Since its discovery by Christopher Columbus o December 5th of 1492, Dominican Republic, has been considered as one of the most privileged territories in the region, not only due to its strategic location but the diversity in natural resources that it has been blessed with.
The Dominican Republic has been one of the most coveted territories in the region since the colonial age. In a period dubbed the “Age of Discovery”, the major European powers at the time were in a race to discover new parts of the world and to claim it in the name of their crown. Many expeditions were sent out and the eastern portion of the world became more connected to Europe. Most of these expeditions were on land, but the journey was too tedious and perilous as deterrents such as bandits, inefficient modes of transportation, and long distances played a negative role. This problem was temporarily solved by Portuguese sailors who opted to sail south along the African coast but this too proved problematic due to rough seas and currents and also because the journey was still too long.
The Discovery of Hispaniola
In the late 15th century, Christopher Columbus, an Italian navigator and explorer, proposed an idea to various European crowns that dismissed his endeavors. This idea was to sail west in order to reach the east was dismissed mainly because the belief during this period was that the world was flat and he would simply fall off the edge of the earth. However, in 1491, Columbus gained an audience with King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella (the monarchy of modern day Spain) who decided to fund his enterprise.
On August 3, 1492, Columbus set sail with three main objectives which are dubbed “The Three G’s” – Glory, God, and Gold. His aim was to discover new land in the name of Spain (Glory), convert the inhabitants of the lands encountered to Christianity (God) and mine for gold and make a profit (Gold).
On October 12th of the same year, the three ships he had set sail in (the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria) made landfall in the Bahamas and in March of 1493, he discovered the island of Hispaniola.Here, he encountered a large population of indigenous people, mainly Taino Indians, who lived mainly along the coast and rivers. Believed to be gods by the natives, the Taino Indians worshiped Columbus and his men and offered them gifts of ground provision and trinkets made of coral, bones and other materials. Christopher Columbus established a temporary settlement then returned to Spain with stories, Taino Indians, and souvenirs as proof of his discovery.
The Second Trip
Columbus returned to the settlement later that year and, upon discovering that it and the settlers had been destroyed, put his brother in charge of rebuilding the settlement with the help of the crew and enslaved Taino Indians. A few years later, in 1496, the current capital and the oldest European settlement in the western hemisphere, Santo Domingo, was established. Here, a system of forced labour called encomienda was installed where Spanish settlers called “encomienderos” were put in charge of a group of around thirty to three hundred Taino Indians who would work for them and in exchange the natives would be Christianized and protected.
This led to the death of a large portion of the Taino population as they were overworked, beaten, starved and susceptible to European diseases. This near extinction led to humanitarian intervention by Las Casas who suggested African slaves be used. In the 16th century the island was introduced to African slavery and thus sugar plantations and another system of forced
This led to the death of a large portion of the Taino population as they were overworked, beaten, starved and susceptible to European diseases. This near extinction led to humanitarian intervention by Las Casas who suggested African slaves be used. In the 16th century the island was introduced to African slavery and thus sugar plantations and another system of forced labour was introduced.
Hispaniola remained under Spanish rule for many years but in 1697, under the treaty of Ryswick, the western region was put under French rule and the eastern region under Spanish rule. Despite this understanding, the Dominican Republic withstood several attacks from the Haitians and during the period between 1795 and 1809, the island was ceded to France under the treaty of Basel. The Spanish on the island revolted and subsequently gained independence in 1804 from the French who retreated to the original western region conferred to them under the treaty of Ryswick. Despite being free from Haiti, it was not until 1809 till the Dominicans were in control.
This control was short-lived as the island was again converted to Spanish rule in 1809. This lasted until 1821 where a revolt headed by José Núñez de Cáceres gained the island independence from Spain. The island was then unified with Haiti for a period lasting ttwenty-twoyears and in 1844, the Dominican Republic was finally granted their independence. Again the island was restored to Spanish rule in 1862 by Dictator Pedro Santana who was later deposed. The following year the people revolted in a war which was dubbed the “War of Restoration”. The Spanish presence withdrew in 1867 and the island fell into a period of political and economical instability which subsequently led to United States intervention in 1916.
Dictatorship of Trujillo
In 1930, a dictator named Rafael L. Trujillo seized control of the nation and during this period and led a corrupt, self serving government. He was assassinated in 1961 due to his strict rule and blatant disregard for human rights and liberties. Despite serving the interest of himself and his family, he eliminated much of the Dominican Republic’s foreign debt and achieved economic progress for the nation. Following his death, civil war broke out and was quelled by US intervention, where another dictator took control of the territory. Since 1978 the island has been ruled by democratic governments. Following this, reforms were made and the Dominican Republic has major seen economic and human development.
Located in the West Indies on the eastern portion of the landmass known as “’Hispaniola’, between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, at 18.7357ºN and 70.1627ºW, the Dominican Republic is presently the second largest country in the Caribbean.
The Dominican Republic has an interesting topography, characterized by rivers and lakes, mountain ranges, and hill, low lying areas, and valleys, offshore islands, karsts, desert, forests, etc. making it one of the most scenic of the Caribbean islands.It also provides a habitat for a wide variety of animals including birds and humpback whales which the island is famous for.
Tropical Maritime Climate
Being so close to the equator and surrounded by the sea, the island experiences a tropical maritime climate which is described by some as an “endless summer”, with little variations in temperature and rainfall averages. However, on a local level, variations exist as a relief, vegetation, and height above sea level influence local weather patterns. For instance, the lowest temperatures are experienced at the peak of the Cordillera Central Mountains while the highest is experienced in the desert regions of the southwest. Rainfall is higher between the months of May to November, especially because of the June to November hurricane season experienced by the Caribbean region.
In 1844, following the island’s independence from Spain, the Constitution of the Dominican Republic was drafted in which there was a clear-cut separation of powers.A majority of the power was conferred upon the legislature who was in charge of appointing certain government officials, studying and approving laws assisting in judicial reviews, etc. In 1994 there was constitutional reform to ensure the independence of the jury. The judiciary is comprised of the Supreme Court and lower courts that administer justice and protect the rights of its citizens enshrined in the Constitution.
The Executive Branch
The executive branch of the government is in charge of overseeing the operations of the legislature and the judiciary. It is in this branch that the head of state (President) and the Commander-in-Chief of the Dominican Armed forces are found. National elections are held every four years on May 16 where candidates who wish to become president have to gain a majority vote of at least 50% plus one. The presidential duties/powers include the appointment and discharge of public officials, diplomatic relations, deployment of armed forces, suspension of basic rights in times of emergency, etc. Under the head of
The presidential duties/powers include the appointment and discharge of public officials, diplomatic relations, deployment of armed forces, suspension of basic rights in times of emergency, etc. Under the head of state there are ministers and sub-ministers who act under presidential command. On a local level, the 31 provinces of the Dominican Republic are headed by a governor, appointed by the president, who operates subject to his command. Mayors and municipal councils are in charge of the further administration of the country.
The duty of the military of the Dominican Republic is to defend the nation. It is the second largest in the Caribbean and consists of four infantry brigades and a combat support brigade, an air force consisting of three flying squadrons and a 30 vessel navy. The military also carries out anti-narcotics missions and also illegal immigration especially from Haiti with whom the country shares a border.
In terms of foreign relations, the Dominican Republic has a close relationship with Latin America and the United States of America (also Puerto Rico). It also has had successful diplomatic relations with most countries in the Western Hemisphere and old colonial powers. There are embassies and consulates in countries such as Argentina, India, Mexico, Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, etc.
Currency: Dominican Peso (RD$)
The Dominican Republic has the largest economy in the Caribbean and numerous trading partners such as the United States, Puerto Rico, China, Haiti, Mexico, Columbia, Venezuela, Brazil and Spain. The main economic activity of the Dominican Republic is tourism which generates more than one billion dollars a year due to the “island paradise” appeal and its historical significance. Most of the tourists to the island come from the United States, Europe, and Canada. This had led to major improvements in transport, communication, and infrastructure. This sector employs a majority of the workforce as tour guides, craftsmen, chefs, barbers, housekeepers; other hotel workers, etc are needed for the success of this sector.
Industrial Free Zones
Free Zone manufacturing of products such as garments, medical devices, nickel, sugar, tobacco, cement, steel, etc has played an important role in the economy of the country but has seen a decline due to competition from Central America and Asia. Poor electricity supply has also played a role in its decline.
Although it is not the mainstay of the economy of the Dominican Republic anymore, agriculture is still important and employs most of the unskilled laborers in the country. The Dominican Republic is the second largest producer of sugarcane in the Caribbean and tons of sugar is exported yearly.This generates a significant amount of revenue used to develop this and other industries. Other crops include cocoa, tobacco, coffee, rice, eggplants, tomatoes, pulses, dry beans, and peanuts.
Other economic activities include fishing, forestry, mining and retailing.
The tertiary sector contributes to more than 65 percent of the GDP while the secondary and primary sectors contribute around 20 and 12 percent respectively.
In the Dominican Republic, the infrastructure is unevenly distributed with much of it being optimal at tourist hotspots and along the coast while rural areas have little to none. Transportation to and from the island is had via airplane at one of the eight international airports and by cruise ship. Within the island, persons travel via public buses and cars, bicycles, small planes, and boats. There are five main highways which connect all major cities to major tourist areas and are accessible by public and private vehicles. Within Santo Domingo, a metro system has been implemented since 2008 which transports persons around this historic city.
Electricity is ubiquitous yet unreliable as there are several outages a year in rural areas and also in major cities. The energy supply is operated and owned by the government except in Las Terrenas where it is private-owned and therefore much more reliable.
Telecommunications in the Dominican Republic are dominated by Claro, Tricom, and Telecom who provide cell phone, landline and internet service. However, this service gets poor as you move away from tourist areas and other major cities and towns
Approximately 84% of persons in the Dominican Republic have access to improved water and sanitation when compared to earlier years, however, the service, in terms of quality, is unreliable due to poor condition of purification systems, low maintenance, minimal operations controls and overall inadequate, outdated equipment.
The depletion of groundwater and pollution has also impacted water supply and quality. The country has received aid directed towards improving water supply and sanitation from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the World Bank and the United States.
The Dominican Republic population today reflects its past indigenous Indian, African, Spanish and another European ancestry. A majority of the population is mixed/mulatto. Other ethnic groups include Africans, Chinese, Haitians, Japanese, White Dominicans, Indians, Jews, Ciguayos, Cocolo, Lebanese, Syrians, Palestinians, etc.
The official language of the Dominican Republic is Spanish. Local dialects are characterized by African and Arawakan influences and also the Canarian Spanish dialect. Other languages include French, Haitian Creole brought across by Haitian immigrants, English (Creole, Samaná), Arabic, Catalan, and Chinese.
Of the nearly 11 million people who reside in the Dominican Republic, around 2.25 million live in the capital city of Santa Domingo and its municipalities. The rest live in other major cities/towns such as Santiago de los Caballeros, Santiago, La Romana, San Pedro de Macorís, San Francisco de Macorís, San Cristóbal, Puerto Plata, la Vega, Bella Vista, Punta Cana etc. A majority of the population belongs to Christianity, predominantly the Roman Catholic denomination. Other denominations include Seventh Day Adventists, Evangelists, Baptists, Pentecostal, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc. Voodoo, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, and Islam are practiced to a lesser extent.
The increase in the Dominican Republic population is not only due to natural increase. It is partly because of migration. Migrants have come from all across the world to the Dominican Republic from Europe, Asia, North and South America, Africa and the Caribbean. The largest immigrant group in the Dominican Republic is the Haitians, most of which come to the country seeking a better standard of living, refuge, work, etc. This, however, has caused a strain on the resources of the country and has led to mass deportations. Citizens of the Dominican Republic migrate mainly to Puerto Rico and the United States, some legally but a large number illegally. Other receiving countries include Canada, England, Spain and other Caribbean countries.
Health care, although affordable, is generally poor on the island as much of the hospitals are overrun, understaffed and ill-equipped. There is one public health care facility for each province with three or four local clinics. Specialists are often times flown in from overseas and sometimes a person has to leave the island in order to receive special care.
Education in the Dominican Republic is based on western standards and is comprised mainly of private and public institutions at four levels namely pre-school, primary, and secondary and higher education.
Education is free and compulsory at the elementary level but not mandatory at the secondary level. There is also special education for persons with disabilities and also adults, sex ed, civic education and human rights education. Due to high population, however, public schools are overcrowded and understaffed. Private schools are of better quality but are expensive and therefore inaccessible to the lower class.
A majority of the crimes in the Dominican Republic are murder, illegal drug trade, robbery, credit card fraud or kidnapping. Crime rates remain high and slowly decrease over the years.
Architecture in the Dominican Republic reflects mainly European and Taino influences, much of which is seen in the older settlements such as Santa Domingo. Modern styles have dominated, however, due to the growth of the tourism industry.
The cuisine of the Dominican Republic is influenced by the island’s Spanish, African and Taino inhabitants. The type of cuisine may be described as comida criolla which takes aspects of Spanish and combines them with African and Taino culinary practices and methods in order to produce Creole dishes. Meals are usually comprised of starch, meats, legumes, vegetables, fruits and dairy. Spices and peppers are also used heavily during preparation.
Music and Dance
Music in the Dominican Republic is influenced mainly by West African customs, European traditions and native Taino practices. Popular for Merengue, this style of music is used during concerts, festivals, celebrations, on television and the radio, during worship, etc. It is also used heavily in other Latin countries and on the East Coast of the United States. Other forms of music are Bachata, Salsa and rap.
Fashion in the Dominican Republic is a fast growing aspect of its culture followed by the establishment of a fashion week, design school and increasing number of persons interested in this industry. Day to day fashion includes bright coloured clothes made from cotton, t-shirts, jeans, light jackets, sweaters , sandals and other open toed shoes, etc.
The national symbols of the Dominican Republic include the National Flag, the National Anthem, the National Bird(Palmchat) , the Coat of Arms/Shield, the National Stone(Amber), The National Flora(Mahogany) ,The National Dance(Merengue),The National Sport(Baseball),The National Poet(P. Valentine) and the National Hero(Juan Pablo Duarte)
The most popular sport in the Dominican Republic is baseball, followed by track and field, football, basketball, and boxing.