U.S. Department of State 
Background Notes: Dominican Republic, April 1997
Released by the Bureau of Inter-American Affairs.

Official Name: Dominican Republic

PROFILE

GEOGRAPHY

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.

PEOPLE

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%.
Language: Spanish.
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%.
Unemployment--approximately 29%.

GOVERNMENT

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.

ECONOMY (1996)
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. 

U.S. POLICY

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 
previous administrations.

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 
efficiency.

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.

PEOPLE

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.

HISTORICAL HIGHLIGHTS

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 
Government.

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.

POLITICAL CONDITIONS

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 
political life.

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 
Summit.

GOVERNMENT

The Dominican Republic is a representative democracy whose national 
powers are divided among independent executive, legislative, and 
judicial branches.

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 
four. 

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.

NATIONAL SECURITY

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).

ECONOMY

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.

FOREIGN RELATIONS

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: 
amchamcodetel.net.do 
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-
4000. 

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 
emergency. 

Further Electronic Information: 

Department of State Foreign Affairs Network. Available on the Internet, 
DOSFAN provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy 
information. Updated daily, DOSFAN includes Background Notes; Dispatch, 
the official magazine of U.S. foreign policy; daily press briefings; 
directories of key officers of foreign service posts; etc. DOSFAN's 
World Wide Web site is at http://www.state.gov; this site has a link to 
the DOSFAN Gopher Research Collection, which also is accessible at 
gopher://gopher.state.gov.

U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published on a semi-annual basis 
by the U.S. Department of State, USFAC archives information on the 
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network, and includes an array of 
official foreign policy information from 1990 to the present. Contact 
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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