Traditionally the forgotten sector of Dominican society, the peasants were largely illiterate, unorganized, and politically inarticulate. Although numerically the largest group in Dominican society, politically they were the weakest.
By the late 1980s, however, vast changes had begun to occur, even in the Dominican countryside. For example, in 1960 the country was 70 percent rural and 30 percent urban, but as 1990 approached those percentages had been reversed. In the intervening decades, millions of peasants had left the harsh life of the countryside behind for the somewhat more promising life of the cities; many others had emigrated, mainly to Puerto Rico and the United States.
In addition, mobilization and organization had begun in the countryside. The requirement that voters be literate had been struck down in 1962. Peasants voted regularly and in high numbers, usually splitting their votes between liberal and conservative candidates. Beginning in the early 1960s, Peace Corps volunteers, political party officials, community organizers, students, missionaries, and government officials had been fanning out into the countryside organizing the peasants, soliciting their votes, and generally mobilizing them. Modern communications--radio, even television--also reached the countryside, and, along with numerous farm-to-market roads, they had helped ease the isolation of rural life.
Numerous peasant cooperatives and associations had also sprung up. Like the unions and the student groups, most of these were associated with the main political parties: Bosch's PLD, the PRD, and the Social Christian Reformist Party, (Partido Reformista Social Cristiano--PRSC; also referred to as the Christian Democrats). Balaguer also attracted widespread support among the peasants because they associated his rule with peace, stability, and prosperity. In highly paternalistic fashion, and with great publicity, Balaguer also made a point of handing out land titles to peasants for lands formerly belonging to Trujillo. Despite the upswing in their political activities, however, the peasants were still not effectively organized, and they seldom managed to influence national policy making.
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