U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Dominican Republic, April 1997
Released by the Bureau of Inter-American Affairs.
Official Name: Dominican Republic
Area: 48,442 sq. km. (18,704 sq. mi), about the size of Vermont and New
Cities: Capital--Santo Domingo (pop. 2.4 million). Other city-Santiago
de los Caballeros (500,000).
Climate: Maritime tropical.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Dominican(s).
Population (1995): 7.9 million.
Annual growth rate: 2%.
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 years for
men, 70 years for women.
Workforce: Services and government--31% (includes parastatal
corporations), agriculture--28%, industry--12%.
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 (PRI), numerous others.
Suffrage: Universal and compulsory, over 18 or married.
GDP: $12.4 billion.
Growth rate (1995): 7.3%.
Per capita GDP: $1,600.
Non-fuel minerals (3% of GDP): Nickel, gold, silver.
Agriculture (13% of GDP): Products--sugar, coffee, cocoa, bananas,
tobacco, rice, plantains, beef, flowers.
Industry (24% of GDP): Types--sugar refining, pharmaceuticals, cement,
light manufacturing, construction. Services, including off-shore
assembly operations (esp. textiles), and transportation: 60% of GDP.
Trade: (1996) Exports (excluding processing zones)--$561 million: sugar,
coffee, gold, silver, ferronickel, cacao, tobacco, meats. Markets--U.S.
(65%), Netherlands. Imports--2.2 billion: foodstuffs, petroleum,
industrial raw materials, capital goods. Suppliers--U.S. (65%), Japan,
Germany, Venezuela, Mexico.
Exchange rate: U.S. $1=RD$14.
The U.S. has a strong interest in a democratic, stable and economically
healthy Dominican Republic. Its standing as the largest Caribbean
economy, the second largest in terms of population and landmass, and its
proximity to the United States and other smaller Caribbean nations make
the Dominican Republic an important partner in hemispheric affairs. U.S.
relations with the Dominican Republic are excellent, and the U.S. has
been an outspoken supporter of that country's democratic and economic
development. In addition, the Dominican Government has been supportive
of many U.S. initiatives in the United Nations and related agencies. The
two governments cooperate in the fight against the traffic in illegal
substances. The Dominican Republic has worked closely with U.S. law
enforcement officials on issues such as the return of stolen cars to the
U.S. and reducing illegal migration. The U.S. also supports the current
administration's efforts to open the economy to more trade, increase
foreign private investment, privatize state-owned firms, and modernize
the tax system.
Bilateral trade is important to both countries, and U.S. firms, mostly
apparel, footwear, and light electronics manufacturers, account for much
of the foreign private investment in the Dominican Republic. U.S.
exports to the Dominican Republic in 1996 totaled $3.8 billion, and
constituted 65% of that country's imports. The Dominican Republic
exported $3.7 million to the U.S. in 1996, equaling approximately 65% of
its exports. NAFTA has not caused any profound changes in Dominican
trade with the U.S. The U.S. embassy works closely with U.S. business
firms and Dominican trade groups, both of which can take advantage of
the new opportunities in this growing market. At the same time, the
embassy is working with the Dominican Government to resolve outstanding
disputes U.S. firms have with the government as result of actions by
The embassy counsels U.S. firms through its written Country Commercial
Guide and informally via meetings with businesspersons planning to or
already investing in the Dominican Republic. It is a challenging
business environment for U.S. firms, although agile exporters and
investors can profit doing business in the Dominican Republic.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) mission is focused
on four areas: availability of health care, increasing economic
opportunity, improving participation in democratic processes, and
environmentally sound energy production. About 90% of USAID resources
are channeled through non-governmental organizations for reasons of
The embassy estimates that 60,000 U.S. citizens live in the Dominican
Republic although precise figures are unavailable; many are dual
nationals. An important element of the relationship between the two
countries is the more than 1 million Dominicans residing in the U.S. The
majority of Dominicans live in metropolitan New York City.
About half of Dominicans live in rural areas; many are small
landholders. Haitians form the largest foreign minority group, with
Spanish and West Indians the other important ethnic groups. All
religions are tolerated; the state religion is Roman Catholicism.
The island of Hispaniola, of which the Dominican Republic forms the
eastern two-thirds and Haiti the remainder, was originally occupied by
Tainos, an Arawak-speaking people. The Tainos welcomed Columbus in his
first voyage in 1492, but subsequent colonizers were brutal, reducing
the Taino population from about 1 million to about 500 in 50 years. To
ensure adequate labor for plantations the Spanish brought African slaves
to the island beginning in 1503.
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 a U.S. occupation in 1916 and the
establishment of a military government in the Dominican Republic. The
occupation ended in 1924, with a democratically elected Dominican
In 1930, Rafael L. Trujillo, a prominent army commander, established
absolute political control. Trujillo promoted economic development from
which he and his supporters benefitted, 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
headed the Dominican Government. In 1963 Juan Bosch was inaugurated
President. Bosch was overthrown in a military coup in September 1963.
Another military coup, on April 24, 1965, led to violence between
military elements favoring the return to government by Bosch and those
who proposed a military junta committed to early general elections. On
April 28, U.S. military forces landed to protect U.S. citizens and to
evacuate U.S. and other foreign nationals. Additional U.S. forces
subsequently established order.
In June 1966, President Balaguer, leader of the Reformist Party (now
called the Social Christian Reformist Party--PRSC), was elected and then
re-elected to office in May 1970 and May 1974, both times after the
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). In April 1984 rising prices of basic foodstuffs and uncertainty
about austerity measures led to riots.
Balaguer was 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. Nonetheless, by
1988 the country slid into a two year economic depression, characterized
by high inflation and currency devaluation. Economic difficulties,
coupled with 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
concluding an IMF agreement, balancing the budget, and curtailing
inflation, the Dominican Republic is experiencing a period of economic
growth marked by low inflation, a balance in external accounts, and a
steadily increasing GDP.
The voting process in 1986 and 1990 was generally seen as fair, but
allegations of electoral 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 calling for constitutional
and electoral reform, President Balaguer assumed office for an
abbreviated term. In June 1996 Leonel Fernandez Reyna was elected to a
four year term as president.
The Dominican Republic has a multiparty political system with national
elections every four years. In two rounds of presidential elections in
1996 nearly 80% of eligible Dominican voters went to the polls.
The leading parties in 1994 were: the PRSC, linked to the International
Christian Democratic political movement, whose candidate was President
Joaquin Balaguer; the 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.
On election day, international observers noted many irregularities in
the voter lists and the opposition PRD immediately charged the Central
Electoral Board and the PRSC with fraud. A Verification Commission
appointed by the Central Electoral Board, however, did not accept the
PRD's charges. By all estimates, total disenfranchised voters far
exceeded the 22,281-vote margin of victory in favor of President
Balaguer on August 2, 1994.
Following an intense period of political activity, the competing
political parties signed a Pact for Democracy on August 10, reducing
President Balaguer's term of office from four to two years, setting
early elections, and reforming the constitution. A new Central Electoral
Board was named to work on electoral reform.
The main candidates in 1996 were: Vice-president Jacinto Peynado (PRSC);
Jose Francisco Pena Gomez (PRD); and Leonel Fernandez (PLD).
Domestic and international observers saw the 1996 election as
transparent and fair. After the first round in which Jacinto Peynado
(PRSC) was eliminated, President Balaguer endorsed the PLD candidate.
Results in the second round, 45 days later on June 30, were tabulated
quickly and although the victory margin was narrow (1.5%), it was never
questioned. The transition from incumbent administration to incoming
administration was smooth, and ushered in a new, modern era in Dominican
Fernandez' political agenda is one of economic and judicial reform. He
intends to enhance Dominican participation in hemispheric affairs, such
as the Organization of American States and the follow up to the Miami
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.
Legislative power is exercised by a bicameral congress--the senate (30
members) and the chamber of deputies (120 members). Presidential
elections are held in years evenly divisible by four. Congressional and
municipal elections are held in even numbered years not divisible by
Under the constitutional reforms negotiated after the 1994 elections,
the nine-member Supreme Court of Justice is appointed by a National
Judicial Council which is nominated by all three branches. The Court has
sole jurisdiction over actions against the president and members of
Congress and hears appeals from lower courts. The Supreme Court chooses
members of lower courts.
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--Leonel FERNANDEZ Reyna
Foreign Minister--Eduardo La Torre
Ambassador to the United States--Bernardo Vega
Ambassador to the United Nations--Jose Castillo (designated)
Ambassador to the OAS--Flavio Dario ESPINAL
The Dominican Republic maintains an embassy in the United States at
1715-22nd Street NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-332-6280).
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 (due principally to growth in tourism and
Free Trade Zones), 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 over $1 billion in annual
earnings. Free Trade Zone earnings and tourism are the fastest growing
export sectors. Remittances from Dominicans living in the United States
are estimated to be about $1.1 billion per year.
Following economic turmoil in the late 1980s and 1990, during which the
GDP fell by up to 5% and consumer price inflation reached an
unprecedented 100%, the Dominican Republic entered a period of moderate
growth and declining inflation. GDP in 1995 grew by 4.5% while the
inflation rate was 9%. Data for 1996 show inflation falling to an
annualized rate of 4% and GDP growth at about 7.3%.
Despite a widening merchandise trade deficit, tourism earnings and
remittances have helped build foreign exchange reserves. The Dominican
Republic is current on foreign private debt, although it has accumulated
arrears of about $130 million to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's
Commodity Credit Corporation.
The new government faces several economic policy challenges: high real
interest rates, fiscal imbalances caused by money losing public
enterprises and poor tax collection rates, and reducing dependence on
taxes on international trade. Years of tariff protection for domestic
production have left the economy vulnerable in a rapidly integrating
global economy. The deteriorating non-free trade zone merchandise trade
balance is in part due to the failure of the exchange rate to reflect
inflationary trends in the 1993-95 period.
The Dominican Republic has a close relationship 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. There is a
sizeable Haitian migrant community in the Dominican Republic.
The Dominican Republic belongs to the UN and many 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). It is also a member of the Organization of American States
(OAS), the Inter-American Development Bank, and INTELSAT.
U.S.-Dominican Republic Relations
Principal U.S. Officials:
Ambassador--Donna J. Hrinak
Deputy Chief of Mission--Cristobal Orozco
USAID Mission Director--Marilyn Zak
Consul General--Brooke Holmes
Economic/Political Counselor--Milton Drucker
Public Affairs Adviser (USIA)--Cesar Beltran
Commercial Counselor (DOC/FCS)--Robert Bucalo
Defense Attache--Lt. Col. Jeffrey Kammerer, USMC
The U.S. Embassy is located at Calle Cesar Nicolas Penson and Calle
Leopoldo Navarro, Santo Domingo (tel. 809-221-2171).
OTHER CONTACT INFORMATION:
U.S. Department of Commerce
International Trade Administration
Office of Latin America and the Caribbean
14th and Constitution,
NW Washington, DC 20230
Tel: (202) 482-0704; (800) USA-TRADE
Fax: (202) 482-0464
Caribbean/Latin American Action
1818 N. Street, NW, Suite 310
Washington, DC 20036
Tel: (202) 466-7464 Fax: (202) 822-0075
American Chamber of Commerce in the Dominican Republic Torre B.H.D.
Avenida Winston Churchill P.O. Box 95-2 Santo Domingo, Dominican
Republic Tel: (809) 544-2222 Fax: (809) 544-0502 E-mail:
Home Page: http://www.codetel.net.do/amcham
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides
Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets. Travel Warnings are
issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel
to a certain country. Consular Information Sheets exist for all
countries and include information on immigration practices, currency
regulations, health conditions, areas of instability, crime and
security, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. posts in
the country. Public Announcements are issued as a means to disseminate
information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-
term conditions overseas which pose significant risks to the security of
American travelers. Free copies of this information are available by
calling the Bureau of Consular Affairs at 202-647-5225 or via the fax-
on-demand system: 202-647-3000. Travel Warnings and Consular Information
Sheets also are available on the Consular Affairs Internet home page:
http://travel.state.gov and the Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB).
To access CABB, dial the modem number: (301-946-4400 (it will
accommodate up to 33,600 bps), set terminal communications program to N-
8-1 (no parity, 8 bits, 1 stop bit); and terminal emulation to VT100.
The login is travel and the password is info (Note: Lower case is
required). The CABB also carries international security information from
the Overseas Security Advisory Council and Department's Bureau of
Diplomatic Security. Consular Affairs Trips for Travelers publication
series, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a
safe trip abroad, can be purchased from the Superintendent of Documents,
U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-
7954; telephone: 202-512-1800; fax 202-512-2250.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be
obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-
5225. For after-hours emergencies, Sundays and holidays, call 202-647-
Passport Services information can be obtained by calling the 24-hour, 7-
day a week automated system ($.35 per minute) or live operators 8 a.m.
to 8 p.m. (EST) Monday-Friday ($1.05 per minute). The number is 1-900-
225-5674 (TDD: 1-900-225-7778). Major credit card users (for a flat rate
of $4.95) may call 1-888-362-8668 (TDD: 1-888-498-3648)
Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at
(404) 332-4559 gives the most recent health advisories, immunization
recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water
safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled Health Information
for International Travel (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is
available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC
20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency and
customs regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest to
travelers also may be obtained before your departure from a country's
embassy and/or consulates in the U.S. (for this country, see Principal
Government Officials listing in this publication).
U.S. citizens who are long-term visitors or traveling in dangerous
areas, are encouraged to register at the U.S. embassy upon arrival in a
country (see Principal U.S. Embassy Officials listing in this
publication). This may help family members contact you in case of an
Further Electronic Information:
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the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O.
Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-1800 or
fax (202) 512-2250.
National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department of
Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related information,
including Country Commercial Guides. It is available on the Internet
(www.stat-usa.gov) and on CD-ROM. Call the NTDB Help-Line at (202) 482-
1986 for more information.
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