Dominican Republic (10/03)

For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.


Dominican Republic

Area: 48,442 sq. km. (18,704 sq. mi.), about the size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined.
Cities: Capital--Santo Domingo (pop. 2.4 million). Other city--Santiago de los Caballeros (690,548).
Terrain: Mountainous.
Climate: Maritime tropical.

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Dominican(s).
Population (2001): 8.6 million.
Annual growth rate: 2.6%.
Ethnic groups: European 16%, African origin 11%, mixed 73%.
Religion: Roman Catholic 95%.
Language: Spanish.
Education: Years compulsory--6. Attendance--70%. Literacy--83%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--54/1,000. Life expectancy—71.34 years for men, 75.64 years for women.
Work force: Services and government--31% (includes parastatal corporations); agriculture--28%; industry--12%; unemployment--about 16%.

Type: Representative democracy.
Independence: February 27, 1844; Restoration of Independence, August 16, 1863
Constitution: November 28, 1966: amended July 25, 2002
Branches: Executive--president (chief of state and head of government, vice president, cabinet. Legislative--bicameral Congress (Senate and Chamber of Deputies). Judicial--Supreme Court of Justice.
Subdivisions: 31 provinces and the National District of Santo Domingo.
Political parties: Social Christian Reformist Party (PRSC), Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD), Dominican Liberation Party (PLD), and several others.
Suffrage: Universal and compulsory, over 18 or married.

Flag: Dominican Republic flag

Economy (2002)
GDP: $21.6 billion.
Growth rate (2002): 4.1%.
Per capita GDP: $2,511.
Nonfuel minerals (1% of GDP): Nickel, gold, silver.
Agriculture (12% of GDP): Products--sugar, coffee, cocoa, bananas, tobacco, rice, plantains, beef, flowers.
Industry (31% of GDP): Types--sugar refining, pharmaceuticals, cement, light manufacturing, construction; services, including tourism and transportation--47% of GDP.
Trade: Exports ($5.2 billion (FOB), including processing zones: textiles, sugar, coffee, ferronickel, cacao, tobacco, meats and medical supplies. Markets--U.S. (80%), Canada, western Europe. Imports--$8.9 billion: food stuffs, petroleum, industrial raw materials, capital goods. Suppliers--U.S. (48%), Japan, Germany, Venezuela, Mexico.

About half of Dominicans live in rural areas; many are small landholders. Haitians form the largest foreign minority group. All religions are tolerated; the state religion is Roman Catholicism.

The island of Hispaniola, of which the Dominican Republic forms the eastern two-thirds and Haiti the remainder, was originally occupied by Tainos, an Arawak-speaking people. The Tainos welcomed Columbus in his first voyage in 1492, but subsequent colonizers were brutal, reducing the Taino 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 Haitians conquered the whole island in 1822 and held it until 1844, when forces led by Juan Pablo Duarte, the hero of Dominican independence, drove them out and established the Dominican Republic as an independent state. In 1861, the Dominicans voluntarily returned to the Spanish Empire; 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.

In 1930, Rafael L. Trujillo, a prominent army commander, established absolute political control. Trujillo promoted economic development--from which he and his supporters benefited--and severe repression of domestic human rights. Mismanagement and corruption resulted in major economic problems. In August 1960, the Organization of American States (OAS) imposed diplomatic sanctions against the Dominican Republic as a result of Trujillo's complicity in an attempt to assassinate President Romulo Betancourt of Venezuela. These sanctions remained in force after Trujillo's death by assassination in May 1961. In November 1961, the Trujillo family was forced into exile.

In January 1962, a council of state that included moderate opposition elements with legislative and executive powers was formed. OAS sanctions were lifted January 4, and, after the resignation of President Joaquin Balaguer on January 16, the council under President Rafael E. Bonnelly headed the Dominican government.

In 1963, Juan Bosch was inaugurated President. Bosch was overthrown in a military coup in September 1963. Another military coup, on April 24, 1965, led to violence between military elements favoring the return to government by Bosch and those who proposed a military junta committed to early general elections. On April 28, U.S. military forces landed to protect U.S. citizens and to evacuate U.S. and other foreign nationals.

Additional U.S. forces subsequently established order. In June 1966, President Balaguer, leader of the Reformist Party (now called the Social Christian Reformist Party--PRSC), was elected and then re-elected to office in May 1970 and May 1974, both times after the major opposition parties withdrew late in the campaign. In the May 1978 election, Balaguer was defeated in his bid for a fourth successive term by Antonio Guzman of the PRD. Guzman's inauguration on August 16 marked the country's first peaceful transfer of power from one freely elected president to another.

The PRD's presidential candidate, Salvador Jorge Blanco, won the 1982 elections, and the PRD gained a majority in both houses of Congress. In an attempt to cure the ailing economy, the Jorge administration began to implement economic adjustment and recovery policies, including an austerity program in cooperation with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In April 1984, rising prices of basic foodstuffs and uncertainty about austerity measures led to riots.

Balaguer was returned to the presidency with electoral victories in 1986 and 1990. Upon taking office in 1986, Balaguer tried to reactivate the economy through a public works construction program. Nonetheless, by 1988 the country slid into a 2-year economic depression, characterized by high inflation and currency devaluation. Economic difficulties, coupled with problems in the delivery of basic services--e.g., electricity, water, transportation--generated popular discontent that resulted in frequent protests, occasionally violent, including a paralyzing nationwide strike in June 1989.

In 1990, Balaguer instituted a second set of economic reforms. After concluding an IMF agreement, balancing the budget, and curtailing inflation, the Dominican Republic experienced a period of economic growth marked by moderate inflation, a balance in external accounts, and a steadily increasing GDP that lasted through 2000.

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 Fernandez Reyna was elected to a 4-year term as president.    Fernandez' political agenda was one of economic and judicial reform. He helped enhance Dominican participation in hemispheric affairs, such as the Organization of American States and the follow up to the Miami Summit. On May 16, 2000, Hipolito Mejia, the Revolutionary Democratic Party candidate, was elected president in another free and fair election. He defeated Dominican Liberation Party candidate Danilo Medina 49.8% to 24.84%. Former President Balaguer garnered 24.68% of the vote. Mejia entered office on August 16 with four priorities: education reform, economic development, increased agricultural production, and poverty alleviation. Mejia also champions the cause of Central American and Caribbean economic integration and migration, particularly as it relates to Haiti.  The Mejia Administration has supported the Coalition in Iraq, and cooperates closely with the United States on law enforcement and immigration and counter-terrorism matters.  The government is also in consultation with the United States on launching free trade negotiations in 2004.

The Dominican Republic is a representative democracy whose national powers are divided among independent executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The president appoints the cabinet, executes laws passed by the legislative branch, and is commander in chief of the armed forces. The president and vice president run for office on the same ticket and are elected by direct vote for 4-year terms. Legislative power is exercised by a bicameral congress--the Senate (32 members), and the chamber of deputies (150 members).

Presidential elections are held in years evenly divisible by four. Congressional and municipal elections are held in even numbered years not divisible by four. Under the constitutional reforms negotiated after the 1994 elections, the 16-member Supreme Court of Justice is appointed by a National Judicial Council, which is comprised of the President, the leaders of both houses of Congress, the President of the Supreme Court, and an opposition, or nongoverning party member (one other Supreme Court Justice acts as secretary of the Council, a nonvoting position.) The Court has sole jurisdiction over actions against the president, designated members of his cabinet, and members of Congress.

The Supreme Court hears appeals from lower courts and chooses members of lower courts. Each of the 31 provinces is headed by a presidentially appointed governor. Elected mayors and municipal councils administer the National District (Santo Domingo) and the 124 municipal districts.

The Dominican Republic has a multi-party political system with national elections every 2 years (alternating between congressional and presidential).  Following the allegations of irregularities in 1994, international observers have generally agreed that presidential and congressional elections since 1996 have been free and fair.

Principal Government Officials
President--Hipolito Mejia
Foreign Minister—Francisco Guerrero Prats
Ambassador to the United States—Hugo Guiliani Cury
Ambassador to the United Nations—Marino Villanueva Callot
Ambassador to the OAS—Sofia Leonor Sanchez Baret

The Dominican Republic maintains an embassy in the United States at 1715 22d Street NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-332-6280.

The military consists of approximately 44,000 active duty personnel, about 30% of which are used for non-military activities such as security providers for government owned non-military facilities, toll security, prison guards, forestry workers and other state enterprises.  The commander in chief for the military is the president. The principal missions are to defend the nation and protect the territorial integrity of the country.  The army, twice as large as the other services combined with about 24,000 active duty personnel, consists of six infantry brigades, a combat support brigade and a combat service support brigade; the air force operates two main bases, one in southern region near Santo Domingo and one in the northern region of the country; and the navy maintains seven aging vessels and four new vessels. The Dominican Republic's military is second in size to Cuba's in the Caribbean.

The armed forces participate fully in counter-narcotics efforts. They also are active in efforts to control contraband and illegal immigration from Haiti to the Dominican Republic and from the Dominican Republic to the United States.  

The Dominican Republic is a middle-income developing country primarily dependent on agriculture, trade, and services, especially tourism. Although the service sector has recently overtaken agriculture as the leading employer of Dominicans (due principally to growth in tourism, energy, telecommunications, and Free Trade Zones), agriculture remains the most important sector in terms of domestic consumption. The tourism service balance totaled $2.7 billion in 2002, with the sector posting strong growth in the first half of 2003.  Free Trade Zone earnings and tourism are the fastest-growing export sectors. Remittances from Dominicans living in the United States are estimated to total nearly $2 billion per year.

Following economic turmoil in the late 1980s and 1990, during which the GDP fell by up to 5% and consumer price inflation reached an unprecedented 100%, the Dominican Republic entered a period of high growth and moderate inflation. The country led the hemisphere in GDP growth for the latter half of the 90s.  After slowing in 2001, GDP in 2002 grew by 4.1%.  Inflation in 2002 was 10.5%.  In 2003, economic problems resulting from a massive bank failure precipitated an IMF standby agreement, signed in August.  

Exports, tourism and remittances remain the primary foreign exchange earners.  Foreign exchange reserves declined sharply in mid-2003, due in large part to capital flight resulting from uncertainty in the financial sector.  The government faces several economic policy challenges as it seeks to meet IMF performance criteria under the standby agreement—energy sector payment arrears, high real interest rates, poor tax-collection rates, and a high quasi-fiscal deficit resulting from Central Bank certificates issued to back deposits of failed banks.  The Dominican Republic has taken steps to liberalize trade, and the United States has announced its intent to negotiate a free trade agreement in 2004.

The Dominican Republic has a close relationship with the United States and with the other states of the inter-American system. It has accredited diplomatic missions in most Western Hemisphere countries and in principal European capitals. The Dominican Republic and Cuba recently established consular relations, and there is contact in fields such as commerce, culture, and sports. Dominican relations with its closest neighbor, the Republic of Haiti, have never been extensive, however, the government of President Mejia has taken a closer look at relations with its neighbor both country-to-country and in international fora.

There is a sizeable Haitian migrant community in the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic belongs to the UN and many of its specialized and related agencies, including the World Bank, International Labor Organization, International Atomic Energy Agency, and International Civil Aviation Organization. It also is a member of the OAS, the Inter-American Development Bank, and INTELSAT.

The U.S. has a strong interest in a democratic, stable, and economically healthy Dominican Republic. Its standing as the largest Caribbean economy, the second-largest in terms of population and land mass, and its proximity to the United States and other smaller Caribbean nations make the Dominican Republic an important partner in hemispheric affairs. This close relationship was underscored when President Mejia visited President Bush at the White House in early 2003.  

U.S. relations with the Dominican Republic are excellent, and the U.S. has been an outspoken supporter of that country's democratic and economic development. In addition, the Dominican Government has been supportive of many U.S. initiatives in the United Nations and related agencies. The two governments cooperate in the fight against the traffic in illegal substances. The Dominican Republic has worked closely with U.S. law enforcement officials on issues such as the return of stolen cars to the U.S. and reducing illegal migration.

The U.S. also supports the current administration's efforts to open the economy to more trade, increase foreign private investment, privatize state-owned firms, and modernize the tax system. Bilateral trade is important to both countries, and U.S. firms--mostly apparel, footwear, and light electronics manufacturers--account for much of the foreign private investment in the Dominican Republic.

U.S. exports to the Dominican Republic in 1996 totaled $3.8 billion and constituted 65% of that country's imports. The Dominican Republic exported $3.7 million to the U.S. in 1996, equaling some 65% of its exports. NAFTA has not caused any profound changes in Dominican trade with the U.S. The U.S. embassy works closely with U.S. business firms and Dominican trade groups, both of which can take advantage of the new opportunities in this growing market. At the same time the embassy is working with the Dominican Government to resolve outstanding disputes U.S. firms have with the government as result of actions by previous administrations.

The embassy counsels U.S. firms through its written Country Commercial Guide and informally via meetings with business persons planning to or already investing in the Dominican Republic. It is a challenging business environment for U.S. firms, although agile exporters and investors can profit doing business in the Dominican Republic.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) mission is focused on four areas: availability of health care, increasing economic opportunity, improving participation in democratic processes, and environmentally sound energy production. About 90% of USAID resources are channeled through nongovernmental organizations for reasons of efficiency.

The embassy estimates that 60,000 U.S. citizens live in the Dominican Republic, although precise figures are unavailable; many are dual nationals. An important element of the relationship between the two countries is the more than 1 million Dominicans residing in the U.S. The majority of Dominicans live in metropolitan New York City.

Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador--Hans H. Hertell
Deputy Chief of Mission—Lisa Kubiske
USAID Mission Director--Elena Brineman
Consul General—Mary B. Marshall
Economic/Political Counselor—Michael Meigs
Public Affairs Adviser (USIA)—Patricia Hawkins
Commercial Counselor (DOC/FCS)--Terry Sorgi
Defense Attache Lt.--Col. Glenn Huber

The U.S. Embassy is located at Calle Cesar Nicolas Penson and Calle Leopoldo Navarro, Santo Domingo (tel. 809-221-2171).

Other Contact Information
U.S. Department of Commerce
International Trade Administration
Trade Information Center
14th and Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20230
Tel: 1-800-USA-TRADE

Caribbean/Latin American Action
1818 N. Street, NW, Suite 310
Washington, DC 20036
Tel: (202) 466-7464
Fax: (202) 822-0075

American Chamber of Commerce in the Dominican Republic Torre Empresarial, 6to.
Piso, Ave. Sarasota No. 25,
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Tel: (809) 381-0777
Fax: (809) 381-0303
Home Page:

For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.