The history of the Dominican Republic begins a little more than 500 years ago, when Christopher Columbus arrived to an island that he thought to be part of India. It was populated by the Tainos, one of the most peaceful people of the newly discovered continent, subsisting on hunting, fishing and agriculture. Columbus arrived to La Isabela, a bay located to the north of the island, on December 5, 1492 and took possession of the territory in the name of the Catholic kings. He dubbed the island with the name La Española, or in English, Hispaniola.
Upon beginning the conquista, or conquest, of the continental lands, rich in gold, silver and precious stones, the Spanish crown’s interest shifted; Santo Domingo lost importance to the viceroys of Mexico and Peru. The colony was abandoned. During this period, pirate and corsair invasions were constant, as the marauders cleaved the waters of the Caribbean to engage in trade with the inhabitants of the Spanish colony, moving the Crown to abandon the western part of the island in the so-called “Osorio evictions” (1605-1606).
France took possession
Around the end of the 17th century, buccaneers and filibusters, predominantly French, took possession of the western part of the island, which then became the Saint Domingue colony. In 1795, due the war between Spain and France, the former ceded the eastern part of Hispaniola to the latter, placing the entire territory under French control.
Spain has control of the island
After enduring the control of the French and of the freed slaves of Saint Domingue, the colony returned to Spain’s hands, until a handful of men with a national conscience established what came to be known as the Ephemeral Independence. After one month, in January 1822, using to their advantage the military and economic weakness of the eastern section of the island, the Haitians occupied the territory and took power for 22 years.
Dominican Republic is founded
In 1844, the citizens won their independence and the Dominican Republic is founded. In its initial stages, the Republic dedicated itself to defending against Haitian attacks, even while experiencing internal struggles over political organization. On March 18, 1861, the annexation of the country to Spain was announced in the cathedral of Santo Domingo. From the beginning, the Dominican people demonstrated their deep displeasure with the annexation and after four years of intense struggle against Spanish forces, Dominicans obtained the restoration of the Republic.
The War of Restoration
The War of Restoration and its guerrilla war technique left the country fragmented among innumerable local bosses that began to argue over power. The utter political confusion brought about economic chaos that resulted in multiple small loans from the United States and Europe. Consequently, in 1907, the Dominican government turned over the administration and control of its customs to the government of the United States; and in 1916, the first U.S. invasion of the Dominican Republic occured.
The dictator: Rafael Leonidas Trujillo
The second half of the 1920s signals the beginning of Dominican modernity, with a flourishing of trade and agricultural, incipient industrial activity and important modes of land communication. But this boom does not abolish caudillismo, or strong man politics, which gave birth to unstable governments and then to the creation of the iron dictatorship of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo in 1930.
The second U.S. invasion of the Dominican Republic
Thirty years of tyranny ended in 1961 with the execution of the dictator. In the midst of great political upheaval, a provisional government organized the first free elections, which in 1962, placed Professor Juan Bosch in power. The overthrow of the eminent writer, seven months later, dissolved into a bloody civil war that culminated with the second U.S. invasion of the Dominican Republic (1965).
Democracy in Dominican Republic
In 1966, elections were held and Joaquín Balaguer began 12 years of government characterized by political repression. Balaguer overwhelmingly lost the 1978 elections and in spite of attempts to cover up his defeat, he had to allow the winner, the Partido Revolucionario Dominicano (PRD), to assume power. Dominican democracy began, in this way, toward the consolidation of democracy. PRD won again in 1982, but four years later, Balaguer again took power by the vote of the majority. During this time, a significant monetary/financial expansion took place that produced high economic growth rates and an increase in the internal market. Miscalculations of public investment then provoked high inflation, which brought political repercussions.
Balaguer secured his reelection in 1990 and applied an economic reform package that staved off the crisis. Four years later, a new election concluded with a questionable Balaguer victory. The PRD and its presidential candidate, José Francisco Peña Gómez, alleged that they were victims of electoral fraud. The Balaguer government was obligated to agree and its new period of government was reduced to two years.
In 1996, new national elections were held and Dr. Leonel Fernández, the Partido de la Liberación Dominicana (PLD) candidate, came to power. After four years of government, in which economic growth continued at the levels of the early nineties, PLD lost their position in power and made way for the PRD and its candidate, Hipólito Mejía. An economic policy influenced by external factors brought the country into total chaos, with history-making monetary devaluations that caused the improverishment of wide sectors of the country. In the midst of the confusion caused by this economic crisis, the population gave an overwhelming election victory to the PLD and its candidate, Dr. Leonel Fernández, who took power for the second time, with 57% of the vote.