Economic Troubles

1970-Present: Throughout modern history the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Haiti have struggled economically

Though the 20th century has seen a great deal of turmoil in the Caribbean, many islands stabilized as the 1900s came to an end. In particular, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Cuba have each dealt with a great deal of trouble.

Dominican Dominance

Balaguer spent the early years of his second presidency working hard to gain the support of the peasants on the Dominican Republic. He reformed the government, built roads, and added hydroelectric plants, irrigation systems, schools, and churches. However, Bosch returned from exile and founded a socialist party that eventually posed a threat to Balaguer.

Antonio Guzmán Fernández won the 1978 election, but Balaguer attempted to seize the results and nullify the election until U.S. President Jimmy Carter stepped in to stop him. Fernández took power that year, but soon appointed friends and family to top positions. He used his widespread public support to weaken the island's military, and his administration was known for misappropriating funds meant for hurricane relief in 1979.

Because of this, Fernández's own party withdrew its support and instead supported Salvador Jorge Blanco for the election in 1982. Fernández subsequently killed himself before Blanco's inauguration. Economic troubles became so dire in 1984 that the government was forced to remove price controls on imports, and riots broke out.

In the 1986 election Balaguer again became president, and ordered investigations into the corruption of Blanco's administration. Blanco fled to the U.S., but returned to the Dominican Republic in 1991. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison but was released in 1994.

In recent years, the exchange of power has gone much more smoothly on the Dominican Republic. The most recent election in 2004 put Leonel Fernandez in power. Constitutional changes in 1994 allowed a president to take power only if he or she has won a majority vote and mandated that runoff elections be called when there is not a 50 percent majority.

Haiti's Docs

"Papa Doc" Duvalier was elected by popular vote in Haiti, but stayed in power by helping the rich elite to become richer (and making the poor poorer). Before he died in 1971 he named his 19-year-old son Jean-Claude Duvalier as his successor.

While Haiti suffered, "Baby Doc's" wife spent more than a million dollars in Paris, and Duvalier and his appointees took more than $505 million in public money for their own uses. But in 1986 Duvalier and his wife fled to France to escape mass protests.

In U.S.- controlled elections in 1990, Jean-Bertrand Aristide won with a large majority of the vote. Aristide was both passionate and Roman-Catholic, but his popular support was not enough to keep him in power, and he fled to Venezuela in 1991. In 1994 Aristide returned to control with help from the U.S. military.

René Préval, a longtime friend of Aristide, took the election in 1996. He enjoyed popular support as a companion of Aristide until Aristide himself turned against Préval. Aristide again won the 2000 elections but resigned in 2004 due to a coup. A new election is scheduled for 2006.

Cuba's Troubles

With the encouragement of Russia, Cuba sent troops around the world in the 1970s. The small country sent troops to Angola in 1975 and Ethiopia in 1977 in support of Communist regimes in those countries. Despite this, Jimmy Carter worked to improve U.S. relations with Cuba.

However, Cuba was experiencing an economic depression, and in 1980 Castro authorized the now-infamous Mariel boatlift. Though Castro used this as a chance to get rid of disabled and criminal members of the Cuban populace, a vast majority were simply hoping for a chance to leave the country. Political prisoners included poets Reinaldo Arenas and Robert Valero.

Cuba's economy has continued to decline since the Soviet Union fell apart in the early 1990s. Russia's annual loans were extremely important to the success of a Communist Cuba. But throughout all of the island's economic difficulties, Castro has remained staunchly socialist.

In 1998 Cuba made history by hosting a visit from Pope John Paul II and permitting him to be broadcast without censorship. He urged the island to break away from socialism, but also urged other countries, particularly the U.S., to break trade restrictions against Cuba.

After the Pope's visit, Castro released some prisoners as a show of his respect for the papal request. Some European nations, including Spain, have reestablished contact with Cuba. Some Caribbean nations have also opened their doors to Castro.

All of these Caribbean nations have had troubled pasts, but all are working toward more stable futures. The islands share a similar history of falling to leaders who have taken total control of each nation.


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