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Dominican Republic - SOCIETY
DOMINICAN SOCIETY OF THE LATE 1980s reflected the country's Spanish-Caribbean heritage. It manifested significant divisions along the lines of race and class. A small fraction of the populace controlled great wealth, while the vast majority struggled to get by. The middle stratum worked both to maintain and to extend its political and economic gains. Generally speaking, Dominican society offered relatively few avenues of advancement; most of those available allowed families of middling means to enhance or to consolidate their standing.
The majority of the population was mulatto, the offspring of Africans and Europeans. The indigenous Amerindian population had been virtually eliminated within half a century of initial contact. Immigrants--European, Middle Eastern, Asian, and Caribbean--arrived with each cycle of economic growth. In general, skin color followed the social hierarchy: lighter skin was associated with higher social and economic status. European immigrants and their offspring found more ready acceptance at the upper reaches of society than did darker-skinned Dominicans.
The decades following the end of the regime of Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina (1930-61) were a time of extensive changes as large-scale rural-urban and international migration blurred the gulf between city and countryside. Traditional attitudes persisted: peasants continued to regard urban dwellers with suspicion, and people in cities continued to think of rural Dominicans as unsophisticated and naive. Nonetheless, most families included several members who had migrated to the republic's larger cities or to the United States. Migration served to relieve some of the pressures of population growth. Moreover, cash remittances from abroad permitted families of moderate means to acquire assets and to maintain a standard of living far beyond what they might otherwise have enjoyed.
The alternatives available to poorer Dominicans were far more limited. Emigration required assets beyond the reach of most. Many rural dwellers migrated instead to one of the republic's cities. The financial resources and training of these newcomers, however, were far inferior to those among typical families of moderate means. For the vast majority of the republic's population, the twin constraints of limited land and limited employment opportunities defined the daily struggle for existence.
In the midst of far-reaching changes, the republic continued to be a profoundly family oriented society. Dominicans of every social stratum relied on family and kin for social identity and for interpersonal relationships of trust and confidence, particularly in the processes of migration and urbanization.
It has been estimated that the country's total population in mid-1990 will total slightly more than 7 million. Growth had been high since official census taking began in 1920. The rate peaked during the 1950s at 3.6 percent per year. During the 1960s and the 1970s, the population grew at 2.9 percent annually; by the mid-1980s, the rate was thought to be roughly 2.5 percent.
The total fertility rate, although still relatively high, declined substantially in the 1970s. Official estimates indicated that half of all married women used contraceptives. Both the Dominican Republic's continued high population growth rates and field studies belied this figure, however.
The government began supporting family planning in 1967, but clinics were concentrated in the cities and larger towns. Both the Secretariat of State for Public Health and Social Welfare (Secretaria de Estado de Salud Pública y Asistencia Social-- SESPAS) and the National Population and Family Council (Consejo Nacional de Población y Familia--CNPF) offered family planning services. By the 1980s, both organizations were trying to make their programs more responsive to the needs of rural families.
Birth control encountered strong resistance from both sexes, especially in the countryside and the smaller cities. Although women did use a variety of substances believed to be contraceptives or abortifacients, there was considerable misinformation about family planning. Many men believed birth control threatened their masculinity; some women refused to use contraception because some methods produced nausea and other side effects. International migrants were more aware of the available options, and some women migrants did use modern contraceptives.
The traditional (non-administrative) subregions of the country included Valdesia and Yuma in the southeast, Enriquillo and Del Valle in the southwest, and the Central Cibao, the Eastern Cibao, and the Western Cibao in the north. The subregion of densest settlement was Valdesia on the southern coast, which contained the nation's capital and more than 40 percent of the population. Roughly one-third of all Dominicans lived in the National District. The other major area of settlement was the Central Cibao, which accounted for more than 20 percent of total population.
Administrations had attempted to control both population growth and its distribution since the 1950s. The Trujillo regime fostered agricultural colonies scattered throughout the countryside and strung along the western frontier with Haiti. Some were coupled with irrigation projects.
Beginning in the late 1970s, the government also set up industrial free zones around the country. Although the desire to increase employment was the government's primary motivation, the establishment of free zones had as a secondary goal the dispersal of industrialization, and thus migration, away from Santo Domingo. Intercensal growth rates on the subregional and the provincial levels reflected these trends. Puerto Plata grew at more than twice the rate of the nation as a whole in the 1970s. The southeast, especially the National District, expanded much faster than most of the country, as did La Romana.
The Dominican Republic was a country of migrants in the late 1980s; according to the 1981 census, nearly one-quarter of the population was living in a province other than that in which they had been born. Surveys in the mid-1970s found that nearly twothirds of city dwellers and half of those in the countryside had migrated at least once. Rural areas in general, especially in the Central Cibao, have experienced significant levels of outmigration . The movement of peasants and the landless into the republic's growing cities accounted for the lion's share of migration. Indeed, Dominicans had even coined a new word, campuno, to describe the rural-urban campesino migrant. The principal destinations for migrants were the National District followed by the provinces of La Romana, Independencia, and San Pedro de Macorís. In the National District, 46 percent of the inhabitants were migrants. The industrial free zones were the other major destinations for migrants in the 1970s.
Women predominated in both rural-urban and urban-rural migration. Men, however, were more likely than women to move from city to city or from one rural area to another. In general, migrants earned more than non-migrants, and they suffered lower rates of unemployment, although underemployment was pervasive. Urban-rural migrants had the highest incomes. This category, however, consisted of a select group of educated and skilled workers, mostly government officials, teachers, and the like, who moved from cities to assume specific jobs in rural areas. They received higher wages as a recompense for the lack of urban amenities in villages.
Migrants spoke of the migration chain (cadena) that tied them to other migrants and to their home communities. Kin served as the links in the chain. They cared for family, lands, and businesses left behind, or, if they had migrated earlier, assisted the new arrivals with employment and housing.The actual degree of support families could, or were willing to, give a migrant varied widely.
The process of rural-urban migration typically involved a series of steps. The migrant gradually abandoned agriculture and sought more non-agricultural sources of income. Migrants rarely arrived in the largest, fastest growing cities "green" from the countryside. They acquired training and experience in intermediate-sized cities and in temporary nonfarm jobs en route.
International migration played a significant role in the livelihood of many Dominicans. Anywhere from 8 to 15 percent of the total population resided abroad. Estimates of those living and working in the United States in the mid-1980s ranged from 300,000 to as high as 800,000. Roughly 200,000 more were in San Juan, Puerto Rico, many of them presumably waiting to get into the United States. Most migrants went to New York; but by the mid-1980s, their destinations also included other cities of the eastern seaboard.
A sizable minority (about one-third) emigrated because they were unemployed, but most did so to attain higher income, to continue their educations, or to join other family members. In the early 1980s, most emigrants were relatively better educated and more skilled than the Dominican populace as a whole. Most came from cities, but the middling to large farms of the overpopulated Cibao also sent large numbers. Working in the United States has become almost an expected part of the lives of Dominicans from families of moderate means.
Cash remittances from Dominicans living abroad have become an integral part of the national economy. Migrants' remittances constituted a significant percentage of the country's foreign exchange earnings. Remittances were used to finance businesses, to purchase land, and to bolster the family's standard of living. Most migrants saw sending money as an obligation. Although some refused to provide assistance, they came under severe criticism from both fellow migrants and those who remained behind. The extent to which a migrant's earnings were committed to family and kin was sometimes striking. Anthropologist Patricia Pessar has described a Dominican man in New York who earned less than US$500 per month. He sent US$150 of this to his wife and children and another US$100 to his parents and unmarried siblings.
Money from abroad had a multiplier effect; it spawned a veritable construction boom in migrants' hometowns and neighborhoods in the mid-1970s. Migrants also contributed significant sums for the church back home. Many parish priests made annual fund-raising trips to New York to seek donations for local parish needs.
The impact of out-migration was widely felt; in one Cibao village, for example, 85 percent of the households had at least one member living in New York in the mid-1970s. Where migration was common, it altered a community's age pyramid: eighteen to forty-five-year olds (especially males) were essentially missing. Emigration also eliminated many of the natural choices for leadership roles in the home community.
For most of its history, the Dominican Republic was overwhelmingly rural; in 1920 over 80 percent of its populace lived in the countryside, and by 1950 more than 75 percent still did. Substantial urban expansion began in the 1950s, and it gained tremendous momentum in the 1960s and the 1970s. Urban growth rates far outdistanced those of the country as a whole. The urban population expanded at 6.1 percent annually during the 1950s, 5.7 percent annually during the 1960s-70s, and 4.7 percent annually through the mid-1980s.
In the early decades of the twentieth century, the country was not only largely rural, but the urban scene itself was dominated by smaller cities and provincial capitals. In 1920 nearly 80 percent of all city dwellers lived in cities with fewer than 20,000 inhabitants. Santo Domingo, with barely more than 30,000 residents, accounted for only 20 percent of those in cities. By contrast, in 1981 Santo Domingo alone accounted for nearly half of all city dwellers; it had more than double the total population of all cities of more than 20,000 inhabitants. Cities with fewer than 20,000 inhabitants--nearly 80 percent of the urban population in 1920--constituted less than 20 percent by 1981.
Santo Domingo approximately doubled its population every decade between 1920 and 1970. Its massive physical expansion, however, dated from the 1950s. The growth in industry and urban construction, coupled with Trujillo's expropriations of rural land, fueled rural-urban migration and the city's growth. The republic's second and third largest cities, Santiago de los Caballeros (Santiago) and La Romana, also experienced significant expansion in the 1960s and the 1970s. Santiago, the center of traditional Hispanic culture, drew migrants from the heavily populated Cibao. La Romana, in the southeast, grew as a center of employment in the sugar industry as well as a center of tourism and the site of the country's first industrial free zone.
Population growth and rural-urban migration strained cities' capacity to provide housing and amenities. Nevertheless, in 1981 nearly 80 percent of city dwellings had access to potable water; 90 percent had some type of sewage disposal; and roughly 90 percent had electricity. The proportion of homes with piped, or easy access to, potable water, however, actually declined by nearly ten percentage points in the 1970s. By the mid-1980s, there was an estimated housing deficit of some 400,000 units. The need was greatest in the National District. Squatter settlements grew in response to the scarcity of low-cost urban housing. In Santo Domingo these settlements were concentrated along the Ozama River and on the city's periphery.
Public housing initiatives dated from the late 1950s, when Trujillo built some housing for government employees of moderate means. Through the mid-1980s, a number of different government agencies played a role. The Technical Secretariat of the Presidency (Secretaria Técnica de la Presidencia) designed a variety of projects in Santo Domingo. The Aid and Housing Institute and the National Housing Institute bore primary responsibility for the financing and the construction of housing. In general, public efforts had been hampered by extreme decentralization in planning, coupled with equally extreme concentration in decision making. The primary beneficiaries of public projects were usually from lower income groups, although they were not the poorest urban dwellers. Projects targeted those making at least the minimum wage, i.e., the lower middle sector or the more stable segments of the working class.
The island's indigenous inhabitants were the Taino Indians (Arawaks) group and a small settlement of Caribs around the Bahía de Samaná. These Indians, estimated to number perhaps 1 million at the time of their initial contact with Europeans, had died off by the 1550s. The importation of African slaves began in 1503. By the nineteenth century, the population was roughly 150,000: 40,000 of Spanish descent, an equal number of black slaves, and the remainder of freed blacks or mulattoes. In the mid-1980s, approximately 16 percent of the population was considered white and 11 percent black; the remainder were mulattoes.
Contemporary Dominican society and culture are overwhelmingly Spanish in origin. Taino influence is limited to cultigens and to a few vocabulary words, such as huracán (hurricane) and hamaca (hammock). African influence has been largely ignored, although certain religious brotherhoods with significant black membership incorporated some Afro-American elements. Observers also have noted the presence of African influence in popular dance and music.
There was a preference in Dominican society for light skin and "white" racial features.Blackness in itself, however, did not restrict a person to a lower status position. Upward mobility was possible for the dark-skinned person who managed to acquire education or wealth. Social characteristics, focusing on family background, education, and economic standing, were in fact more prominent means of identifying and classifying individuals. Darker-skinned persons were concentrated in the east and the south. The population of the Cibao, especially in the countryside, consisted mainly of whites or mulattoes.
Dominicans traditionally preferred to think of themselves as descendants of the island's Indians and the Spanish, ignoring their African heritage. Thus, phenotypical African characteristics were disparaged. Emigrants to the United States brought a new level of racial consciousness to the republic, however, when they returned. Those who came back during the 1960s and the 1970s had experienced both racial prejudice and the black pride movement in North America. Returning migrants brought back Afro hairstyles and a variety of other Afro-North Americanisms.
Although almost all migrants were assimilated into Dominican society (often with surprising speed and thoroughness), immigration had a pervasive influence on the ethnic and the racial configurations of the country. Within a generation or two, most immigrants were considered Dominican even though the family might well continue to maintain contact with relatives in the country of origin. Both the elite and the middle segments of society recruited new members with each economic expansion. The main impetus to immigration was the rise of sugar production in the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries. Nonetheless, some groups had earlier antecedents, while others arrived as late as the 1970s.
Nineteenth-century immigrants came from a number of places. Roughly 5,000 to 10,000 North American freedmen, principally Methodists, came in response to an offer of free land made during the period of Haitian domination (1822-44). Most, however, were city dwellers, and they quickly returned to the United States. A few small settlements remained around Santiago, Puerto Plata, and Samaná. They eventually were assimilated, although English was still widely used in the region of Samaná. Sephardic Jews arrived from Curaçao in the late eighteenth century and, in greater numbers, following independence from Haiti in 1844. They were assimilated rapidly; both their economic assets and their white ancestry made them desirable additions from the point of view of the Dominican criollos. Canary Islanders arrived during the late colonial period as well, in response to the improved economic conditions of the 1880s. Spaniards settled during the period of renewed Spanish occupation (1861-65); many Spanish soldiers stayed after the War of Restoration. Germans established themselves--principally in Puerto Plata--primarily in the tobacco trade.
The expansion of the sugar industry in the late nineteenth century drew migrants from every social stratum. Cubans and Puerto Ricans, who began arriving in the 1870s, aided in the evolution of the sugar industry as well as in the country's intellectual development. In addition, significant numbers of laborers came from the British, the Dutch, and the Danish islands of the Caribbean. They also worked in railroad construction and on the docks. Initial reaction to their presence was negative, but their educational background (which was superior to that of most of the rural populace), their ability to speak English (which gave them an advantage in dealing with North American plantation owners), and their industriousness eventually won them a measure of acceptance. They founded Protestant churches, Masonic lodges, mutual aid societies, and a variety of other cultural organizations. Their descendants enjoyed a considerable measure of upward mobility through education and religion. They were well represented in the technical trades (especially those associated with the sugar industry) and on professional baseball teams.
Arabs--Lebanese and lesser numbers of Palestinians and Syrians--first arrived in the late nineteenth century, and they prospered. Their assimilation was slower, however, and many still maintained contacts with relatives in the Middle East. Italians also arrived during this period and were assimilated rapidly, as did a few immigrants from diverse South American countries. A few Chinese came from other Caribbean islands and established a reputation for diligence and industriousness. More followed with the United States occupation of the island (1916-24). They began as cooks and domestic servants; a number of their descendants were restaurateurs and hotel owners.
The most recent trickle of immigrants entered the country from the 1930s to the 1980s. Many founded agricultural colonies that suffered a high rate of attrition. Among the groups were German Jews (1930s), Japanese (after World War II), and Hungarians and Spaniards (both in the 1950s). More Chinese came from Taiwan and Hong Kong in the 1970s; by the 1980s, they were the second fastest growing immigrant group (Haitians being the first). Many had sufficient capital to set up manufacturing firms in the country's industrial free zones.
Modern Haitian migration to the Dominican Republic dates from the late nineteenth century, when increasing North American capital boosted sugar production. Dominicans have never welcomed these immigrants. Their presence resulted from economic necessity borne of the reluctance of Dominicans to perform the menial task of cane cutting. The 1920 census listed slightly under 28,000 Haitian nationals in the Dominican Republic. Successive governments attempted to control the numbers of Haitians entering the country; the border was periodically closed in the 1910s and the 1920s. By 1935, however, the number had increased to more than 50,000. Trujillo ordered a general roundup of Haitians along the border in 1937, during which an estimated 20,000 Haitians were killed.
Since the 1950s, a series of bilateral agreements has regulated legal Haitian immigration. In the late 1970s and the early 1980s, the government contracted for 10,000 to 20,000 temporary Haitian workers annually for the sugarcane harvest. Observers believed that an equal number of Haitians entered illegally. The 1960 census enumerated slightly under 30,000 Haitians. By 1980 estimates suggested the total number of Haitians residing permanently or semipermanently was on the order of 200,000, of whom 70,000 were workers.
During the 1970s and the early 1980s, some Haitians rose into higher positions in sugar production and in other areas of the economy. They continued to account for the vast majority of cane cutters, but roughly half of all labor recruiters and field inspectors also were Haitians. In addition, Haitians worked harvesting coffee, rice, and cacao and in construction in Santo Domingo. By 1980 nearly 30 percent of the paid laborers in the coffee harvest were Haitian; in the border region the proportion rose to 80 percent. A reasonably skilled coffee picker could nearly double the earnings of the average cane cutter. Overall, however, Haitians' earnings still lagged; their wages averaged less than 60 percent of those of Dominicans.
The last 200 years transformed the composition and the configuration of the country's elite. Nonetheless, at the end of the 1980s, the Dominican Republic continued to be a country where a relatively small number of families controlled great wealth, while the majority of the population lived in poverty. The middle stratum struggled (at its lower end) to maintain economic standing and to expand its political participation and (at its upper reaches) to gain greater social acceptance and economic prosperity. Hispanic-Mediterranean ideals about the proper mode of life and livelihood continued to be significant. The primary social division was between two polar groups: the elite (la gente buena or la gente culta) and the masses.
The first half of the nineteenth century had eliminated many of the noteworthy families of the colonial era. During the period of Haitian domination, many prominent landowners liquidated their holdings and left. The War of Restoration against Spain permitted some social and economic upward mobility to members of the lower classes who had enjoyed military success. An increase in sugarcane production brought immigrants of European extraction who were assimilated rapidly. Poorer elite families saw a chance to improve their financial status through marriage to recently arrived and financially successful immigrants. Even more well-to- do families recognized the advantages of wedding their lineage and lands to the monied merchant-immigrant clans. Although the Chinese were generally excluded from this process, and the Arabs encountered resistance, virtually everyone else found ready acceptance.
This pattern has repeated itself over the years. Each political or economic wave has brought new families into the elite as it imperilled the economic standing of others. By the end of the 1980s, this privileged segment of society was hardly monolithic. The interests of the older elite families, whose wealth was based mostly on land (and whose prosperity diminished during the Trujillo years), did not always match those of families who had amassed their fortunes under Trujillo, or the interests of those whose money came from the expansion in industry during the 1960s and the 1970s. The 1965 civil war further polarized and fragmented many segments of the middle and the upper classes.
Although rural elite families were relatively monolithic, in Santo Domingo and Santiago there was a further distinction between families of the first and the second ranks (la gente de primera and la gente de segunda). Those of the first rank could claim to be a part of the 100 families referred to locally as the tutumpote (totem pole--implying family worship and excessive concern with ancestry). Those of the second rank had less illustrious antecedents; they included the descendants of successful immigrants and the nouveaux riches who had managed to intermarry with more established families.
Family loyalties were paramount, and the family represented the primary source of social identity. Elite families relied on an extensive network of kin to maintain their assets. In difficult times, the family offered a haven; as the situation improved, it provided the vehicle whereby one secured political position and economic assets. Siblings, uncles, aunts, cousins, and in-laws comprised the pool from which one selected trusted business partners and loyal political allies. This process of networking pervaded every level of society. The elite, however, profited to a much greater degree from kinship-based networking than did members of the lower classes.
The number of potential kin grew as an individual's net worth increased. The successful were obliged, as a matter of course, to bestow favors on a widely extended group of kin and confreres. Individual success in the political arena brought with it a host of hangers-on whose fortunes rose and fell with those of their patron. The well-to-do tried to limit the demands of less illustrious kin and to secure alliances with families of equal or greater status. These ties permitted the extended family to diversify its social and economic capital.
<>The Middle Sector
The middle sector in the late 1980s represented roughly 30 to 35 percent of the population, concentrated in the ranks of salaried professionals in government and the private sector. They had virtually no independent sources of wealth, and so they were responsive to changes in the buying power of wages and to contractions in employment that accompanied economic cycles. The middle level followed the racial stratification of the society as a whole: generally lighter-skinned as one proceeded up the social scale. As a group, the middle sector differed in lifestyle, in marital stability, and in occupations from the poor urban masses. They firmly adhered to the Hispanic ideals of leisure and lifestyle espoused by the elite, and they considered themselves, at least in spirit, a part of la gente buena. As with the elite, economic expansion, based on the growth of sugar production in the late nineteenth century, broadened the middle reaches of the social ladder as well. Those of this new middle segment, however, were limited in their upward mobility by dark skin and/or limited finances. They were a diverse group, including small shopowners, teachers, clerical employees, and professionals. They lacked a class identity based on any sense of common social or economic interests; moreover, any sense of mutual interest was undermined by the pervasiveness of the patron-client system. Individuals improved their status by linking up with a more privileged protector, not by joint political action for a shared goal.
The life strategy of middle-class families was similar to that of the elite. Their goals were to diversify their economic assets and to extend their network of political and social influence. As with the elite, the middle-level family solidified its position through patronage. An influential family could offer jobs to loyal followers and supporters. People expected that those with power would use it for their own ends and for the advancement of their own and their family's interests. Ties to government were particularly important, because the government was the source of many coveted jobs.
The limited availability of adequately paid and steady employment defined life for most urban Dominicans. Unemployment in the 1980s ranged between 20 and 25 percent of the economically active population. In addition, another 25 percent of the work force was considered underemployed. In Santo Domingo and Santiago, the two largest cities, roughly 48 percent of the selfemployed , more than half of those paid piece rates, and 85 percent of temporary workers were underemployed. A late 1970s survey of five working-class neighborhoods in Santo Domingo found that 60 percent of household heads had no regular employment. Under such conditions, those workers having regular employment constituted a relatively privileged segment of the urban populace.
Rural-urban migration made the situation of the urban poor even more desperate; however, the chances of earning a living were slightly better in cities than in rural areas, although the advantages of an urban job had to be weighed against the higher cost of foodstuffs. Landless, or nearly landless, agricultural laborers might find it difficult to work even a garden plot, but the rural family could generally get by on its own food production. For the urban poor, however, the struggle to eat was relentless.
Under conditions of chronically high unemployment, workers enjoyed little power or leverage. Protective labor laws were typically limited in their coverage to workers in private companies with more than ten employees. Organized labor made significant gains in the early 1960s, but by the late 1980s only a scant 12 to 15 percent of the labor force was unionized. The legal code prohibited nearly half of all workers (public employees and utility workers) from strikes and job actions.
Roughly one-quarter of urban households surveyed in the mid1970s were headed by women. Even in families with a male breadwinner, a woman was frequently the more consistent income earner among poorer city dwellers. Women's economic activities were diverse--if poorly remunerated. They took in washing and ironing, and they did domestic work. The more prosperous sewed. Some bought cheap or used items and raffled them off. A few who could muster the necessary capital ran stalls selling groceries, cigarettes, and candy, but their trade was minimal. In smaller towns, women also performed a variety of agricultural processing tasks: grinding coffee, husking garlic, winnowing beans, and washing pig intestines.
Like more well-to-do city families, the poor tried, wherever possible, to maintain ties with their kin in the countryside. Aid and assistance flowed both ways. Farmers with relatives in the city stayed with them on trips to town and repaid this hospitality with foodstuffs from their fields. New rural-urban migrants were assisted by kin who had already made the transition. The poor were handicapped in these exchanges because they typically had fewer kin in a position to help. Nonetheless, the obligation to help was deeply felt. Women who migrated to cities returned to their families in the countryside as economic conditions and family needs dictated.
The small urban neighborhood functioned as the center of social life. Most sharing, mutual aid, and cooperative activity took place within the confines of a narrow circle of neighbors and kin. Most Dominicans shared a general belief that neighbors should assist each other in times of need.
Most small rural neighborhoods and villages were settled originally by one or two families. Extensive ties of kinship, intermarriage, and compadrazgo (coparenthood) developed among the descendants of the original settlers. Most villagers married their near neighbors. First cousins frequently married, despite the formal legal prohibitions against this practice. The social life of the countryside likewise focused on near neighbors, who were frequently direct blood relations. The bonds of trust and cooperation among these relatives formed at an early age. Children wandered among the households of extended kin at will. Peasants distrusted those from beyond their own neighborhoods, and they were therefore leery of economic relations with outsiders. The development of community-wide activities and organizations was handicapped by this widespread distrust. People commonly assumed deceit in others, in the absence of strong, incontrovertible proof to the contrary.
Until the latter twentieth century, most joint activities were kin-based: a few related extended families joined together for whatever needed attention. The junta was the traditional cooperative work group. Friends, neighbors, and relatives gathered at a farmer's house for a day's work. There was no strict accounting of days given and received. As wage labor became more common, the junta gave way to smaller cooperative work groups, or it fell into disuse entirely.
In small towns, social life focused on the central park, or the plaza; in rural neighborhoods most social interaction among non-kin took place in the stores, the bars, and the pool rooms where men gathered to gossip. Six-day workweeks left little time for recreation or socializing. Many farm families came to town on Sundays to shop and to attend Mass. The women and children generally returned home earlier than the men to prepare Sunday dinner; the men stayed to visit, or to enjoy an afternoon cockfight or an important baseball or volleyball game.
Landholding in the late 1980s was both concentrated among large holders and fragmented at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale. All but the largest producers faced some constraints in terms of land and money. Indeed, a national survey conducted in 1985 found extensive rural poverty. More than 40 percent of the households surveyed owned no land; another 25 percent had less than half a hectare. Roughly 70 percent of all families relied on wage labor.
Land reform legislation had had little overall impact on landholding both because the reforms contained few provisions for land redistribution and because they were poorly enforced. Redistribution began in the 1960s with land accumulated by Trujillo and acquired by the state after his death. By the early 1980s, irrigated rice farms, which had been left intact and had been farmed collectively, were slated for division into small, privately owned plots. All told, by 1980 the Dominican Agrarian Institute (Instituto Agrario Dominicano--IAD) had distributed state land to approximately 67,000 families--less than 15 percent of the rural population.
Population growth over the past century had virtually eliminated the land reserves. Parents usually gave children plots of land as they reached maturity, so that they could marry and begin their own families.Over the generations, the process had led to extreme land fragmentation. Contemporary practices adapted to these constraints. Educating children, setting them up in business, or bankrolling their emigration limited the number of heirs competing for the family holdings and assured that the next generation would be able to maintain its standard of living. One or two siblings (usually the oldest and the youngest) remained with the parents and inherited the farm. In other cases, siblings and their spouses stayed on the parental lands; each couple farmed its own plot of land, but they pooled their labor for many agricultural and domestic tasks.
Migration served as a safety valve. Migrants' remittances represented an essential component in many household budgets. These timely infusions of cash permitted medium-sized landholders to meet expenses during the months before harvest; they also allowed families to purchase more land. In communities with a history of fifteen to twenty years of high levels of emigration, such emigration had an inflationary impact on the local land market. For those relying on wage labor to earn a living, the impact was more ambiguous. In some communities, the increase in migration meant more casual work was available as more family members migrated. In other instances, migrants' families switched to livestock raising to limit labor requirements, or they hired an overseer to handle the agricultural work. Both these practices limited the overall demand for casual labor.
The vast majority (84 percent) of farm women contributed to the family's earnings. Women devised means of earning income that meshed with their domestic tasks: they cultivated garden plots, raised small livestock, and/or helped to tend the family's fields. In addition, many rural women worked at diverse cottage industries and vending. They sold everything from lottery tickets to home-made sweets.
In the mid-1980s, approximately 20 percent of rural households were headed by women. The lack of services in rural areas increased women's working days with physically demanding and time-consuming domestic tasks. Single women were further handicapped by the traditional exclusion of women from mechanized or skilled agricultural work. Women worked during the laborintensive phases of harvesting and processed crops like cotton, coffee, tobacco, and tomatoes. They usually earned piece rates rather than daily wages, and their earnings lagged behind those of male agricultural laborers.
Most sugar mills and cane fields were concentrated in the southeast coastal plains. Three large groups owned 75 percent of the land: the State Sugar Council (Consejo Estatal del AzúcarCEA ), Casa Vicini (a family operation), and Central Romana (formerly owned by Gulf and Western Corporation). The government created CEA in 1966, largely from lands and facilities formerly held by the Trujillo family.
In the mid-1980s, there were roughly 4,500 colonos (sugar planters) who owned some 62,500 hectares. These small to middle-sized landholders were independent growers who sold their harvested cane to the sugar mills. Although the level of prosperity of the colonos varied significantly, some were prosperous enough to hire laborers to cut their cane and to buy cane from smaller producers. Their actual number fluctuated widely in response to the market for cane. There were only 3,200 in 1970; this number had more than doubled by 1980, but it had then declined by mid-decade.
Some colonos were descendants of former small mill owners driven out of business during the expansion of sugar production in the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century. The parents, or grandparents, of others were either subsistence farmers, who had switched to cane cultivation in response to rising demand for sugar, or successful field workers. Like virtually all Dominican farmers, colonos faced land fragmentation that increased geometrically with each generation.
Sugar mills continued to be a major source of work for rural Dominicans, although direct employment peaked at a high of roughly 100,000 workers in the early 1970s. By the mid-1980s, the mills employed approximately 65,000 workers. The sugar industry generated considerable indirect employment as well; some observers estimated that as much as 30 percent of the population was directly or indirectly affected by sugar production. The 40,000 to 50,000 cane cutters constituted the bulk of the work force. Most were immigrant Haitians or their descendants. In the sugar industry's highly stratified work force, there were clear divisions among cane cutters, more skilled workers (largely Dominicans), clerical staff, and managers. Workers' settlements (bateyes) dotted the mill and the surrounding fields; they usually included stores, schools, and a number of other facilities.
Landholding was less concentrated in the north and the west; mixed crop and livestock raising dominated agricultural production. Much production was geared to subsistence, but growers also produced a number of cash crops such as cacao, tobacco, coffee, and vegetables. The twin constraints of land and money affected the various strata of rural society differently, depending on the precise configuration of resources a family could command, but hardship was widespread.
Those without land were the most hard pressed. Agricultural laborers rarely enjoyed opportunities for permanent employment. Most worked only sporadically throughout the year. During periods of high demand for labor, contractors formed semipermanent work groups that contracted their services out to farmers. As in much of social life, the individual stood a better chance if he could couch his request for work in terms of a personal link of kinship with the prospective employer.
Families that depended on wage labor had very limited resources at their disposal. Their diet lacked greens and protein; eggs and meat were luxury items. Such fare as boiled plantains, noodles, and broth often substituted for the staple beans and rice. Keeping children in school was difficult because their labor was needed to supplement the family's earnings.
Those with very little land (less than one hectare) also faced very severe constraints. Although members of this group had enough land to meet some of their families' subsistence needs and even sold crops occasionally, they also needed to resort to wage labor to make ends meet. Like wage laborers, smallholders had trouble leaving children in school. The children's prospects were extremely limited, moreover, because their parents could neither give them land nor educate them. The daily need for food also limited farmers' ability to work their own land. Those who were both land-poor and cash-poor faced a dilemma: they could not work their lands effectively because to do so meant foregoing wage labor needed to feed their families. A variety of sharecropping arrangements supplemented wage labor for those smallholders able to muster some cash or credit. These were of little use to the landless; only those who had land or money to finance a crop entered into these schemes. Smallholders and the landless lived enmeshed in a web of dependent relationships: they depended on their neighbors and kin for help and assistance, on store owners for credit, and on larger landholders for employment.
Families with middle-sized holdings (from one to three hectares) faced slightly different problems. They often had enough land and financial resources to meet most of their families' food needs and to earn cash from the sale of crops or livestock. They did not usually need to work for hire, and sometimes they could hire laborers themselves. They usually ate better than smallholders, and their children stayed in school longer. However, although middle holders earned more, they also had greater needs for cash during the year, particularly if they hired laborers before harvest.
Even relatively large holders faced seasonal shortages of cash. Their production costs--especially for hired labor--were typically higher.Their standard of living was notably higher than that of people with less land. They generally ate better and could afford meat or fish more frequently. Although their holdings supported their generation adequately, subdivision among the family's offspring would typically leave no heir with more than a hectare or two. Faced with this prospect, these farmers often encouraged their children to pursue nonagricultural careers and helped support them financially during their student years.
Almost all farmers depended to varying degrees on credit from local storekeepers. The landless and the land-poor needed credit simply to feed their families. Middling landholders used it to tide them over the lean months before harvest. Prevailing interest rates varied considerably, but the poorest farmers-- those who could not offer a harvest as collateral and who usually needed short-term credit--generally paid the highest rates.
Farmers often depended on storekeepers to market their crops because they were usually unable to accumulate sufficient produce to make direct marketing a viable option. Most farmers committed their crops to their merchant-creditor long before harvest. Store owners could not legally require that someone who owed them money sell his or her crops to them. Nonetheless, for the farm family, the possibility of being denied necessary credit at a time of future need acted as a powerful incentive. The cycle of debt, repayment, and renewed debt was constant for most.
Traditionally, the local storekeeper aided farmers in ways beyond the extension of credit. He often established a paternalistic relationship with his customers; farmers consulted him on matters ranging from land purchases to conflicts with neighbors. Such patronage carried a hefty price tag, however; farmers found it difficult to haggle about terms with a storekeeper who was also a friend or a relative. Studies of coffee growers in the mid-1970s found that the cost of credit could easily take one-third to one-half of a middling landholder's profits.
Cooperatives sometimes offered an alternative. The most successful drew their membership from groups of kin and neighbors already linked by ties of trust. Cooperatives provided a solution for farmers vexed by the problem of cash shortfalls. Consumer and savings and loan cooperatives thus expanded the options for some rural families. Cooperatives have not ameliorated appreciably the plight of the poorest rural dwellers, however. Cooperative loans were predicated on a family's ability to pay, which effectively excluded the landless and the land-poor.
The family was the fundamental social unit. It provided a bulwark in the midst of political upheavals and economic reversals. People emphasized the trust, the assistance, and the solidarity that kin owed to one another. Family loyalty was an ingrained and unquestioned virtue; from early childhood, individuals learned that relatives were to be trusted and relied on, while those outside the family were, implicitly at least, suspect. In all areas of life and at every level of society, a person looked to family and kin for both social identity and succor.
Formal organizations succeeded best where they were able to mesh with pre-existing ties of kinship. Indeed, until the 1960s and the 1970s, most community activities were kin-based: a few related extended families joined together for joint endeavors. In the countryside, the core of extensively related families remained pivotal, despite large-scale migration and urbanization. If anything, the ties among kin extended more widely in contemporary society because modern transportation and communications allowed families to maintain ties over long distances and during lengthy absences.
In general, the extent to which families interacted, and the people with whom they interacted, depended on their degree of prosperity. Families with relatively equal resources shared and cooperated. Where there was marked disparity in families' wealth, the more prosperous branches tried to limit the demands made by the poorer ones. On the one hand, generosity was held in high esteem, and failure to care for kin in need was disparaged; but on the other hand, families wished to help their immediate relatives and to give favors to those who could reciprocate.
A needy relative might receive the loan of a piece of land, some wage labor, or occasional gifts of food. Another type of assistance was a form of adoption, by which poorer families gave a child to more affluent relatives to raise. The adopting family was expected to care for the child and to see that he or she received a proper upbringing. The children were frequently little better than unpaid domestic help. Implicit in the arrangement was the understanding that the child's biological family, too, would receive assistance from the adopting family.
Kinship served as a metaphor for relations of trust in general. Where a kin tie was lacking, or where individuals wished to reinforce one, a relationship of compadrazgo would often be established. Those so linked are compadres (coparents or godparents). In common with much of Latin America, strong emotional bonds linked compadres. Compadres used the formal usted instead of tu in addressing one another, even if they were kinsmen. Sexual relations between compadres were regarded as incestuous. Compadres were commonly chosen at baptism and marriage, but the relationship extended to the two sets of parents. The tie between the two sets of parents was expected to be strong and enduring. Any breach of trust merited the strongest community censure.
There were three accepted forms of marriage: civil, religious, and free unions. Both serial monogamy and polygamous unions were socially accepted. Annulment was difficult to obtain through the Roman Catholic Church; this fact, in addition to the expense involved, made couples reluctant to undertake a religious marriage. Civil marriage was relatively common. Divorce in this case was relatively easy and uncomplicated. Marriage forms also reflected the individual's life cycle. Most opted for free unions when they were younger, then settled into more formal marriages as they grew older and enjoyed more economic security. Class also played a role: religious marriage was favored by middle-class and upper-class groups, and it thus indicated higher socioeconomic status. The ideal marriage involved a formal engagement and a religious wedding followed by an elaborate fiesta.
No shame accrued to the man who fathered many children and maintained several women as concubines. Public disapproval followed only if the man failed to assume the role of "head of the family" and to support his children. When a free union dissolved, a woman typically received only the house she and her mate inhabited. The children received support only if they had been legally recognized by their father.
Families were usually more stable in the countryside. Since the partners were usually residing in the midst of their kin, a man could not desert his wife without disrupting his work relationship with her family. A woman enjoyed greater leverage when she could rely on her family to assist if a union failed or when she owned her own land and thus had a measure of financial independence.
In keeping with the doctrine of machismo, males usually played a dominant role within the family, and they received the deference due to the head of the household. There was wide variation in practice, however. Where a man was absent, had limited economic assets, or was simply unassertive, a woman would assume the role of head of the family.
Sex role differentiation began early: boys were allowed to run about unclothed, while girls were much more carefully groomed and dressed. Bands of boys played unwatched; girls were carefully chaperoned. Girls were expected to be quiet and helpful; boys enjoyed much greater freedom, and they were given considerable latitude in their behavior. Boys and men were expected to have premarital and extramarital sexual adventures. Men expected, however, that their brides would be virgins. Parents went to considerable lengths to shelter their daughters in order to protect their chances of making a favorable marriage.
Parent-child relationships were markedly different depending on the sex of the parent. Mothers openly displayed affection for their children; the mother-child tie was virtually inviolate. Informal polls of money changers in the 1970s indicated that remittances sent from the United States for Mother's Day exceeded even those sent at Christmas. Father-child relationships covered a broader spectrum. Ideally, the father was an authority figure to be obeyed and respected; however, fathers were typically more removed from daily family affairs than mothers.
More than 90 percent of Dominicans were professed Roman Catholics. In the late 1980s, the church organization included 1 archdiocese, 8 dioceses, and 250 parishes. There were over 500 clergy, more than 70 percent of whom belonged to religious orders. This yielded a ratio of nominal Roman Catholics to priests of more than 10,000 to 1. Among Latin American countries only Cuba, Honduras, and El Salvador had higher ratios in the late 1980s.
Roman Catholicism is the official religion of the Dominican Republic, established by a Concordat with the Vatican. For most of the populace, however, religious practice was limited and formalistic. Few actually attended Mass regularly. Popular religious practices were frequently far removed from Roman Catholic orthodoxy. What little religious instruction most Dominicans traditionally received came in the form of rote memorization of the catechism. Many people felt that they could best approach God through intermediaries--the clergy, the saints, witches (brujos), and curers (curanderos). The saints played an important role in popular devotion. Curanderos consulted the saints to ascertain which herbs, roots, and various home cures to employ. Witches (brujos) also cured by driving out possessive spirits that sometimes seized an individual.
Many Dominicans viewed the Roman Catholic clergy with ambivalence. People respected the advice of their local priest, or their bishop, with regard to religious matters; however, they often rejected the advice of clergy on other matters on the assumption that priests had little understanding of secular affairs. Activist priests committed to social reform were not always well-received because their direct involvement with parishioners ran counter to the traditional reserve usually displayed by the Roman Catholic clergy. Villagers often criticized this social involvement. Nonetheless, the priest was generally the only person outside their kinship group that people trusted and confided in. As such, the parish priest often served as an advocate in rural Dominicans' dealings with larger society.
Foreigners predominated among the clergy. The clergy itself was split between the traditional, conservative hierarchy and more liberal parish priests. At the parish level, some priests engaged in community development projects and in efforts to form comunidades de base (grass-roots Christian communities), designed to help people organize and work together more effectively.
The Roman Catholic Church was apolitical during much of the Trujillo era, although a pastoral letter protested the mass arrests of government opponents in 1960. This action so incensed Trujillo that he ordered a campaign of harassment against the Church. Only the dictator's assassination prevented his planned imprisonment of the country's bishops. The papal nuncio attempted to administer humanitarian aid during the 1965 civil war. The bishops also issued various statements throughout the 1970s and the 1980s, calling for respect for human rights and an improved standard of living for the majority. In the 1970s, Bishop Juan Antonio Flores of La Vega campaigned for indemnification for peasants displaced by the expansion of the Pueblo Viejo mine. Bishop Juan F. Pepen and Bishop Hugo Polanco Brito both supported the efforts of peasants and sugar colonos to organize.
Protestants first came as migrants from North America in the 1820s. West Indian laborers added to their numbers in the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries. By the 1920s, the various Protestant groups had organized nationally and had established links with North American Evangelical groups. The main Evangelical groups included the Seventh Day Adventists, the Dominican Evangelical Church, and the Assemblies of God. Protestant groups expanded, mainly in the rural areas, during the 1960s and the 1970s; Pentecostals made considerable inroads in some regions. With minor exceptions, relations between Protestants and the Roman Catholic majority were cordial.
Most Haitian immigrants and their descendants adhered to voodoo, and practiced it in secret because the government and the general population regarded the folk religion as pagan and African. In Haiti voodoo encompassed a well-defined system of hierology and ceremonialism.
Formal education included the primary, the secondary, and higher education levels. The six-year primary cycle was compulsory. Three years of preschool were offered in some areas, but not on a compulsory basis. There were several types of secondary school; most students (90 percent) attended the sixyear liceo, which awarded the bachillerato certificate upon completion and was geared toward university admission. Other secondary programs included teacher training schools, polytechnics, and vocational schools. All primary and secondary schools were under the formal jurisdiction of the Secretariat of State for Education and Culture (Secretaria de Estado de Educación y Cultura). In 1984 there were an estimated 5,684 primary schools and 1,664 secondary schools.
Despite the compulsory nature of primary education, only 17 percent of rural schools offered all six grades. This explained to some degree the lower levels of secondary enrollment. For those who did go on to the secondary level, academic standards were low, the drop-out rate reportedly was high, and all but the poorest students had to buy their textbooks--another disincentive to enrollment for many.
The government decreed major curriculum reforms at the primary and secondary levels in the 1970s in an effort to render schooling more relevant to students' lives and needs. Expanded vocational training in rural schools was called for as part of the reforms. Few changes had been fully implemented by the early 1980s, however. Primary school teachers were trained in specialized secondary schools; the universities trained secondary-school teachers. In 1982, however, roughly half of all teachers lacked the required academic background. A chronic shortage of teachers was attributable to low pay (especially in rural areas), the relatively low status of teaching as a career, and an apparent reluctance among men to enter the profession.
Education expanded at every level in the post-Trujillo era. Enrollment as a proportion of the primary school-aged population grew by more than twenty percentage points between the mid-1960s and the mid-1980s, and that of the secondary school-aged population nearly quadrupled. By the mid-1980s, the primary school population was virtually fully enrolled, but only 45 percent of those of secondary school age were enrolled.
Problems accompanied educational expansion. Teaching materials and well-maintained facilities were lacking at every level. Salaries and operational expenses took up most of the education budget, leaving little surplus for additional investment and growth. In addition, although an estimated 74 percent of the population was literate in 1986, the expansion of educational programs and facilities left a sizable backlog of illiterates largely untouched. Although there were some programs in adult literacy, in 1981 fully one-third of the population over twenty-five years of age had never attended school; in some rural areas the proportion rose to half.
Higher education enjoyed the most spectacular growth. At Trujillo's death there was one university, the University of Santa Domingo (Universidad de Santo Domingo), with roughly 3,500 students. By the late 1980s, there were more than twenty-six institutions of higher education with a total enrollment of over 120,000 students. Legislation created the National Council of Higher Education (Consejo Nacional de Educación Superior--CONES) in 1983 to deal with issues surrounding accreditation, the awarding of degrees, and the coordination of programs on a national level.
The sole public institution was the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo (Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo--UASD). The UASD traced its lineage directly to the Universitas Santi Dominici, established in 1538. Although the university's administration was autonomous, the government provided all of its funding. This enabled the UASD to offer courses free of charge to all enrolled students. The student body reached approximately 100,000 in 1984. The leading private institutions were the Catholic University Mother and Teacher (Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra--UCMM), located in Santiago and administered by the Roman Catholic Church, and the Pedro Henríquez Ureña National University (Universidad Nacional Pedro Henríquez Ureña--UNPHU) in Santo Domingo. In the early 1980s, UCMM had a student body of approximately 5,000, while UNPHU enrolled approximately 10,000.
Enrollment in private schools also expanded during the postTrujillo era. Private schools, most of them operated by the Roman Catholic Church, enjoyed a reputation for academic superiority to public schools. By the 1970s, they appeared to be the preferred educational option for the urban middle class.
Programs offered through the Secretariat of State for Public Health and Social Welfare (Secretaria de Estado de Salud Pública y Asistencia Social--SESPAS) covered 70 to 80 percent of the population in the late 1980s. The Dominican Social Security Institute (Instituto Dominicano de Seguro Social) covered another 5 percent (or 13 percent of the economically active population), and the medical facilities of the armed forces reached an additional 3 to 4 percent. SESPAS had a regionally based, fivetiered health care system designed to bring primary care to the whole population. The services ranged from specialized hospitals in the National District to rural clinics scattered throughout the countryside.
Both personnel and facilities were concentrated in the two largest cities. There were roughly 3,700 inhabitants per physician nationally, for example, but this figure ranged from about 1,650 in the National District to roughly 5,000 in some southeast provinces and in the southcentral provinces. Similarly, more than half of all hospital beds were in the National District and the central Cibao.
SESPAS began a major effort to improve rural health care in the mid-1970s. By the early 1980s, the government had set up more than 5,000 rural health clinics, health subcenters, and satellite clinics. Doctors, performing their required year of social services, as well as a variety of locally hired and trained auxiliary personnel staffed the facilities. Critics charged that lack of coordination and inadequate management hampered the program's effectiveness, however. Preventive services offered through local health workers (who were often poorly trained in disease prevention and in basic sanitation) were not coordinated with curative services. In addition, absenteeism was high, and supplies were lacking. In 1982 there were approximately 2,500 physicians in the country (a ratio of one physician to 2,600 inhabitants) and 516 dentists.
Life expectancy at birth was 62.6 years for the 1980-84 period, 60.9 years for males and 63.4 for females. The crude mortality rate was 4.7 per 1,000 population in 1981. The infant mortality rate was 31.7 per 1,000 live births in 1982--down from 43.5 per 1,000 in 1975. Early childhood mortality declined from 5.9 per 1,000 in 1970 to 3.2 in 1980. The main causes of death in the population as a whole were pulmonary circulatory diseases and intestinal diseases. Enteritis, diarrheal diseases, and protein energy malnutrition were the major causes of death in those under four. Maternal mortality in 1980 was 1.66 deaths per 1,000 live births. The main causes were toxemia, hemorrhages, and sepsis associated with birth or abortion. Roughly 60 percent of births were attended by medical personnel. As of late 1988, the Dominican Republic had reported 701 cases of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS); of these, 65 had died. Studies of the human immunodeficiency virus conducted in 1986 among sample groups of Dominican homosexual and bisexual males indicated an infection rate of 8.3 percent, much lower than the 70 percent rate detected in some similar sample groups in the United States.
Social security coverage included old-age pensions, disability pensions, survivors' and maternity benefits, and compensation for work injuries. General tax revenues supplemented employer and employee contributions. Wage earners, government employees (under special provisions), and domestic and agricultural workers were eligible, although the benefits that most domestic and farm workers received were quite limited. Permanent workers whose salaries exceeded 122 Dominican Republic pesos per week and the self-employed were excluded. In the early 1980s, more than 200,000 workers were enrolled. They represented only about 13 percent of the economically active population, or approximately 22 percent of wage earners. Most of those enrolled were in manufacturing, commerce, and construction.
Although the level of government services exceeded that of the republic's impoverished neighbor, Haiti, limited resources, inefficiency, and a lagging economy circumscribed the overall impact of these programs. In 1985 some 8.8 percent of the national budget supported health services and an additional 6.9 percent funded social security and welfare programs. From the perspective of the late 1980s, there appeared little prospect for major improvement in the quality of life for most Dominicans by the end of the twentieth century.
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