Dominican Republic - Encyclopedia Information
Official name Dominican Republic
Formation 1865 / 1865
Capital Santo Domingo
Population 10.2 million / 546 people per sq mile (211 people per sq km)
Total area 18,679 sq. miles (48,380 sq. km)
Languages Spanish*, French Creole
Religions Roman Catholic 95%, Other and nonreligious 5%
Ethnic mix Mixed race 73%, European 16%, Black African 11%
Government Presidential system
Currency Dominican Republic peso = 100 centavos
Literacy rate 88%
Calorie consumption 2263 kilocalories
When Columbus arrived on the island he named Hispaniola, he was welcomed by the Taínos, an Arawak Indian tribe, in 1492. Subsequently these harmonious conditions changed dramatically with the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, who controlled the region with an iron hand. African slaves were brought to the island in 1503 to work on the plantations to replace the indigenous peoples whose numbers had been decimated by overwork, warfare, and disease. Over the next century French settlers occupied the western end of the island and their hold strengthened as Spanish power declined.
By the late 17th century Spain was not as formidable as in the past, and the Treaty of Ryswick of 1697 formally ceded the western part of the island to France. Finally in 1804 the western end gained independence as the Republic of Haiti. But the French who had also held on to the eastern part of the island were ousted in the Battle of Palo Hincado on November 7, 1808, when Spanish settlers, with the help of the British Royal Navy, won the eastern part of the island back for Spain.
Spain, however, proved weak during the period known in history as “La España Boba,” “The Era of Foolish Spain.” In 1821 the Spanish settlers declared their territory an independent state. Haitian forces occupied the whole island just nine weeks later and held on to it for the next 22 years. On February 27, 1844, the Dominican Republic gained independence from Haiti. This was the culmination of a movement led by Juan Pablo Duarte while in exile. He is regarded as the hero of the Dominican independence movement. The first constitution of the Dominican Republic was adopted on November 6, 1844.
Spain reannexed the Dominican Republic in 1861, and the War of Restoration began in 1863.
Finally, independence was restored in 1865.
The next 50 years witnessed 28 revolutions and 35 governments. Economic difficulties, the threat of European intervention, and ongoing internal disorders led to the U.S. occupation of the Dominican Republic in 1916 and the establishment of a military government. The occupation ended in 1924, with the formation of a democratically elected Dominican government.
In 1930, Rafael Trujillo (1891–1961), a prominent army commander, established absolute political control over the country. Under his leadership, the Dominican Republic was the only country that openly allowed the entry of European Jews during the Holocaust of World War II. However in August 1960 the Organization of American States (OAS) imposed diplomatic sanctions against the Dominican Republic because of Trujillo’s complicity in an assassination attempt on President Rómulo Betancourt (1908–81) of Venezuela. These diplomatic sanctions remained in force even after Trujillo’s own assassination in May 1961. In November of the same year the Trujillo family was forced into exile in France.
Toward its end the Trujillo regime became associated with the excessive use of force, and this gave rise to powerful underground movements. One of them was the July 14 Movement. Three of its members the three sisters Minerva, Maria Teresa, and Patria Mirabal (known as the “Three Butterflies”) were imprisoned by Trujillo. International pressure secured their release, but they were assassinated by Trujillo’s men on November 25, 1960. This date is observed as the “International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women” in many Latin American countries.
Economic difficulties, coupled with problems in the delivery of basic services (including electricity, water, and transportation) have generated widespread discontent in the country. As a result there have been frequent and occasionally violent protests, including a paralyzing nationwide strike in June 1989. In 1990 President Joaquín Balaguer (1906–2002) instituted a second set of economic reforms. After concluding an IMF (International Monetary Fund) agreement, balancing the budget, and curtailing inflation, the Dominican Republic is experiencing a period of economic growth. The country has the largest gold mine in operation in the Caribbean.
GEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE
The Dominican Republic, a Caribbean representative democracy, occupies two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola, while Haiti occupies the remaining onethird.
A land of contrasts the Dominican Republic has towering mountains and rocky cliffs, rain forests, fertile valleys, cacti-studded desert terrain, 994 miles of coastline, and around 186 miles of prime soft sand beaches. The country is crossed by four rugged mountain ranges that bisect the country northwest to southeast. The largest range is the Cordillera Central with Pico Duarte, the tallest point in the Caribbean, rising over 10,416 feet. Three large fertile valleys rest between the ranges, one of which holds Lake Enriquillo in the southwest, the lowest point in the Caribbean, 131 feet below sea level and the only saltwater lake in the world inhabited by crocodiles.
The country enjoys a tropical maritime climate all the year round. The rainy season lasts from May to November, and the hurricane season from June through November.
Although the country has long been viewed primarily as an exporter of sugar, coffee, and tobacco, in recent years the service sector has overtaken agriculture as the economy’s largest employer, due largely to growth in tourism and free-trade zones. After growing in 2002 growth again turned negative in 2003 with reduced tourism, a major bank fraud, and limited growth in the U.S. economy (the source of 87 percent of export revenues).
The Dominican Republic is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labor. The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that 48,000 children are engaged in child labor in this country.
CULTURE AND LIFESTYLE
Because of several historical and sociopolitical factors Dominican society has evolved as a multicultural one. While Haiti is French in its customs and everyday life, the Dominican Republic reflects predominantly Latin American tastes and traditions.
Spanish settlers gave the country their language and the Roman Catholic faith. Similarly African, European, and American civilizations have all enriched and permeated Dominican culture.
Traditional Taíno foods and medicines are in use even today. Taíno words—for instance, hammock and tobacco—are used extensively. Music and dance form the core of Dominican culture. The most popular dance form is the merengue. A little more pastoral is the bachata—Dominican country music, which specializes in songs about heartbreak and loss.
Salsa would probably rank as the third most popular music of the Dominican Republic.
Dominican cuisine is rich and varied. The most common meal, known as la bandera (“the flag”), consists of rice, beans, meat, vegetables, and fritos versed (green plantain fritters). The Dominican sancocho is a derivative of the Spanish coccid (“stew”), and each region of the country has its own way of preparing it. Some of the regionally famous variations include Samana’s pescado con coco (fish with coconut sauce), chivo de Azua (a goat dish from Azua), and chivo liniero (a goat dish from the northwestern region), which has a unique taste because the goats feed on wild oregano. Consequently its meat gets seasoned while the animal is still alive.
The casabe (flat, round cassava bread) and catibias (cassava flour fritters stuffed with meat) are essentially Taíno foods that have come to form an integral part of the Dominican diet. Another dish the locrio is made with diverse ingredients; for this reason it is considered the most versatile dish of the native kitchen, allowing the chefs to create, with a little rice and whatever else is at hand (especially leftovers), an exquisite meal especially appealing to guests. Yaniqueques (“Johnny Cakes”) and mangú (a purée of boiled plantains) are also important items on this diverse local menu.
Marriage customs in the Dominican Republic are grounded in the Roman Catholic tradition that celebrates matrimony as a holy sacrament. The ceremony consists of three biblical readings, the exchange of vows and of rings, the prayer of the faithful, the nuptial blessing, and music. The wedding rings are exchanged after the vows. The best man gives the bride’s ring to the priest, who blesses it and gives it to the bridegroom. The groom then places it on the bride’s finger. This procedure is repeated with the groom’s ring. Brides can honor the Virgin Mary by presenting roses at her statue.
The priest then pronounces them husband and wife. There may be a Mass to conclude the ceremony.
Otherwise the celebration is completed with the Lord’s Prayer and a blessing.
Dominicans are deeply traditional in their approach to death, although customs may vary according to the individual, family, and church. Upon death the body of the deceased is thoroughly washed to cleanse him or her for the afterlife. Friends and family hold a wake at a funeral home on the second day after death.
A Catholic funeral is held either immediately after the wake or on the third day. The funeral service is often part of a Mass. The priest reads from the scriptures, leads the prayers, and administers Holy Communion. After the service, the family of the deceased hosts a funeral reception. A Mass marks the death anniversary one year later.