More than 500 years ago, 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, who lived 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 baptized 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).
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.
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.
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 discontent with the annexation and after four years of intense struggle against Spanish forces, Dominicans obtained the restoration of the Republic.
The War of Restoration and its guerrilla war technique left the country fragmented among innumerable local chiefs that began to argue over power. The utter political confusion brought 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 occurred.
The second half of the 1920s signals the beginning of Dominican modernity, with a flourishing of trade and agricultural, incipient industrial activity and important terrestrial means of communication. But this boom did not abolish caudillismo, or autocracy, which gave birth to unstable governments and then to the creation of the iron dictatorship of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo in 1930.
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, brought to power Professor Juan Bosch. 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).
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 thus the path towards its consolidation. PRD won again in 1982, but four years later, Balaguer regains power with the majority vote. During this time, a significant monetary expansion produced high rates of economic growth and increase of the domestic market market. Shortcomings in public investment later provoked high inflation with 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 forced to settle 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 led the country into total chaos, with history-making currency devaluations that caused the impoverishment of wide sectors of the country. In the midst of the confusion caused by this economic crisis, the citizens went to the polls in 2004 securing an overwhelming victory to the PLD and its candidate, Dr. Leonel Fernández, who took power for the second time, with 57% of the vote.
President Leonel Fernández remained in power for two consecutive periods until 2012, when Dr. Danilo Medina, PLD presidential candidate, won the party’s primary elections and, later, the presidential elections in the country. Medina won the presidential election again in 2016.
Since 2011, the PRD has been through an intense period of power struggles and internal division, expulsions and transformation. In mid-2014, the PRD was divided into two political parties, one under the same name (PRD), led by Miguel Vargas Maldonado, and another, the Partido Revolucionario Moderno (PRM), led by Luis Abinader and Hipólito Mejía.