Dominican Republic: Politics: Intro

Following independence from Haiti in 1844, the country characterized by political instability for almost a century. Dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina took power in 1930 and ruled in repressive authoritarian fashion until his assassination in 1961. Brief civil war broke out in 1965 between liberal Constitutionalists–supporters of 1963 constitution promulgated during short-lived presidency of Juan Bosch Gaviño– and conservative Loyalist military factions. The conflict aborted by direct military intervention of United States. Subsequent elections brought Trujillo protÈgÈ Balaguer to presidency, an office he held for twelve years. Balaguer’s attempt to nullify 1978 elections thwarted by pressure from Washington, allowing Silvestre Antonio Guzmán Fernandez of social democratic Dominican Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Dominicano–PRD) to assume nation’s leadership. PRD also won 1982 elections with lawyer Salvador Jorge Blanco as its standard bearer. Both PRD governments were plagued by economic difficulties that forced them to institute austerity measures instead of social reforms they initially advocated. The declining popularity of Jorge’s government contributed to Balaguer’s election for a fourth term beginning in 1986.

The System of Dominican Politics

The Dominican Republic has a long history of political instability which includes many revolutions, coups d’Ètat, barracks revolts, and insurrections, as well as social and political breakdowns. Its last revolution took place in April of 1965. Since then, governments have been systematically elected every four years, and the political climate has been at rest.

Politics in the Dominican Republic functions on a smaller and less formal scale than politics in the United States. Sometimes it seems that everyone in the Dominican Republic who counts politically knows everyone else who counts, because many in this group are also interrelated by blood or marriage. It is a small country, with only one main city. Politics are therefore more like old-fashioned United States county politics. In this context, family and clan networks, patronage systems, close friendships, the bonds of kinship, personal ties, and extended family, ethnic, or other personal connections are as important as the more formal and impersonal institutions of a larger political system.

The Dominican Republic has large-scale organizations, such as political parties, interest groups, professional associations, and bureacratic organizations, but often the informal networks are as important, and therefore, the most difficult for outsiders to penetrate and to understand.

To comprehend Dominican politics, therefore, one must understand first of all the family networks: who is related to whom, and how and what (if anything) these family ties mean. One must also understand the social and the racial hierarchies, who speaks to whom and in what tone of voice, who sees whom socially, and what these social ties imply politically. One must know about past business deals and associations, whether they were clean or “dirty,” and what each family or individual knows or thinks about associates. One must understand where the different families “fit” in the Dominican system, whether they are old rich or new rich, their bloodlines, what they share politically, and what pulls them apart. Many of these family and clan associations and rivalries go back for generations.

Family and personalistic associations overlap and interact with the institutions of a more modern political system in all sorts of complex ways. For example, what goes by the name of a political party actually may turn out to be the personalistic apparatus of a single politician or family; or a certain office within the government bureaucracy may turn out to be the private preserve of a single family or clan. In order to understand Dominican politics, one must comprehend these complex overlaps of traditional and modern institutions and practices, of family and clan-based politics, and of modern political organizations.

Dominican Republic: Government And Politics

Government: The Dominican Republic has an elected representative governmental system. Executive was dominant branch. Presidents served four-year terms and could be reelected. Legislature, known formally as Congress of the Republic, consisted of Senate and Chamber of Deputies (House of Representatives). Judicial power exercised by Supreme Court of Justice and by other courts created by 1966 Constitution and by law. All judges chosen by Senate, not by President. Provincial (state) governors appointed by President; municipalities (counties) governed by elected mayors and municipal councils.

International Relations: Diplomatic activities concentrated on Caribbean, Latin America, United States, and Western Europe. Relations with neighboring Haiti traditionally strained, owing to numerous cultural divergences and long history of Dominicans and Haitians meddling in each other’s affairs. The most important international relationship is with the United States on which Dominican Republic has political, economic, and strategic dependence.

International Agreements and Membership: Signatory of Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (Rio Treaty) and all major inter-American conventions. Member of United Nations and its specialized agencies, Organization of American States, ACP, CARICOM, International Monetary Fund, Inter-American Development Bank, and other multilateral financial institutions. Also adhered to General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.