U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
BACKGROUND NOTES: DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
PUBLISHED BY THE BUREAU OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS
Official Name: Dominican Republic
Area: 48,442 sq. km. (18,704 sq. mi.), about the size of Vermont and
New Hampshire combined.
Cities: Capital--Santo Domingo (pop. 2.4 million). Other city--
Santiago de los Caballeros (500,000). Terrain: Mountainous.
Climate: Maritime tropical.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Dominican(s).
Population (1993): 7.6 million.
Annual growth rate: 2.1%.
Ethnic groups: European 16%, African origin 11%, mixed 73%.
Religion: Roman Catholic 95%.
Education: Years compulsory--6. Attendance--70%. Literacy--83%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--54/1,000. Life expectancy--65 yrs. for
men, 70 yrs. for women.
Workforce: Services and government--31% (includes parastatal
corporations). Agriculture--28%. Industry--12%. Unemployment--29%.
Type: Representative democracy. Independence: February 27, 1844.
Constitution: November 28, 1966.
Branches: Executive--president (chief of state and head of government),
vice president, cabinet. Legislative--bicameral Congress (Senate and
Chamber of Deputies). Judicial--Supreme Court of Justice.
Subdivisions: 29 provinces and the National District of Santo Domingo.
Political parties: Social Christian Reformist Party (PRSC), Dominican
Revolutionary Party (PRD), Dominican Liberation Party (PLD), Independent
Revolutionary Party (PRI), others.
Suffrage: Universal and compulsory, over 18 or married; military and
police may not vote.
GDP: $8.7 billion.
Growth rate (1993): 3% .
Per capita GDP: $1,065.
Natural resources (3% of GDP): Nickel, gold, silver.
Agriculture (13% of GDP): Products--sugar, coffee, cocoa, tobacco,
rice, plantains, beef, flowers.
Industry (24% of GDP): Types--sugar refining, pharmaceuticals, cement,
light manufacturing, off-shore assembly operations (esp. textiles),
construction. Services, transportation: 60% of GDP.
Trade: Exports (excluding processing zones)--$561 million: sugar,
coffee, gold, silver, ferronickel, cacao, tobacco, meats. Partners--
U.S., Netherlands. Imports--2.2 billion: foodstuffs, petroleum,
industrial raw materials, capital goods. Partners--U.S., Japan,
Germany, Venezuela, Mexico.
Exchange rate: U.S.$1=RD$14.
About 50% of the people live in rural and agricultural areas; many are
small landholders. Haitians form the largest foreign minority group,
with Spanish and West Indians the other important ethnic groups. About
60,000 U.S. citizens reside in the Dominican Republic, mostly around the
All religions are tolerated; the state religion is Roman Catholicism,
recognized formally in 1954, when a concordat with the Vatican was
The island of Hispaniola, of which the Dominican Republic forms the
eastern two-thirds and Haiti the remainder, was originally occupied by
members of the Taino tribe, a branch of Arawak-speaking people who may
have originated in South America. The people welcomed Columbus at the
end of his first voyage in 1492, but subsequent colonizers were brutal.
Colonial conditions reduced the Taino population from an estimated 1
million to about 500 in only 50 years. To ensure adequate labor for
plantations, the Spanish began bringing African slaves to the island in
In the next century, French settlers occupied the western end of the
island, which Spain ceded to France in 1697, and which in 1804 became
the Republic of Haiti. The Haitians conquered the whole island in 1822
and held it until 1844, when forces led by Juan Pablo Duarte, the hero
of Dominican independence, drove them out and established the Dominican
Republic as an independent state. In 1861, the Dominicans voluntarily
returned to the Spanish Empire; in 1865, independence was restored.
Economic difficulties, the threat of European intervention, and ongoing
internal disorders led to U.S. occupation in 1916 and the establishment
of a military government in the Dominican Republic. Occupation ended in
1924, with a democratically elected Dominican government.
In 1930, Rafael L. Trujillo, who had come to prominence as commander of
the army, took power and maintained absolute political control.
Trujillo promoted economic development from which he and his supporters
largely benefited as well as intervention in the affairs of neighboring
states and severe repression of domestic human rights. Mismanagement
and corruption resulted in major economic problems. In August 1960, the
Organization of American States (OAS) imposed diplomatic sanctions
against the Dominican Republic as a result of Trujillo's complicity in
an attempt to assassinate President Romulo Betancourt of Venezuela.
These sanctions remained in force after Trujillo's death by
assassination in May 1961. In November 1961, the Trujillo family was
forced into exile.
In January 1962, a council of state that included moderate opposition
elements with legislative and executive powers was formed. OAS
sanctions were lifted January 4, and, after the resignation of President
Joaquin Balaguer on January 16, the council, under President Rafael E.
Bonnelly, became the effective Dominican Government.
Following free elections in December 1962, Juan Bosch, of the Dominican
Revolutionary Party (PRD), was inaugurated President. Despite his
reform program and respect for human rights, conflicts arose between him
and various opposition groups, and bitter political controversy spread
nationwide. In September 1963, President Bosch was overthrown in a
Another military coup, on April 24, 1965, led to violence between
military elements favoring the return to government by Bosch--the
"constitutionalists"--and those who proposed a military junta committed
to early general elections--the "loyalists." On April 28, U.S. military
forces landed to protect U.S. citizens and to evacuate U.S. and other
foreign nationals. The situation in Santo Domingo deteriorated into
near anarchy. Communist leaders, many of whom were trained in Cuba,
threatened to take control of the revolutionary movement. More U.S.
forces landed on April 30 to prevent a complete communist takeover.
In June 1966, the government held elections witnessed by OAS observers.
Balaguer defeated Bosch for the presidency, receiving 57% of the vote.
President Balaguer, leader of the Reformist Party (now called the Social
Christian Reformist Party--PRSC), was then re-elected to office in May
1970 and May 1974, both times after major opposition parties withdrew
late in the campaign.
In the May 1978 election, Balaguer was defeated in his bid for a fourth
successive term by Antonio Guzman of the PRD. Guzman's inauguration on
August 16 marked the country's first peaceful transfer of power from one
freely elected president to another.
The PRD's presidential candidate, Salvador Jorge Blanco, won the 1982
elections, and the PRD gained a majority in both houses of Congress. In
an attempt to cure the ailing economy, the Jorge administration began to
implement economic adjustment and recovery policies, including an
austerity program in cooperation with the International Monetary Fund
(IMF). The rising costs of basic foodstuffs and public uncertainty
about austerity measures led, in April 1984, to several days of the
worst riots since the 1960s.
Balaguer returned to the presidency with electoral victories in 1986 and
1990. Upon taking office in 1986, Balaguer tried to reactivate the
economy through a public works construction program. It rallied
initially, but by 1988, slid into two of the worst economic years in
recent Dominican history, characterized by slow growth, inflation, and
currency devaluation. Economic difficulties, coupled with serious
problems in the delivery of basic services (e.g. electricity, water,
transportation), generated popular discontent that resulted in frequent
protests--occasionally violent--including a paralyzing nationwide strike
in June 1989.
In 1990, Balaguer instituted a second set of economic reforms. After
negotiating an agreement with the IMF, balancing the budget, and
curtailing inflation, the Dominican Republic is experiencing a period of
economic stability. It has been marked by low inflation, a balance-of-
payments surplus, and a leap in GDP.
Although the voting process itself in 1986 and 1990 was generally seen
as fair, allegations of election board fraud tainted both victories. A
commission of electoral advisers, designated by President Jorge and led
by the Archbishop of Santo Domingo, played an important role in keeping
the electoral process on track. The elections of 1994 were again marred
by charges of fraud. Following a compromise agreement calling for
constitutional and electoral reform, President Balaguer assumed office
for an abbreviated term.
The Dominican Republic has a stable, multiparty, political system with
national elections every four years. On May 16, 1994, nearly 90% of the
Dominican people went to the polls in the eighth national election since
the democratic process began in 1966. At stake were the presidency,
vice presidency, congressional seats, and the municipal positions--
mayors and council members. During the two years preceding the
election, a new voter registration system was implemented by the Central
Electoral Board (JCE), the independent body charged with administering
The four leading parties in 1994 were: the PRSC, tied to the
International Christian Democratic political movement, whose candidate
was President Joaquin Balaguer; PRD, affiliated with the Socialist
International, whose candidate was Jose Francisco Pena Gomez; the
Dominican Liberation Party (PLD), whose candidate was former President
Juan Bosch; and the Independent Revolutionary Party (PRI), whose
candidate was former President Jacobo Majluta. Many smaller groups
formed alliances with these parties.
On election day, international observers noted that many voters with
valid voter registration cards were prevented from voting because their
names did not appear on the voter lists used at the polls. The
opposition PRD immediately charged the Central Electoral Board and the
PRSC with fraudulently denying the vote to PRD supporters. A
Verification Commission appointed by the Central Electoral Board
confirmed that the names of voters which appeared on a registration list
two weeks before the election were missing from the lists used on
election day. By all estimates, the number of disenfranchised voters
far exceeded the 22,281-vote margin of victory announced in favor of
President Balaguer on August 2, 1994.
Following an intense period of protest and negotiation, the competing
political parties signed a "Pact for Democracy" on August 10, providing
for the inauguration of President Balaguer to an abbreviated term of
office, early elections, and constitutional reform. A new Central
Electoral Board was named at the end of October to begin work on
The Dominican Republic is a representative democracy whose national
powers are divided among independent executive, legislative, and
The president appoints the cabinet, executes laws passed by the
legislative branch, and is commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The
president and vice president run for office on the same ticket and are
elected by direct vote for four-year terms. President Balaguer's
current term is limited to two years.
Legislative power is exercised by a bicameral Congress. The Senate is
composed of 30 members--one for each province and the National District
of Santo Domingo. The Chamber of Deputies has 120 members--a minimum of
two from each province and/or one for each 50,000 inhabitants or
fraction above 25,000. Congressional, municipal, and presidential
elections are held simultaneously.
The nine-member Supreme Court of Justice is appointed by the Senate.
The Court has sole jurisdiction over actions against the president and
members of Congress and hears appeals from lower courts. The "Pact for
Democracy" calls for a constitutional amendment to provide the judicial
branch more independence from the Senate.
Each of the 29 provinces is headed by a presidentially appointed
governor. Elected mayors and municipal councils administer the National
District (Santo Domingo) and the 103 municipal districts.
The military consists of about 24,000 active-duty personnel, commanded
by the president. Its principal mission is to defend the nation, but it
serves more as an internal security force. The army, twice as large as
the other services combined, consists of four infantry brigades and a
combat support brigade; the air force operates three flying squadrons;
and the navy maintains 30 aging vessels. The Dominican Republic's
military is second in size to Cuba's in the Caribbean.
The armed forces participate fully in counternarcotics efforts. They
are also active in efforts to control contraband and illegal immigration
from Haiti to the Dominican Republic and from the Dominican Republic to
the United States.
Principal Government Officials
President--Joaquin BALAGUER Ricardo
Foreign Minister--Carlos MORALES Troncoso
Ambassador to the United States--Jose del Carmen ARIZA Gomez
Ambassador to the United Nations--Pedro BLANDINO Espaillat
Ambassador to the OAS--Eladio KNIPPING Victoria
The Dominican Republic maintains an embassy in the United States at 1715
22nd Street NW, Washington, DC 20008
The Dominican Republic is a middle-income developing country primarily
dependent on agriculture, trade, and services, especially tourism.
Although the service sector has recently overtaken agriculture as the
leading employer of Dominicans, agriculture remains the most important
sector in terms of domestic consumption and is in second place (behind
mining) in terms of export earnings. Tourism accounts for almost $1
billion in annual earnings and, along with exports from the export-
processing zones, represents the main growth area. Remittances from
Dominicans living in the United States are estimated to be about $1
million per year.
Following economic turmoil in the late 1980s and early 1990, during
which the GDP fell by up to 5% and consumer price inflation reached an
unprecedented 100%, a series of governmental reforms have stabilized the
economy. This stabilization was marked by a 3% increase in GDP and an
inflation rate of 5% in 1993. Increased government spending in 1994 led
to increased inflationary and currency pressures, but the economy
appears to be under control. End-of-year inflation is estimated at 10%-
15%, and the unofficial value of the peso may drop as much as 15% for
the year. Stabilization is accredited primarily to the elimination of
budget deficits that had been fueling inflation. However, the money
supply grew at a rate of 16.6% in 1993, and there is potential for
higher growth and inflationary pressure if it is not centrally guided.
Large trade deficits in 1992 and 1993 also are cause for concern. In
addition, economic observers do not believe that the trend of region-
wide capital inflow (stimulated by low interest rates in the United
States) can be maintained in the long term. Foreign reserves dropped
sharply in the first six months of 1994.
The Dominican Republic has made slow progress in resolving its foreign
debt problems. The government has about $4.6 billion in foreign debt;
about 75% of this is owed to foreign governments or international
financial institutions. In November 1991, the government concluded
Paris Club debt rescheduling negotiations with its foreign government
creditors, but the Dominican Government did not put these agreements
into effect until November 1993. Negotiations for a commercial bank
debt settlement experienced similar delays in 1993 and 1994.
The outlook for the Dominican economy depends largely on two factors:
the government's ability to maintain policies conducive to continued
macroeconomic stability and society's ability to adapt to the
requirements of an increasingly competitive global marketplace. Issues
facing decision-makers include proposals for investment climate reform
and, in general, reduction of the government's dependence on taxes on
international trade to generate revenue. Draft legislation for a
financial monetary code, foreign investment law, and export promotion
law all rest with the Congress. If passed, each of these laws would
rationalize the investment climate for foreign investors and lay the
groundwork for NAFTA accession. The free trade zones, where most U.S.
investment is located, are still characterized by preferential business
The Dominican Republic associates closely with the United States and
with the other states of the inter-American system. It has accredited
diplomatic missions in most Western Hemisphere countries and in
principal European capitals. It does not maintain diplomatic relations
with Cuba, although there is contact in fields such as commerce,
culture, and sports. Dominican relations with its closest neighbor, the
Republic of Haiti, have never been extensive. The Haitian community
resident in the Dominican Republic, made up mostly of illegal immigrants
seeking greater economic opportunities, is estimated to include several
hundred thousand people.
The Dominican Republic belongs to the UN and some of its specialized and
related agencies, including the World Bank, International Monetary Fund
(IMF), International Labor Organization (ILO), International Atomic
Energy Agency (IAEA), and International Civil Aviation Organization
(ICAO); the Organization of American States (OAS); and the Inter-
American Development Bank; and INTELSAT.
U.S.-DOMINICAN REPUBLIC RELATIONS
The United States has excellent relations with the Dominican Republic.
U.S. policy is based on the principle of cooperation in international
affairs, including appropriate support for the Dominican Republic's
economic development program. In recent years, USAID has funded
projects on electrical energy restructuring and the development of
microenterprises. In addition, bilateral trade is important to both
countries, and U.S. firms, mostly apparel, footwear, and light
electronics manufacturers, account for nearly all foreign private
investment in the Dominican Republic. One important element of the
bilateral relationship between the two countries is the Dominican
community residing in the United States. According to some estimates, 1
million Dominicans live in the United States, the majority in New York
The Dominican Republic supported efforts by the United States to
implement UN Security Resolution 940, designed to facilitate the
departure of Haiti's de facto authorities from power. On August 1,
1994, the Dominican Republic signed an memorandum of understanding for a
Multinational Observer Group to monitor the enforcement of the embargo
along the Dominican-Haitian border.
Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador--Donna J. Hrinak
Deputy Chief of Mission--Cristobal Orozco
USAID Mission Director--Marilyn Zak
Consul General--Brooke Holmes
Political Counselor--Dennis Linskey
Public Affairs Adviser (USIA)--Cesar Beltran
Commercial Counselor (DOC/FCS)--Robert Bucalo
Defense Attache--Lt. Col. Bruce Gridley
The U.S. embassy is located at Calle Cesar Nicolas Penson and Calle
Leopoldo Navarro, Santo Domingo (tel. 809-221-2171).
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