiated construction on the nation's first railroad, linking the town of La Vega with the port of Sánchez on Samaná Bay.

The Ten Years' War in Cuba brought Cuban sugar planters to the country in search of new lands and security from the insurrection that freed their slaves and destroyed their property. Most settled in the southeastern coastal plain, and, with assistance from Luperón’s government, built the nation's first mechanized sugar mills. They were later joined by Italians, Germans, Puerto Ricans and Americans in forming the nucleus of the Dominican sugar bourgeoisie, marrying into prominent families to solidify their social position. Disruptions in global production caused by the Ten Years' War, the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War allowed the Dominican Republic to become a major sugar exporter. Over the following two decades, sugar surpassed tobacco as the leading export, with the former fishing hamlets of San Pedro de Macorís and La Romana transformed into thriving ports. To meet their need for better transportation, over 300 miles of private rail-lines had been built by and serving the sugar plantations by 1897. [Emilio Betances, "State and Society in the Dominican Republic" Pg. 32 (Westview Press: Boulder, San Francisco, Oxford, 1995)] An 1884 slump in prices led to a wage freeze, and a subsequent labor shortage was filled by migrant workers from the Leeward Islands-the Virgin Islands, St. Kitts and Nevis, Anguilla and Antigua (referred to by Dominicans as "cocolo"s). ["cocolo" is a corruption of one of the names of one of the principal islands of origin, Tortola Teresita Martinez-Vergne, "Nation and Citizenship in the Dominican Republic" Pg. 86 (University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, N.C., 2005)] These English-speaking blacks were often victims of racism, but many remained in the country, finding work as stevedores and in railroad construction and sugar refineries.

ulises heureaux.-

Lilís and U.S. dominance

Allying with the emerging sugar interests, the dictatorship of General Ulises Heureaux, popularly known as Lilís, brought unprecedented stability to the island through iron-fisted rule that lasted almost two decades. The son of a Haitian father and a mother from St. Thomas, Lilís was distinguished by his blackness from most Dominican political leaders, with the exception of Luperón. He served as President from 1882-1883, 1887 and 1889-1899, welding power through a series of puppet presidents when not occupying the office. Incorporating both "Rojos" and "Azules" into his government, he developed an extensive network of spies and informants to crush potential opposition. His government undertook a number of major infrastructural projects, including the electrification of Santo Domingo, the beginning of telephone and telegraph service, the construction of a bridge over the Ozama River, and the completion of a single-track railroad linking Santiago and Puerto Plata, financed by the Amsterdam-based Westendorp Co.. [Teresita Martínez-Vergne, "Nation & Citizen in the Dominican Republic", Pg. 135]

Lilís' dictatorship was dependent upon heavy borrowing from European and American banks-to enrich himself, stabilize the existing debt, strengthen the bribe system, pay for the army, finance infrastructural development and help set up sugar mills. However, sugar prices underwent a steep decline in the last two decades of the 19th century. When the Amsterdam-based Westendorp Co., went bankrupt in 1893, he was forced to mortgage the nation's customs fees, the main source of government revenues, to a New York financial firm called the San Domingo Improvement Co. (SDIC), which took over its railroad contracts and the claims of its European bondholders, in exchange for two loans, one of $1.2 million and the other of £2 million. [Ian Bell, "The Dominican Republic" Pg. 86 (Westview Press: Boulder, Co., 1981)] As the growing public debt made it impossible to maintain his political machine, Heureaux relied on secret loans from the SDIC, sugar planters and local merchants. In 1897, with his government virtually bankrupt, Lilís printed five million uninsured pesos, known as "papelitas de Lilís," ruining most Dominican merchants and inspiring a conspiracy that ended in his death. In 1899, when Lilís was assassinated by the Cibao tobacco merchants he had been begging for a loan from, the national debt was over $35 million, fifteen times the annual budget. [Emilio Betances, "State and Society in the Dominican Republic" Pg. 50 (Westview Press: Boulder, San Francisco, Oxford, 1995)]

The six years after Lilís death witnessed four revolutions and five different presidents. [Howard Wirada, "Dominican Republic: A Nation in Transition" Pg. 30 (Pall Mall Press: London, 1966)] The Cibao politicians who had conspired against Heureaux-Juan Isidro Jimenes, the nation's wealthiest tobacco planter, and General Horacio Vásquez-after being named President and Vice-President, quickly fell out over the division of spoils among their supporters, the "Jimenistas" and "Horacistas." Troops loyal to Vásquez overthrew Jimenes in 1903, but he was deposed by "Jimenista" General Alejandro Woss y Gil, who seized power for himself. The "Jimenistas" toppled his government, but their leader, Carlos Morales, refused to return power to Jimenes, allying with the "Horacistas," and he soon faced a new revolt by his betrayed "Jimenista" allies.

With the nation on the brink of defaulting, France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands sent warships to Santo Domingo to press the claims of their nationals. In order to preempt military intervention, Theodore Roosevelt introduced the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, declaring that the United States would assume responsibility for ensuring that the nations of Latin America met their financial obligations. In January 1905, under this corollary, the United States assumed administration of the Dominican Republic's customs. Under the terms of this agreement, a Receiver-General, appointed by the U.S. President, kept 55% of total revenues to pay off foreign claimants, while remitting 45% to the Dominican government. After two years, the nation's external debt was reduced from $40 million to $17 million. [Emilio Betances, "State and Society in the Dominican Republic" Pg. 53 (Westview Press: Boulder, San Francisco, Oxford, 1995)] In 1907, this agreement was converted into a treaty, transferring control over customs receivership to the U.S. Bureau of Insular Affairs and providing a loan of $20 million from a New York bank as payment for outstanding claims, making the United States the Dominican Republic’s only foreign creditor. [Bruce Calder, "The Impact of Intervention in the Dominican Republic, 1916-1924" Pg. 24 (University of Texas Press: Austin, Texas, 1984)]

In 1906, Morales resigned, and "Horacista" vice-president Ramon Cáceres became President. After suppressing a rebellion in the northwest by "Jiemnista" "caudillo" General Desiderio Arias, his government brought political stability and renewed economic growth, aided by new American investment in sugar industry. However, his assassination in 1911, for which Morales and Arías were at least indirectly responsible, once again plunged the republic into chaos. For two months, executive power was held by a civilian junta dominated by the chief of the army, General Alfredo Victoria. The surplus of more than 4 million pesos left by Cáceres was quickly spent to suppress a series of insurrections. [Frank Moya-Pons, "Dominican Republic: A National History" Pg. 306] He forced Congress to elect his uncle, Eladio Victoria, as President, but he was soon replaced by the neutral Archbishop Adolfo Nouel. After four months, Nouel resigned, and was succeeded by "Horacista" Congressman José Bordas Valdez, who aligned with Arías and the "Jimenistas" to maintain power. In 1913, Vásquez returned from exile in Puerto Rico to lead a new rebellion. In June 1914 U.S. President Woodrow Wilson issued an ultimatum for the two sides to end hostilities and agree on a new president, or have the United States impose one. Jimenes was elected in October, and soon faced new demands, including the appointment of an American director of public works and financial advisor and the creation of a new military force commanded by U.S. officers. The Dominican Congress rejected these demands and began impeachment proceedings against Jimenes. The United States occupied Haiti in July 1915, with the implicit threat that the Dominican Republic might be next. Jimenes's Minister of War Desiderio Arias staged a coup d'état in April 1916, providing a pretext for the United States to occupy the Dominican Republic.

United States occupation

United States Marines landed in Santo Domingo on May 15, 1916. Prior to their landing, Jimenes resigned, refusing to exercise an office 'regained with foreign bullets.' [Bruce Calder, "The Impact of Intervention In The Dominican Republic, 1916-1924" (University of Texas Press: Austin, TX 1984) Pg. 8] On June 1, Marines occupied Monte Cristi and Puerto Plata, and, after a brief campaign, took Arias's stronghold Santiago by the beginning of July. The Dominican Congress elected Dr. Francisco Henríquez Carvajal as President, but in November, after he refused to meet the American demands, Woodrow Wilson announced the imposition of a U.S. military government, with Rear Admiral Harry Shepard Knapp as Military Governor. The American military government implemented many of the institutional reforms carried out in the United States during the Progressive Era, including reorganization of the tax system, accounting and administration, expansion of primary education, the creation of a nation-wide police force to unify the country, and the construction of a national system of roads, including a highway linking Santiago to Santo Domingo.

Despite the reforms, virtually all Dominicans resented the loss of their sovereignty to foreigners, few of whom spoke Spanish or displayed much real concern for the nation's welfare, and the military government, unable to win the backing of any prominent Dominican political leaders, imposed strict censorship laws and imprisoned critics of the occupation. In 1920, U.S. authorities enacted a Land Registration Act, which broke up the "terrenos comuneros" and dispossessed thousands of peasants who lacked formal titles to the lands they occupied while legalizing false titles held by the sugar companies. In the southeast, dispossessed peasants formed armed bands, called "gavilleros", waging a guerilla war that lasted the duration of the occupation, with most of the fighting in Hato Mayor and El Seibo. At any given time, the Marines faced eight to twelve "caudillos", each of whom commanded several hundred followers. The guerrillas benefited from a superior knowledge of the terrain and the support of the local population, forcing the Marines to rely on increasingly brutal counterinsurgency methods. However, rivalries between various "caudillos" often led them to fight against one another, and even cooperate with occupation authorities. In addition, cultural schisms between the "campesinos" and city dwellers prevented the guerillas from cooperating with the urban, middle-class nationalist movement. In the San Juan valley, near the border with Haïti, followers of a Vodu faith healer named Liborio resisted the occupation and aided the Haitian "cacos" in their war against the Americans, until his death in 1922. The principal legacy of the occupation was the creation of a National Police Force, used by the Marines to help fight against the various guerillas, and later the main vehicle for the rise of Rafael Trujillo.

In what was referred to as "la danza de los milliones," with the destruction of European sugar-beet farms during World War I sugar prices rose to their highest level in history, from $5.50 in 1914 to $22.50 per pound in 1920. Dominican sugar exports increased from 122,642 tons in 1916 to 158,803 tons in 1920, earning a record $45.3 million. [Bruce Calder, The Impact of Intervention, Pg. 93] However, European beet sugar production quickly recovered, which, coupled with the growth of global sugar cane production, glutted the world market, causing prices to plummet to only $2.00 by the end of 1921. This crisis drove many of the local sugar planters into bankruptcy, allowing large American conglomerates to dominate the sugar industry. By 1926, only twenty-one major estates remained, occupying an estimated 520,000 acres (2,100 km²). Of these, twelve U.S.-owned companies owned more than 81% of total area. [Ibid The largest two corporations, the South Porto Rico Company and West Indies Sugar Corporation, owned 150,000 and 100,000 acres (600 and 400 km²) respectively.] While the foreign planters who had built the sugar industry integrated into Dominican society, these corporations expatriated their profits to the United States. As prices declined, sugar estates increasingly relied on Haitian laborers. This was facilitated by the military government's introduction of regulated contract labor, the growth of sugar production in the southwest, near the Haitian border, and a series of strikes by "cocolo" cane cutters organized by the Universal Negro Improvement Association.

In the 1920 United States presidential election Republican candidate Warren Harding criticized the occupation and promised eventual U.S. withdrawal. While Jimenes and Vásquez sought concessions from the United States, the collapse of sugar prices discredited the military government and gave rise to a new nationalist political organization, the Dominican National Union, led by Dr. Henríquez from exile in Santiago de Cuba, which demanded unconditional withdrawal. They formed alliances with frustrated nationalists in Puerto Rico and Cuba, as well as critics of the occupation in the United States itself, most notably "The Nation" and the Haiti-San Domingo Independence Society. In May 1922, a Dominican lawyer, Francisco Peynado, went to Washington and negotiated what became known as the Hughes-Peynado Plan. It stipulated immediate establishment of a provisional government pending elections, approval of all laws enacted by the U.S. military government, and the continuation of the 1907 treaty until all the Dominican Republic's foreign debts had been settled. On October 1, Juan Bautista Vicini, the son of a wealthy Italian immigrant sugar planter, was named provisional president, and the process of U.S. withdrawal began.

1930 to 1980

The occupation ended in 1924, with a democratically elected Dominican government under president Horacio Vasquez. In an effort to preserve power for his supporters, in 1927 Vásquez extended his term from four to six years. There was some debatable legal basis for the move, which was approved by the Congress, but its enactment effectively invalidated the constitution of 1924 that Vásquez had previously sworn to uphold. With the Great Depression, sugar prices dropped to less than $1 per pound; although elections were scheduled for May 1930, Vásquez's extension of power cast doubts about their fairness. In February, a revolution was proclaimed in Santiago by a lawyer named Rafael Estrella Ureña. When the commander of the "Guardia Nacional Dominicana" (the new designation of the armed force created under the occupation), Rafael Trujillo, ordered his troops to remain in their barracks, the sick and aging Vásquez was forced into exile and Estrella proclaimed provisional president. In May, Trujillo was elected with 95% of the vote, using the army to harass and intimidate electoral personnel and potential opponents. After his inauguration in August, at his request, the Dominican Congress proclaimed the beginning of the 'Era of Trujillo.'

The Era of Trujillo

Rafael Leonidas Trujillo established absolute political control, while promoting economic development--from which mainly he and his supporters benefitted--and severe repression of domestic human rights. [Johathan Hartlyn. "The Trujillo Regime in the Dominican Republic". In "Sultanistic Regimes", Johns Hopkins University Press] Trujillo treated his political party, the "Partido Dominicano," as a rubber-stamp for his decisions. The true source of his power was the "Guardia Nacional" - larger, better armed, and more centrally controlled than any military force in the nation's history. By disbanding the regional militias, the Marines eliminated the main source of potential opposition, giving it "a virtual monopoly on power.” [Emilio Betances, "State and Society in the Dominican Republic", Pg. 96] Trujillo's regime oversaw the expansion of the "Guardia Nacional" into one of the largest military forces in Latin America; by 1940, military spending was 21% of the national budget. [Emilio Betances, "State and Society in the Dominican Republic", Pg. 97] At the same time, he developed an elaborate system of espionage agencies. By the late 1950s, there were at least seven categories of intelligence agencies, spying on each other as well as the public. All citizens were required to carry identification cards and good-conduct passes from the secret police. Obsessed with adulation, Trujillo promoted an extravagant cult of personality. When a hurricane struck Santo Domingo in 1930, killing over 3,000 people, he rebuilt the city and renamed it Ciudad Trujillo; he also renamed the countries highest mountain, Pico Duarte, Pico Trujillo. Over 1800 statues of Trujillo were built, and all public works projects were required to have a plaque with the inscription 'Era of Trujillo, Benefactor of the Fatherland.' [Eric Paul Roorda, "The Dictator Next Door: The Good Neighbor Policy and the Dominican Republic, 1930-1945.-]

As sugar estates turned to Haiti for seasonal migrant labor, increasing numbers settled in the Dominican Republic permanently. The census of 1920, conducted by the military government, gave a total of 28,258 Haitians living in the country, by 1935 there were 52,657. ["Needed but unwanted: Haitian immigrants and their descendants in the Dominican Republic, Pg. 24" (Catholic Institute For International Refugees, 2004)] In 1937, Trujillo ordered the massacre of 17,000 to 35,000 Haitians, citing Haiti's support for Dominican exiles plotting to overthrow his regime. This event later became known as the Parsley Massacre. [Jan Kippers Black, "Politics and development in an unsovereign state" Pg. 27] The massacre of tens of thousands of unarmed Haitians living on the border of Haiti and Dominican Republic was met with international critics.

This was the result of a new policy which Trujillo called the 'Dominicanisation of the frontier.' Place names along the border were changed from Kreyol and French to Spanish, the practice of Vodou was outlawed, quotas were imposed on the percentage of foreign workers companies could hire, and a law was passed preventing Haitian workers from remaining after the sugar harvest.

Althrough Trujillo sought to emulate Generalissimo Francisco Franco, he welcomed Republican refugees following the Spanish Civil War. During the European Holocaust in the Second World War, the Dominican Republic took in many Jews fleeing Hitler who had been refused entry by other countries. These decision arose from a policy of "blanquismo," closely connected with anti-Haitian xenophobia, which sought to whiten the Dominican population by promoting immigration from Europe. As part of the Good Neighbor Policy, in 1940, the State Department signed a treaty with Trujillo relinquishing control over the nation's customs. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor Trujillo followed the United States in declaring war on the Axis powers, even though he had openly professed admiration for Hitler and Mussolini. During the Cold War, he maintained close ties to the United States, declaring himself the world's 'Number One Anticommunist' and becoming the first Latin American President to sign a Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement with the United States.

Trujillo and his family established a near-monopoly over the national economy. By the time of his death, he had accumulated a fortune of around $800 million; he and his family owned 50-60 percent of the arable land, some 700,000 acres (2,800 km²), and Trujillo-owned businesses accounted for 80% commercial activity in the capital. [Howard Wirada "The Dominican Republic: A Nation in Transition", Pg. 40-41] He exploited nationalist sentiment to purchase most of the nation's sugar plantations and refineries from U.S. corporations; operated monopolies on salt, rice, milk, cement, tobacco, coffee, and insurance; owned two large banks, several hotels, port facilities, an airline and shipping line; deducted 10% of all public employees' salaries (ostensibly for his party); and received a portion of prostitution revenues. [Jared Diamond, Collapse, 'One Island, Two Peoples, Two Histories' (Penguin Books: New York and London, 2005) Pg. 337] World War II brought increased demand for Dominican exports, and the 1940s and early 1950s witnessed economic growth and considerable expansion of the national infrastructure. During this period, the newly-renamed Ciudad Trujillo was transformed from merely an administrative center to the national center of shipping and industry, although 'it was hardly coincidental that new roads often led to Trujillo's plantations and factories, and new harbors benefited Trujillo's shipping and export enterprises.' [Jan Kippers Black, "The Dominican Republic: politics and development in an unsovereign state.] -

Mismanagement and corruption resulted in major economic problems. By the end of the 1950s, the economy was deteriorating due to a combination of overspending on a festival to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the regime, overspending to purchase privately owned sugar mills and electricity plants, and a decision to make a major investment in state sugar production that proved economically unsuccessful. In 1956, Trujillo's agents in New York murdered Jesús María de Galíndez, a Basque exile who had worked for Trujillo and later denounced his regime, causing public opinion in the United States to turn against him. 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 Rómulo Betancourt of Venezuela. Fearing that Trujillo might unite the country against him and bring another communist revolution, the CIA helped a group of Dominican dissidents who assassinated Trujillo in a car chase on the way to his country villa near San Cristóbal on May 30, 1961. The sanctions remained in force after Trujillo's assassination. His son, Ramfis Trujillo, assumed de facto control, but was deposed by his two uncles after a dispute over potential liberalization of the regime. In November 1961, the Trujillo family was forced into exile, fleeing to France, and vice-president Joaquín Balaguer assumed power.

The Post-Trujillo Era

At the insistence of the United States, Joaquín Balaguer was forced to share power with a seven-member Council of State, established on January 1,, 1962, and including moderate members of the opposition. OAS sanctions were lifted January 4,, and, after an attempted coup, Balaguer resigned and went into exile on January 16. The reorganized Council of State, under President Rafael Filiberto Bonnelly headed the Dominican government until elections could be held. These elections, in December 1962, were won by Juan Bosch, a scholar and poet who had founded the opposition "Partido Revolucionario Dominicano" (Dominican Revolutionary Party, or PRD) in exile. His leftist policies, including land redistribution, nationalization of certain foreign holdings, and attempts to bring the military under civilian control, antagonized the military officer corps, the Catholic hierarchy and the upper-class, who feared 'another Cuba.' Bosch was overthrown by a right-wing military coup in September 1963, fleeing into exile in Puerto Rico.

Afterwards a supposedly civilian triumvirate established a de facto dictatorship until April 24, 1965, when reformist officers and civilian combatants loyal to Bosch, calling themselves the Constitutionalists, staged a coup, seizing the national palace. Immediately, conservative military forces, led by Air Force Colonel Elías Wessín y Wessín and calling themselves Loyalists, struck back with tank assaults and aerial bombings against Santo Domingo. On April 28, after being requested by the anti-Bosch army elements, U.S. military forces landed, officially to protect U.S. citizens and to evacuate U.S. and other foreign nationals in what was known as Operation Power Pack. Ultimately, 23,000 U.S. troops were ordered to the Dominican Republic.

In June 1966, Joaquín 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 because of the high degree of violence by pro-government groups. On Noverber 28 of 1966 a constitution was created, signed, and put into use. The constitution stated that a president was elected to a four year term. If there was a close election there would be a second round of voting to decide the winner. Finally, you could vote at age eighteen unless married in which case you could vote at the age you were married. Balaguer led the Domincan Republic through a thorough economic restructuring, based on opening the country to foreign investment while protecting state-owned industries and certain private interests. This distorted, dependent development model produced uneven results. For most of Balaguer's nine years in office the country experienced high growth rates (e.g., an average GDP growth rate of 9.4 percent between 1970 - 1975), to the extent that people talked about the "Dominican miracle." Foreign--mostly U.S.--investment, as well as foreign aid, flowed into the country, sugar (then the country's main export product) enjoyed good prices in the international market and tourism grew tremendously. However, this excellent macroeconomic performance was not accompanied by an equitable distribution of wealth. While a group of new millionaires flourished during Balaguer's administrations, the poor simply became poorer. Morever, the poor were commonly the target of state repression, and their socioeconomic claims were labeled "communist" and dealt with accordingly by the state security apparatus. [Roberto Cassa, "Los doce años: Contrarevolución y desarrollismo", 2nd ed. Santo Domingo: Editora Buho 1991] In the May 1978 election, Balaguer was defeated in his bid for a fourth successive term by Antonio Guzmán Fernández of the PRD. Subsequently, he ordered troops to storm the election centre and destroy ballot boxes, declaring himself the victor. U.S. President Jimmy Carter refused to recognize the election, and, faced with the loss of foreign aid, Balaguer stood down. Guzmán's inauguration on August 16 marked the country's first peaceful transfer of power from one freely elected president to another. By the late 1970s, economic expansion slowed considerably as sugar prices declined and oil prices rose. Rising inflation and unemployment diminished support for the government and helped trigger a wave of mass emigration from the Dominican Republic to New York, coming on the heels of the similar migration of Puerto Ricans in the preceding decades.

Elections were again held in 1982. Salvador Jorge Blanco of the Dominican Revolutionary Party defeated Bosch and a resurgent Balaguer. Balaguer completed his return to power in 1986 when he won the Presidency again and remained in office for the next ten years. Elections in 1990 were marked by violence and suspected electoral fraud. The 1994 election too saw widespread pre-election violence, often aimed at intimidating members of the opposition. Balaguer won in 1994 but most observers felt the election had been stolen. Under pressure from the United States, Balaguer agreed to hold new elections in 1996. He himself would not run.


In 1996, U.S.-raised Leonel Fernández Reyna of the "Partido de la Liberación Dominicana" (Dominican Liberaiton Party) secured more than 51% of the vote through an alliance with Balaguer. The first item on the president's agenda was the partial sale of some state-owned enterprises. Fernández was praised for ending decades of isolationism and improving ties with other Caribbean countries, but he was criticized for not fighting corruption or alleviating the poverty that affects 60% of the population.

In August 2000 the center-left Hipólito Mejía of the PRD was elected president amid popular discontent over power outages in the recently privatized electric industry. His presidency saw major inflation and instability of the peso. During his time as president, the relatively stable unit of currency fell from ~ 16 DOP (Dominican Pesos) to 1 USD (United States Dollar) to ~ 60 DOP to 1 USD, and was in the 50s to a dollar when he left office. In the May 2004 presidential elections he was defeated by former president Leonel Fernández. Fernández instituted austerity measures to deflate the peso and rescue the country from its economic crisis, and in the first half of 2006, the economy grew 11.7%. The peso is currently at the exchange rate of ~31 DOP to 1 USD.

Over the last three decades, remittances (remesas) from Dominicans living abroad, mainly in the United States, have become increasingly important to the economy. From 1990 to 2000, the Dominican population of the U.S. doubled in size, from 520,121 in 1990 to 1,041,910, two-thirds of whom were born in the Dominican Republic itself. More than half of all Dominican Americans live in New York City, with the largest concentration in the neighborhood of Washington Heights in northern Manhattan. Over the past decade, the Dominican Republic has become the largest source of immigration to New York City, and today the metropolitan area of New York has a larger Dominican population than any city except Santo Domingo."The Newest New Yorkers: Immigrant New York in the New Millennium" (New York City Department of City Planning, Population Division, 2004) Pg. 9] Dominican communities have also developed in New Jersey (particularly Paterson), Miami, Boston, Philadelphia, Providence, Rhode Island and Lawrence, Massachusetts. In addition, thousands of Dominicans illegally cross the Mona Passage to Puerto Rico, many traveling on to the mainland U.S.. (See Dominican immigration to Puerto Rico). Dominicans living abroad send an estimated $3 billion per year in remittances to relatives at home. [ [http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/2007/03/13/stories/2007031300300800.htm The Hindu Business Line : Dominican Republic: The business-pleasure tango ] ] In 1997, a new law took effect, allowing Dominicans living abroad to retain their citizenship and vote in Presidential elections. Leonel Fernández Reyna, who grew up in New York, was the principal beneficiary of this law. The Dominican Republic was involved in the US-led coalition in Iraq, as part of the Spain-led Latin-American Plus Ultra Brigade, but in 2004, the nation pulled its 300 or so troops out of Iraq.

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