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Country Profile : Dominican-republic

Country profile: Dominican Republic

Map of Dominican Republic

Once ruled by Spain, the Dominican Republic (DR) shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, a former French colony.

The Caribbean nation is a major tourist destination. Tourism, and the DR's free-trade zones, have become major employers and key sources of revenue. Sugar, coffee and tobacco are among the main exports.

Overview

The largely mountainous country includes Pico Duarte - the highest point in the West Indies, the fertile Cibao Valley, swathes of desert, and Lake Enriquillo - the lowest point in the region.

AT-A-GLANCE
March on anniversary of 1844 independence from Haiti, February 2006
Politics: President Leonel Fernandez has made economic recovery a priority; he won his third term in May 2008
Economy: The DR has entered a free trade accord with the US and Central American nations; President Fernandez has cut spending, restructured debt and secured IMF funds
International: Hundreds of thousands of Haitians live and work illegally in the DR

The DR is inhabited mostly by people of mixed European and African origins. Western influence is seen in the colonial buildings of the capital, Santo Domingo, as well as in art and literature. African heritage is reflected in music. The two heritages blend in the popular song and dance, the merengue.

No blending of fortunes, however, is evident in the distribution of wealth between ethnic groups.

The DR is one of the poorest countries in the Caribbean. There is a huge gap between the rich and the poor, with the richest being the white descendants of Spanish settlers, who own most of the land, and the poorest comprising people of African descent. The mixed race majority controls much of the commerce.

Mutual distrust has soured relations between the DR and its troubled neighbour, Haiti. Up to one million Haitians live in the DR, many of them illegally. The government has carried out mass deportations.

Facts

  • Full name: Dominican Republic
  • Population: 10 million (UN, 2008)
  • Capital: Santo Domingo
  • Area: 48,072 sq km (18,696 sq miles)
  • Major language: Spanish
  • Major religion: Christianity
  • Life expectancy: 70 years (men), 75 years (women) (UN)
  • Monetary unit: 1 Dominican peso = 100 centavos
  • Main exports: Ferronickel, sugar, gold, silver, coffee, cocoa, tobacco, meats
  • GNI per capita: US$4,390 (World Bank, 2008)
  • Internet domain: .do
  • International dialling code: +1809

Leaders

President: Leonel Fernandez

Leonel Fernandez of the Dominican Liberation Party won a third term as president in elections in May 2008, propelled back into office by what many see as his success in pulling his country out of a deep economic slump.

Leonel Fernandez
Leonel Fernandez promised to tackle soaring inflation

He inherited a crumbling economy in 2004 when he became president for the second time. His first term was from 1996 to 2000.

With the help of loans from the International Monetary Fund, Fernandez managed to turn things around. However, official unemployment in 2008 was still nearly 16 percent and about a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line, according to the government.

Born in 1953, the son of an army officer, the young Leonel Fernandez moved to New York with his family. He returned to the Dominican Republic and attended the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo. Active in student politics, he obtained a doctorate in 1978.

He has worked as a lawyer and university professor. He speaks Spanish, French and English, and is married with three children.

Politics was dominated for decades by former President Joaquin Balaguer, who jailed critics and rigged elections. He became president in 1960 and stepped down after mass demonstrations in 1996.

In 1994, Congress barred sitting presidents from seeking new terms but lifted the ban in 2002, allowing presidents to run for four more years.

Media

Ownership of TV channels, radio stations and newspapers is concentrated in a few economically or politically-powerful hands.

There are several terrestrial TV channels and many multichannel cable TV operators. More than 200 radio stations are on the air, most of them commercial. The government operates TV and radio networks.

Press freedom is guaranteed by law and media outlets carry diverse political views. Some subjects, such as the Catholic Church and the army, are generally avoided.

The press

Television

Radio

Internet

  • DR1 - online news, English-language
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