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The Dominican Republic

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The Dominican Republic (DR) populates two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola, located in the Caribbean Sea. The nation of Haiti, just west of the Dominican Republic, occupies the other third of the island. The Dominican Republic is just slightly twice the size of New Hampshire with a population of over 9.5 million people.

The DR’s terrain is characterized mostly by rugged highlands and mountains. Due to the roughness of the terrain, very little of the land is arable. The country has just a few natural resources, including nickel, bauxite, gold, and silver. The DR’s climate is tropical, with little temperature variation throughout the year. There is, however, seasonal variation in the rainfall.

The country’s population is 11 percent black, 16 percent white, and 73 percent mixed. The dominant religion in the DR is Roman Catholicism, with 5 percent of the remaining population practicing Protestant forms of Christianity and other religions. People of the DR speak Spanish.

Perhaps the best known chapter of Hispaniola’s history is its discovery by Christopher Columbus in 1492. Here Columbus established the first permanent, European settlement in the Americas. This settlement, now the DR’s capital, was called Santo Domingo. In 1697 the Spanish recognized French ownership of the western third of the island, which was to become modern-day Haiti. The Spanish ruled the remaining two-thirds of the island for three centuries until it became independent in 1821.

After independence was achieved, however, the DR was conquered by the Haitians, who had just achieved independence from their own colonial rulers in 1804. The DR overthrew the Haitians in 1844, returned to Spanish domination in 1861, and again threw off foreign rule in 1865. After many decades of dictatorial rule, the country has enjoyed regular, democratic elections since 1996.

While its excellent economic policies have helped to make it one of the largest economies in the region, the DR faces various hardships. High unemployment, poorly distributed income, and government corruption all pose significant challenges. Migration, both to and from the country, also affects the DR. Many Haitians, fleeing the dismal conditions of their homeland, move to the DR seeking a better life. This migration stresses an already poor job market and produces social tensions between the Dominicans and Haitians.