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.
The country suffers from marked income inequality; the poorest half of the population receives less than one-fifth of GDP, while the richest 10 percent enjoys nearly 40 percent. High unemployment and underemployment remain challenging.
The World Factbook, 2014.