U.S. Department of State, October 2000 |
Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs
Area: 48,442 sq. km. (18,704 sq. mi.), about the size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Dominican(s).
Type: Representative democracy.
GDP: $14.9 billion.
About half of Dominicans live in rural areas; many are small landholders. Haitians form the largest foreign minority group. All religions are tolerated; the state religion is Roman Catholicism.
The island of Hispaniola, of which the Dominican Republic forms the eastern two-thirds and Haiti the remainder, was originally occupied by Tainos, an Arawak-speaking people. The Tainos welcomed Columbus in his first voyage in 1492, but subsequent colonizers were brutal, reducing the Taino population from about 1 million to about 500 in 50 years. To ensure adequate labor for plantations, the Spanish brought African slaves to the island beginning in 1503.
In the next century, French settlers occupied the western end of the island, which Spain ceded to France in 1697, and which, in 1804, became the Republic of Haiti. The Haitians conquered the whole island in 1822 and held it until 1844, when forces led by Juan Pablo Duarte, the hero of Dominican independence, drove them out and established the Dominican Republic as an independent state. In 1861, the Dominicans voluntarily returned to the Spanish Empire; in 1865, independence was restored. Economic difficulties, the threat of European intervention, and ongoing internal disorders led to a U.S. Occupation in 1916 and the establishment of a military government in the Dominican Republic. The occupation ended in 1924, with a democratically elected Dominican Government.
In 1930, Rafael L. Trujillo, a prominent army commander, established absolute political control. Trujillo promoted economic development--from which he and his supporters benefitted--and severe repression of domestic human rights. Mismanagement and corruption resulted in major economic problems. In August 1960, the Organization of American States (OAS) imposed diplomatic sanctions against the Dominican Republic as a result of Trujillo's complicity in an attempt to assassinate President Romulo Betancourt of Venezuela. These sanctions remained in force after Trujillo's death by assassination in May 1961. In November 1961, the Trujillo family was forced into exile.
In January 1962, a council of state that included moderate opposition elements with legislative and executive powers was formed. OAS sanctions were lifted January 4, and, after the resignation of President Joaquin Balaguer on January 16, the council under President Rafael E. Bonnelly headed the Dominican government. In 1963, Juan Bosch was inaugurated President. Bosch was overthrown in a military coup in September 1963.
Another military coup, on April 24, 1965, led to violence between military elements favoring the return to government by Bosch and those who proposed a military junta committed to early general elections. On April 28, U.S. military forces landed to protect U.S. citizens and to evacuate U.S. and other foreign nationals. Additional U.S. forces subsequently established order.
In June 1966, President Balaguer, leader of the Reformist Party (now called the Social Christian Reformist Party--PRSC), was elected and then re-elected to office in May 1970 and May 1974, both times after the major opposition parties withdrew late in the campaign. In the May 1978 election, Balaguer was defeated in his bid for a fourth successive term by Antonio Guzman of the PRD. Guzman's inauguration on August 16 marked the country's first peaceful transfer of power from one freely elected president to another.
The PRD's presidential candidate, Salvador Jorge Blanco, won the 1982 elections, and the PRD gained a majority in both houses of Congress. In an attempt to cure the ailing economy, the Jorge administration began to implement economic adjustment and recovery policies, including an austerity program in cooperation with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In April 1984, rising prices of basic foodstuffs and uncertainty about austerity measures led to riots.
Balaguer was returned to the presidency with electoral victories in 1986 and 1990. Upon taking office in 1986, Balaguer tried to reactivate the economy through a public works construction program. Nonetheless, by 1988 the country slid into a 2-year economic depression, characterized by high inflation and currency devaluation. Economic difficulties, coupled with problems in the delivery of basic services--e.g., electricity, water, transportation--generated popular discontent that resulted in frequent protests, occasionally violent, including a paralyzing nationwide strike in June 1989.
In 1990, Balaguer instituted a second set of economic reforms. After concluding an IMF agreement, balancing the budget, and curtailing inflation, the Dominican Republic is experiencing a period of economic growth marked by moderate inflation, a balance in external accounts, and a steadily increasing GDP.
The voting process in 1986 and 1990 was generally seen as fair, but allegations of electoral board fraud tainted both victories. The elections of 1994 were again marred by charges of fraud. Following a compromise calling for constitutional and electoral reform, President Balaguer assumed office for an abbreviated term. In June 1996, Leonel Fernandez Reyna was elected to a 4-year term as president. In May 2000 Hipolito Mejia was elected to a 4-year term as president.
The Dominican Republic is a representative democracy whose national powers are divided among independent executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The president appoints the cabinet, executes laws passed by the legislative branch, 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--the senate (30 members), and the chamber of deputies (120 members). Presidential elections are held in years evenly divisible by four. Congressional and municipal elections are held in even numbered years not divisible by four.
Under the constitutional reforms negotiated after the 1994 elections, the 16-member Supreme Court of Justice is appointed by a National Judicial Council, which is nominated by the three major political parties. The Court has sole jurisdiction over actions against the president, designated members of his cabinet, and members of Congress.
The Supreme Court hears appeals from lower courts and chooses members of lower courts. Each of the 29 provinces is headed by a presidentially appointed governor. Elected mayors and municipal councils administer the National District (Santo Domingo) and the 103 municipal districts.
The Dominican Republic has a multi-party political system with national elections every 4 years. In two rounds of presidential elections in 1996, nearly 80% of eligible Dominican voters went to the polls. The leading parties in 1994 were the PRSC, linked to the International Christian Democratic political movement, whose candidate was President Joaquin Balaguer; the PRD, affiliated with the Socialist International, whose candidate was Jose Francisco Pena Gomez; and the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD), whose candidate was former President Juan Bosch.
On election day, international observers noted many irregularities in the voter lists, and the opposition PRD immediately charged the Central Electoral Board and the PRSC with fraud. A Verification Commission appointed by the Central Electoral Board, however, did not accept the PRD's charges. By all estimates, total disenfranchised voters far exceeded the 22,281-vote margin of victory in favor of President Balaguer on August 2, 1994.
Following an intense period of political activity, the competing political parties signed a Pact for Democracy on August 10, reducing President Balaguer's term of office from 4 to 2 years, setting early elections, and reforming the constitution. A new Central Electoral Board was named to work on electoral reform. The main candidates in 1996 were Vice President Jacinto Peynado (PRSC), Jose Francisco Pena Gomez (PRD), and Leonel Fernandez (PLD).
Domestic and international observers saw the 1996 election as transparent and fair. After the first round in which Jacinto Peynado (PRSC) was eliminated, President Balaguer endorsed the PLD candidate. Results in the second round, 45 days later on June 30, were tabulated quickly, and although the victory margin was narrow (1.5%), it was never questioned. The transition from incumbent administration to incoming administration was smooth and ushered in a new, modern era in Dominican political life.
Fernandez' political agenda was one of economic and judicial reform. He helped enhance Dominican participation in hemispheric affairs, such as the Organization of American States and the follow up to the Miami Summit. On May 16, 2000, Hiploito Mejia, the Revolutionary Democratic Party candidate, was elected president in another free and fair election. He defeated Dominican Liberation Party candidate Danilo Medina 49.8% to 24.84%. Former President Balaguer garnered 24.68% of the vote. Mejia entered office on August 16 with four priorities: education reform, economic development, increased agricultural production, and poverty alleviation. Mejia also champions the cause of Central American and Caribbean economic integration and migration, particularly as it relates to Haiti.
The military consists of about 24,000 active duty personnel, commanded by the president. Its principal mission is to defend the nation, but it serves more as an internal security force. The army, twice as large as the other services combined, consists of four infantry brigades and a combat support brigade; the air force operates three flying squadrons; and the navy maintains 30 aging vessels. The Dominican Republic's military is second in size to Cuba's in the Caribbean.
The armed forces participate fully in counter-narcotics efforts. They also are active in efforts to control contraband and illegal immigration from Haiti to the Dominican Republic and from the Dominican Republic to the United States.
Principal Government Officials
The Dominican Republic maintains an embassy in the United States at 1715 22d Street NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-332-6280).
The Dominican Republic is a 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. Remittances from Dominicans living in the United States are estimated to be about $1.5 billion per year.
Following economic turmoil in the late 1980s and 1990, during which the GDP fell by up to 5% and consumer price inflation reached an unprecedented 100%, the Dominican Republic entered a period of moderate growth and declining inflation. GDP in 1999 grew by 8.3% while the inflation rate was 5%.
Despite a widening merchandise trade deficit, tourism earnings and remittances have helped build foreign exchange reserves. The Dominican Republic is current on foreign private debt, and has agreed to pay arrears of about $130 million to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Commodity Credit Corporation.
The government faces several economic policy challenges--high real interest rates, fiscal imbalances caused by money-losing public enterprises and poor tax-collection rates, and reducing dependence on taxes on international trade. Years of tariff protection for domestic production have left the economy vulnerable in a rapidly integrating global economy. The deteriorating non-free trade zone merchandise trade balance is in part due to the failure of the exchange rate to reflect inflationary trends in the 1993-95 period.
The Dominican Republic has a close relationship with the United States and with the other states of the Inter-American system. It has accredited diplomatic missions in most Western Hemisphere countries and in principal European capitals. The Dominican Republic and Cuba recently established consular relations, and there is contact in fields such as commerce, culture, and sports. Although Dominican relations with its closest neighbor, the Republic of Haiti, have never been extensive, there are signs this will change with the new government of President Mejia. Growing immigration from and political instability in Haiti have forced the Dominican Republic to take a closer look at relations with its neighbor both country-to-country and in international fora. There is a sizeable Haitian migrant community in the Dominican Republic.
The Dominican Republic belongs to the UN and many of its specialized and related agencies, including the World Bank, International Labor Organization, International Atomic Energy Agency, and International Civil Aviation Organization. It also is a member of the OAS, the Inter-American Development Bank, and INTELSAT.
The U.S. has a strong interest in a democratic, stable, and economically healthy Dominican Republic. Its standing as the largest Caribbean economy, the second-largest in terms of population and land mass, and its proximity to the United States and other smaller Caribbean nations make the Dominican Republic an important partner in hemispheric affairs. This close relationship was underscored when President Fernandez joined President Clinton at the summit with Central American leaders in May 1997 in Costa Rica.
U.S. relations with the Dominican Republic are excellent, and the U.S. has been an outspoken supporter of that country's democratic and economic development. In addition, the Dominican Government has been supportive of many U.S. initiatives in the United Nations and related agencies. The two governments cooperate in the fight against the traffic in illegal substances. The Dominican Republic has worked closely with U.S. law enforcement officials on issues such as the return of stolen cars to the U.S. and reducing illegal migration. The U.S. also supports the current administration's efforts to open the economy to more trade, increase foreign private investment, privatize state-owned firms, and modernize the tax system.
Bilateral trade is important to both countries, and U.S. firms--mostly apparel, footwear, and light electronics manufacturers--account for much of the foreign private investment in the Dominican Republic. U.S. exports to the Dominican Republic in 1996 totaled $3.8 billion and constituted 65% of that country's imports. The Dominican Republic exported $3.7 million to the U.S. in 1996, equaling some 65% of its exports. NAFTA has not caused any profound changes in Dominican trade with the U.S. The U.S. embassy works closely with U.S. business firms and Dominican trade groups, both of which can take advantage of the new opportunities in this growing market. At the same time the embassy is working with the Dominican Government to resolve outstanding disputes U.S. firms have with the government as result of actions by previous administrations.
The embassy counsels U.S. firms through its written Country Commercial Guide and informally via meetings with business persons planning to or already investing in the Dominican Republic. It is a challenging business environment for U.S. firms, although agile exporters and investors can profit doing business in the Dominican Republic.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) mission is focused on four areas: availability of health care, increasing economic opportunity, improving participation in democratic processes, and environmentally sound energy production. About 90% of USAID resources are channeled through nongovernmental organizations for reasons of efficiency.
The embassy estimates that 60,000 U.S. citizens live in the Dominican Republic, although precise figures are unavailable; many are dual nationals. An important element of the relationship between the two countries is the more than 1 million Dominicans residing in the U.S. The majority of Dominicans live in metropolitan New York City.
Principal U.S. Officials
The U.S. Embassy is located at Calle Cesar Nicolas Penson and Calle Leopoldo Navarro, Santo Domingo (tel. 809-221-2171).
Other Contact Information
U.S. Department of Commerce
Caribbean/Latin American Action
American Chamber of Commerce in the Dominican Republic
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides Consular Information Sheets, Travel Warnings, and Public Announcements. Consular Information Sheets exist for all countries and include information on entry requirements, currency regulations, health conditions, areas of instability, crime and security, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. posts in the country. Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel to a certain country. Public Announcements are issued as a means to disseminate information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas which pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Free copies of this information are available by calling the Bureau of Consular Affairs at 202-647-5225 or via the fax-on-demand system: 202-647-3000. Consular Information Sheets and Travel Warnings also are available on the Consular Affairs Internet home page: http://travel.state.gov. Consular Affairs Tips for Travelers publication series, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad are on the internet and hard copies can be purchased from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, telephone: 202-512-1800; fax 202-512-2250.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-5225. For after-hours emergencies, Sundays and holidays, call 202-647-4000.
Passport information can be obtained by calling the National Passport Information Center's automated system ($.35 per minute) or live operators 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (EST) Monday-Friday ($1.05 per minute). The number is 1-900-225-5674 (TDD: 1-900-225-7778). Major credit card users (for a flat rate of $4.95) may call 1-888-362-8668 (TDD: 1-888-498-3648). It also is available on the internet.
Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP (877-394-8747) and a web site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm give the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled Health Information for International Travel (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency and customs regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest to travelers also may be obtained before your departure from a country's embassy and/or consulates in the U.S. (for this country, see "Principal Government Officials" listing in this publication).
U.S. citizens who are long-term visitors or traveling in dangerous areas are encouraged to register at the U.S. embassy upon arrival in a country (see "Principal U.S. Embassy Officials" listing in this publication). This may help family members contact you in case of an emergency.
Further Electronic Information
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network. Available on the Internet, DOSFAN provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy information. Updated daily, DOSFAN includes Background Notes; daily press briefings; Country Commercial Guides; directories of key officers of Foreign Service posts; etc. DOSFAN's World Wide Web site is at http://1997-2001.state.gov.
National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related information. It is available on the Internet (www.stat-usa.gov) and on CD-ROM. Call the NTDB Help-Line at (202) 482-1986 for more information.