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The Dominican Republic (DR) and Haiti share the island of Hispaniola (also called Quisqueya) in the Caribbean. The island was partitioned formally in 1777 by the Aranjuez Treaty signed between the Spanish and the French colonial powers. The DR is located on the eastern two-thirds of the island and has just over nine million inhabitants, as well as a large undocumented Haitianand Dominican-born Haitian population (between 300,000 to 1,000,000). Contrary to the experience of many other nations in the Caribbean, and especially neighboring Haiti, the DR was primarily a subsistence agriculture and ranching economy in the late colonial period with some tobacco and cocoa production. Due to the general abandonment of the colony by the Spanish, few settlers could afford to buy or maintain slaves. Relations of production were characterized by generalized impoverishment, low-intensity land use and a relatively small, largely mixed race population. The difference in colonial production with respect to the plantation society across the border has been defining in constructions of race and class on the island. A doctrine of anti-Haitianism was promoted throughout the 20th century and most intensely expressed in the state-supported massacre of 30,000 Haitians in the DR in 1937.
The proliferation of large-scale sugar plantations beginning in the 1870s, the construction of railways, and rising timber exports led to accelerated deforestation by the turn of the century. By 1980, 25 percent of cultivated land was planted with sugar. Most of the hardwood forests-including mahogany-were clear-cut or selectively cleared between 1880 and 1930. The first municipal regulation against logging and river contamination was passed in 1901, but early legislation was not enforced. The first natural reserve was established in 1927 to protect the watershed of the country’s second largest river, the Yaque. Following U.S. occupation (1916-24), Rafael Trujillo took over the country for 31 years (1930-61). Trujillo directly appropriated forest and farmland for his or his cronies’ private commercial use, while establishing some national parks to protect watersheds. Forest cover in agrarian landscapes was at times considered not under “productive use” and expropriated by the government or local elites.
Almost a decade of political instability followed the assassination of Trujillo, fueling resource extraction by powerful elites and efforts by farmers to resettle areas captured by Trujillo. Joaquin Balaguer, who had served under Trujillo, was elected in 1966 and dominated Dominican politics and environmental policy for the next 30 years. In 1967, in line with Cold War policies throughout the region designed to extend military control to rural areas, the government passed Law 206, placing forests under the protection of the state. Logging was criminalized and the forest service was incorporated into the armed forces. That same year, 12 loggers were killed by the military during a raid on a clandestine logging camp. Militarized campaigns to conserve forests continued, involving forced removals, jail terms, and violence directed toward squatters, subsistence farmers, and charcoal makers. The largest of these evictions took place in 1992, when 70,000 forest farmers were expelled from Los Haitises national park. Following Balaguer’s rule, the forest service reverted to civilian administration.
Balaguer’s environmental policy yielded a comprehensive natural reserve system reportedly consisting of 74 parks and marine reserves and officially encompassing 32 percent of national territory. Yet, prospects for conservation and effective environmental management of resources are highly uncertain and will depend on trends in foreign investment, the growing tourist industry, export production, and state regulatory effectiveness.
- Roberto Cassa, Historia Social y Econ6mica de la Republica Dominicana (Alfa y Omega, 1998 and 2001);
- Dianne Rocheleau and Laurie Ross, “Trees as Tools, Trees as Text: Struggles Over Resources in Zambrana-Chacuey, Dominican Republic” Antipode (v.27, 1995);
- Sylvio Torres-Saillant, “Creoleness of Blackness: A Dominican Dilemma” Plantation Society in the Americas (Spring, 1998);
- Richard Turits, Peasants, the Trujillo Regime, and Modernity in Dominican History (Stanford University Press, 2002).