Dominican Republic

The island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean is discovered by Christopher Columbus on 6 December 1492. It becomes the site of the first permanent European settlement in the Americas.

By the end of the 16th Century most of the island's native Indian population is dead. Spanish settlement is thin. French pirates control much of the island. When the pirates found Port-de-Paix in the northwest in 1664 the French West India Company moves in.

The western third of the island is formally ceded to France by Spain in 1697. It is renamed Saint-Domingue. The eastern two-thirds retain the name originally given by the Spanish to the entire island: Santo Domingo.

Both parts of the island rely heavily on African slave labourers. By the end of the 18th Century slaves constitute about 50% of the population of Santo Domingo. In Saint-Domingue the figure rises to about 90%.

The French Government decides to abolish slavery in February 1794. Spain attempts to reoccupy Saint-Domingue later the same year. The attempt is beaten back by forces led by Toussaint Louverture, a former slave. A subsequent peace accord directs Spain to cede the entire island to the French. Toussaint is named governor general of Saint-Domingue in 1796.

At the end of 1803 the French in their turn are driven from the island, this time by forces loyal to Toussaint and his successors.

The entire island is declared independent on 1 January 1804 under its native Indian name of Haiti. It is only the second country in the Americas, after the United States, to win freedom from colonial rule. It also becomes the world's first black republic.

Spanish rule is restored in the eastern two-thirds of the island in 1809, lasting until 1822 when Haiti again takes control. However, the easterners increasingly resent the Haitian occupation, launching a successful uprising in February 1844 that establishes the Dominican Republic (República Dominicana).

Despite initial optimism a tradition of dictatorial "strong-man" (or "caudillo") rule becomes entrenched in the Republic, reaching its zenith 100 years later during the rule of Rafael Trujillo.

Tensions between the Dominican Republic and Haiti also persist, taking on increasingly racial overtones as the fairer-skinned Dominicans come to feel threatened by and at the same time superior to their darker-skinned neighbours.

The Dominican Republic again comes under the control of Spain in March 1861 in an annexation deal organised by the then Dominican president. However, the move is unpopular with Dominicans and a War of Restoration breaks out in September 1863. On 3 March 1865 the Queen of Spain approves a decree repealing the annexation.

A period of intrigue and instability follows, lasting until 1886 when General Ulises Heureaux establishes a dictatorship. After Heureaux is assassinated on 26 July 1899 political instability returns. At the same time the US begins to take a greater role in Dominican affairs, culminating in a US occupation that begins in May 1916 and continues to July 1924, when Horacio Vásquez Lajara is inaugurated as president and control of the country returns to the Dominican parliament.

A feature of the US occupation is the growing use of Haitian labourers in Dominican sugar plantations owned by US sugar companies.

More information