The second largest Caribbean country has suffered from fundamental political instability, social inequality, and, lately, from mass immigration from neighbouring Haiti.
The Trujillo dictatorship (1931–61)
Between its independence in 1844 and US occupation (1916–24), the Dominican Republic experienced over a hundred coups, revolutions, and uprisings. This weakened its body politic to such an extent that in 1931 Trujillo could establish the most complete dictatorship in Latin American history. He came to control the country not only through the army and the police, but also through his ‘acquisition’ of the economy. By 1961, his firms produced 80 per cent of industrial output and employed 45 per cent of the country's active labour force. In addition, the state, over which he also exercised total control, employed a further 15 per cent of the labour force, so that a large majority of Dominicans were directly dependent on him for their income. Since the progress of the country's economy was immediately relevant to his own wealth, the economy did improve under his government through the payment of debts, the establishment of a balance of payments surplus, improvements in communications, and the establishment of a small but important industrial base. However, his leadership remained controversial: he granted exile to various deposed Latin American dictators, and exterminated up to 20,000 Haitians living in the country in 1937. By 1960, he began to lose his grip on his country, with the USA withdrawing its support. He was assassinated with the complicity of the CIA in 1961.
The Balaguer era (1960s–90s)
After a brief period of democratization the country plunged into civil war with a coup against the democratically elected President, Juan Bosch (1962–3). This was not ended until the ‘Act of Reconciliation’ of 3 September 1965, which had been partly brought about by the military intervention of the US marines in April 1965. The following elections were won by the US‐backed Joaquín Balaguer, a former associate of Trujillo. He established another regime of terror, but stabilized the economy initially through massive US aid to stave off bankruptcy. After the 1970s, he benefited from high world sugar prices.
In 1978, Balaguer was finally forced to accept the election of Antonio Guzmán, who in turn proceeded to establish a corrupt personal rule, which wiped out virtually all the recent economic gains. He committed suicide in 1982, and after the government of Salvador Jorge Blanco, Balaguer was re‐elected (albeit with the help of electoral fraud) in 1986, 1990, and 1994. During this time, human rights and political freedoms were largely respected, though the economy failed to show significant signs of improvement.
Contemporary politics (since 1996)
In August 1996 the 89‐year old Belaguer was replaced by Leonel Fernandez of the centrist Liberation Party, who narrowly won the fair elections held on 30 June 1996. His privatization policies were highly contested, but they did yield substantial economic growth (GDP growth of 8.3 per cent, 1998–9). The following elections of 2000 were won by Hipólito Mejía Domínguez of the Dominican Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Dominicano). Mejía was committed to increasing welfare payments to alleviate mass poverty exacerbated by mass immigration from neighbouring Haiti. However, state spending and inflation grew substantially, while Mejía was also accused of corruption. Mejía was succeeded in 2004 by Fernandez, who returned to his liberal economic policies to stabilize the economy.