The Dominican Republic's long history of political instability had included many revolutions, coups d'état, barracks revolts, and pronunciamientos (insurrections accompanied by declarations of disagreement with the existing government), as well as social and political breakdowns. Coups and revolutions are among the easiest political phenomena to measure systematically. When a country has had so many, one must conclude that they are a regular, normal part of the political process. Therefore, it is not the case that Dominican politics are unsystematic.
Politics in the Dominican Republic functions on a smaller and less formal scale than politics in the United States. Sometimes it seems that everyone in the Dominican Republic who counts politically knows everyone else who counts; many in this group are also interrelated by blood or marriage. It is a small country, with only one main city. Politics is therefore more like old-fashioned United States county politics. In this context, family and clan networks, patronage systems, close friendships, the bonds of kinship, personal ties, and extended family, ethnic, or other personal connections are as important as the more formal and impersonal institutions of a larger political system. The Dominican Republic has large-scale organizations, such as political parties, interest groups, professional associations, and bureacratic organizations, but often the informal networks are at least as important. They are, in addition, the features that are the most difficult for outsiders to penetrate and to understand.
To comprehend Dominican politics, therefore, one must understand first of all the family networks: who is related to whom, and how and what (if anything) these family ties mean. One must also understand the social and the racial hierarchies, who speaks to whom and in what tone of voice, who sees whom socially, and what these social ties imply politically. One must know about past business deals and associations, whether they were clean or "dirty," and what each family or individual knows or thinks about associates. One must understand where the different families "fit" in the Dominican system, whether they are old rich or new rich, their bloodlines, what they share politically, and what pulls them apart. Many of these family and clan associations and rivalries go back for generations.
Family and personalistic associations overlap and interact with the institutions of a more modern political system in all sorts of complex ways. For example, what goes by the name of a political party actually may turn out to be the personalistic apparatus of a single politician or family; or a certain office within the government bureaucracy may turn out to be the private preserve of a single family or clan. In order to understand Dominican politics, one must comprehend these complex overlaps of traditional and modern institutions and practices, of family and clan-based politics, and of modern political organizations.
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