The Dominican Republic

Location and Geography of the Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic in the West Indies shares the island  of Hispaniola with Haiti.  Haiti covering 3/8 of the island of Hispaniola, and the Dominican Republic the remainder.  Its border with Haiti is marked by a long mountain range with Pico Duarte its highest point at 3,175m (10,414ft).

The Atlantic Ocean runs along the northern coastline of the Dominican Republic and the Caribbean Sea washes onto the south coast of the republic.  The 130 km wide Mona Passage separates the country from Puerto Rico.

This fertile country has 17 national parks and science reserves, one of which, on the north coast, is the underwater reserve of Reserva Cientifica Banco de Plata where thousands of humpback whales can be seen during the winter months.

On the south coast is the Capital city of the Dominican Republic, Santo Domingo, which provides a harbour for the many ships cruising the Caribbean.  Santiago in the central north-west region is the second-largest city.

Climate of the Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic is known for its year-round summer weather, with temperatures averaging 25°C (77°F).  However, there are slight differences that mark the 2 main seasons.  What is considered winter, begins in November and ends in April.  During these months humidity is not as high as it is during other months of the year and evenings are cool.  Along the coast daytime highs can reach 28°C (83°F), but evenings cool down to around 20°C (68°F).  Up on the mountain peaks, temperatures have been known to plummet to below freezing.  The summer season is from May to October when humidity is at its highest.  Temperatures are usually around 31°C (87°F) in the day dropping to 22°C (72°F) during the night.

October through to April sees the highest rainfall in the north, while in the south the highest rainfall occurs between May and November.  However, short bursts of rainfall are experienced throughout the year with the occasional torrential downpour, however, it is rare for rain to fall for long periods, and most showers are more often than not, followed by the sunshine.

Hurricane season:

For the most part, the islands of the Caribbean lie within the hurricane belt and the same goes for the Dominican Republic where typically, hurricanes occur during August and September.

Brief History of the Dominican Republic

Prehistory  of Hispaniola

When the only inhabitants of the island were the Taíno people, the island was named both Quisqueya (mother of all lands) and Ayiti (land of high mountains).  Tribal chiefs ruled the island and by the time Christopher Columbus landed in 1492 there were 5 chiefs ruling over 5 demarcated tribal regions or chiefdoms.  Under Spanish rule during the 15th century, many of the indigenous people succumbed to the rigours of slavery so that by the mid-16th century there were only about 60,000 Taíno people left alive on the island.

Top things to do in the Dominican Republic

Spanish History

Christopher Columbus reached the island in December 1492 and named it Hispaniola but did not bring any settlers until his second voyage when Spanish settlers began the colony of La Isabela on the north-eastern shore.  This little colony suffered greatly from hunger and disease.  However the successful the settlement of Santo Domingo was soon started in 1496 it became the new capital of the island.

During the 16th century and as a result of the discovery of gold, the local Taiño people were enslaved by the Spanish and put to work in the gold mines.  Not only did they die of hunger and disease but also as a result of what amounted to an attempted genocide by the Spanish.

The number of slaves for the gold mines was supplemented with slaves imported from Africa.  Slave trade to the island began in 1503 and was accelerated in 1511 when even more slaves were needed on the newly founded sugarcane plantations.

The slaves on the islands were by no means docile and in 1522 the Spanish colonialists had to deal with the first slave uprising.  Although this uprising was soon quashed, many of the slaves managed to escape their captors and make a life for themselves up in the mountains and became known as cimarrónes (wild animals).  These escaped slaves soon formed lawless bands that often attacked the Spanish settlers.

The Spanish sugar industry on the island was undermined by Spanish maritime policies which came about as a result of the plunder of their ships by English and French pirates.  This policy limited the number of ships transporting the island’s sugar to Spain    However the final death knell came in 1564 when a massive earthquake hit the cities of Santiago de las Caballeros and Concepción de la Vega which totally destroyed both settlements.  Thereafter the Spanish settlers drifted away to Mexico and Peru where silver beckoned.

With no further importation of slaves, the remaining population of mainly mixed Spanish, African and Taíno extraction were left to eke out a living dealing in contraband and livestock.  Agriculture was reduced to the level of subsistence farming.  The poverty of the island, however, did not stop Francis Drake receiving a ransom from the Spanish for the island’s return after he captured it in 1586.

The impoverished islanders began a lively trade in contraband with the Dutch.  This trade greatly upset the mother country.  So much so that Spain instituted what today would be termed ‘a forced removal’ of the people:  Spain moved the people from the countryside and from other towns to areas around Santo Domingo, hoping that by so doing they could better control them and stop their illicit trading.  Known as the Devastation de Osorio,  this forced the removal of whole communities led to the complete destruction of many of the island’s settlements and mass starvation resulted.

Spain’s maritime policies were changed in the early 1700s under the House of Habsburg and its colonies began, once more, to flourish.  The population of Santo Domingo began to grow and by 1737 there were more than 40,000 white landowners, who  accounted for the approximately 6,000 slaves working on the plantations.  The remainder of the population were freedmen most of whom were of mixed descent – mulattos.

In 1791 Haiti was in a state of revolt and many of the wealthy fled the island.  The Haitian Revolution led to the French, British and Spanish fighting for control of the entire island. Spain lost and under the Treaty of Basel the French gained control of all of Haiti, but once again control did not last long.  In 1808 the French lost the eastern part of the island at the battle of Palo Hincado, and it reverted to Spain, and in 1821 Santo Domingo’s declared its independence.

Only one year later Santo Domingo was invaded by the Haitians.  Under the Haitian constitution, whites were forbidden to own land and previously white-owned plantations were seized, and the attempt at redistribution of land was unsuccessful. Haiti began to fall into chaos as the Haitian administration was too inefficient to bring order.  After a time of unrest and discontent, the Haitians were ousted and the Dominican Republic was formed in 1844.

The history of the republic is filled with periods of internal strife and foreign occupation including two periods under US control.  United States Marines landed on the island during the First World War, in 1916.  After the US occupation of Monte Cristi and Puerto Plata, the US imposed a military government on the island.  There followed a period of reform and a national road system was created.

However, there was a negative side to the military regime, as 1920 the authorities’ Land Registration Act, dispossessed many of the peasant farmers of their land and ensured that the land went to the big sugar companies.  The angry dispossessed peasants began a guerrilla war against the US military authorities which continued until finally the Hughes-Peynado Plan was negotiated and the US began its withdrawal from the island.  The US withdrawal was finally completed in 1924.

There followed a bloody period in the Dominican Republic during the era of Trujillo (Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molino) – 1931 – 1961

During his self-serving period in office, Trujillo was guilty of gross human rights violations and most particularly in 1937 when he ordered a massacre of Haitians which has gone into the history books as the Parsley Massacre. This mass killing of 17,000 Haitians was part of Trujillo’s policy to dominicanize the frontier and including the changing of Creole and French names of villages and towns to Spanish names.  Migrant Haitian labour was only permitted to enter the republic over the time of the sugar harvest.

Trujillo soon turned the island a personal enterprise designed to enrich the Trujillo family.  Mismanagement, corruption and self-enrichment marked this regime, which culminated in the assassination of Trujillo on May 30, 1961, and the entire Trujillo family went into exile France.  The US then intervened and in 1962 and a seven-member Council of State was established.  A number attempts at self-government met with failure until the US occupied the Dominican Republic in 1965, but the US only remained in the Republic until September 1966 when the past President Joaquin Balaguer was returned to power.  Balaguer was largely successful in restructuring the republic and ensuring GDP growth, based on guaranteed International markets for the republic’s sugar, foreign investment and a growing tourism Industry.  Balaguer lost the elections in 1978, but returned to power in 1986 and remained in power until 1996.

List of Presidents 1996 until today.

Antonio Guzmán Fernandez Partido Revolucionario Dominicano (PRD)   1978 – 1986

Joaquín Balaguer       Social Christian Reformist Party (PRSC)                    1986 – 1996

Hipólito Mejía                        Partido de la Liveración                                             2000- 2004

Antonio Guzmán Fernandez (2nd Administration)   PRD                             2004 – 2012

Danilo Medina           Dominican Liberation Party (PLD)                 2012  to the present:

Today, more than half of the population of the Dominican Republic make up New York’s largest group of remittance people, sending more than US$3 billion per year back to their families in the republic.

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