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The Dominican Republic in the West Indies occupies the eastern two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola, which it shares with Haiti. Its area equals that of Vermont and New Hampshire combined. Duarte Peak, at 10,417 ft (3,175 m), is the highest point in the West Indies.
The Dominican Republic was explored by Columbus on his first voyage in 1492. He named it La Espanola, and his son, Diego, was its first viceroy. The capital, Santo Domingo, founded in 1496, is the oldest European settlement in the Western Hemisphere.
Spain ceded the colony to France in 1795, and Haitian blacks under Toussaint L'Ouverture conquered it in 1801. In 1808, the people revolted and captured Santo Domingo the next year, setting up the first republic. Spain regained title to the colony in 1814. In 1821 Spanish rule was overthrown, but in 1822 the colony was reconquered by the Haitians. In 1844, the Haitians were thrown out and the Dominican Republic was established, headed by Pedro Santana. Uprisings and Haitian attacks led Santana to make the country a province of Spain from 1861 to 1865.
President Buenaventura Báez, faced with an economy in shambles, attempted to have the country annexed to the U.S. in 1870, but the U.S. Senate refused to ratify a treaty of annexation. Disorder continued until the dictatorship of Ulíses Heureaux; in 1916, when chaos broke out again, the U.S. sent in a contingent of marines, who remained until 1924.
A sergeant in the Dominican army trained by the marines, Rafaél Leonides Trujillo Molina, overthrew Horacio Vásquez in 1930 and established a dictatorship that lasted until his assassination in 1961, 31 years later. In 1962, Juan Bosch of the leftist Dominican Revolutionary Party, became the first democratically elected president in four decades.
In 1963, a military coup ousted Bosch and installed a civilian triumvirate. Leftists rebelled against the new regime in April 1965, and U.S. president Lyndon Johnson sent in marines and troops. After a cease-fire in May, a compromise installed Hector Garcia-Godoy as provisional president. In 1966, right-wing candidate Joaquin Balaguer won in free elections against Bosch, and U.S. and other foreign troops withdrew.
In 1978, the army suspended the counting of ballots when Balaguer trailed in a fourth-term bid. After a warning from President Jimmy Carter, however, Balaguer accepted the victory of Antonio Guzmán of the Dominican Revolutionary Party. In 1982 elections, Salvador Jorge Blanco of the Dominican Revolutionary Party defeated Balaguer and Bosch. Balaguer was again elected president in May 1986 and remained in office for the next ten years.
In 1996, U.S.-raised Leonel Fernández secured more than 51% of the vote through an alliance with Balaguer. The first item on the president's agenda was the partial sale of some state-owned enterprises. Fernández was praised for ending decades of isolationism and improving ties with other Caribbean countries, but he was criticized for not fighting corruption or alleviating the poverty that affects 60% of the population.
In Aug. 2000, the center-left Hipólito Mejía was elected president amid popular discontent over power outages in the recently privatized electric industry, but in May 2004 presidential elections, he was defeated by former president Leonel Fernández (1996–2000). Fernández instituted austerity measures to rescue the country from its economic crisis, and in the first half of 2006, the economy grew 11.7%.
On May 16, 2008, incumbent president Leonel Fernández was reelected, taking 53% of the vote. He defeated Miguel Vargas of the Dominican Revolutionary Party, who won 41%.
After the devastating earthquake on January 12, 2010 in Haiti, the Dominican Republic was one of the first countries to offer aid despite the two countries having a history of conflict. The Dominican Republic sent food, medicine, and teams to assess the damage. The country also eased visa requirements so the injured could seek treatment at Dominican hospitals.
Over a year later, in the spring of 2011, protests started and signs were posted, calling for the refugees to go home. By August 2011, Haitian refugees were turned away at the border and in some cases, deported. The shift in attitude showed impatience with Haiti's slow recovery as well as other concerns, including a high unemployment rate, among the highest in Latin American, and cholera, which had killed more than 90 people in the Dominican Republic, many of them Haitian migrants.
In October 2011, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) received over 450 complaints from people in the Dominican Republic who said their citizenship had been revoked. The complaints came from people who have been recognized as citizens for decades. The IACHR condemned the policy, but on December 1st, the country's Supreme Court rejected a Dominican-born male's request for a birth certificate so he could relocate to the United States. The new policy could affect some 200,000 Dominicans of Haitian origin.
In May 20, 2012, Danilo Medina, candidate of the ruling Dominican Liberation Party, won the presidential election. Medina narrowly defeated Hipólito Mejía, receiving 51.24 percent of the vote. Voting fraud allegations followed the election, including claims from other political parties that votes were bought. The Organization of American States confirmed vote-buying, but concluded that it was not enough to determine the outcome of the election so the organization approved the results.