The island of Hispaniola (the Dominican Republic forms the eastern two-thirds and Haiti forms the rest) was originally occupied by the 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 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.
From 1930 to 1947 (and indirectly until 1961), Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, one of the country's most corrupt rulers, used murder and torture to suppress any opposition to his autocratic style of ruling. Thousands of innocent Dominicans were murdered during his rule. He was assassinated in 1961.
On May 16, 2004, Leonel Fernández was elected president in a free and fair election, defeating Hipolito Mejía. Fernández took office on Aug. 16, promising in his inaugural speech to promote fiscal austerity, to fight corruption and to support social concerns. Fernández said the Dominican Republic would support policies favoring international peace and security.
The typical school year runs from September to June. Education is compulsory from age 7 through 14 and there is a shortage of teachers, facilities and funds.
For decades, Dominican farming families have been moving into the cities. These Dominicans are poor and not trained for different types of work, which makes it difficult for them to provide their children with an education that will allow them to compete in the local work market.
Those who are educated and receive specific training get the most desirable jobs. Therefore, education has become more valued in the last 20 years.
To the Dominican family, payment for education represents a significant percentage of their budget, an amount that increases with high-level education. Providing their children with a profession is one of the most desired goals for parents, but the high costs of an education often make this goal impossible.
Dominican employers have expressed two priorities regarding the profile of university graduates: They should speak foreign languages and be able to do interdisciplinary jobs. These requirements leave many out of the competition.
There is no state religion. The government signed a concordat in 1954 with the Vatican, extending to the Catholic Church special privileges not granted to other religions. These include the use of public funds to underwrite some church expenses, such as rehabilitation of church facilities and a complete waiver of customs duties when importing goods.
Religious groups are required to register with the government to operate legally. Such groups other than the Catholic Church must request exemptions from customs duties from the office of the presidency. This process can be lengthy; however, requests are usually granted.
Currently, Roman Catholic weddings are the only religious marriage ceremonies that the government legally recognizes, although civil unions are legal as well.
A 2000 law requires that the Bible be read in public schools but it is not enforced. Private schools are not obliged to include Bible reading among their weekly activities.
Source: International Religious Freedom Report, released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, November 8, 2005, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2005/51636.htm.
Holidays and Festivals
The Dominican Republic has many poets, essayists and novelists, including former president Juan Bosch. Architecture is another important part of Dominican culture, such as the colonial Spanish buildings in Santo Domingo.
Dominican folk music features instruments such as the maracas, tambora (small drum), accordion and the guirra (a percussion instrument scraped with a metal rod). The national dance is the méringue.
Sports and Games
Duarte Day, Jan. 26: Celebration honoring the father of the country.
Independence Day, Feb. 27: The festival of carnaval coincides with Independence Day and is the most colorful festival of the year. For Catholics, it is it a time of feasting before the time of fasting known as Lent.
Labor Day, May 1
Las Navidades, Dec. 15-Jan. 6: A festive time when families get together. On Christmas Eve, families attend midnight mass and return home to eat their Christmas dinner. Jan. 6 commemorates the Three Kings who came to worship Jesus. The night before, children place boxes of grass under their beds for the Three Kings' camels. After the camels have eaten all the grass, the Kings leave presents in the empty boxes.
Dominicans love baseball. Many professional players in the United States come from the Dominican Republic.
A dish of beans and rice is traditionally called "the Dominican flag" because it is the basic Dominican meal.
Green Banana Salad
3 green (unripe) bananas, peeled
2 cups water
1 tsp. salt
2 medium carrots, shredded
1 small cucumber, sliced
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 avocado, cubed
1 stalk celery, sliced
1/3 cup olive or vegetable oil
2 Tb. wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. prepared dark mustard
dash of pepper
Heat bananas, water and salt to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer until tender, about five minutes. Drain and cool; cut bananas crosswise into 1/2-inch slices. Blend together dressing ingredients. Toss bananas and vegetables with dressing. Serves eight.
Compassion in Dominican Republic
Hola, ¿cómo estás? (Hi, how are you?)
Bien, gracias. (Fine, thanks.)
Me llamo ... (My name is ...)
¿Cómo te llamas? (What's your name?)
Dominican Republic Facts & Figures
Compassion's work in the Dominican Republic began in 1970. More than 48,500 children participate in 167 child development centers. Compassion partners with churches to help them provide Dominican children with the opportunity to rise above their circumstances and become all God has created them to be.
Visit the Compassion blog to learn more about our work in the Dominican Republic.
||9,507,133 (July 2008 estimate)
||303,824,640 (July 2008 estimate)
||English 82.1%, Spanish 10.7%, other Indo-European 3.8%, Asian and Pacific island 2.7%, other 0.7% (2000 census)
||Christian 95% (Roman Catholic)
||Christian 78.5% (Protestant 51.3%, Roman Catholic 23.9%, other Christian 2.3%), Jewish 1.7%, Buddhist 0.7%, Muslim 0.6%, other or unspecified 2.5%, unaffiliated 12.1%, none 4% (2007 est.)
Definition: Age 15 and over who can read and write.
Female: 87.2% (2002 estimate)
Female: 99% (2003 estimate)
Percentage of population using improved drinking water sources
|Percentage of population using adequate sanitation facilities
||Tropical maritime; little seasonal temperature variation; seasonal variation in rainfall
||Mostly temperate but tropical in Hawaii and Florida, arctic in Alaska, semiarid in the Great Plains west of the Mississippi River and arid in the Great Basin of the southwest; low winter temperatures in the northwest are warmed occasionally in January and February by chinook winds from the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains.
|Percentage of population urbanized
81% (2006 estimate)
||Male: 71.61 years
Female: 75.24 years (2008 estimate)
|Male: 75.29 years
Female: 81.13 years (2008 estimate)
Under 5 mortality rate
8/1000 (2006 estimate)
|GDP per capita
||$6,600 (2007 estimate)
||$45,800 (2007 estimate)
||Dominican peso (DOP)
||U.S. dollar (USD)
|Number of people living with HIV/AIDS
||88,000 (2003 estimate)
||950,000 (2003 estimate)
|Percentage of population living below
$1 a day
3% (1995-2005 study)
|Data not available
Sources for facts: The World Factbook, 2008; The State of the World's Children, 2008