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Dominican Republic


Dominican currency, Bartholomew Columbus, Dominican civil war, Taino people, Treaty of Ryswick

Deeper web pages:

>  Shifting Rule

>  A Period of Strife

>  The Trujillo Era

>  Democracy Restored—and Toppled

>  The PRD Wins Power

Christopher Columbus landed in 1492 at the island he called Isla Espanola (Spanish Island), a name that later turned into Hispaniola. He left about 40 men at a fort, La Navidad, that he built in what is now northern Haiti. On his return in 1493 he found that the settlement had been wiped out by natives. Columbus established a new settlement farther east, near present-day Puerto Plata, and left his brother Bartholomew in charge while he continued his voyage. In 1496 Bartholomew Columbus, acting on instructions from his brother, founded the city of Santo Domingo on the southern coast. It became the first permanent settlement established by Europeans in the Americas.

The native inhabitants whom Columbus encountered on his arrival in Hispaniola were Arawak-speaking Taino people. The Taino lived in villages, headed by chiefs, and engaged principally in farming and fishing. By the mid-1500s the Taino people had died out in the Dominican Republic as a result of smallpox and brutal treatment by the Spanish settlers who tried to enslave them. In the late 1990s the paved plazas and walls of a large Taino city were uncovered in the Dominican Republic’s East National Park.

After the Taino people died out, the Spanish brought Africans into Hispaniola to work as slaves in place of the Taino laborers. In time the Spanish settlers migrated from Hispaniola to South America, and for about a century the island was sparsely populated. Although Spain claimed the entire island of Hispaniola, the Spanish were unable to prevent French encroachment on the western end. In 1697, by the Treaty of Ryswick, the western third of Hispaniola was formally ceded to France and became known as Saint-Domingue; it is now Haiti. The remaining Spanish section of the island was called Santo Domingo. It is now the Dominican Republic.

The United States Intervenes

Throughout 1964 restlessness within the country was manifested by strikes and sabotage and by conflicts within the junta. In 1965 a group within the army rebelled against the government with the avowed purpose of restoring Bosch as president. Air force and navy elements opposed the insurgents, and Santo Domingo became the battleground of a civil war. The United States landed troops, at first under the guise of protecting American citizens and other foreign nationals in Santo Domingo. Later, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson defended the intervention by claiming that communist elements were attempting to take control of the rebel movement.

The Balaguer Government

In May 1965 the OAS arranged a cease-fire in the Dominican civil war and established an inter-American peacekeeping force. U.S. Marines were withdrawn. Negotiations were held to establish a Dominican government that would be acceptable to both the loyalists and the rebels (who called themselves “constitutionalists” to indicate their desire to restore the constitutionally elected government of Bosch). Hector Garcia-Godoy, former foreign minister under Bosch, assumed the presidency in September.

A presidential election was held in 1966, which former president Balaguer, a conservative, won. His administration, although not entirely democratic, restored relative stability to the country. The economy showed strength, aided by high sugar prices, foreign investment, and increased tourism, enabling Balaguer to win reelection easily in 1970 and 1974. The Partido Revolucionario Dominicano (PRD), led by Bosch, boycotted both elections, charging restrictions on its campaign activities.

Bank Collapse and Ouster of Mejia

Mejia served only one term. In the 2004 presidential election he was defeated by Fernandez, who ran again as the candidate of the PLD. Mejia’s term was marked by the collapse of Banco Intercontinental, the country’s second-largest bank. His decision to bail out the bank’s depositors, many of whom were wealthy supporters of the PRD, reportedly caused the devaluation of the Dominican currency and led to an additional $2 billion in foreign debt. The resulting economic crisis, one of the worst in decades, saw a rise in food prices, an unemployment rate of 17 percent, and frequent electricity shortages. To resolve the crisis and to qualify for badly needed loans from the International Monetary Fund, Fernandez was expected to cut government payrolls and impose other austerity measures.

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