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Dominican Republic

Map Courtesy CIA World Factbook

The Dominican Republic is a Spanish-speaking representative democracy located on the eastern portion of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, bordering Haiti. A legacy of unsettled, mostly non-representative, rule for much of the 20th century — most notably the thirty-two year reign of the military leader Rafael Leónidas Trujillo — lasted until 1961. The Dominican Republic ("do-MIN-i-kun") also called Quisqueya by its inhabitants, should not be confused with Dominica ("do-min-EE-ka"), another Caribbean country.

The island of Hispaniola, of which the Dominican Republic forms the eastern two-thirds and Haiti the remainder, was originally occupied by Taínos, an Arawak-speaking people. The Taínos welcomed Christopher Columbus in his first voyage in 1492, but subsequent colonizers were brutal, reducing the Taíno 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 French held on in the eastern part of the island, until defeated by the Spanish inhabitants at the battle of Palo Hincado on November 7, 1808 and the final capitulation of the besieged Santo Domingo on July 9, 1809, with help from the Royal Navy. The Spanish authorities showed little interest in their restored colony, and the following period is recalled as La España Boba – 'The Era of Foolish Spain'. In 1821 the Spanish settlers declared an independent state, but Haitian forces occupied the whole island just 9 weeks later and held it for 22 years.

On February 27, 1844, independence was declared from the Haitians. This was the culmination of a movement led by Juan Pablo Duarte, then in exile, the hero of Dominican independence. The military forces that drove the occupiers out were led by Pedro Santana.

The Dominican Republic's first constitution was adopted on November 6, 1844. It adopted a presidential form of government with many liberal tendencies, but it was marred by Article 210, imposed by Pedro Santana on the constitutional assembly by force, which gave him the privileges of a dictatorship until the war of independence was over. These privileges not only served him to win the war, but also allowed him to persecute, execute and drive into exile his political opponents, among which Duarte was the most important.

In 1861, during one of his presidencies, Santana restored the Dominican Republic to Spain. This move was widely rejected and on August 16, 1863, a national war of "restoration" began. 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.

During the European Holocaust in the Second World War, the Dominican Republic was the only country who willingly opened its borders to European Jews.

In January 1962, a council of state with legislative and executive powers was formed; it included moderate members of the opposition. OAS sanctions were lifted January 4, and, after the resignation of President Joaquín Balaguer on January 16, the council under President Rafael Bonnelly headed the Dominican government. In 1963, Juan Bosch was inaugurated President. Bosch was overthrown in a military coup in September 1963.

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 Fernández Reyna was elected to a 4-year term as president. In May 2000 Hipólito Mejía was elected to a 4-year term as president. In May 2004, Leonel Fernández Reyna was again elected to a 4-year term as president and inaugurated as such on August 16th, 2004.

On Apr 27, 2005, education secretary, Alejandrina German, announced the republic's new plan to institute mandatory English classes beginning in September. In addition, one school from each district will be selected to participate in a pilot program for bilingual education. The program involves teaching mathematics, sciences, the arts, and physical education in English in the first nine grades.


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