The Dominican Republic, the largest economy in the Caribbean, is a currently democratic country with an unfortunate history of dictators. The United States intervened militarily three times in the last century, though relations are now close and cooperative. Nearly a million Dominican immigrants reside in the U.S., mainly on the east coast, though far more attention is garnered by the several hundred Dominicans who play baseball in the major leagues, including such stars as Pedro Martinez, David Ortiz, Albert Pujols and Manny Ramirez.
Lay of the Land: Located on the eastern two-thirds of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, which it shares with Haiti, the Dominican Republic has a generally mountainous terrain with tropical rain forests covering the eastern lowlands and valleys. Hispaniola is the second largest island in the Caribbean, second only to Cuba, which lies to its west. Due east of the Dominican Republic is Puerto Rico, only 79 miles away, while 450 miles of open ocean separate the Dominican Republic from Aruba to the south. The Turks and Caicos lies to the north and the Bahamas to the northwest, while Jamaica is west of Hispaniola. With an area of 18,815 square miles, the Dominican Republic is about the size of New Hampshire and Vermont combined. The capital and largest city of Santo Domingo, where 2.2 million Dominicans reside, is the oldest continuously inhabited European city in the Americas. The principal agricultural areas are the El Seibo coastal plain in the northeast and the San Juan Valley in the west.
Hispaniola was inhabited by the Taínos, a native people who may have arrived around 600 AD. The Taínos, who engaged in farming and fishing, and hunting and gathering, numbered anywhere between 100,000 and 2 million. Christopher Columbus explored and claimed the island on his first voyage in 1492, naming it La Española (Little Spain), and it became a springboard for Spanish conquest of the Caribbean and the American mainland. By the late 16th century, the Taínos had largely died out, their numbers ravaged by disease, forced labor, torture, and war with the Spaniards, though most Dominicans today are at least in part descended from them.
Perhaps the first significant point of contact between the U.S. and Dominican Republic occurred in 1870, when the U.S. Senate came within one vote of annexing the country to the United States, a plan supported by U.S. President Ulysses Grant and Dominican President Buenaventura Báez. Relations between the U.S. and the Dominican Republic have been marred by a long history of U.S. military intervention in Dominican affairs, which began in 1906, when U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt sought to prevent European intervention to collect Dominican debts by sending the U.S. military into the Dominican Republic and taking over administration of Dominican tariff collections, which were the chief source of income for the government. The U.S. agreed to use part of the customs proceeds to reduce the foreign debt of the Dominican Republic, and assumed responsibility for that debt. A period of relative political stability ended in chaos, and in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson ordered another U.S. occupation of the Dominican Republic. Dominicans widely repudiated the military government established by the U.S., which censored free speech and responded brutally to perceived threats. Opposition to the occupation continued, however, and it ended in 1922, followed by elections in 1924. Finally, in 1965, the United States intervened yet again, ostensibly to halt a “communist” revolution, but in reality to prevent former president Juan Bosch, a democratically-elected socialist who had been deposed in a right wing military coup, from regaining power.
In 2009, US imports from the Dominican Republic totaled $3.3 billion, while US exports to the Dominican Republic totaled $5.3 billion.
The Dominican Republic is a representative constitutional democracy. With this, as the government's human rights record continues to improve, serious problems still remain: unlawful killings; beatings and other abuse of suspects, detainees, and prisoners; poor to harsh prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention of suspects; a large number of functionally stateless persons; widespread corruption; harassment of certain human rights groups; violence and discrimination against women; child prostitution and other abuses of children; trafficking in persons; severe discrimination against Haitian migrants and their descendants; violence and discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation; ineffective enforcement of labor laws; and child labor.
Ambassador from Dominica: Who is Hubert Charles?
President Barack Obama can only hope Raul Humberto Yzaguirre, Sr., nominated to serve as ambassador to the Dominican Republic, does not do to him what the outspoken civil rights advocate has done to other presidents, namely blast them in public for political decisions with which he disagreed. Obama announced his nomination of Yzaguirre on November 30, 2009, and he appeared at a confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 11, 2010. However, he was not confirmed until September 29.