Columbus discovered the island of Hispaniola (which he called La Espaniola) in 1492 and established it as his main base for the further exploration of the region. In 1697, the western part of the island came under French control, with the east remaining under Spanish control. In 1795, the city of Santo Domingo – the oldest city in the Americas, founded by Columbus’ brother, in 1496 – was ceded to the French, followed by the rest of the island of Hispaniola later the same year. The battle of Palohincado, in 1808, in which Dominican General Ramirez inflicted an important defeat on the French, heralded the collapse of French rule in the eastern part of the island. The colony reverted to Spanish sovereignty in 1809, and in 1821, the colonial treasurer, José Nunez de Caceres, proclaimed Santo Domingo’s independence. This independence was short-lived – in 1822, the Haitians invaded the colony and occupied it for 22 years, until, on 27 February 1844, the territory of Santo Domingo recovered its sovereignty and declared independence once again, this time permanently, as the Dominican Republic. After many years of civil war, dictatorship and US occupation, the Republic was ruled by the dictatorship of General Rafael Trujillo (1930-61), whose assassination led to a period of civil unrest. Under the control of President Joaquin Balaguer, leader of the Partido Reformista Social Cristiano (PRSC), who served three terms from 1966, the country was reasonably stable. Guzman Fernandez of the main opposition party, the center-left Partido Revolucionario Dominicano (PRD), won the elections in 1978. However, after a further defeat in 1982, Balaguer was re-elected four times consecutively between 1986 and 1995: in total, he served seven terms of office as President.
In November 1995, amid a cycle of protests and strikes caused by a serious energy crisis, steep inflation and deterioration of public services, Balaguer was forced to stand down. In June 1996 Leonel Fernandez took the Presidency. In May 2000, despite failing health, Balaguer took one more shot at the Presidency, but this ended in defeat at the hands of PRD candidate Hipolito Mejia. Two months later, Balaguer, who dominated the politics of the Dominican Republic for half a century, died aged 95. In the most recent elections, in 2004, Leonel Fernandez became president again after promising to reduce inflation, stabilize the exchange rate and restore investor confidence.