The Dominican Republic maintained very limited relations with most of the countries of Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe. It had little commerce, tourist trade, or diplomatic contact with most of these nations, and hence little reason for an embassy or mission. The Dominican Republic was not a global power with global responsibilities; nor, as a poor country, could it afford to maintain widespread diplomatic representation.
The Dominican Republic concentrated its diplomatic activities in four critical arenas: the circum-Caribbean, Latin America, the United States, and Western Europe. It belonged to the Organization of American States (OAS), the United Nations (UN), and other international bodies.
Although the Dominican Republic shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, traditionally relations between the two countries have seldom been good. In the nineteenth century, Haiti repeatedly invaded, plundered, and occupied the Dominican Republic. In addition, Dominicans tended to see Haiti as black, African, and uncivilized, in contrast to their own country, which they considered Hispanic and European.
When political troubles flared up in Haiti, Dominican governments usually mobilized the armed forces and put them on alert. Haitian political exiles often settled in Santo Domingo, which they used as a springboard for their partisan activities. Numerous Dominican governments had also tried to influence political events in Haiti. The border between the two countries had been closed on a number of occasions.
Over the years, higher salaries and better living conditions had induced many Haitians to settle in the Dominican Republic. Dominicans would express resentment of this Haitianization, but at the same time they depended on Haitian labor. This was particularly true during the cane-cutting season, when thousands of Haitians were trucked in, kept in miserable labor camps, and then trucked back (although some remained behind, melding into the local population). The practice commonly gave rise to human rights abuses, and the term "slavery" was sometimes used when changes were raised in some international bodies.
Little trade or commerce existed between the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Each eyed the other's politics warily and often tried to influence the outcome. Because of the complex racial, cultural, and social disparities between the two nations, it seemed doubtful that relations between the two countries would ever be friendly.
Dominican relations with the nearby island of Puerto Rico were quite good. A considerable amount of commercial trade, tourism, and investment activity took place between the two islands. Many Dominicans emigrated to Puerto Rico, where they generally enjoyed better jobs, salaries, and benefits. A lively-- and dangerous--traffic existed in small boats that traversed the Mona Passage, by night, carrying illegal Dominican emigrés to Puerto Rican shores. Puerto Rico's links to the United States through its commonwealth status also facilitated the migration of Dominicans to the United States mainland.
Many Puerto Ricans had invested in the Dominican Republic or owned weekend cottages there. At the same time, the large Dominican population in Puerto Rico was used by some as evidence to support the charge that Dominicans were taking jobs away from Puerto Ricans.
Despite a few minor points of contention, relations between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico were generally stable and amiable. In contrast, the Dominicans had an uneasy, and still largely informal, relationship with Cuba. The Dominican Republic had broken diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1962; on several subsequent occasions, Cuba sought to promote revolution in the Dominican Republic. With the growth of the Dominican economy in the 1970s, however, the Dominican Republic surpassed Cuba in per capita gross domestic product (GDP), reversing the two nations' traditional relative positions. By the late 1980s, the Dominicans dealt with Cuba from a position of strength rather than weakness, but they remained wary of Cuban military strength and the possibilities of Cuban subversion.
During the 1980s, the contacts between Cuba and the Dominican Republic increased: there were both sports and cultural exchanges. Most of these contacts were informal, but some official contacts between government representatives of the two countries also took place. For Cuba these exchanges formed part of its hemispheric-wide efforts to break out of the relative diplomatic and commercial isolation in which it existed after 1962 and to overcome the United States economic blockade. For the Dominican Republic, a flirtation with Cuba served to keep the domestic left from criticizing the government; it also put pressure on the United States, which in the 1980s did not favor normalization of relations with Cuba. One major impediment to closer ties was the competition of the two island nations in world sugar markets, a situation hardly calculated to encourage cooperation.
By 1989 the Dominican Republic had become more closely involved in the larger political and economic developments of the circum-Caribbean. It maintained close relations with Venezuela, with which it had important trade links. Its relations with the smaller, formerly British, Caribbean islands (including Jamaica) were also closer than they had been previously, and they included observer status in the Caribbean Community and Common Market (Caricom).
The Dominican Republic avoided too deep an involvement in the Central American imbroglios. It had offered its good offices and had served as an intermediary and peacemaker in some facets of the conflict. Not wanting to jeopardize its relations with Mexico, the Central American nations, or the United States, however, it had stayed aloof from the more controversial aspects of the various Central American conflicts. Dominicans were resentful when Nicaragua used its Soviet, East European, and "non-aligned" connections to beat out the Dominican Republic for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council.
The Dominican Republic's most important relations were with the United States. Politically, economically, and strategically, the Dominican Republic was more dependent on the United States than it was on any other nation. The United States maintained the largest embassy, by far, in Santo Domingo, and the Dominican embassy in Washington was the country's most important.
Dominicans sometimes resented the large United States presence in their country and the condescending and patronizing attitudes of some Americans. They also resented United States intervention in their internal affairs, particularly the military intervention of 1965. But most Dominicans strongly liked and admired the United States, wanted to travel or emigrate there, and had gotten used to the influence of the United States embassy in their country. Although Dominicans did not appreciate United States interference, they also feared United States inaction in regional affairs. Over the years, most Dominican politicians had determined that the prudent course was to make accommodations with the United States. In recent years, however, this relationship of dependence had become more one of bilateral interdependence.
The Dominican Republic maintained good relations with the nations of Western Europe and tried to increase trade with that region as a way of diversifying its economic relations. Cultural and political links were also important. The leading West European nations with interests in the Dominican Republic were the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), which significantly increased its exchange programs during the 1980s; Spain, for reasons of culture and language, as well as the Spaniards' generally more visible and active foreign policy in Latin America; and France, because of cultural and economic relations.
Among Asian nations, Japan had become a significant commercial presence in the 1980s, but it had little interest in political or strategic matters. The Republic of China (Taiwan) had extensive commercial and diplomatic relations. Similarly, Israel had provided aid and technical assistance and maintained some commercial, cultural, and diplomatic ties. In return, the Israelis often counted on the Dominican Republic to support their positions in international fora.
The Dominican Republic was a signatory to the Charter of the OAS, the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (the Rio Treaty), the Pact of Bogotá, and all major inter-American conventions. Historically, its ties to, and involvement in, the OAS had been stronger than its relations with the UN.
The Dominican Republic was a member of the UN, its Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLA), and its Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the International Court of Justice. It subscribed to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and the International Development Association (IDA). It was a participant in the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the Universal Postal Union (UPU), and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). It was also a member of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the Postal Union of the Americas and Spain, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
In the 1980s, the Dominicans have actively sought leadership roles in international organizations. This trend, along with the establishment of new diplomatic and economic ties, prompted debate throughout the country on issues of foreign policy and strategic relations. Such an awareness of world affairs was understandable in a country the identity, development, and direction of which were, in considerable measure, the result of external influences.
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