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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Dominican Republic: Background and U.S. Relations

Clare Ribando Seelke
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

The Dominican Republic, a country of roughly 10.1 million people that shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with Haiti, is a close U.S. trade partner and political ally in Latin America. The United States is the Dominican Republic’s main trading partner, with two-way trade totaling more than $11.5 billion in 2011. In addition to trade, U.S. interest in the Dominican Republic has recently focused on anti-drug cooperation and governance/human rights issues, as well as the country’s role in helping resolve regional conflicts. U.S.-Dominican cooperation on bilateral and regional issues intensified during Leonel Fernández’s last two terms in office (2004-2008 and 2008-2012), and is expected to continue during the Danilo Medina Administration.

Led by former President Fernández, the center-left Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) has solidified its dominance over Dominican politics. In May 2010, the PLD captured two-thirds of the seats in the Dominican Congress; the party will remain in control of the legislature through May 2016. The PLD prevailed again in the May 20, 2012 presidential election, as its candidate, Danilo Medina, soundly defeated former president Hipólito Mejía (2000-2004) of the populist Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD). Medina benefitted from outgoing President Fernández’s continued popularity and from infighting within the PRD.

Inaugurated on August 16, 2012, President Danilo Medina, a former congressmen and minister of the presidency, is seeking to build upon his predecessors’ legacy while resolving lingering challenges the country is facing related to its fiscal situation, energy sector, and education system. Analysts are expecting more continuity than change from the new government, particularly since Fernández’s wife, Margarita Cedeño, is Medina’s vice president, and several top Fernández administration officials have retained their cabinet positions. Medina will benefit from his party’s congressional majority, but his room to maneuver may be limited by the country’s budget problems and need to secure support from the International Monetary Fund.

In recent years, congressional interest in the Dominican Republic has focused on trade, security, and human rights issues. Trade and investment flows have expanded since the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) entered into force for the Dominican Republic on March 1, 2007. U.S. trade capacity building assistance has also reportedly helped boost Dominican competitiveness in some sectors. The United States is one of the largest bilateral donors to the Dominican Republic; in FY2012, assistance totaled some $30.1 million. The Dominican Republic is also receiving U.S. aid through the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), a regional security initiative for which Congress appropriated $203 million from FY2010-FY2012. For FY2013, the Obama Administration requested $29.8 million for the Dominican Republic and $59 million for the overall CBSI program, with the Dominican Republic slated to receive a portion. Human rights issues, including the treatment of Haitians in the Dominican Republic and trafficking in persons, have also been of interest to Congress.

This report provides background information on political and economic conditions in the Dominican Republic, as well as an overview of some of the key issues in U.S.-Dominican relations. For additional information, see CRS Report R42468, The Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA DR): Developments in Trade and Investment, by J. F. Hornbeck.

Date of Report: November 6, 2012
Number of Pages: 19
Order Number: R41482
Price: $29.95

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