The Dominican Republic (República Dominicana) 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 one-third of the island is occupied by the nation of Haiti, making Hispaniola one of two Caribbean islands, along with Saint Martin, that are shared by two countries. The Dominican Republic is the second-largest Caribbean nation by area (after Cuba) at 18,705 square miles (48,445 square kilometers), and third by population with 10.08 million people, of which approximately three million live in the metropolitan area of Santo Domingo, the capital city.
For most of its history (up until independence), the country was known as Santo Domingo — the name of its present capital and patron saint, Saint Dominic — and continued to be commonly known as such in English until the early twentieth century. The residents were called Dominicanos (Dominicans), which is the adjective form of “Domingo,” and the revolutionaries named their newly independent country La República Dominicana. In the national anthem of the Dominican Republic (Himno Nacional) the term “Dominican” never appears. The author of its lyrics, Emilio Prud’Homme, consistently uses the poetic term Quisqueyanos. The word “Quisqueya” derives from a native tongue of the Taino Indians and means, “Mother of all Lands.” It is often used in songs as another name for the country. The name of the country is often shortened to “the D.R.”
The Arawakan-speaking Taíno moved into Hispaniola from the north east region of what is now known as South America, displacing earlier inhabitants, circa AD 650. The fierce Caribs drove the Taíno to the northeastern Caribbean during much of the fifteenth century. The estimates of Hispaniola’s population in 1492 vary widely, including one hundred thousand, three hundred thousand, and four hundred thousand to two million. Determining precisely how many people lived on the island in pre-Columbian times is next to impossible, as no accurate records exist. By 1492. the island was divided into five Taíno chiefdoms. The Taíno name for the entire island was either Ayiti or Quisqueya.
The Spaniards arrived in 1492. After initially friendly relationships, the Taínos resisted the conquest, led by the female Chief Anacaona of Xaragua and her ex-husband Chief Caonabo of Maguana, as well as Chiefs Guacanagaríx, Guamá, Hatuey, and Enriquillo. The latter’s successes gained his people an autonomous enclave for a time on the island. Within a few years after 1492, the population of Taínos had declined drastically, due to smallpox, measles, and other diseases that arrived with the Europeans.
The first recorded smallpox outbreak in the Americas occurred on Hispaniola in 1507. The last record of pure Taínos in the country was from 1864. Still, Taíno biological heritage survived to an important extent, due to intermixing. Census records from 1514 reveal that 40% of Spanish men in Santo Domingo were married to Taino women, and some present-day Dominicans have Taíno ancestry. Remnants of the Taino culture include their cave paintings, as well as pottery designs which are still used in the small artisan village of Higüerito, Moca.
Christopher Columbus arrived on Hispaniola on December 5, 1492, during the first of his four voyages to America. He claimed the land for Spain and named it La Española, because the diverse climate and terrain reminded him of the country. In 1496, Bartholomew Columbus, Christopher’s brother, built the city of Santo Domingo, Western Europe’s first permanent settlement in the “New World.” The Spaniards created a plantation economy on the island. The colony was the springboard for the further Spanish conquest of America and for decades the headquarters of Spanish power in the hemisphere.
The Taínos nearly disappeared, above all, from European infectious diseases to which they had no immunity. Other causes were abuse, suicide, the breakup of family, starvation, the encomienda system, which resembled a feudal system in Medieval Europe, war with the Spaniards, changes in lifestyle, and mixing with other peoples. Laws passed for the Indians’ protection (beginning with the Laws of Burgos, 1512–1513) were never truly enforced.
Some scholars believe that las Casas exaggerated the Indian population decline in an effort to persuade King Carlos to intervene and that encomenderos also exaggerated it, in order to receive permission to import more African slaves. Moreover, censuses of the time omitted the Indians who fled into remote communities, where they often joined with runaway Africans (cimarrones), producing Zambos. Also, Mestizos who were culturally Spanish were counted as Spaniards, some Zambos as black, and some Indians as Mulattoes.
After its conquest of the Aztecs and Incas, Spain neglected its Caribbean holdings. English and French buccaneers settled in northwestern Hispaniola coast and, after years of struggles with the French, Spain ceded the western coast of the island to France with the 1697 Treaty of Ryswick, whilst the Central Plateau remained under Spanish domain. France created a wealthy colony called Saint-Domingue there, while the Spanish colony suffered an economic decline.
The colony of Santo Domingo saw a spectacular population increase during the seventeenth century, as it rose from some 6,000 in 1637 to about 91,272 in 1750. Of this number approximately 38,272 were white landowners, 38,000 were free mixed people of color, and some 15,000 were slaves. This contrasted sharply with the population of the French colony of Saint-Domingue (present day Haiti) — which had a population that was 90% enslaved and overall seven times as numerous as the Spanish colony of Santo Domingo.
France came to own Hispaniola in 1795 when by the Peace of Basel Spain ceded Santo Domingo as a consequence of the French Revolutionary Wars. The recently freed Africans led by Toussaint Louverture in 1801, took over Santo Domingo in the east, thus gaining control of the entire island. In 1802, an army sent by Napoleon captured Toussaint Louverture and sent him to France as prisoner. Toussaint Louverture’s lieutenants and the spread of yellow fever succeeded in driving the French again from Saint-Domingue, which in 1804 the rebels made independent as the Republic of Haiti. Eastwards, France continued to rule Spanish Santo Domingo.
In 1805, Haitian troops of general Henri Christophe invaded Santo Domingo and sacked the towns of Santiago de los Caballeros and Moca, killing most of their residents and helping to lay the foundation for two centuries of animosity between the two countries. In 1808, following Napoleon’s invasion of Spain, the criollos of Santo Domingo revolted against French rule and, with the aid of the United Kingdom (Spain’s ally) returned Santo Domingo to Spanish control.
After a dozen years of discontent and failed independence plots by various opposing groups, Santo Domingo’s former Lieutenant-Governor (top administrator), José Núñez de Cáceres, declared the colony’s independence from the Spanish crown as Spanish Haiti, on November 30, 1821. This period is also known as the Ephemeral independence. The newly independent republic ended two months later under the Haitian government led by Jean-Pierre Boyer.
As Toussaint Louverture had done two decades earlier, the Haitians abolished slavery. In order to raise funds for the huge indemnity of 150 million francs that Haiti agreed to pay the former French colonists, and which was subsequently lowered to 60 million francs, the Haitian government imposed heavy taxes on the Dominicans. Since Haiti was unable to adequately provision its army, the occupying forces largely survived by commandeering or confiscating food and supplies at gunpoint. Attempts to redistribute land conflicted with the system of communal land tenure (terrenos comuneros), which had arisen with the ranching economy, and some people resented being forced to grow cash crops under Boyer and Joseph Balthazar Inginac’s Code Rural. In the rural and rugged mountainous areas, the Haitian administration was usually too inefficient to enforce its own laws. It was in the city of Santo Domingo that the effects of the occupation were most acutely felt, and it was there that the movement for independence originated.
Haiti’s constitution forbade white elites from owning land, and Dominican major landowning families were forcibly deprived of their properties. Many emigrated to Cuba, Puerto Rico (these two being Spanish possessions at the time), or Gran Colombia, usually with the encouragement of Haitian officials who acquired their lands. The Haitians associated the Roman Catholic Church with the French slave-masters who had exploited them before independence and confiscated all church property, deported all foreign clergy, and severed the ties of the remaining clergy to the Vatican.
All levels of education collapsed; the university was shut down, as it was starved both of resources and students, with young Dominican men from 16 to 25 years old being drafted into the Haitian army. Boyer’s occupation troops, who were largely Dominicans, were unpaid and had to “forage and sack” from Dominican civilians. Haiti imposed a “heavy tribute” on the Dominican people.
Many whites fled Santo Domingo for Puerto Rico and Cuba (both still under Spanish rule), Venezuela, and elsewhere. In the end the economy faltered and taxation became more onerous. Rebellions occurred even by Dominican freedmen, while Dominicans and Haitians worked together to oust Boyer from power. Anti-Haitian movements of several kinds — pro-independence, pro-Spanish, pro-French, pro-British, pro-United States — gathered force following the overthrow of Boyer in 1843.
In 1838, Juan Pablo Duarte founded a secret society called La Trinitaria, which sought the complete independence of Santo Domingo without any foreign intervention. Matías Ramón Mella and Francisco del Rosario Sánchez, despite not being among the founding members of La Trinitaria, were decisive in the fight for independence. Duarte, Mella, and Sánchez are considered the three Founding Fathers of the Dominican Republic. On February 27, 1844, the Trinitarios, declared the independence from Haiti. They were backed by Pedro Santana, a wealthy cattle rancher from El Seibo, who became general of the army of the nascent republic. The Dominican Republic’s first Constitution was adopted on November 6, 1844, and was modeled after the United States Constitution.
The decades that followed were filled with tyranny, factionalism, economic difficulties, rapid changes of government, and exile for political opponents. Threatening the nation’s independence were renewed Haitian invasions occurring in 1844, 1845–49, 1849–55, and 1855–56. Haiti did not recognize the Dominican Republic until 1874.
Meanwhile, archrivals Santana and Buenaventura Báez held power most of the time, both ruling arbitrarily. They promoted competing plans to annex the new nation to another power: Santana favored Spain, and Báez the United States.
In 1861, after imprisoning, silencing, exiling, and executing many of his opponents and due to political and economic reasons, Santana signed a pact with the Spanish Crown and reverted the Dominican nation to colonial status, the only Latin American country to do so. His ostensible aim was to protect the nation from another Haitian annexation.
The first stamps used were the joint issue for Cuba and Puerto Rico.
Opponents launched the War of Restoration in 1863, led by Santiago Rodríguez, Benito Monción, and Gregorio Luperón, among others. Haiti, fearful of the re-establishment of Spain as colonial power on its border, gave refuge and supplies to the revolutionaries. The United States, then fighting its own Civil War, vigorously protested the Spanish action. After two years of fighting, Spain abandoned the island in 1865. The first stamps for the republic were issued on October 19, 1865.
Political strife again prevailed in the following years; warlords ruled, military revolts were extremely common, and the nation amassed debt. It was now Báez’s turn to act on his plan of annexing the country to the United States, where two successive presidents were supportive. U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant desired a naval base at Samaná and also a place for resettling newly freed Blacks. The treaty, which included U.S. payment of $1.5 million for Dominican debt repayment, was defeated in the United States Senate in 1870 on a vote of 28–28, two-thirds being required.
Báez was toppled in 1874, returned, and was toppled for good in 1878. A new generation was thence in charge, with the passing of Santana (he died in 1864) and Báez from the scene. Relative peace came to the country in the 1880s, which saw the coming to power of General Ulises Heureaux.
“Lilís,” as the new president was nicknamed, enjoyed a period of popularity. He was, however, “a consummate dissembler,” who put the nation deep into debt while using much of the proceeds for his personal use and to maintain his police state. Heureaux became rampantly despotic and unpopular. In 1899, he was assassinated. However, the relative calm over which he presided allowed improvement in the Dominican economy. The sugar industry was modernized, and the country attracted foreign workers and immigrants.
From 1902 on, short-lived governments were again the norm, with their power usurped by caudillos in parts of the country. Furthermore, the national government was bankrupt and, unable to pay Heureaux’s debts, faced the threat of military intervention by France and other European creditor powers.
United States President Theodore Roosevelt sought to prevent European intervention, largely to protect the routes to the future Panama Canal, as the canal was already under construction. He made a small military intervention to ward off European powers, to proclaim his famous Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, and also to obtain his 1905 Dominican agreement for U.S. administration of Dominican customs, which was the chief source of income for the Dominican government. A 1906 agreement provided for the arrangement to last 50 years. The United States agreed to use part of the customs proceeds to reduce the immense foreign debt of the Dominican Republic and assumed responsibility for said debt.
After six years in power, President Ramón Cáceres (who had himself assassinated Heureaux) was assassinated in 1911. The result was several years of great political instability and civil war. U.S. mediation by the William Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson administrations achieved only a short respite each time. A political deadlock in 1914 was broken after an ultimatum by Wilson telling the Dominicans to choose a president or see the U.S. impose one. A provisional president was chosen, and later the same year relatively free elections put former president (1899–1902) Juan Isidro Jimenes Pereyra back in power. To achieve a more broadly supported government, Jimenes named opposition individuals to his cabinet. But this brought no peace and, with his former Secretary of War Desiderio Arias maneuvering to depose him and despite a U.S. offer of military aid against Arias, Jimenes resigned on May 7, 1916.
Wilson thus ordered the U.S. occupation of the Dominican Republic. U.S. Marines landed on May 16, 1916, and had control of the country two months later. The military government established by the U.S., led by Vice Admiral Harry Shepard Knapp, was widely repudiated by the Dominicans, with many factions within the country leading guerrilla campaigns against U.S. forces. The occupation regime kept most Dominican laws and institutions and largely pacified the general population. The occupying government also revived the Dominican economy, reduced the nation’s debt, built a road network that at last interconnected all regions of the country, and created a professional National Guard to replace the warring partisan units.
Vigorous opposition to the occupation continued, nevertheless, and after World War I it increased in the U.S. as well. There, President Warren G. Harding (1921–23), Wilson’s successor, worked to put an end to the occupation, as he had promised to do during his campaign. The U.S. government’s rule ended in October 1922, and elections were held in March 1924.
The victor was former president (1902–03) Horacio Vásquez Lajara, who had cooperated with the U.S. He was inaugurated on July 13, and the last U.S. forces left in September. Vásquez gave the country six years of stable governance, in which political and civil rights were respected and the economy grew strongly, in a relatively peaceful atmosphere.
During the government of Horacio Vásquez, Rafael Trujillo held the rank of lieutenant colonel and was chief of police. This position helped him launch his plans to overthrow the government of Vásquez. Trujillo had the support of Carlos Rosario Peña, who formed the Civic Movement, which had as its main objective to overthrow the government of Vásquez.
In February 1930, when Vásquez attempted to win another term, his opponents rebelled in secret alliance with the commander of the National Army (the former National Guard), General Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina. Trujillo secretly cut a deal with rebel leader Rafael Estrella Ureña; in return for letting Ureña take power, Trujillo would be allowed to run for president in new elections. As the rebels marched toward Santo Domingo, Vásquez ordered Trujillo to suppress them. However, feigning “neutrality,” Trujillo kept his men in barracks, allowing Ureña’s rebels to take the capital virtually uncontested. On March 3, Ureña was proclaimed acting president with Trujillo confirmed as head of the police and the army.
As per their agreement, Trujillo became the presidential nominee of the newly formed Patriotic Coalition of Citizens (Coalición patriotica de los ciudadanos), with Ureña as his running mate. During the election campaign, Trujillo used the army to unleash his repression, forcing his opponents to withdraw from the race. Trujillo stood to elect himself, and in May he was elected president virtually unopposed after a violent campaign against his opponents, ascending to power on August 16, 1930.
There was considerable economic growth during Rafael Trujillo’s long and iron-fisted regime, although a great deal of the wealth was taken by the dictator and other regime elements. There was progress in healthcare, education, and transportation, with the building of hospitals and clinics, schools, and roads and harbors. Trujillo also carried out an important housing construction program and instituted a pension plan. He finally negotiated an undisputed border with Haiti in 1935 and achieved the end of the 50-year customs agreement in 1941, instead of 1956. He made the country debt-free in 1947.
This was accompanied by absolute repression and the copious use of murder, torture, and terrorist methods against the opposition. Trujillo renamed Santo Domingo to “Ciudad Trujillo” (Trujillo City), the nation’s — and the Caribbean’s — highest mountain La Pelona Grande (The Great Bald) to “Pico Trujillo” (Trujillo Peak), and many towns and a province. Some other places he renamed after members of his family. By the end of his first term in 1934, he was the country’s wealthiest person, and one of the wealthiest in the world by the early 1950s near the end of his regime his fortune was an estimated $800 million.
Although one-quarter Haitian, Trujillo promoted propaganda against them. In 1937, he ordered what became known as the Parsley Massacre or, in the Dominican Republic, as El Corte (The Cutting), directing the army to kill Haitians living on the Dominican side of the border. The army killed an estimated 17,000 to 35,000 Haitians over six days, from the night of October 2, 1937, through October 8, 1937. To avoid leaving evidence of the army’s involvement, the soldiers used machetes rather than bullets. The soldiers were said to have interrogated anyone with dark skin, using the shibboleth perejil (parsley) to distinguish Haitians from Afro-Dominicans when necessary; the ‘r’ of perejil was of difficult pronunciation for Haitians. As a result of the massacre, the Dominican Republic agreed to pay Haiti US$750,000, later reduced to US$525,000.
On November 25, 1960, Trujillo killed three of the four Mirabal sisters, nicknamed Las Mariposas (The Butterflies). The victims were Patria Mercedes Mirabal, Argentina Minerva Mirabal and Antonia María Teresa Mirabal. Along with their husbands, the sisters were conspiring to overthrow Trujillo in a violent revolt. The Mirabals had communist ideological leanings as did their husbands. The sisters have received many honors posthumously and have many memorials in various cities in the Dominican Republic. Salcedo, their home province, changed its name to Provincia Hermanas Mirabal (Mirabal Sisters Province). The International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women is observed on the anniversary of their deaths.
For a long time, the U.S. and the Dominican elite supported the Trujillo government. This support persisted despite the assassinations of political opposition, the massacre of Haitians, and Trujillo’s plots against other countries. The U.S. believed Trujillo was the lesser of two or more evils. The U.S. finally broke with Trujillo in 1960, after Trujillo’s agents attempted to assassinate the Venezuelan president, Rómulo Betancourt, a fierce critic of Trujillo.
Trujillo was assassinated on May 30, 1961. In February 1963, a democratically elected government under leftist Juan Bosch took office but it was overthrown in September. In April 1965, after 19 months of military rule, a pro-Bosch revolt broke out.
Days later, U.S. President Lyndon Johnson, concerned that Communists might take over the revolt and create a “second Cuba,” sent the Marines, followed immediately by the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division and other elements of the XVIIIth Airborne Corps, in Operation Powerpack. “We don’t propose to sit here in a rocking chair with our hands folded and let the Communist set up any government in the western hemisphere,” Johnson said. The forces were soon joined by comparatively small contingents from the Organization of American States. All these remained in the country for over a year and left after supervising elections in 1966 won by Joaquín Balaguer. He had been Trujillo’s last puppet-president.
Balaguer remained in power as president for 12 years. His tenure was a period of repression of human rights and civil liberties, ostensibly to keep pro-Castro or pro-communist parties out of power; 11,000 persons were killed. His rule was criticized for a growing disparity between rich and poor. It was, however, praised for an ambitious infrastructure program, which included construction of large housing projects, sports complexes, theaters, museums, aqueducts, roads, highways, and the massive Columbus Lighthouse, completed in 1992 during a later tenure.
In 1978, Balaguer was succeeded in the presidency by opposition candidate Antonio Guzmán Fernández, of the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD). Another PRD win in 1982 followed, under Salvador Jorge Blanco. Under the PRD presidents, the Dominican Republic enjoyed a period of relative freedom and basic human rights. Balaguer regained the presidency in 1986 and was re-elected in 1990 and 1994, this last time just defeating PRD candidate José Francisco Peña Gómez, a former mayor of Santo Domingo. The 1994 elections were flawed, bringing on international pressure, to which Balaguer responded by scheduling another presidential contest in 1996.
That year Leonel Fernández achieved the first-ever win for the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD), which Bosch had founded in 1973 after leaving the PRD (which he also had founded). Fernández oversaw a fast-growing economy: growth averaged 7.7% per year, unemployment fell, and there were stable exchange and inflation rates.
In 2000 the PRD’s Hipólito Mejía won the election. This was a time of economic troubles. Mejía was defeated in his re-election effort in 2004 by Leonel Fernández of the PLD. In 2008, Fernández was as elected for a third term. Fernández and the PLD are credited with initiatives that have moved the country forward technologically, such as the construction of the Metro Railway (El Metro). On the other hand, his administrations have been accused of corruption. Danilo Medina, of the PLD, was elected president in 2012 and re-elected in 2016. He campaigned on a platform of investing more in social programs and education and less in infrastructure.
Scott #353 was issued on April 14, 1940, part of a set of five lithographed stamps marking the 50th anniversary of what was then called the Pan American Union. The stamp depicts a map of the Americas and flags of twenty-one American republics. While the flags are in their national colors, the bulk of the 3 centavo stamp is colored red violet. It is perforated 11½.
The Pan American Union was formed at the conclusion of the First International Conference of American States which was held in Washington, D.C. from January 20 to April 27, 1890. First used in the New York Evening Post in 1888, the term “Pan-Americanism” referred to the movement toward commercial, social, economic, military, and political cooperation among the nations of North, Central, and South America.
During the 1890 conference, 18 nations resolved to found the International Union of American Republics, served by a permanent secretariat called the Commercial Bureau of the American Republics (renamed the International Commercial Bureau at the Second International Conference in 1901–1902). These two bodies, in existence as of April 14, 1890, represent the point of inception to which the Organization of American States (OAS) and its General Secretariat trace their origins.
At the Fourth International Conference of American States (Buenos Aires, 1910), the name of the organization was changed to the Union of American Republics and the Bureau became the Pan American Union. The Pan American Union Building was constructed in 1910, on Constitution Avenue, Northwest, Washington, D.C.
In the mid-1930s, U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt organized an inter-American conference in Buenos Aires. One of the items at the conference was a “League of Nations of the Americas”, an idea proposed by Colombia, Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic. At the subsequent Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of Peace, 21 nations pledged to remain neutral in the event of a conflict between any two members. The experience of World War II convinced hemispheric governments that unilateral action could not ensure the territorial integrity of the American nations in the event of external aggression. To meet the challenges of global conflict in the postwar world and to contain conflicts within the hemisphere, they adopted a system of collective security, the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (Rio Treaty) signed in 1947 in Rio de Janeiro.
The Ninth International Conference of American States was held in Bogotá between March and May 1948 and led by United States Secretary of State George Marshall, a meeting which led to a pledge by members to fight communism in the western hemisphere. This was the event that saw the birth of the OAS as it stands today, with the signature by 21 American countries of the Charter of the Organization of American States on April 30, 1948 (in effect since December 1951). The meeting also adopted the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, the world’s first general human rights instrument.
The transition from the Pan American Union to OAS would have been smooth if it had not been for the assassination of Colombian leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán. The Director General of the former, Alberto Lleras Camargo, became the Organization’s first Secretary General. The current Secretary General is former Uruguayan minister of foreign affairs Luis Almagro.