Nothing is so precious as that which does not come easy, and few countries have struggled so diligently for their independence nor faced so many travails along the way as the Dominican Republic.
As Dominican Ambassador Fernando Antonio Pérez Memén pointed out in his national day speech last week during his annual Independence Day reception at the Soumaya Museum, the Caribbean island nation’s fight for political emancipation has been “an ongoing process” that began in 1821 and still continues to this day.
After Spain recognized French dominion over the western third of Hispaniola in 1697, which in 1804 became Haiti, the remainder of the island, known as Santo Domingo, sought to gain its own sovereignty.
Nevertheless, the Dominicans were instead conquered by the Haitians, who ruled the region for the next 22 years.
The Haitians were not kind to their Dominican brethren, imposing a brutal military rule led by strongman Jean-Pierre Boyer and engaging in large-scale land expropriations, actions that only helped to spur the fervent desire for Dominican independence even further.
Finally, in 1838, a secret society led by Juan Pablo Duarte and called La Trinitaria was formed, and seven years later, this group, allied with a Haitian resistance movement, overthrew the oppressive Boyer regime.
But the removal of Boyer did not result in immediate Dominican sovereignty.
Instead, the new Haitian president exiled the Trinitarios and tried to convert the Dominican territory into a French protectorate.
The Dominicans, however, would hear nothing of it and resisted the French annexation.
On Nov. 6, 1844, the Dominican Republic was founded with the adoption of its first constitution.
But, alas, as Pérez Memén noted in his national day speech, real sovereignty must also include freedom of thought and opportunities for all, and the hard-fought independence for which the Trinitarios scarified so much did not lead to a true democracy, but rather to a de facto dictatorship under the notorious cattle rancher Pedro Santana, who usurped special powers and reserved Dominican wealth and privileges for himself and a select group of his favorite cohorts.
The exploitation of the majority of Dominicans by the repressive Santana eventually led to a civil war and the autocrat responded with a bid to Queen Isabella II of Spain to reconvert the island into a Spanish colony in 1861.
All this led to yet another battle, the 1863 Dominican War of Restoration, and the establishment of a provisional government that refused to recognize Iberian dominion.
While Spanish troops occupied the capital, the rebels fled to the mountains and continued their efforts to oust the Europeans.
The insurgents were fragmented and divisive, fighting as much among themselves as with their European adversaries, but in the end, an ongoing campaign of guerrilla warfare and an outbreak of yellow fever drove the Spanish out of Dominican territory and Isabella annulled the annexation and withdrew her troops in 1867.
Unfortunately, what followed was a period of political instability and internal disorder in the Dominican Republic as former rebel leaders squabbled among themselves.
In 1916, the United States, fearing that Germany might intervene in the Dominican Republic, occupied the country.
U.S. occupation lasted until 1924, when Horacio Vásquez was elected president of the Dominican Republic, and the country at long last looked like it was on its way to becoming a stable democracy.
However, in 1930, Rafael Trujillo staged a coup and took power by force.
Trujillo’s dictatorship ruled the Dominican Republic for 31 years, until he was assassinated in 1961.
In 1962, elections were held and Juan Bosch was named president, but one year later, the military army staged another coup.
The Haitians resisted and tried to overthrow the junta, but Washington sent in the Marines and set up a provisional government, which ruled for one year until 1966, when Joaquin Balaguer was elected president.
Since that time, the Dominican Republic has had a series of elected leaders, although allegations of election-rigging and ballot-box-stuffing have often marred the country’s democratic process.
Today, the Dominican Republic is enjoying a long-awaited political stability, which has led to an economic boon over the last 10 years, although it is still plagued by the financial and political human drama of its unstable sister nation to the west.
“During the 172 years since our emancipation, the Dominican Republic has suffered many adversities, including foreign interventions which were aimed at destroying our national sovereignty and self-determination, civil wars, coups d’état, tyrannical dictatorial regimes and social, political and economic crises,” Pérez Memén said.
“But in suffering and sacrifices, we have confronted our national spirit and overcome challenges to embrace the redeeming ideals of our forefathers.”
Those ideals may be shaken by internal and external circumstances, but, as Pérez Memén said, “the supreme law of the Dominican people is and always will be their political independence as a free, sovereign and independent nation, unfettered by foreign dominion, protectorateships, interventions or influence.”
For the Dominicans, that is a tall order, but, then again, nothing is more cherished than that which does not come easy.