The Dominican Republic, which shares the Island of Hispaniola with its neighbor to the west, Haiti, has a rich history beginning with the first inhabitants, the Taino Indians. Founded in 1492 by Christopher Columbus, the Dominican Republic is home to the first university and the first cathedral in the New World. Santo Domingo is the capital city with over 4 million residents. Its industries include sugar, tobacco, textiles, and tourism. About 25 percent of the Dominican population lives below the poverty line. The country suffers from marked income inequality; the poorest half of the population receives less than one-fifth of the GNP, while the richest 10 percent enjoy 40 percent of the national income.
Besides damage left behind by hurricanes, other negative issues that affect the country are water shortages, soil erosion, deforestation, occasional flooding, and periodic droughts. Electrical blackouts are a common occurrence, at times lasting as long as 6 hours. Unemployment and underemployment are widespread.
Explored and claimed by Christopher Columbus on his first voyage in 1492, the island of Hispaniola became a springboard for Spanish conquest of the Caribbean and the American mainland. In 1697, Spain recognized French dominion over the western third of the island, which in 1804 became Haiti. The remainder of the island, by then known as Santo Domingo, sought to gain its own independence in 1821, but was conquered and ruled by the Haitians for 22 years; it finally attained independence as the Dominican Republic in 1844. In 1861, the Dominicans voluntarily returned to the Spanish Empire, but two years later they launched a war that restored independence in 1865. A legacy of unsettled, mostly non-representative rule followed, capped by the dictatorship of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo from 1930-61. Juan Bosch was elected president in 1962, but was deposed in a military coup in 1963. In 1965, the United States led an intervention in the midst of a civil war sparked by an uprising to restore Bosch. In 1966, Joaquin Balaguer defeated Bosch in an election to become president. Balaguer maintained a tight grip on power for most of the next 30 years when international reaction to flawed elections forced him to curtail his term in 1996. Since then, regular competitive elections have been held in which opposition candidates have won the presidency. Former President (1996-2000) Leonel Fernandez Reyna won election to a second term in 2004 following a constitutional amendment allowing presidents to serve more than one term.