Dominican Republic -- Geography --
Official Name: Dominican Republic
Capital City: Santo Domingo
Languages: Spanish (official), English, French
Official Currency: Dominican peso
Religions: Roman Catholicism, others
Land Area: 48,730 sq km
Landforms: The Dominican Republic is situated on the eastern part of the second-largest island in the Greater Antilles, Hispaniola. As so there are many small offshore islands and cays which are part of the Dominican territory. It boasts a number of valleys, plains with mountain ranges running parallel to each other as well as its lakes and coastal lagoons.
Land Divisions: 31 prefectures
Dominican Republic -- History --
The Dominican Republic was discovered on December 5, 1492, by Christopher Columbus during his first voyage to the New World. At that time the island of Hispaniola (as Columbus named it) was called "Quisqueya" by the Taino Indians who occupied the land. With a population estimated around 600,000, the Tainos (meaning "the good") were peaceful and hospitable to Columbus and his crew of Spaniards. Columbus himself grew a particular fondness for Hispaniola, describing it in his journal as "a beautiful island paradise with high forested mountains and large river valleys."
Columbus' admiration for Hispaniola coupled with his crew's discovery of gold deposits in the island's rivers led to the establishment of European settlements, the first of which was founded in 1493 in La Isabela. With the presence of new settlements, the Taino Indians were put into slavery and over the next 25 year, were eventually wiped out. Simultaneously, the settlers began bringing African slaves to the island to ensure adequate labor for their plantations.
Columbus' brother, Bartholomew, was appointed governor of Hispaniola and in 1496 he founded the city of Santo Domingo. The capital city quickly became the representative seat of the Spanish royal court and therefore, a city of power and much influence. However, by 1515 the Spaniards realized the gold deposits of Hispaniola had significantly dwindled. Around this time Herman Cortes discovered silver deposits in Mexico. Upon hearing this news, most Spanish residents of Santo Domingo left for Mexico, leaving only a few thousand settlers behind. Because of the predominance of livestock, initially introduced by Columbus, these settlers sustained themselves by providing food and leather to Spanish ships passing Hispaniola on their way to the richer colonies on the American mainland. It is during this period of time that the pirates of the Caribbean made history.
The island of Hispaniola remained under Spanish control until 1697 when the western third of the island became a French possession. (In 1804, the western part of the island became the Republic of Haiti.) This area, which the French called "Saint Domingue" became the richest colony in the world thanks to large sugar plantations which were worked by hundreds of thousands of slaves imported from Africa. In 1791 a slave revolt broke out in Saint Domingue. For fear of losing their colony to the slaves, the French abolished slavery in 1794. With calm in Saint Domingue, the French were able to focus on overwhelming the Spanish on the island's eastern side, who later surrendered power.
In 1809 the eastern side of the island returned to Spanish rule. In 1821 the Spanish settlers declared an independent state but just weeks later, Haitian forces invaded the eastern portion of the island and incorporated Santo Domingo. For the next 22 years the entire island came under Haitian control. However, fueled by their loss of political and economic control, the former Spanish ruling class developed an underground resistance group led by Juan Pablo Duarte called "La Trinitaria." After several attacks by La Trinitaria on the Haitian army, the Haitians retreated. On February 27, 1844, the eastern side of the island declared independence and gave their land the name "Dominican Republic."
The 70 years that followed were characterized by political unrest and civil war, mainly due to fights for leadership of the government by Dominican strongmen. Disputes continued with Haiti and power returned to the Spanish for a short period of time . Turmoil in the early 1900's led the United States to intervene. In 1916 U.S. troops occupied the country and stayed until 1924 when a democratically elected Dominican government was put into place. However, the head of the army that was put into place during the American occupation, Raphael Leonidas Trujilo, used his power to block government reform and shortly thereafter, took total control of power in the form of a repressive dictatorship. His rule lasted until 1961 when he was killed. (The anniversary of his death is a public holiday in the Dominican Republic.)
Following Trujilo's death, political unrest again prevailed. The Dominican Republic went through a series of leaders until 1965 when Lyndon B. Johnson ordered the U.S. marines to again occupy the country. A rigged election in 1966 put Dr. Joaquin Balaguer, a member of the Partido Reformista Social Cristiano (PRSC), in power for a reign that lasted until 1978 when Dominicans elected Antonio Guzman, also of the PRD. Guzman died in 1982 at which time Dominicans elected another member of the D.R.P. In 1986 Balaguer was again elected, this time legitimately, and remained president until 1996 when President Leonel Fernandez (of the Party of the Dominican Liberation or PLD.) was elected. He served for four years and was replaced by Hipolito Mejia in 2000.
Today's Leonel Fernandez is again president. His new term, which began in 2004, will last for four years.
Dominican Republic -- Economy --
The Dominican Republic, the biggest economy in the Caribbean and Central America is a lower 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 more than $1 billion in annual earnings. Free Trade Zone earnings and tourism are the fastest-growing export sectors. According to a 1999 International Monetary Fund report, remittances from Dominican Americans, are estimated to be about $1.5 billion per year. Most of these funds are used to cover basic household needs such as shelter, food, clothing, health care and education. Secondarily, remittances have financed small businesses and other productive activities.
The Dominican Republic's most important trading partner is the United States (75% of export revenues). Other markets include Canada, Western Europe, and Japan. The country exports free-trade-zone manufactured products (garments, medical devices, etc.), nickel, sugar, coffee, cacao, and tobacco. It imports petroleum, industrial raw materials, capital goods, and foodstuffs. On September 5, 2005, the Dominican Congress ratified a free trade agreement with the U.S. and five Central American countries, known as CAFTA-DR. The CAFTA-DR agreement entered into force for the Dominican Republic on March 1, 2007. The total stock of U.S. foreign direct investment (FDI) in Dominican Republic as of 2006 was U.S. $3.3 billion, much of it directed to the energy and tourism sectors, to free trade zones, and to the telecommunications sector. Remittances were close to $2.7 billion in 2006.
An important aspect of the Dominican economy is the Free Trade Zone industry (FTZ), which made up U.S. $4.55 billion in Dominican exports for 2006 (70% of total exports). Reports show, however, that the FTZs lost approximately 60,000 between 2005 and 2007 and suffered a 4% decrease in total exports in 2006. The textiles sector experienced an approximate 17% drop in exports due in part to the appreciation of the Dominican peso against the dollar, Asian competition following expiration of the quotas of the Multi-Fiber Arrangement, and a government-mandated increase in salaries, which should have occurred in 2005 but was postponed to January 2006. Lost Dominican business was captured by firms in Central America and Asia. The tobacco, jewelry, medical, and pharmaceutical sectors in the FTZs all reported increases for 2006, which somewhat offset textile and garment losses. Industry experts from the FTZs expect that entry into force of the CAFTA-DR agreement will promote substantial growth in the FTZ sector for 2007.
An ongoing concern in the Dominican Republic is the inability of participants in the electricity sector to establish financial viability for the system. Three regional electricity distribution systems were privatized in 1998 via sale of 50% of shares to foreign operators; the Mejia administration repurchased all foreign-owned shares in two of these systems in late 2003. The third, serving the eastern provinces, is operated by U.S. concerns and is 50% U.S.-owned. The World Bank records that electricity distribution losses for 2005 totaled about 38.2%, a rate of losses exceeded in only three other countries. Industry experts estimate distribution losses for 2006 will surpass 40%, primarily due to low collection rates, theft, infrastructure problems and corruption. At the close of 2006, the government had exceeded its budget for electricity subsidies, spending close to U.S. $650 million. The government plans to continue providing subsidies. Congress passed a law in 2007 that criminalizes the act of stealing electricity, but it has not yet been fully implemented. The electricity sector is a highly politicized sector and with 2008 presidential election campaigning already in motion, the prospect of further effective reforms of the electricity sector is poor. Debts in the sector, including government debt, amount to more than U.S. $500 million. Some generating companies are under capitalized and at times unable to purchase adequate fuel supplies.
Dominican Republic -- Culture --
MUSEUMS & ARCHAEOLOGY
The Dominican Republic has a rich and storied history that traces back over 8,000 years to the arrival of the Taino Indians. Following the island's discovery by Christopher Columbus in 1492, the Republic had epic interaction with the Spanish, French, Haitians and Africans. It's no wonder, then, how the Dominican Republic came to boast such an impressive collection of personal and cultural relics from centuries past.The country has done a magnificent job of maintaining and preserving these artifacts as well as the historical structures in which they're housed. Visiting the Dominican Republic's major cities, especially Santo Domingo, tourists can easily become engrossed in the historical legends that accompany some of the oldest museums and archeological sites in the New World. The Dominican Republic also has a unique collection of natural rocks and gems that can only be found on the island. Near Barahona, a turquoise-blue pectolite stone known as larimar has been cultivated from the volcanic rock that once formed the island. The country's most popular gem, amber. The country's museums and archeological sites intrigue adults and provide a historical lesson for children. From jewelry to religious artifacts, castles to caves, each venue showcases a vastly different aspect of the island's colorful heritage.
MUSIC & FESTIVALS
Passing through the streets of the Dominican Republic visitors are sure to notice the handmade posters that hang from telephone poles promoting an upcoming merengue or bachata night at a nearby venue. Continue walking and it doesn't take long to realize that music acts as the soundtrack of the country and its people, often heard blaring from vehicles, stores, restaurants and houses. After sunset, the pulsing beats fill the air with life and draw locals and tourists alike toward the crowded dance floors of the world's hottest night clubs. A way of life on the island, Dominicans view dancing as an art and take pride in sharing their native movements with others. Salsa, Latin jazz and other types of dance music can be heard in the country, but are not as popular as their beloved merengue and bachata counterparts.
The country's national dance, traditional merengue groups are comprised of a three-piece band including a melodeon (accordion-like instrument), a guira (a scraped percussion piece) and a tambora (double-headed drum); however, it has expanded to incorporate other instruments such as the saxophone, trumpets, violin, flute and piano. Its tempo is characterized by an aggressive beat, requiring its dancers to swing their hips in rapid, fluid motions and make sure their feet follow suit. Early merengue's lyrics were based on sexual encounters and other socially taboo subjects, thus preventing it from becoming widely accepted. Today, merengue's lyrics cover more general topics including politics and current events. Its music has become so popular, in fact, that it is honored with two regional festivals each year.
A much slower dance than the merengue, bachata emerged in the rural areas of the island during the 1960s. It was derived from bolero, a music genre native to Cuba, and is compared to country or R&B music of the United States. Originally popular with the poor or lower classes, bachata is characterized by guitar-based melodies rather than large bands. Its lyrics are mostly about relationships and hard times.
Travelers from across the globe journey to the Dominican Republic each year, joining local attendees, for annual music festivals after falling in love with the addictive rhythms.
Santo Domingo Merengue Festival
The week-long Santo Domingo Merengue Festival is held during the last week of July or the first week of August every year at the Malecon. The seaside Dominican musical showcase encourages drinking, eating and dancing.
Puerto Plata Merengue Festival
Puerto Plata hosts a week-long celebration of merengue acts during the third week in October every year. More than 100,000 tourists and locals gather at outdoor bars and in the streets to listen to performers and partake in the festivities.
Dominican Republic Jazz Festival
The festival is staged at three scenic north coast locations: Cabarete, Sosua and Puerto Plata each October. Renowned musical acts ranging from Enrique Iglesias to Ricky Martin have appeared in years past.
Whether it's little, minor or major league, baseball has been dominating the U.S. sports industry for decades. However, before legends like Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson appeared in the spotlight, the Caribbean was flooded with pro-level players batting, throwing, catching and running the bases.
Back in 1866, American sailors stationed on the island of Cuba taught natives the rules of the game of baseball. Following the Ten Years' War (also known as the Big War) in Cuba, baseball migrated to the Dominican Republic along with Cubans who were fleeing their country. Quickly nicknamed "beisbol" by the Dominican people, the sport was rapidly learned and became a passion. Today, traveling from one side of the country to the other presents national scores of baseball fields and stadiums, attesting to the Dominicans' love for the game.
The sport first turned competitive in the 1920s when baseball games began being played against neighboring countries. This competitiveness encouraged the establishment of the Dominican Baseball League. Four baseball teams were formed: Tigres del Licey and Leones del Escogido, both from Santo Domingo, Estrellas Orientales of San Pedro and the Las Aguilos Cibaenas in Santiago. The popularity of professional baseball in the Dominican Republic ascended throughout the following years, but came to a halt in 1937 due to a financial downturn in the country. Meanwhile, amateur baseball evolved with Dominican teams competing with those from the U.S. and other Caribbean countries. The hiatus finally ended in 1951 with the return of professional baseball. Dominicans' idea of hosting amateur baseball in the summer and professional baseball during the winter months was generated, therefore giving the Caribbean the "home of winter baseball" title.
Today there are two additional teams in the country's professional baseball league: the Azucareros del Este from La Romana and the Gigantes del Cibao. Each season extends from the end of October through February, with the winner advancing to the Caribbean Series. At the series, the winning team of the Dominican Republic league plays against the champions of the Mexican, Venezuelan and Puerto Rican leagues.
With the rich baseball history and top talent that the country provides, it's no surprise that American Major League Baseball (MLB) is drafting Dominican players left and right. In fact, according to MLB, more than 30 percent of contracted players come from Spanish-speaking nations and the numbers continue to rise. Today MLB boasts 101 Dominican Republic players, including legendary Sammy Sosa of the Baltimore Orioles, Pedro Martinez and Jose Reyes of the NY Mets, Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals, Vladimir Guerrero and Bartolo Colon of the Los Angeles Angels, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox and Alfonso Soriano of the Texas Rangers.
To the Dominican people, baseball is not only a sport, but a way of life. Players here put heart and soul into the sport. While some players advance professionally into the United States, others continue to compete in the Dominican Republic, and countless more play for fun. But regardless of where the Dominicans play baseball, the sport will always be an admirable and historical part of the country's culture.
Dominican Republic -- Political system, law and government --
President: Leonel Fernandez (2008)
Prime Minister: Junichiro Koizumi (2006)
The Dominican Republic is a representative democracy, with national powers divided among independent executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The President of the Dominican Republic appoints the Cabinet, executes laws passed by the Congress, 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 4-year terms. Legislative power is exercised by a bicameral Congress composed of the Senate (with 32 members) and the Chamber of Deputies (with 178 members).
The Dominican Republic has a multi-party political system with national elections every 2 years (alternating between presidential elections and congressional/municipal elections). Presidential elections are held in years evenly divisible by four. Congressional and municipal elections are held in even numbered years not divisible by four. International observers have found that presidential and congressional elections since 1996 have been generally free and fair. Elections are supervised by a Central Elections Board (JCE) of 9 members chosen for a four-year term by each newly elected Senate. JCE decisions on electoral matters are final.
Under the constitutional reforms negotiated after the 1994 elections, the 16–member Supreme Court of Justice is appointed by a National Judicial Council, which comprises the President, the leaders of both houses of Congress, the President of the Supreme Court, and an opposition or non–governing–party member. One other Supreme Court Justice acts as secretary of the Council, a non–voting position. The Supreme Court has sole authority over managing of the court system and in hearing actions against the president, designated members of his Cabinet, and members of Congress when the legislature is in session. The Supreme Court hears appeals from lower courts and chooses members of lower courts.
Each of the 31 provinces is headed by a presidentially appointed governor. Mayors and municipal councils administer the 124 municipal districts and the National District (Santo Domingo). They are elected at the same time as congressional representatives.
The country becomes highly politicized, as millions of dollars are spent in propaganda and campaigning. The political system is characterized by clientelism, which has corrupted the system throughout the years.
There are many political parties and interest groups and, new on the scene, civil organizations. The three major parties are the conservative Social Christian Reformist Party, in power 1966–78 and 1986–96; the social democratic Dominican Revolutionary Party, in power in 1963, 1978–86, and 2000–04); and the increasingly conservative Dominican Liberation Party, in power 1996–2000 and since 2004.
The presidential elections of 2008 were held on May 16, 2008, with incumbent Leonel Fernandez winning with 53% of the vote. He defeated Miguel Vargas Maldonado, of the PRD, a former minister in Mejia's government, who achieved a 40.48% share of the vote. Amable Aristy, of the PRSC, achieved 4.59% of the vote. Other minority candidates, which include former Attorney General Guillermo Moreno from the Movement for Independence, Unity and Change and PRSC former presidential candidate and defector Eduardo Estrella, obtained less than 1% of the vote.