PRESIDENT: Leonel Fernandez (Aug. 2004 - 2008)
POPULATION: 8.7 million
KEY EXPORTS: Tobacco and sugar
|Apr. 2000||Bodyguards of PRD candidate Hipolito Mejia killed Luis Terrero, an official of the PLD, as motorcade passed his house. PLD charges it was a premeditated assassination.|
|May 2000||Hipolito Mejia received 49.9% of votes in first round, and won presidential election by default after PLD candidate Danilo Medina (24.6%) withdrew from second round.|
|Oct. 2001||Hipolito Mejia secured an agreement with opposition parties to convene a constituent assembly to reform the constitution, pledging not to seek advantages for his PRD.|
|June 2002||Hundreds of people marched in Santo Domingo to protest increases in electricity rates.|
|Nov. 2002||Leaders of 21 countries met at the resort town of Bavaro for the 12th Ibero-American summit. They pledged to fight poverty, raise agricultural production, etc. Mexico's Fox, who had been in Europe, arrived late, while Peru's Toledo, Cuba's Castro, and Panama's Moscoso did not attend. King Juan Carlos of Spain emphasized defending democratic institutions.|
|Nov. 2002||Pres. Mejia raised an uproar by an offhand comment that eight out of ten Dominican people are "bandits."|
|May 2003||Pres. Mejia visited President Bush in the White House, urging passage of a bill allowing persons who violated U.S. immigration laws be allowed to obtain legal resident status by paying a fine. He also seeks a free trade treaty with U.S.|
|Nov. 2003||At least eight died in a general strike; Catholic Church, others demand lower taxes on poor people, more health and educ. spending, freeze on debt payments. Pres. Mejia is under growing political pressure because of economic recession and charges of political patronage.|
|Feb. 2004||Protests against the government turned violent.|
|May 2004||Hundreds died in flooding caused by heavy rains.|
|Aug. 2004||Dominican Republic signed a free trade agreement with U.S. and five Central American countries (CAFTA-DR) just before Leonel Fernandez was inaugurated president for a second time. He faces painful choices on policy as deep economic crisis continues.|
|Mar. 2005||120 inmates died in a prison riot after a fire someone set got out of control.|
|Dec. 2005||Dominican Republic demanded an apology from Haiti after crowds threw stones at Pres. Leonel Fernandez during a visit to Haiti.|
The Dominican Republic occupies the eastern two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola; Haiti accounts for the rest. The border with Haiti is rife with contraband traffic. Most of the western half of the country is mountainous, with some deposits of nickel and gold. It is arid in the southwest, but in the northern and eastern parts of the country, there is a moist tropical climate, and conditions are favorable for growing sugar cane and tobacco.
During the first two decades of the 19th century, the land now known as the Dominican Republic was embroiled in the chaotic aftermath of Haiti's war of independence, with several changes of regime. It was taken over by Haiti in 1821, gained formal independence in 1844, but came under the effective domination of Spain until 1863. The government defaulted on its foreign debts in the early 20th Century, and in order to ensure debt payments, U.S. forces occupied it from 1916 to 1922. The brutal National Guard commander Rafael Trujillo ruled the country as dictator from 1930 until his death in 1961. (Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa's wrote The Feast of the Goat about him.) His death was followed by rising violence, and in 1965 U.S. forces intervened in a civil war against leftist President Juan Bosch. In 1966 conservative Joaquin Balaguer was elected as president under the banner of the Reformist Party (later called the Reformist Social Christian Party), and the country settled down a bit. He was reelected in 1970 and 1974, but lost in 1978 to Antonio Guzman of the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD). (In 1973 Bosch had quit that party, which he had founded back in 1939, and created the Dominican Liberation Party.) Balaguer returned to power in 1986, winning "re-election" in 1990 and 1994, contrary to his promise to only serve two terms. Outrage over the rigged elections forced Balaguer to cut short his term, and open elections were finally held in 1996. The government of Leonel Fernandez soon began privatizing state firms, including electric utilities. During the 1990s tensions with Haiti rose because of the growing influx of Haitians looking for work. The economy was growing in the late 1990s but has since stalled, generating discontent. The country was devastated by a hurricane in 1998, and baseball hero Sammy Sosa raised funds for his homeland.
As in most other Caribbean island countries, the colonial plantation social structure inherited from Spain still persists in the Dominican Republic. Most people are of mixed African and European racial background, predominantly the former. A small minority of light-skinned people owns nearly all the land, while the descendents of former African slaves toil in hopeless, oppressed conditions. Eclectic Caribbean musical and clothing styles have a strong influence. A good example of this is "Guallando," a fast-paced bilingual merengue-rap urban protest song by "Fulanito."
Baseball: very strong interest; 6 semi-pro teams in Dominican Republic League. Famous players: Sammy Sosa, Alex Rodriguez, Pedro Martinez, Alfonso Soriano, Manny Ramirez. More foreign players in the major leagues come from the Dominican Republic (79) than anywhere else, and baseball provides a cash injection of about $76 million into the economy.
It was a sign of political maturity that the political establishment accepted the May 2000 election of Hipolito Mejia (of the leftist Dominican Revolutionary Party), albeit grudgingly. Mejia pushed hard to reform the rather corrupt, stagnant political-economic system, and he successfully pushed for constitutional amendments that allowed for the reelecton of an incumbent president, a provision that had been routinely flouted in the past. Given the political leanings of President Mejia, it was a surprise that he pushed for free trade agreement with the United States, via CAFTA-DR. Progress toward internal economic or political liberalization was minimal, however. Continued blackouts are an indication that privatization has not live up to its promises and have not been broadly accepted by the people. Backwardness and social division are likely to persist for the foreseeable future. The Fernandez administration has cooperated with the United States on immigration and the fight against terrorism.
|Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD)||Dominican Liberation Party (PLD)||Reformist Social Christian Party (PRSC)|
|Ramon Albuquerque / Hipolito Mejia||Pres. Leonel Fernandez||Enrique Atun|
|S: 29 / CD: 72||S: 2 / CD: 41||S: 1 / CD: 36|