Dominican Republic’s History

The Dominican Republic’s history is filled with many setbacks. For most of the twentieth century the country was unsettled and was always in political turmoil. Until the death of military dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo in 1961, the country was non-representative. Establishing a democratic process was a promising development in 1978. However, complete democracy was hard to achieve when the country is still struggling with its domestic politics and economy.

Christopher Columbus first discovered the island in 1492 which he named Hispaniola. When they landed on the island, Columbus and his crew found that the island was inhabited by the Taino Indians who had been living there for about 5,000 years. The native islanders were friendly and welcomed the explorers.

Columbus stayed to explore the island and discovered gold. He found out that the gold can be obtained by bartering with the natives who wore golden jewelries or by extracting it from alluvial deposits on the island. When Columbus left he lost his flagship when the crew fell asleep and the ship ran aground. The crew was forced to stay on the island in a settlement called Navidad.

Conflicts broke out within the Spanish crew which resulted in deaths. Those who were left took Taino women and forced them into labor and service. This angered the natives and under the command of Indian chief Coanabo, attacked and killed the settlers. Columbus returned to find his crew dead and the settlement a pile of burned materials.

Columbus ruled as royal governor until 1499 and attempted to end the abuse on the Indians by prohibiting expeditions and regulating the taxation imposed by the settlers upon them. Under the Spanish rule, the island bore the name Santo Domingo.

More conflict and rebellion erupted when the Spanish monarchy imposed the Encomienda system which places all the land under the ownership of the crown and the Indians, its tenants. Even the appointment of Columbus’s son Diego in 1509 didn’t help. He became ambitious and helped himself with the riches found on the island.

In 1603, following a mandate, the governor moved the Spanish settlers to the southwest of today’s San Juan de Maguana. The French, who had a base on Tortuga Island, took over the vacated land and settled on Hispaniola. Sporadic war between the Spanish and French went on for three decades. However, Spain could not maintain a garrison sufficient enough to secure the entire island against the French settlers. In 1697 the Treaty of Ryswick gave France rule over the western third of the island. Until 1929 the exact boundary of this island (Sainte Domingue – now Haiti) was undetermined.

Spain re-established its rule over two-thirds of the island in 1803 and went back to enslaving the natives in Santo Domingo. They even went over to Haiti to capture slaves. The blacks in Haiti who feared the return of slavery in their land went on the offensive and took over the entire island in 1822.

For 22 years the island was under the control of the Haitians on what the Dominicans call as the “Haitian Occupation”. In 1844 the eastern part of Hispaniola was once again under Spanish rule which became Republica Dominica – Dominican Republic.

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