Government and Politics

Dominican Republic Table of Contents

THE ROOTS OF DEMOCRACY were not deep in the Dominican Republic. The country traditionally had been mostly poor, rural, and underdeveloped. It had a weak economy, largely based on sugar exports, and it lacked the social and the political infrastructures--political parties, interest groups, and effective government institutions--necessary for democratic rule. Thus, for most of their history the people of the Dominican Republic had lived under authoritarian governments.

In addition, the international climate had not favored democracy and development. The Dominican Republic, a small, dependent nation, poor in resources, shared the island of Hispaniola (La Isla Española) with more populous but even poorer Haiti. Tensions between the two nations could be traced back to the nineteenth century, when Haiti controlled the entire island (1822-44), or farther back, to the era of colonial rule by the Spaniards. The Dominican Republic's economy, historically oriented toward the export of primary products for the world market, was dependent on fluctuating world market prices for those products, or on the quotas set by major importers--factors beyond the Dominican Republic's control. Moreover, the country's strategic location in the Caribbean, astride all the major sea lanes linking North America and South America and leading into the Panama Canal, exposed the country to the buffeting winds of international politics, or led to its occupation by major powers such as Spain, Britain, France, The Netherlands, and, most recently, the United States. The nation's almost inevitable entanglement in international conflicts afforded it little opportunity to develop autonomously.

Beginning in the early 1960s, however, many things began to change in the Dominican Republic. Per capita income in the late 1980s was four times what it had been in 1960. The country's population was approximately 70 percent urban (the corresponding figure in 1960 was 30 percent), more literate (in about the same proportion), and more middle class. Political institutions had developed and had become more consolidated. The country's international debt continued to be a major problem and a severe drain on the economy, but in general the Dominican Republic's economic position within the international community was more stable than it had been in past decades. These changed conditions made the climate more conducive to democracy than it had been at any previous time.

In 1961 assassins ended the thirty-one-year dictatorship of Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina. There followed five years of instability that witnessed a short-lived democratic regime under Juan Bosch Gaviño, the military overthrow of Bosch, a Bosch-led revolution in 1965, civil war, United States intervention, and the restoration of stability in 1966 under a former Trujillo puppet, Joaquín Balaguer Ricardo. Balaguer governed for the next twelve years, until forced to bow to the electorate's desire for change in 1978. That year Silvestre Antonio Guzmán Fernández, of Bosch's party, the Dominican Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Dominicano--PRD), won the presidency. Guzmán was succeeded by another PRD leader, Salvador Jorge Blanco (1982-86). In 1986 the shrewd, but aging, Balaguer won four more years as president in another fair and free election.

There was, therefore, a democratic breakthrough in the Dominican Republic in the early 1960s that led to instability, conflict, intervention, and eventually an authoritarian restoration. In 1978, however, a new democratic opening occurred. Whether this new democracy would be more permanent than other frustrated efforts in the past, or the Dominican Republic would again revert to instability and authoritarianism, remained to be seen.

Constitutional Development

The Executive
The Legislature
The Judiciary
Public Administration
Local Government
The Electoral System
The System of Dominican Politics

Political Developments since 1978
Interest Groups
The Armed Forces
The Roman Catholic Church
Economic Elites
Trade Unions
Student Politics
Middle Class
The Bureaucracy
Outside Actors
Political Parties
The Mass Media

For more information about the government, see Facts about the Dominican Republic.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress