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Dominican Republic

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Dominican Republic, country in the West Indies, occupying the eastern two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola. The country of Haiti occupies the western third of the island. The 315-km (195-mi) frontier with Haiti also marks a cultural divide. The Dominican Republic was a colony of Spain for about three centuries, and most of its people are of mixed Spanish and African descent. Today, Dominicans speak Spanish and follow many Spanish traditions. The people of Haiti, by contrast, are primarily of African descent and French in their traditions. The name of the Dominican Republic in Spanish is Republica Dominicana.

Hispaniola is one of the islands where explorer Christopher Columbus landed on his first voyage across the Atlantic in 1492. The city of Santo Domingo was founded in 1496 by Columbus’s brother and is the oldest surviving European settlement in the Americas. Today, Santo Domingo is the capital of the Dominican Republic as well as its largest city.

The Dominican Republic has had a troubled history. It gained independence from Spain in 1821, but independence did not bring internal peace or economic prosperity. Between 1844 and 1930 it was beset by numerous revolutions, economic instability, and corruption in government. From 1930 to 1961 it came under the dictatorial control of Rafael Trujillo. Although Trujillo brought economic stability, he allowed no political freedom. From the late 1960s on, elected presidents have held office, but they have not been able to solve the Dominican Republic’s economic problems.

The Dominican Republic is a mountainous country with several areas of lowland plains. Plains along the southeastern coast are chiefly used for growing sugar. Sugar has long been the country’s chief product and chief export. Today, manufacturing and tourism also contribute to the country’s economy, but most of the people remain poor. The economy is vulnerable to world food prices and also to the hurricanes that periodically strike the country. Because of poverty, unemployment, and economic instability, many Dominicans have chosen to leave their country and seek a better life elsewhere.

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