The Remnants of Colonization in the Dominican Republic

Although the initial stages of Colonialism have occurred five hundred years ago, the Dominican Republic, a country that was once a Spanish colony, is still relying on European ideologies to grow and foster economic change (in 1844 Santo Domingo was officially changed to Dominican Republic; I use both names, depending on the historical period). The process of colonialization altered the framework of Santo Domingo and its relation to the rest of the world and especially the rest of the Caribbean. As the first Spanish capital in 1496, Santo Domingo allowed the Spanish access to the Caribbean and though it gained independence from Spain in 1821, and independence from Haiti in 1844, it continues to be effected by the powers of colonialism.

In 1492 Christopher Columbus “discovered” the Americas and first came across an island that he would claim for the Spanish crown as La Isla Espanola (“the Spanish Island”). This marked the beginning of Spain’s reach to the rest of the world and would influence Pope Alexander VI in 1494 to agree to the Treaty of Tordesillas, which divided the world into two hemispheres – “one for the Portuguese, including Africa and India; and one for the Spanish, including the Americas and much of the Pacific” (Sheppard, Porter, Faust, and Nagar 322). The Treaty of Tordesillas allowed for the Spanish to gain a geographical advantage in the Caribbean. La Isla Espanola was the site of the first permanent European settlement in the Americas, specifically the capital Santo Domingo.  As a colonial port city Santo Domingo allowed for the easy transportation of goods and resources that could be found on the island.

When Christopher Columbus came across the island that he would later name La Isla Espanola he was in search of the Orient, specifically India for its spices. Although Santo Domingo was rich in goods such as: “tobacco, pineapples, and peppers” as well as gold, the Spanish did not understand tactics of resource management and would eventually exhaust the island of its resources (Dominican Republic History, par. 5). The Spanish did not work for the best interests of the native peoples of Santo Domingo, the Taino Indians. Firstly colonization was about “meet[ing] the need of the colonizers”, that meant exploitation was inevitable (Sheppard et al. 351). The Spanish benefitted from having multiple colonies in the Americas and “after looting the wealth of [Santo Domingo], they focused on mining precious metals, using forced labor in both the mines and the agricultural estates that supplies them with food” (Sheppard et al. 323). Many Taino Indians died when they interacted with the Spanish because their immune systems were not accustomed to diseases such as small pox.

The significant drop of the native population was detrimental to the success of the colony in the Spanish Empire. The diseases spread could not have been mediated by the modern practices of urban planning because Santo Domingo did not have the necessary infrastructure nor did Spain want to invest so much into its colony. Because labor was in short supply, due to brutality and disease, the colonists ventured into slave labor; the colonists enslaved Africans peoples and shipped them to Santo Domingo, the first destination of the slave trade. There was also a belief that “indigenous people in the New World were unenslavable,” thus there two reasons for the importation of slave labor from Africa: indigenous population was decreasing and it offered a cheaper alternative (Sheppard et al. 323). Again the colonists only cared about what was best for them, thus any problem that cost money was not ideal. The acquisition of slaves created a hierarchy that placed the Spanish settlers first, indigenous people second, and slaves third.

Thus, there began a system that further divided the people: the settlers acquired “vast amounts of land… and made [them] into large private estates”, while indigenous people lived as “landless laborers” and slaves had no property nor say (Sheppard et al. 354). The division between settler and indigenous people persists today in the form of the difference between the rich and the poor. The rich benefit from a familial tie to Spanish settlers in the 15th century while the poor continue to be disenfranchised. Today, the Dominican Republic is the “largest [economy] in the Caribbean and Central American region” and Santo Domingo, the capital of the country, like most cities that were once colonial port cities is the financial center (Economy of the Dominican Republic, par. 1).  Because Santo Domingo was such an important port, and still is till this day, the growth of infrastructure was focused on the city rather than inland (King, 30). This focus of material and building continues to affect the citizens of the Dominican Republic today, those who live in slums and squalor.

Eventually the Spanish abused the regularity of resources available in Santo Domingo and by the late 17th century “the Spanish settlement… had become increasingly unprofitable” (Dominican Republic History, par. 21). The importance of the unprofitably associated with Santo Domingo was that is showed colonizers that continuing to solely export would lead to dismay and will not have a continual return for profit, thus the greed of the Spanish got the best of them. Coupled with the dependency of slave labor for farming, the Spanish were losing money on their endeavor and had no other modes of producing a positive return. This endeavor was perhaps practice for later colonies throughout the proceeding centuries. Santo Domingo was used and defiled, the people were abused and treated as less than human. Today the remnants of colonialization persists in the form of globalization and racial identity.

In a previous paragraph I spoke about the hierarchy established by the acquisition of slaves; that hierarchy persists today in the form of racism and racial identity which is exacerbated by globalization. The people of the Dominican Republic are a mix between Spanish, French, African and Taino Indian but there is a reverence given to European blood that was made greater by the dictator Rafael Trujillo. Identity was very important for Trujillo and even though he was ¼ Haitian he continued to promote propaganda against Haitians and people of color. This racism was fostered by globalization through the merging, or the lack of merging, identities. Politically the Dominican Republic had to distinguish itself within a framework that was becoming more and more interconnected and unfortunately the leader at the time was a racist.

Modern globalization has created a network of nations that have destroyed the barriers that once made colonialization such an arduous process. Although the term globalization has been used mostly in the 21st century that does not negate the notion that colonization was an early remnant of globalization in the 15th century. There existed international trade, investment and the current information technology made it possibly to transport local goods to other countries. Today, the investments have changed and the information technology has evolved, but there still continues to be an issue that was prevalent during colonial times, the disparity between the wealthy and the poor. Colonially speaking the poor were those who worked as laborers and the rich were the Spanish Settlers, today, as stated in a previous paragraph, the wealthy are mostly those with ties to the Spanish Settlers and the poor live in slums. Despite the Dominican Republic being the largest economy in the Caribbean, poverty persists at a staggering rate: according to the Word Bank “41.1%” of the population lives in poverty.

Colonialism was only the beginning of the alteration done to Santo Domingo. Even after Santo Domingo changed its name to the Dominican Republic, after independence in 1844, it could not lose its historical ties to colonialism and the Spanish Empire. As the early stage of globalization, colonialism made Santo Domingo into a conglomeration of cultures and ideals. Fast forward to 2016, the Dominican Republic continues to harbor its financial center as the same port city of 1496, Santo Domingo. Race has been an issue for numerous years that have divided the people, identity amongst Dominicans has become difficult to manage and maintain and there is a large disparity between the rich and poor. Independence may have occurred in 1844 but the Dominican Republic has not been able to escape the effects of colonialization.

Reference List

“Dominican Republic History: 1492-1821.” Dominican Republic History: 1492-1821. Web. 25 Feb.       2016

“Dominican Republic.” Dominican Republic. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2016.

“Economy of the Dominican Republic” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 25 Feb 2016

King, Anthony (2015), “Colonialism and Urban Development”. In Faranak Miraftab and Neema Kunda

(eds.) Cities of the Global South, London: Routledge, pp. 29-39.

Sheppard, Eric; Porter, Philip; Faust, David and Nagar, Richa (2009), A World of Difference:

Encountering and Contesting Development, New York: Guilford Press


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