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Dominican Republic

Occupying the eastern two-thirds of the island named Hispaniola, the Dominican Republic is a beautiful country with one of the longest histories in the New World. Although inhabited originally by native Taino Indians, Hispaniola was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492. A year later, he established the first European colony in America - La Isabela. After several hundred years, the island is now shared relatively peacefully by the nations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

The Dominican Republic, whose capital is Santo Domingo, is home to over 8.5 million people and covers just under 19,000 square miles of the island of Hispaniola. Much of the DR's past concerns power struggles between the colonial presences of Spain and France, as well as between the sovereign states of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Originally exploited for its gold, Hispaniola quickly lost the interest of Spanish colonists when the mines began to run dry. Then, in the late 17th century, France took control of the western third of the island. For the next century, France developed this colony into the richest in the world - the wealth based on sugar production. The harvest and refining of sugarcane into sugar was carried out by African slaves who had been imported into the country.

In the late 18th century, following a slave revolt on the western third of the island, France abolished slavery. French and former-slave forces then attacked and occupied the eastern part of Hispaniola, bringing the Spanish colonies under French control. Control of the Dominican Republic was returned to Spain several years later - and thus began a pattern of back-and-forth that would last until 1844.

On February 27, 1844, the Dominican Republic officially declared its independence from Haiti. Although the borders never again shifted, unrest between the two nations would remain for many years. During the next chapter of its history, lasting some 70 years, the Dominican Republic experienced a series of civil wars punctuated by short periods of peace. Presidents and dictators leading the country were often corrupt and more often power-hungry. This instability paved the way for an American occupation of the country, which lasted from 1916-1924.

In 1930, one of the most vicious eras of the Dominican Republic began, when Raphael Leonidas Trujillo took power. By utilizing secret police, consolidating power, and essentially ruling the country with an iron fist, Trujillo led the country to a period of economic boon. As a consequence, however, civil liberty was quite demolished. In 1961, Trujillo's dictatorship was brought to an end with his execution.

Since Trujillo's reign, the Dominican Republic has been an essentially democratic country. Early presidents were guilty of corruption and nepotism, but recent politicians have been upstanding and refreshingly progressive. Presidential elections are held every four years. The next presidential election will be held May 16, 2004.

The economy of the Dominican Republic is based primarily on tourism and sugar refining. The gross domestic product of the country is around US$45 billion. The dependence on tourism is quite evident in La Romana, which serves as a port-of-call for cruise ships from around the world. The coastline is spotted with resort hotels, and an entire industry has been erected around foreign travelers. (see Dominican Republic Facts)


Looking at the history of the Dominican Republic, it is easy to see that Dominican culture is a melting-pot of backgrounds. Indian, slave, Spanish, and French influences have all played a role in developing the religion, music, food, and other cultural traditions of the country. Officially, the Dominican Republic is 95% Roman Catholic. Other religions include other Christian denominations, small pockets of Judaism, as well as Haitian Voodoo.

Popular music in the Dominican Republic is of three main types: merengue, bachata, and salsa. The music scene in the country is also strongly influenced by American pop.

Dominican food, sometimes surprising to travelers, is not spicy like other Caribbean cuisine. The Bandera Dominicana, or traditional meal, is white rice with stewed beans, stewed meat, and a side or salad. This is traditionally served at lunch, which is normally the heaviest meal of the day. This could explain why most everything in the country shuts down over the lunch hours, from noon until 2:00 PM.


Fun Facts
The Dominican preoccupation with baseball is most likely an artifact of the American occupation, during and after the first World War. Baseball is played in every corner of the country; in La Romana, the sugarcane fields are dotted with baseball diamonds. Also, many American major-leaguers return to the Dominican to play in the off-season.

The DR has been home to several Hollywood film crews. The Chavon river, which runs through the eastern part of La Romana, subbed for the African coast in Apocalypse Now. Additionally, the old city in Santo Domingo served as Cuba for the filming of the Godfather Part II.
The capitol, Santo Domingo, was home to the 2003 Pan-American Games.

Santo Domingo also hosted the NBA's first overseas exhibition match in 2003, with the then current president, Hipólito Mejía tossing up the tip-off.

National elections were held on May 16, 2004. The opponent of the current president, Hipolito Mejia, won the election by almost 20% of the votes. The new president is Leonel Fernandez of the PLD party. For more news about elections (in spanish), go to (the official elections webpage) or dr1 (in english) which offers information and updates on the current elections.