Discovered and claimed by Christopher Columbus on his first voyage on 5 December 1492, the island of Ayití, named “Hispaniola” by Columbus, became the springboard for the Spanish conquest of the Caribbean and the American continent.
The island was first inhabited by the Taínos and the Caribs. The Caribs were an Arawakan-speaking people who arrived around 10,000 BC. Within a few years of the arrival of the European explorers, the Taino population was greatly reduced by the Spanish conquerors. According to Fray Bartolomé de las Casas (Tratado de las Indias), the Spanish conquistadors killed about 100,000 Tainos between 1492 and 1498.
The first European colony founded in the Americas was located in La Isabela, Puerto Plata (19º53’15.08″ N 71º04’48.41″ W) and was founded in 1493 in 15th century style. The city of Santo Domingo was founded on 5 August 1496 by Bartolomé Colón and moved to the west bank of the Ozama River in 1502 by Frey Nicolás de Ovando.
In 1606, the Spanish crown ordered the depopulation of the western part of the island due to the extent of piracy and smuggling. This led to the French invasion and the founding of Haiti.
In 1697, Spain recognised French rule over the western third of the island, which became Haiti in 1804. The rest of the island, then called Santo Domingo, tried to gain its own independence in 1821, but was conquered and ruled by the Haitians for 22 years; it finally gained independence as the Dominican Republic in 1844.
The legacy of an unstable and generally unrepresentative regime for most of the country’s history ended in 1966 when Joaquín Balaguer was elected president for a second, non-consecutive term (he had served his first term from 1960 to 1962). He held a stranglehold on power for most of the next 30 years until international reaction to flawed elections forced him to shorten his last term, hold new elections in 1996 and relinquish power. Since then, competitive elections have been held regularly every four years.
The Dominican economy has experienced one of the fastest growth rates in the hemisphere.