Learn all about the history of Dominican Republic

History of Dominican Republic

Joel Walsh (www.joelwalsh.com) has written for numerous web sites, in addition to the Let's Go: Mexico travel guidebook, and translations for a Venezuelan human rights NGO. At university, he studied Spanish literature and the history of Spanish-speaking countries, spending his final semester at the University of Havana.

A brief overview on the history of Dominican republic

The Dominican Republic shares the lush tropical island of Hispaniola with Haiti. Though travelers to the island often find it a paradise, for Dominicans, the country has often been a little more frustrating to live in.

The Indigenous Peoples

The first arrivals came in 2600 BC, sailing from the South American coast through the Caribbean islands on dugout canoes. These people were nomadic hunter-gatherers who used stone tools, and left little behind.

The first invasion came around 250 B.C.: the Salanoids, or ancient Arawaks. The Arawaks are a group of cultures in present-day Venezuela and Colombia. They spread through the Caribbean islands during this period.

Another group of Arawaks, called the Taino, began settling the Caribbean islands about 2000 years ago. By AD 700 they occupied not only Hispanolia, but most surrounding islands, such as Cuba.

Spanish Colonization

A bloody period in the history of Dominican Republic as well as in most of the history of the other Latin American countries

By the time Columbus arrived in 1492, naming the island Hispaniola (“little Spain”), about 400,000 people lived there. They were the very first victims of Spain’s conquest, which Columbus began when he returned a year later with a thousand colonists.

The local people, already weakened by diseases spread rapidly from the germs on the lips of Columbus’s sailors and colonists, were forced to work under inhuman conditions to build up the island. Within six years of Columbus’s arrival, the vast majority of the original 400,000 people on the island had died. Except for small groups who escaped to remote locations in the interior, the island’s Taino culture was destroyed.

Within a few years, the present day capital of Santo Domingo was set up under Columbus’s son, Diego. But the island’s gold deposits were quickly mined dry. Several decades later, silver discoveries in the viceroyalties of New Spain (Mexico) and Peru pushed Hispaniola out of the spotlight.

The division of the original Hispaniola island into two portions:

Pirates attacked the island mercilessly, particularly on its western end. Spain decided to cut its losses and give that section of Hispaniola to France in 1697. That western end of Hispaniola came to be known as Haiti. In the eighteenth century, it was the world’s leading sugar cane producer.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the slaves who worked Haiti’s vast sugar plantations revolted under the leadership of Toussaint L’Ouverture, driving out the French and white Haitian overlords in one of the mostly quickly successful revolutions in the Americas, if not the world.

The Haitians invaded the rest of Hispaniola, taking Santo Domingo. They freed all 40,000 slaves in the Dominican Republic. Many of the Spanish elite fled to Cuba, and also neighboring islands such as Puerto Rico.

But Spanish and local forces drove the Haitians back to the old French area. L’Ouverture declared the area to be the independent nation of Haiti. It was only the second independent country in the Americas.

In 1823, Haitians invaded again, and freed the slaves again. The invading Haitians stayed for 23 years.

The Birth of the Dominican Republic

In 1844, Juan Pablo Duarte certainly th emost important character in the history of Dominican republic, since he is considered the father of the Dominican Republic, led a revolution against the Haitians and drove them out for good.

The Dominican Republic’s unique story of achieving independence against another American country has presented unique problems for its national identity.

Since Haiti is the land of black pride, and the invading Haitians made a point of freeing the slaves, official Dominican patriotism has often exhorted Dominicans—the vast majority of whom are of mixed African-European ancestry—to reject their African heritage and embrace their Spanish heritage.

The Dominican Republic’s Infancy: a tough period in the history of Dominican Republic

The military and wealthy families fought amongst themselves for control of the new republic. Out of the turmoil, one leading general, Santana, invited Spain to take the country back as a colony. The people of the Dominican Republic rebelled, and in 1865, Spain rejected all claim to the country.

Redevelopment of the country in the wake of all the wars was difficult, mostly because the leading contenders to the government could never achieve stability.

In 1916 the United States invaded, and did not completely withdraw until 1924, when President Vasquez came to power. He finally began developing the country with infrastructure and schools.

But in 1930 another coup led by the head of the army, Rafael Trujillo comes to disrupt the history of Dominican Republic. He started a brutal dictatorship that left him as head of state until 1947, and indirectly in control until 1961.

The economy did make important advances under Trujillo’s regime, and national development continued. Unfortunately, it was never enough to lift the average Dominican completely out of poverty.

The Democratic Recent History of Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic has had uninterrupted free elections since 1961, and development has continued apace. In particular, the country has become one of the best tourist resort destinations in the Caribbean, with excellent accommodations and leisure facilities included in very competitive package deals.

Nonetheless, life is not always easy for the average Dominican. Despite development, poverty which has always been present in the history of Dominican Republic has not been shaken. Most Dominicans live with much anxiety about their job security, and also crime, official corruption, and rolling blackouts, as the country’s electrical supply has not kept pace with its development.

A great many Dominicans have immigrated to the United States in the last forty years. There are now very large Dominican communities in the northeastern United States and Florida, and smaller communities elsewhere.


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History of Dominican Republic
Histories of the Spanish Speaking Countries
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