Dominican Republic profile - Overview
- 31 March 2016
- From the section Latin America & Caribbean
Once ruled by Spain, the Dominican Republic shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, a former French colony.
The Caribbean nation is a major tourist destination. This, coupled with free-trade zones, has become the country's major employer and key sources of revenue, replacing dependence on sugar, coffee and other exports.
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.
The Dominican Republic 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.
Rapid economic development in the 1990s has increased national wealth and diversified employment opportunities, helping the country to rebound from the global market downturn of 2008, but a large gap remains in the distribution of wealth.
The richest 10% of the population, overwhelmingly the white descendants of Spanish settlers, own most of the land and benefit from 40% of national income. The poorest peasants are people of African descent - including an estimated 800,000 of Haitian immigrant origin.
Distrust has soured relations between the Dominican Republic and its troubled neighbour, Haiti, and the government has carried out mass deportations of Haitian immigrants at various times.
The Dominican Republic is closely tied to the United States, its largest trading partner by far and home to a major diaspora. Remittances from US Dominicans account for around 5% of national income.