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language: Spanish President: Leonel Fernandez
Agro-Industry Development agriculture
remains an important factor in the economy of
the Dominican Republic, accounting for an
estimated 11.3 percent of the GDP in 1999. In
1998, about 17 percent of Dominicans were
employed in agricultural work, either as small
farmers or plantation workers. Sugar continues
to occupy first place in the country's
agricultural production and exports, but output
has fallen considerably since the 1980s, and
there are many other crops grown, including food
for local consumption and non-traditional
exports such as pineapples and exotic fruits
destined for the United States. The Dominican
Republic is an importer of certain foodstuffs,
notably wheat, but it is overall a net exporter
of agricultural products, with sugar, coffee,
cocoa, tobacco, and meat among its principal
exports. Dominican cigars now outsell Cuban ones
which are embargoed by the United States.
In the late 1990s tobacco exports averaged
US$100 million annually. Significant growth has
also been recorded in non-traditional exports
such as cut flowers, ornamental plants, and
exotic fruits, which together earned nearly
US$200 million in 1997. The Dominican Republic
is also a major producer of bananas, and
although most are consumed locally, some
producers have begun exporting organic bananas
to a growing market in Europe and the United
Much Dominican farming is aimed at local
markets, especially the production of rice.
Other crops include maize, plantains, and
tomatoes. All agricultural activity is extremely
vulnerable to hurricanes, droughts, and other
Although fishing takes place around the
country's extensive coastline, there is no
export industry, and most fish is destined for
hotels and restaurants. Some fish, mostly salted
or frozen, is imported.
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.
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.
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 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.