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DOMINICAN OVERVIEW & HISTORICAL SUMMARY


Population statistics--The Dominican Republic today has a population of approximately 9 million people, the majority of whom are criollos, a biological mixture of Indians, Europeans and Africans; the official census lists the population as being 73% mixed, 16% white, and 11% black. It is an urban nation (61% of the Dominican population lives in an urban environment) with an 80% literacy rate. Approximately 2 million Dominicans live in the capital city of Santo Domingo de Guzmán. The second-largest city is Santiago de los Caballeros, with a population of 700,000, followed by San Cristóbal with 410,000, La Vega with 335,000, Puerto Plata with 255,000, Duarte with 272,000, and San Pedro de Macoris with 213,000. 

Religion and Politics--The vast majority of Dominicans are Roman Catholic (95%), but some regions of the country have historically significant Protestant populations (Samaná and San Pedro de Macorís, for example), and Sosua has an historically significant population of Jews. In recent decades, evangelical sects like the 7th Day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses have been gaining converts all over the country, as have the Mormons, who are just now finishing construction of a huge temple in the Capital. Listen! What's that drumming and tinkling? It's a group of robed and barefoot Hari Krishnas dancing their way down the Conde.... There is complete freedom of religion here in the Dominican Republic. 

Politics is the favorite topic at most cafés and street corners (next to discussing women, that is), and fills the daily news. A democracy, the Dominican government is divided into three branches, like that of the U.S.A.: Executive, Legislative and Judicial. The president selects the provincial governors, who are his representatives there, but the balance of the provincial and municipal councils are filled with locally elected officials. 

Presidential elections take place every four years.  The current president is Hipólito Mejía, of the “white” party, the peoples’ party, who replaced Dr. Leonel Fernández in August of 2000—it is against the Dominican constitution for anyone to be in the presidential office two terms in a row, but the current administration is trying to change that part of the Constitution before the elections of 2004. 

I overheard a tour guide joke that there are as many political parties as there are Dominicans. That sometimes doesn't seem too far from the truth. The most powerful since the 1960s, however, has been the PRSC (Partido Reformista Social Cristiano, "Social Christian Reform Party"), Dr. Joaquín Balaguer's party. Balaguer is now in his 90s. He is blind. He has been president seven times and, at others, has been the "puppeteer" behind other presidents. He was one of the leading candidates in the presidential election of 2000 and has told the press over and over that he plans to run again in 2004!  Politics is a persistant force in Dominican life, and, as you can see by Balaguer’s example, Dominican politicians are persistant.

EconomyThe Dominican Republic is a poor country, with a Gross National Product per capita income of approximately US$1,600.  This amount, however, is lopsidedly distributed among a very small elite composed of business owners, professionals and foreign nationals, while the vast majority of Dominicans remain well below recognized poverty levels.  There is a very small middle class, but, as in other Latin American and Caribbean countries, it is slowly growing bigger and stronger.

(See “Jobs” in the MODERN DOMINICAN CULTURE section that follows.)

The economic emphasis of the Dominican Republic has changed several times in the past 500 years.  An early emphasis on gold mining quickly changed to sugar cane by the 1520s, then to cattle raising and tobacco, where it remained for several centuries, though sugar made a brief comeback just before the Haitian Revolution.  Inordinately high sugar prices at the turn of the 20th century re-set the clock, bringing back the sugarcane ingenios.  Today, however, the number one industry is tourism, followed by communications, agriculture (principal exports include coffee, cocoa beans, sugar cane, pineapples, oranges, bananas and plantains, and a variety of vegetables; also tobacco and flowers) and income from the Zonas Francas, the Free Trade Zones.  Actually, income sent home from abroad by Dominican extra-nationals exceeds per capita income from everything except tourism—and most of the tourism profits go to foreigners or to foreign-based corporations, as do most profits from the Zonas Francas.  Mining products are also exported, including gold, ferronickel, rock salt, gypsum and marble.

 

HISTORICAL SUMMARY

The island’s first peoplingThe first people to inhabit what would one day be the Dominican Republic were small groups of fishermen, hunters and gatherers, a simple Stone-Age people, who arrived via canoe sometime between 5,000 BC and 4,000 BC, fully 5,500 to 6,500 years before the arrival of Europeans.  These earliest “Indians,” as Columbus would later call them, are known to archaeologists and historians as the Guanahatabey (or Ciboney) people.  They most likely migrated here from the Yucatán Peninsula via Caribbean islands that are now submerged, but that used to lie between the eastern tip of Central America and Jamaica.  Several other waves of Indian peoples (archaeological evidence indicates that there were at least four more) migrated up the Antillian chain over the next four millennium, mostly emanating from the Orinoco River Valley region of northern South America—we call them Pre-Igneris and Igneris.

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Development of the Taínos--The Indians who arrived approximately the same time that Christ was walking about in Jerusalem brought with them a knowledge of ceramics, semi-sedentary agriculture based on maize and yucca, a religion based on zemí worship (ancestor spirit-guides and mythical gods represented on earth by artistic symbols and objects of the same name), and ceremonies that included community-wide dancing/singing festivals called areitos and soccer-like ball games called bateyes.  They conquered and/or merged with the existing Guanahatabey people, evolving into a people, language and culture unique to the region, a people, language and culture that today we call Taíno (archaeologists used to call these people Island Arawaks, a term that is still in limited use).  When Christopher Columbus anchored in 1492 along the shores of the island that the Taínos called Quisqueya—it was Columbus who dubbed it Hispaniola--he found a highly developed people living in an interconnected polity of cacicazgos, with at least five supreme caciques (chiefs).  Behecchio, the most powerful of those five supreme caciques, appears to have been in the process of consolidating the cacicazgos into one unified state.  It is speculated, had the Taínos’ development not been interrupted so abruptly at the close of the 15th century, that within another 100 years they would have developed a political state, society and culture as advanced as those of the mainland’s Aztec and Inca peoples. 

Just how many Taínos there were on Hispaniola in 1492 we will probably never know.  Demographers are still arguing numbers that vary from as few as 200,000 to as many as 2 million.  Archaeological studies indicate that the higher numbers appear more likely, for the Taínos had an abundance of protein (mainly fish and other marine creatures, plus fresh-water and salt-water birds), carbohydrates (corn and yucca, plus a multitude of other root vegetables), and a vitamin-rich variety of fruits and vegetables. 

    

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Arrival of Europeans and Africans, and birth of the first criollosOn December 5, 1492, two of Columbus’s ships anchored off Quisqueya’s north shore, where the men debarked, gave thanks to God, and dubbed the island Hispaniola, claiming it for the Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella.  They spent the next three weeks cruising along the coast, trading with various groups of Taínos and making brief inland excursions.  It is probably safe to say that the first criollos, the offspring of Spanish fathers and Taíno mothers, were born on Hispaniola nine months later.

Columbus’s flagship, the Santa María, hit a reef and sank on Christmas Eve.  No one died, but the ship was not salvable, and all the Europeans could not return in the tiny Niña (Martín Alonso Pinzón, captain of the third ship, the Pinta, had headed off to look for gold; he and Columbus would not meet up again until they were both back in Spain).  Taínos helped the Spaniards canoe the remains of the Santa María ashore, where they used the wood and nails to build Fort La Navidad.  Columbus left 39 men at the fort to gather gold in anticipation of his return.

When Columbus returned to Hispaniola late the following year, all of the Europeans he’d left behind were dead, victims of greed and cultural clash.  It seems that they mistook the Taíno custom of offering unmarried women to elite visitors for a total lack of sexual restrictions on the Taínos’ part—a big mistake.  No doubt the Europeans broke other Taíno taboos, as well, over the months that they awaited the Admiral’s return.  One of the five supreme caciques, Caonabó, led a raid to kill the savage newcomers who did not know how to live among civilized Taínos.  

Columbus 1493 fleet comprised 17 ships and more than 2,500 men, among whom were a number of “ladinoized” men of African descent, meaning that they were freedmen who had been baptized Catholic, spoke the Spaniards’ language, and were accustomed to Spanish culture.  They are not distinguishable in the documents from other Spaniards of the era, for the racial categories that are such an everyday part of our lives today did not exist in the 15th or early 16th centuries.  What was important was whether you were free or enslaved, married or unmarried, of aristocratic status or not.  In fact, despite the multi-ethnic biological mixture that obviously took place on Hispaniola over the next several decades as more Europeans (mostly men) arrived, and as both African slaves and Indians from other regions were imported to supplement Taíno workers, there was no census category for either mestizos (people of European and Indian parentage) or mulattos (people of European and African parentage) until 1584!

Tragically, somewhere between 80-90% of the perhaps 2 million Taínos who inhabited Quisqueya when the Spaniards arrived were dead within a few generations of “The Encounter.”  They died in battles, they died from abuse and exploitation in the gold mines and other labors to which the Europeans subjected them, but mostly they died as a result of non-immunity to viruses and bacteria that were inadvertently carried to the island along with the Europeans, Africans, and their domestic animals.  Chroniclers such as Bartolomé de las Casas wrote that the Taínos all died, but they purposely exaggerated the demographic catastrophe.  The fact is that between 10-20% survived to mingle their genes and their cultural traditions with those of the new Indian, European and African arrivals.

The colonial era’s famous “firsts”In January of 1494, Columbus founded La Isabela on the north coast, just east of the remains of Fort La Navidad.  It was a poorly chosen site.  Food was scarce, and many Spaniards died from fevers and dysentery becase of the bad water.   Two years later, the Spaniards began to abandon La Isabela for La Nueva Isabela, which Christopher Columbus’s brother Bartolomé founded in 1496 on the south coast of the island, on the eastern bank of the Río Ozama at the mouth of the Caribbean Sea.  The new site had good drinking water, fertile land, many Taínos to grow food—and gold.  But so many Spaniards had died in La Isabela, that no one wanted to call the new city by that name, so it was called by the name of its fortress, Santo Domingo de Guzmán.  In 1502, the new governor, Nicolás de Ovando (he replaced the Columbus brothers), moved the town from the eastern bank of the river to its present location on the west bank, so today’s Capital can legitimately celebrate two founding dates.  

Many of the other principal towns and cities of Hispaniola were founded between 1495 and1505, the majority of them at the sites of well populated Taíno cacicazgos or along the routes to mines that the Spaniards wanted to guard:  Concepción de la Vega, La Esperanza, Santiago, Buenaventura (in or near today’s San Cristóbal), Santa María de la Vera Paz (probably today’s Port au Prince), Bonao, San Juan de la Maguana, Azua de Compostela, Puerto Real (near today’s Cap Haitien), Santa Cruz de la Icayagua, Salvaleón de Higüey, and Puerto Plata, among others.

Peter Martyr D’Anghiera, a tutor at the Royal Spanish Court and one of the colonial chroniclers, wrote that Santo Domingo was “the mother” of all the new lands.  For more than 50 years, Hispaniola was the provisioning ground, proving ground and staging ground for all of the New World’s exploration, exploitation and colonization by Spaniards.  Bartolomé de las Casas lived here, both before and after he became a Dominican monk and Royal Protector of the Indians.  Amerigo de Vespucci stopped here on his exploratory voyages.  Juan Ponce de León lived here before he colonized Jamaica and, while looking for the Fountain of Youth, found Florida.  Diego de Velásquez and Hernando Cortés lived here before they left for Cuba; Cortés then went off to conquer Mexico.  Vasco Núñez de Balboa lived here before he stowed away on a ship bound for today’s Panama, whose isthmus he would cross to “discover” the Pacific Ocean.  Francisco Pizarro lived here before he turned traitor to his friend Balboa so that he could lead the Spanish exploration and conquest of the Inca people that Balboa had dreamed about leading.

 

Santo Domingo was the seat of the Audiencia Real (the royal judiciary council) and of the Royal Treasury.  The European-modelled city was surrounded by stone walls in the 1540s to protect it from corsairs—a crew of African slaves who were experienced in masonry was brought in to oversee this and other architectural projects.  Santo Domingo boasts the first Catholic cathedral in the New World, a multitude of magnificent churches and monasteries, the first nunnery, the first hospital, the first (European) paved road, the first university, treasury office and smelting ovens, warehouses and government offices, and magnificent stone mansions, including the “Columbus Palace” (alcazar) built by Christopher’s son Diego and his wife María de Toledo—Diego arrived in 1509 to replace Governor Ovando. 

The colonial era’s “firsts” were not all glorious, of course.  Among other historical markers, Hispaniola also was the venue for:

--The first bloody European-Indian battles.  Santo Cerro, near La Vega, marks the site of a massive battle that took place in 1495 after Bartolomé Colón had led Spanish troops against the Taínos of the Cibao for 10 long months.

--The first breaking of European-Indian treaties by Europeans and the first of the European’s tragic massacres of Indian men, women and children, such as the one that took place in 1504 at Cacica Anacaona’s principle population center in Jaraguá (today’s Port au Prince) under the orders of Governor Ovando.

--The first systematic exploitation and enslavement of both Indians and Africans in the New World under Spain’s encomienda and slave laws.

--The first all-out Indian rebellions.  The most famous is that of the Cacique Enriquillo, who out-maneuvered Spanish troops from 1519 to 1533 until the crown finally negotiated a peace treaty with him and his people.

--The first African slave rebellion in the New World, which was led by unnamed slaves on Governor Diego Colón ‘s sugar ingenio on Christmas Day of 1521.

--The above-mentioned rebellion led Colón to announce the first of the New World’s African slave-control ordinances on January 6, 1522.

Colonial economics--The easily obtained gold deposits on Hispaniola were quickly depleted (looking for gold and silver in new locations was the incentive behind much of the Spaniards’ expanded exploration), but the land and climate were perfect for growing sugar cane and for raising cattle, both of which generated extensive wealth for the Spaniards who remained on the island.  They also experimented with a wide variety of other agricultural products, including lumber and dyewood, wild cinnamon, cotton, yucca, the medicinal herbs bálsamo and cañafístola, chocolate and indigo.  By the middle of the 16th century, however, the Spanish fleets no longer passed through Santo Domingo, they went directly to La Havana, Cuba, which was on a more direct route to reach the gold and silver coming out of Mexico and Peru.  This killed Hispaniola’s early sugar industry, for sugar has a short shelf life and Spain restricted free trade, insisting that all products be shipped with the royal fleet (the monopoly system).  Hispaniola’s economy stagnated for several centuries, during which time the bulk of her income came from illegal trade with the mostly French buccaneers who had taken over the northern and western parts of the island.  

In 1605 and 1606, in an effort to put a stop to contraband trade, Spain ordered Governor Osorio of Santo Domingo to forcefully supervise the removal of all Spaniards on the island to a line south and east of the current city of San Juan de la Maguana.  The acts are known as “The Devastations."

French Saint DomingueThe forced relocation of Spaniards to the southeastern part of the island left the rest of Hispaniola open to the depradations of the buccaneers, who were an international bunch, but mostly French.  Throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, the Caribbean was one of the many battlefields in the on-going wars among the European superpowers—Spain, France, Holland, Germany and England.  Fortunes waxed and waned.  In 1697, Spain officially ceded the western part of Hispaniola to France as part of the Treaty of Ryswick, a division that was ratified by the Treaty of Aranjuez.  The French half was called Saint Domingue.  In 1795, in the Treaty of Basilea, Spain signed away to France all rights to the island, but France didn’t keep the island very long.  The slaves in her New World colony, heeding the call of “Liberty, Fraternity and Equality,” rebelled in 1804 to found the first free republic in the New World, the Republic of Haiti.

1822-1844, Haitian rule of Santo Domingo--In 1822 the Haitian army, commanded by General Toussaint L'Ouverture, invaded and occupied formerly Spanish Santo Domingo. The Haitians seized all governmental posts, abolished slavery, and redefined the laws and court systems, including land-holding laws. They established new territorial boundaries and boundaries among individually owned lands, redistributed lands and their holdings (many Spaniards lost ranches, plantations and homes that their families had owned for centuries), and laid claim to mansions, warehouses, churches and other valuable buildings and lots in the principal towns and cities. The Haitians also imposed their French language upon the courts and schools, and restricted fiestas, cockfighting and other long-established cultural observances and traditions, substituting their own. 

Understandably, there was much resistance to the Haitian domination of Santo Domingo, especially by "whites," who resented being governed by "Africans." Many abandoned the island, heading off to Spain, Puerto Rico, Cuba or the American mainland. Among those who remained, there were a multitude of conspiracies. The conspiracy that proved successful in overturning Haitian rule was begun by a secret society called "The Trinity." Their leader in the Capital was a young man named Juan Pablo Duarte, the son of a Spanish merchant. 

1844, the first independent Dominican Republic--The overthrow of the Haitian president Jean Pierre Boyer in 1843 initiated a renewed cry for independence among the Spanish-speaking people of the eastern half of the island. The Trinitarians gained two new leaders in addition to Duarte (who was now in exile): Francisco del Rosario Sánchez and Ramón Mella. They staged a coup that was successful on February 27, 1844. The declaration of the independent Dominican Republic and the signing of its constitution at the gates of the Conde in what is today Independence Park did not, however, end the fighting between Haitians and Dominicans. 

The first Dominican presidents--General Pedro Santana was elected president of the newly independent Dominican Republic. He supported Buenaventura Báez as his successor to the presidency in 1849. Báez was another of those who had fought to help the country gain independence and was still fighting to keep it independent. Báez was supposed to be Santana's "puppet," but he had a mind and ambitions of his own. In 1853, Santana was re-elected to the presidency in a hotly contested race. He sent Báez into exile, accusing him of entering into a conspiracy with officials of the Catholic Church to turn the country into a private enterprise, with Báez as lifelong leader. Báez continued to oppose Santana, who was negotiating with the U.S. to establish a naval base on the Samaná Peninsula, something that Haiti, Spain and England did not want to see happen, each for its own particular reasons. The threat of the U.S. presence led to one of the bloodiest battles in the on-going Haitian-Dominican war, that of Santomé on December 22, 1855, and it, plus Santana's over-authoritative methods, put him in growing disfavor with the populace. Santana resigned and left on May 26, 1856, leaving Vice President Manuel de Regla Mota to run the country, which was in severe economic distress. Under pressure from Spain, Regla Mota named Báez to the vice presidency, then resigned so Báez could take over the presidency, which he did on October 6, 1856.... But Santana was not yet finished. Supported by the people of the Cibao, he came back out of exile to lead a rebellion against Báez, but he betrayed the leaders from Santiago. He overthrew General José Desiderio Valverde and Benigno Filomeno de Rojas, whom the Cibaeños had named as president and vice president instead of Báez, declared invalid the new, more liberal and democratic Constitution of Moca, and, with a powerful troop of soldiers, seized control of the Capital away from Báez in July of 1858. 

Annexation to Spain (1861-1865) and the War of Restoration--Twenty-two years of occupation by Haitians and more than15 years of war and civil strife destroyed the economic foundations of the Dominican Republic. Santana, who had once looked to the U.S. for support, now looked to Spain. The annexation was officially celebrated on March 18, 1861, in the Capital's Cathedral Plaza, despite the many Dominicans who were opposed to it. Santana, of course, was appointed as Captain General--however, he was replaced by a series of Spanish generals beginning in January of 1862.

It didn't take Dominicans long to figure out that Spain was not going to govern in their best interests--for one thing, the Spanish government wanted to re-establish slavery. The first major rebellion began in February 1863, in Neiba. Soon the entire Cibao was up in arms. On September 14, a provisional government was declared to restore the Republic under the liberal, democratic Constitution of Moca. After two years of fierce battles, Spanish politicians decided to let the Dominican Republic go because it was too costly and because the Dominicans were too solidly united in their War of Restoration. The Queen of Spain annulled the annexation on March 3, 1865. 

Red & Blue fragmented politics--The once-again independent Dominican Republic was fragmented after the War of the Restoration. The people of the Cibao (Santiago was their core city) had different economic and political goals from the people of Santo Domingo in the south, as well as from those of the people of Puerto Plata in the north. Among the contenders for the presidency were the former generals Pedro Antonio Pimentel, José María Cabral, Pedro Guillermo, Césaro Guillermo, Manuel Altagracia Cáceres, Gregorio Luperón, Ulises Francisco Espaillat, and Buenaventura Báez (again). The era was marked by caudillo-ism-rule by regional "strongmen"--and by fierce fighting between the two predominant political parties, the Azules (literally the "Blues," they were the PNL, the National Libertion Party, former supporters of Santana) and the Rojos (the "Reds," Báez's supporters). The presidency changed hands 21 times between 1865 and 1879! It was during this turbulent time that the U.S., once again, considered annexing the Dominican Republic for the $100,000 in U.S. cash and $50,000 in weapons that Báez requested for the deed. President Ulysses S. Grant's secret agent outlined a treaty that was signed on November 29, 1869--but it was not approved by either the U.S. Senate nor by the Dominican people. Despite a positive report on the Republic by a U.S. investigating committee in 1871, Charles Sumner, the annexation project's main opponent, led the defeat of the proposal.

Liberal rule, then a return to caudillo-ism in the late 19th century--The liberal Azul party eventually won out, and General Gregorio Luperón took over, ruling the Dominican Republic provisionally from Puerto Plata, in October of 1879. He sent his assistant, General Ulises "Lilís" Heureaux, to Santo Domingo. In 1880, Luperón signed a new, more liberal constitution, a modified version of the Constitution of Moca. He also promoted economic and military reforms, public education (he appointed the Puerto Rican intellectual Eugenio María de los Hostos to oversee the establishment of the first public high school), and supported trade relations with Haiti. At the end of his term, Luperón supported the intellectual Catholic priest Father Fernando Arturo de Meriño for the presidency, who was confirmed by popular vote on July 23, 1880. The next duly elected president was General Lilís Hereaux, who reverted back to strongman politics--the 1884 elections were rife with fraud. General Casimiro Nemesio de Moya was the only presidential contender powerful enough to run against Hereaux, but he could not win. Hereaux remained in power by force of arms until he was assassinated in July of 1899.

Turn-of-the-century financial crises lead to U.S. Occupation--Despite the years of war and the raping of its treasury by a series of caudillo presidents eager for personal gain, the rich, fertile lands of the Dominican Republic attracted investments by the powerful new agro-industrial capitalists of the 20th century. Tobacco, cacao, coffee and sugar cane created dizzying levels of land and money speculation, and spurred the laying of railroads and highways across the country--and spurred new immigration, too (this is when the "cocolos," free Blacks from the Protestant Caribbean, began to arrive). Developed nations like the U.S., France, Belgium, Germany, Italy and England were eager to loan the Dominican Republic money that was backed by government bonds, as was the private, U.S.-owned "Improvement Company." 

By 1900, the Dominican government officially owed the Improvement Company and foreign governments more than US$34 million, yet governmental income was only US$2 million annually! It was a recipe for disaster. President Juan Isidro Jiménez tried to negotiate a compromise, a reduced payoff, but the Improvement Company refused to accept. For the next 15 years, he, Horacio Vásquez, Alejandro Woss y Gil, Carlos F. Morales Languasco, and Ramón Cáceres vied among themselves for the presidency. All tried to please the foreign lenders, while pocketing as much wealth for themselves and their followers as they could. President Morales allowed the U.S. "to help" with the collection of customs taxes and negotiation of the country's external debts in exchange for economic and political support. The resulting Laudo Arbitral was not popular, not with Dominicans nor with the foreign lenders. Renegotiated arbitration agreements were equally unpopular and it was feared that any one of the foreign lenders might attempt to recoup their money by force. 

  Following the mandates of the Monroe Doctrine to prevent any European power from seizing control in the Americas at any cost, the U.S. set up a "protectorate" in the Dominican Republic in 1905. President Cáceres, who had cooperated with the U.S., was assassinated in 1911. The Dominican Congress appointed Eladio Victoria to the presidency in February of 1912, but it didn't prevent a bloody civil war. As if that weren't enough, Haiti took advantage of the situation to encroach upon recognized Dominican territory. The U.S. sent in a "pacification commission" to try to resolve all the problems. The commission was accompanied by more than 750 U.S. Marines. Meanwhile, Archbishop Alejandro Adolfo Nouel was named to the presidency that Victoria renounced, and then José Bordas Valdez, which caused more flurries of revolts. In July 1914, the U.S. government stepped in to control the fighting, provisionally appointing Dr. Ramón Báez (Buenaventura's son) to the presidency on August 27, 1914. Finally, democratic elections were held in October. Juan Isidro Jimenez won another term, but it was short-lived because he refused to capitulate to all the terms demanded by the U.S. government. Impeachment was threatened and the delicate political situation was unbalanced yet again. Like an early storm warning, Dominicans should have heeded the events of July 28, 1915, when the U.S. Marines occupied Haiti in order to stabilize the political and economic chaos there.

On May 16, 1916, U.S. Marines moved in to occupy the capital of Santo Domingo, occupying the rest of the country over the course of the next three months. The First U.S. Occupation would last until 1924. During that 8-year-long period, Dominican affairs were directed by Captain Harry S. Knapp, then by General B.H. Fuller, and finally by Rear Admiral Thomas Snowden. Among the many, many changes implemented during this time--highway construction, improved mail service, expansion of the public school system, institution of a public health and sanitation division, changes to the judicial and penal systems, among others--no doubt the most influential on the country's future history was the establishment of the U.S.-Marine-trained Dominican National Guard, whose name was changed to the Dominican National Police in 1921 (and to the National Army in 1928). Among the recruits was a young Dominican from San Cristóbal, Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina.

The U.S. Occupation was slowly phased out under the Hughes-Peynado Plan, negotiated between U.S. Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes and the Dominican diplomat "Pancho" Peynado. U.S. diplomat Sumner Welles was sent back to the Dominican Republic to oversee the plan's implementation under the provisional presidency of Juan Bautista Vicini Burgos, who was sworn in on October 1, 1922. The first free elections were held on March 15, 1924, when Horacio Vásquez was elected to another term. The Occupation was officially ended on July 12, 1924. 

Interim, 1924-1930--Many Dominican historians say that the presidency of Horacio Vásquez from 1924 to 1930 was nothing more than a disguised continuation of the U.S. Occupation. True, he did continue many of the U.S.-implemented policies, but he also sought to promote both agricultural and industrial development, as well as international trade, overseeing the improvement of the port facilities at Santo Domingo, Puerto Plata and San Pedro de Macorís. His hand-picked successor was his Vice President Dr. José Dolores Alfonseca. But Alfonseca had a dangerous enemy, a man who had only recently become rich through military concessions and, with the proceeds from these gains, through investments in land and urban properties. His enemy was Trujillo, who had risen to the position of Chief of the National Army. 

The Trujillo Era, 1930-1961--On February 23, 1930, Trujillo and his "private army," in league with a powerful politician from Santiago named Rafael Estrella Ureña, began a successful coup d'tat to oust the president and vice president. Early the following month, Vásquez and Alfonseca resigned and left for exile in Puerto Rico. In the ensuing elections, Ureña won the provisional presidency, but he was a "puppet" for Trujillo, the first of many. The elections proper were held in May, with Trujillo running for president and Ureña as his vice president. There was no opposition. They were sworn into office on August 16, 1930. 

Trujillo, "El Jefe," ran the country for the next 31 years, until his assassination in 1961. In the process, he amassed a fortune, for he ruled supreme throughout the economic "boom" that followed World War II, and there was no industry in the country, no matter how small, in which he or a member of his family did not own the majority share--all of his economic operations were granted special tax exemptions, not to mention that they were protected not only from foreign competition, but from internal trade union and labor demands. Envisioning himself as "Father of the New Fatherland," he had the capital renamed Ciudad Trujillo in 1936, stomping out any antagonists to any of his plans through liberal use of his private squad of assassins, La 42--among those killed were the now famous Mirabal Sisters (it is, perhaps, ironic justice that a gigantic mural depicting them as heroines for their country now adorns the monument that Trujillo erected to honor the change of the Capital's name to Ciudad Trujillo). No doubt the most horrifying and outrageous of his many horrifying and outrageous acts, however, was the massacre conducted under his orders of more than 18,000 Haitians on the Dominican side of the border in October of 1937. 

As with other tyrants, Trujillo accomplished some good along with the bad for which he is so roundly denounced today. He implemented many programs to promote national patriotism and international recognition, and of national reconstruction and modernization aimed at unifying the Dominican Republic's fragmented political system and at bringing the country into the modern, developed era. He dramatically improved the nation's agricultural production facilities and industries, as well as the national educational, health and sanitation programs; he supported the founding and operation of a national symphony, radio and TV stations; built monuments, cultural plazas and striking government buildings; and sponsored an international world's fair. He offered asylum, land and a home to displaced Jews in the region that today is Sosua and encouraged other immigrants and investors to come to the Dominican Republic as well--as long as they were white. 

In the end, however, Trujillo's thirst for power, his excessive greed and egotism were too much even for his friends. And he lost U.S. support. The era had ended when a Latin American dictator could get away with anything as long as he was staunchly anti-communist. The U.S.'s CIA was strongly implemented in the plot led by one of Trujillo's old childhood buddies, General Juan Tomás Díaz, that successfully got rid of El Jefe in what must have been a movie-like scene of car chase and carnage: They machine gunned him down along the Sánchez Highway while he was driving off to visit one of his mistresses on the evening of May 30, 1961. Trujillo's second-in-charge, Dr. Joaquín Balaguer, took over the government. 

 


Bosch, Balaguer and the 1965-66 U.S. Occupation--Like flowers in a spring rain after a long drought, political parties blossomed in the Dominican Republic after Trujillo's assassination. They included the Movimiento Popular Dominicano (MPD), the Unión Cívica Nacional (UCN), Partido Revolucionario Dominicano (PRD), Vanguardia Revolucionario Dominicana (VRD), and the Movimiento Revolucionario 14 de Junio (MR-1J4). Together, they worked to expel the Trujillo family and Trujillo supporters from the country, to regain control. But Balaguer was not so easy to dislodge.

Balaguer's strongest competitor was the writer and social-democrat , Juan Bosch, leader of the PRD, who had recently returned after having been exiled throughout Trujillo's regime. On December 20, 1962, Bosch won the presidential election "by a landslide." But he had many enemies, not just the wiley Balaguer, for it was the Cold War Era, when to be a socialist of any degree was equated with an open invitation to communism. Bosch was deposed on September 25, 1963 by frightened Dominican industrialists and businessmen, backed by the U.S. 

  The early sixties was an era filled with conspiracies and denouncements, revolts and rebellions, overthrows and takeovers, demonstrations and strikes. In an effort, supposedly, to prevent all-out civil war and takeover of the Dominican Republic by communists, the U.S. Marines landed in force on April 28, 1965--it was the second occupation of the century. There were tanks stationed at the entrances to the Mella and Duarte bridges over the Río Ozama, and bloody battles in the streets of Santo Domingo. Four long, violence-filled months later, a provisional government was installed on September 3, headed by Héctor García Godoy, with free elections scheduled for June 1966. The U.S. occupation troops remained in the country to make certain that the elections were peaceful and non-fraudulent. It didn't work. The political campaigns between the two leading candidates, Bosch and Balaguer, were violent and bloody. The U.S. supported Balaguer, who "freely won" the election--but Bosch was confined to house arrest throughout the campaign! 

The Balaguer Regime--Balaguer ran almost unopposed in the following presidential elections of 1970. New political parties formed to compete in the next one, including the Partido de la Liberación (PLD), the new leftist party founded by Bosch, and the Partido Quisqueyano Demócrata (PQD), a radical right party founded by General Wessin y Wessin. But the bloody confrontations between the two radical groups left Balaguer virtually unopposed yet again in 1974. Despite the multitude of allegations that he supervised death squads and ran the country as heavy-handedly as Trujillo had, Balaguer managed to sidestep most of the bad press... until May 16, 1978. That's when Balaguer's military officers and soldiers were televised live as they destroyed the ballot boxes bearing the votes proving that Antonio Guzmán of the PRD had won the election, and beat up witnesses. Balaguer resigned in favor of Guzmán three months later. 

Guzmán's (short) term--in the depths of the world-wide oil crisis--was wracked by financial mismanagement and accusations of corruption; he suicided by shooting himself in the head on July 3, 1982. Meanwhile, Balaguer set his propaganda machine to work at repairing his damaged reputation, and Salvador Jorge Blanco of the PRD, promising the people "an economic democracy," won the 1982 election. But he didn't follow through. Balaguer won yet again in 1986, defeating Bosch and other contenders (who included the indefatigable José Francisco Peña Gómez), and he won again in 1990 through 1996 (he was in office for six years that time). 

In 1996, a compromise candidate, the young U.S.-educated lawyer Dr. Leonel Fernández, was elected to the presidency in a flurry of hope that he would eradicate corruption and introduce an era of economic prosperity. What began with such high hopes ended with the same old charges of corruption as before, especially after the new president, Hipólito Mejía, the "peoples'" president, took office in August of 2000.... Balaguer ran for president again in that campaign and came close to winning!  He says he'll run again in 2004 if the people need him to do so.