New Internationalist

Dominican Republic

Issue 220

new internationalist
issue 220 - June 1991

COUNTRY PROFILE

Where is Dominican Republic? King Sugar rules no more in this land, haunted now by widespread unemployment. Thousands of workers from neighbouring Haiti, who toil in appalling conditions, suffer the most. Cuts in US sugar imports followed large subsidies to US farmers to produce high-fructose corn syrup. When the syrup was made available to soft-drink manufacturers, cane sugar was left out in the cold. Although Washington made limited concessions in 1990, little has been done to relieve the distress.

Yet despite high inflation, a heavy debt burden and continuous devaluation, the sounds of merengue and other rhythms keep spirits up in the shacks and shanties of the capital, Santo Domingo.

Santo Domingo was founded in 1496. It is but a short step from deprivation to the beautifully-restored merchant houses, churches and other monuments of the conquistadores that make up the old city. Christopher Columbus is buried in Santa Maria Cathedral, the same saint to whom he dedicated his first ship. Ambitious plans are in hand to celebrate the 500th anniversary of his historic voyage in 1992.

Although Columbus' discoveries led to misery and destruction, the anniversary celebrations are virtually the only thing the major political parties can agree upon. The May 1990 Presidential elections saw two octogenarians slugging it out with a wafer-thin margin of 11,000 votes for the victor, Joaquin Balaguer. He defeated Juan Bosch and his radical Partido Revolucionario Dominicano. Bosch once hit world headlines when, after winning an election in 1965, his government was ousted by the Army. His attempts to re-instate civilian rule were spiked by a US-led invasion to restore the conservatives.

President Balaguer faced protests and strikes when he introduced austerity policies on top of already harsh measures. In 1984, riots against IMF-generated policies left over 60 dead. People fear it may happen again, for wages are low even in the rapidly expanding Export Processing Zones and the tourist areas.

Puerto Rican factories predominate in the Zones, producing low-technology consumer goods for the US market. Thousands of workers, mainly women, work for wages which are a fraction of those paid in Puerto Rico where US minimum-wage legislation applies. With such low wages and a minimum of linkage to the local economy, these Zones contribute little to economic growth.

It is not much better in the tourist industry, now the main foreign-currency earner. European visitors are lured by bargain prices and the prospect of exotic sounds and sights, palm-fringed beaches and newly-designated national parks from which local people have been evicted. And serving rich tourists for a pittance can be especially hard to bear.

Tony Thorndike

 

LEADER: President Joaquin Balaguer

ECONOMY: GNP per capita US $720 (US $19,840)
Currency: Peso Tourism is the main foreign exchange earner, 12 per cent of GNP. But sugar is still the main industry with the US as main export market. Increased trade of cocoa and coffee to EEC is hoped for; other exports are bananas, tobacco, nickel and gold. Manufacturing sector expanding in special Zones. Remittances from migrant workers, mainly in US, is important source of family income.

PEOPLE: 7 million

HEALTH: Infant mortality 57 per 1,000 live births (US 10 per 1,000)

CULTURE: A mixture of black, white and mestizo has created a vibrant cultural life. The merengue dance and music festival is very popular.
Religion: Roman Catholicism is the major religion, a legacy of former French rule. There are also flourishing charismatic and Seventh Day Adventist churches.
Language: Spanish; English widely spoken.

Sources: The State of World Population 1991, The State of the World's Children 1991, and information supplied by the author.

Last profiled in September 1982

 

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Appalling: plantations rely on cheap landless labour.
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GNP has declined from $1,360 in 1982
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Provide cheap labour in male- dominated society.

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1982


Centre-right coalition.

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About 80% adult literacy.

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Respect for human/civil rights improving.

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66 years (US 76 years)

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