The Dominican Republic is a sovereign state occupying the eastern two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola in the Greater Antilles archipelago in the Caribbean region. The western third of the island is occupied by the nation of Haiti. This makes Hispaniola one of two Caribbean islands shared by two countries, along with St. Maarten. The Dominican Republic is the second largest country in the Caribbean in terms of area (after Cuba) with 48,445 square kilometres and the third largest in terms of population with 10.08 million people, about three million of whom live in the metropolitan area of the capital Santo Domingo.
On 6 December 1492, Christopher Columbus landed on the western part of Hispaniola, now Haiti, which had been inhabited by the Taino people since the seventh century. The island became the site of the first permanent European settlement in the Americas, the oldest continuously inhabited city and the first seat of Spanish colonial rule in the New World. After more than three hundred years of Spanish rule, the Dominican people declared independence in November 1821. The leader of the independence movement, José Núñez de Cáceres, intended to unite with the country of Gran Colombia. However, as soon as they were no longer under Spanish rule, the newly independent Dominicans were forcibly annexed by their more powerful neighbour Haiti in February 1822. After winning the Dominican War of Independence in 1844 against Haitian rule, the country fell back under Spanish colonial rule. The crown was finally removed during the Dominican Restoration War of 1865.
Until 1916, the Dominican Republic was predominantly in internal turmoil (Second Republic). An American occupation lasted eight years between 1916 and 1924, followed by a quiet and prosperous six-year period under Horacio Vásquez Lajara and the dictatorship of Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina until 1961. A civil war in 1965, the country’s last, was ended by a renewed US military occupation and was followed by the authoritarian regime of Joaquín Balaguer, 1966-1978. Since then, the Dominican Republic has evolved into a representative democracy and has been led by Leonel Fernández most of the time since 1996. Danilo Medina, the current president of the Dominican Republic, succeeded Fernandez in 2012, winning 51% of the vote in the elections against his opponent, former president Hipólito Mejía.
The Dominican Republic has the ninth largest economy in Latin America and is the largest economy in the Caribbean and Central American region. Long known for its agriculture and mining, the economy is now dominated by services. Over the past two decades, the Dominican Republic has stood out as one of the fastest growing economies in the Americas, with an average real GDP growth rate of 5.4% between 1992 and 2014. In 2014 and 2015, GDP growth reached 7.3% and 7.0% respectively, the highest rates in the Western Hemisphere. In the first half of 2016, the Dominican economy grew by 7.4 %, continuing the trend of rapid economic growth.
Recent growth has been driven by construction, manufacturing and tourism. Private consumption has been strong, driven by low inflation (less than 1% on average in 2015), job creation and high remittances. The Dominican Republic has a vibrant national stock market, the Bolsa de Valores de la Republica Dominicana (BVRD). The Dominican Republic’s economic progress is exemplified by its advanced telecommunications system and transport infrastructure. However, unemployment, government corruption and irregular electrical service remain major Dominican problems. The country also has “marked income inequality”. International migration has a major impact on the Dominican Republic, receiving and sending large flows of migrants. The massive illegal immigration of Haitians and the integration of Dominicans of Haitian origin are major problems. There is a large Dominican diaspora, mainly in the United States. It contributes to the development of the Dominican Republic by sending billions of dollars in remittances to Dominican families.
The Dominican Republic is the most visited destination in the Caribbean. Year-round golf courses are among the island’s top attractions. The Dominican Republic is a geographically diverse country and is home to both the Caribbean’s highest mountain, Pico Duarte, and the Caribbean’s largest lake and lowest point, Lake Enriquillo. The island has an average temperature of 26°C (78.8°F) and great climatic and biological diversity. The land is also the site of the first cathedral, castle, monastery and fortress built in the Americas. They are located in the colonial zone of Santo Domingo, an area declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Music and sports are very important in Dominican culture. Merengue and bachata are the national dance and music, and baseball is the most popular sport.
Geography of Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic is located on the eastern side of the second largest island in the Greater Antilles, Hispaniola. It shares the island with Haiti in a 2:1 ratio. The country’s land area is estimated at 48,442 km2 (18,704 sq mi) (by the US Embassy) and 48,730 km2 (18,815 sq mi),making it the second largest country in the Caribbean, after Cuba. The capital and largest metropolitan area of the Dominican Republic, Santo Domingo, is located on the south coast.
There are many small offshore islands and bays that are part of the Dominican territory. The two largest offshore islands are Saona, in the southeast, and Beata, in the southwest. To the north, at a distance of 100-200 kilometres, are three large, largely submerged banks that geographically represent a southeastern extension of the Bahamas: the Navidad Bank, the Silver Bank and the Mouchoir Bank. Navidad Bank and Silver Bank have been officially claimed by the Dominican Republic.
The Dominican Republic has four major mountain ranges. The northernmost is the Cordillera Septentrional, which stretches from the coastal town of Monte Cristi in the northwest, near the Haitian border, to the Samaná Peninsula in the east, parallel to the Atlantic coast. The highest mountain range in the Dominican Republic – and in the entire Caribbean – is the Cordillera Central (“Central Mountain Range”). It slopes gradually southwards and ends near the city of Azua on the Caribbean coast.
The Cordillera Central contains the four highest peaks in the Caribbean: Pico Duarte (3,098 metres or 10,164 feet above sea level), La Pelona (3,094 metres or 10,151 feet), La Rucilla (3,049 metres or 10,003 feet) and Pico Yaque (2,760 metres or 9,055 feet). In the southwest corner of the country, south of the Cordillera Central, there are two other mountain ranges. The northernmost of the two is the Sierra de Neiba, while to the south the Sierra de Bahoruco is an extension of Haiti’s Massif de la Selle. Other smaller mountain ranges are the Cordillera Oriental, Sierra Martín García, Sierra de Yamasá and Sierra de Samaná.
Between the central and northern mountain ranges lies the rich and fertile Cibao Valley. This large valley is home to the cities of Santiago and La Vega, as well as most of the country’s agricultural land. The semi-arid San Juan Valley, south of the Cordillera Central, and the Neiba Valley, nestled between the Sierra de Neiba and the Sierra de Bahoruco, are less productive. Most of the land in the Enriquillo Basin is below sea level in a hot, dry desert environment. There are other smaller valleys in the mountains, such as the valleys of Constanza, Jarabacoa, Villa Altagracia and Bonao.
The Llano Costero del Caribe (“Caribbean Coastal Plain”) is the largest of the plains in the Dominican Republic. It stretches north and east of Santo Domingo and contains numerous sugar plantations in the savannahs that are common there. West of Santo Domingo, its width reduces to 10 kilometres as it runs along the coast and ends at the mouth of the Ocoa River. Another large plain is the Plena de Azua (“Azua Plain”), a very dry region in the province of Azua. Some other small coastal plains are located on the north coast and on the Pedernales Peninsula.
Four major rivers drain the many mountains of the Dominican Republic. The Yaque del Norte is the longest and most important Dominican river. It carries the excess water from the Cibao Valley and flows into Monte Cristi Bay in the northwest. Similarly, the Yuna River serves the Vega Real and flows into Samaná Bay in the northeast. The San Juan Valley is drained by the San Juan River, a tributary of the Yaque del Sur, which flows into the Caribbean Sea to the south. The Artibonito is the longest river on Hispaniola and flows into Haiti in the west.
There are numerous lakes and coastal lagoons. The largest lake is Enriquillo, a saltwater lake that lies 45 metres below sea level, making it the lowest point in the Caribbean. Other important lakes are the freshwater Laguna de Rincón or Cabral and the brackish water Laguna de Oviedo.
The Dominican Republic is located near a fault line in the Caribbean. In 1946, it was hit by a magnitude 8.1 earthquake off the northeast coast. This triggered a tsunami that killed about 1,800 people, mostly in coastal communities. The wave was also recorded in Daytona Beach, Florida, and Atlantic City, New Jersey. The area remains at risk. Caribbean countries and the United States are working together to establish tsunami warning systems and map the risk in low-lying areas.
Demographics of Dominican Republic
The population of the Dominican Republic was 9.76 million in 2007. In 2010, 31.2 % of the population was under 15 years old and 6 % of the population was over 65 years old. In 2007, there were 103 men for every 100 women. The annual population growth rate for 2006-2007 was 1.5 per cent, with a projected population of 10,121,000 for 2015.
The population density in 2007 was 192 per km² (498 per km²) and 63 % of the population lived in urban areas. The southern coastal plains and the Cibao Valley are the most densely populated areas of the country. The capital Santo Domingo had a population of 2,907,100 in 2010.
Other important cities are: Santiago de los Caballeros (745,293 inhabitants), La Romana (214,109 inhabitants), San Pedro de Macorís (185,255 inhabitants), Higüey (153,174 inhabitants), San Francisco de Macorís (132,725 inhabitants), Puerto Plata (118,282 inhabitants) and La Vega (104,536 inhabitants). According to the United Nations, the growth rate of the urban population in the period 2000-2005 was 2.3 per cent.
The population of the Dominican Republic is 73% racially mixed, 16% white and 11% black. Ethnic immigrant groups in the country include West Asians – mainly Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians.
Many immigrants came from other Caribbean countries because the country offered economic opportunities. About 32,000 Jamaicans live in the Dominican Republic. There is a growing number of Puerto Rican immigrants, mainly in and around Santo Domingo, estimated at about 10,000. There are more than 700,000 people of Haitian origin, including a generation born in the Dominican Republic.
There are also East Asians, mainly Chinese and Japanese. Europeans are represented mainly by Spanish whites, but also by smaller populations of German Jews, Italians, Portuguese, British, Dutch, Danes and Hungarians. Some Sephardic Jewish converts from Spain were part of the early expeditions; only Catholics were allowed to come to the New World. Later, Jewish migrants from Iberia and Europe arrived in the 1700s, and some made it to the Caribbean as refugees during and after World War II. Some Sephardic Jews live in Sosúa, while others are scattered throughout the country. The number of self-identifying Jews is about 3,000; other Dominicans may have Jewish ancestry due to intermarriage between converted Catholic Jews and other Dominicans since the colonial years. Some US-born Dominicans now live in the Dominican Republic and form a kind of expatriate community.
In 2014, 57% of the population (5.7 million) identified themselves as Roman Catholic and 23% (2.3 million) as Evangelical Protestant (in Latin American countries Protestants are usually called Evangelicos). Other religions have recently been added through immigration and missionisation, with the following percentages of the population: Spiritists: 2.2%, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: 1.1%,Buddhists: 0.1%, Bahá’ís: 0.1%, Chinese Folk Religion: 0.1%, Islam: 0.02%, Judaism: 0.01%. The Dominican Republic has two patron saints: Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia (Our Lady of High Grace) and Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes (Our Lady of Mercy).
The Catholic Church began to lose popularity in the late 19th century. The reason was a lack of funding, priests and support programmes. At the same time, the Evangelical Protestant movement began to gain support. Religious tensions between Catholics and Protestants in the country were rare.
The Dominican Republic has always allowed a high degree of religious freedom. In the 1950s, restrictions were imposed on churches by the Trujillo government. Letters of protest were sent against the mass arrests of government opponents. Trujillo launched a campaign against the Catholic Church and planned the arrest of priests and bishops who preached against the government. This campaign ended, before it was implemented, with his assassination.
During the Second World War, a group of Jews fled Nazi Germany to the Dominican Republic and founded the town of Sosúa. Since then, it has remained the centre of the Jewish population.
Economy of Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic is the largest economy (according to the U.S. State Department and the World Bank) in the Caribbean and Central American region. It is an upper middle-income developing country, with a GDP per capita of $14,770 in 2015 (in PPP). Over the past two decades, the Dominican Republic has emerged as one of the fastest growing economies in the Americas – with an average real GDP growth rate of 5.4% between 1992 and 2014. In 2014 and 2015, GDP growth reached 7.3% and 7.0% respectively, the highest rates in the Western Hemisphere. In the first half of 2016, the Dominican economy grew by 7.4 %. Since 2015, the average wage has been USD 392 per month in nominal terms (DOP $17,829).
Over the last three decades, the Dominican economy has evolved from a dependence on the export of agricultural products (mainly sugar, cocoa and coffee) to a diversified mix of services, manufacturing, agriculture, mining and trade. The services sector accounts for almost 60 % of GDP; manufacturing 22 %; tourism, telecommunications and finance are the main components of the services sector; however, none of them accounts for more than 10 % of the total.
Remittances to the Dominican Republic increased to USD 4571.30 million in 2014, up from USD 3333 million in 2013 (according to the Inter-American Development Bank). Economic growth is taking place despite a chronic energy shortage that leads to frequent power outages and very high prices. Despite a widening merchandise trade deficit, revenues from tourism and remittances have built up foreign exchange reserves. The Dominican Republic is up to date on its private foreign debt.
After the economic turmoil of the late 1980s and 1990s, when gross domestic product (GDP) fell by as much as 5 per cent and consumer price inflation reached an unprecedented 100 per cent, the Dominican Republic entered a period of growth and falling inflation until it fell into recession in 2002.
This recession followed the collapse of the country’s second largest commercial bank, Baninter, which was linked to a major fraud case worth $3.5 billion. The Baninter fraud had a devastating impact on the Dominican economy: GDP fell by 1% in 2003, while inflation rose by over 27%. All the defendants, including the star of the trial, Ramón Báez Figueroa (the great-grandson of President Buenaventura Báez), were convicted.
According to the UN Subcommittee on Human Development’s 2005 Annual Report on the Dominican Republic, the country ranks 71st in the world for resource availability, 79th in the world for human development and 14th in the world for resource mismanagement. These statistics highlight the corruption of the national government, the interference of foreign business in the country and the gap between rich and poor.
The Dominican Republic has a notorious child labour problem in the coffee, rice, sugar cane and tomato industries. Labour injustices in the sugar cane industry extend to forced labour, according to the US Department of Labour. Three large groups own 75 % of the land: the National Sugar Council (Consejo Estatal del Azúcar, CEA), Grupo Vicini and the Central Romana Corporation.