Dominican Republic

An image of the country's flag.

The Dominican Republic, situated at the midpoint of the Caribbean Sea’s north edge, is a country of mountain ranges, fertile highlands and coastal plains. Just over half the land is agricultural, producing commercial crops such as sugar cane, bananas, coffee, cocoa, rice and tobacco. Nearly half of the rural population, including half a million people of Haitian origin, live below the poverty line.

Land ownership is highly concentrated. Most rural poor are landless or own very small plots of agricultural land, and most people in both urban and rural areas lack formal rights to their plots. Over the last 50 years, political upheaval and corruption have hindered a series of efforts to redistribute land and provide greater security of tenure. The failure of the government to effectively address issues of land access and tenure security perpetuates dysfunctional and segmented land markets, with squatting and land invasions becoming common methods of property acquisition.

In the last five years, the Dominican government has instituted a number of reforms, including the development of a cadastre with digitized property titles and the establishment and expansion of 23 land registry offices across the country. In 2012 the government created the State Lands Titling Commission, which, working with the Dominican Agrarian Institute, is intended to achieve the titling of around 150,000 urban and rural properties.

The Dominican Republic as a whole has an abundant water supply, but contamination of drinking water sources, occasional drought and inadequate sanitation are serious problems. More thanone-third of the country is forested, and special incentives now exist to promote the valuation of the environmental services provided by forests, including carbon sequestration. Open-pit mining operations (for gold, silver, copper, zinc and nickel), with effluents containing cadmium, mercury and arsenic, threaten forests, watersheds, and local and coastal ecosystems. The European Union has supported the clean-up of mining sites and helped to develop the Dominican government’s capacity to address the environmental and social issues facing communities in mining areas.

KEY ISSUES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR INTERVENTIONS

In the Dominican Republic, the administration and security of land rights is uneven, and environmental concerns – including the effects of climate change as well as the impact of industry on local communities – loom large. Donors should consider the following interventions:

  • Support design and implementation of the GDR’s land titling and registration program. The GDR is using the political momentum gained from recent technical achievements in land administration reform to launch a new land registration program, with a goal to title 150,000 urban and rural plots. Donors with experience supporting land rights formalization projects can help the GDR draw on best practices and lessons learned from comparative experience to ensure the inclusion of marginalized groups in any land rights formalization exercise. Donors can also help strengthen the program by supporting investment in plots, promoting legal literacy within the communities and neighborhoods, and building community capacity for organization and collective action to improve livelihoods and increase beneficiary participation in economic, social, and political life.
  • Help assess and strengthen institutions critical to climate change response. The Dominican Republic has been identified as a country that is likely to experience significant impacts from climate change, and the GDR has already taken substantial steps toward preparation of initial policy and planning level responses. Implementation of strategies for adaptation and mitigation will require strong institutions and coordinated action. Donors can assist the GDR to build and strengthen the institutional framework at central, provincial, and local levels, including strengthening decentralized natural resource governance systems such as Water User Associations and forest user groups. Donors can also draw on experience with internet portals and communication systems to help the GDR design effective tools to help share information and coordinate responses horizontally and vertically.
  • Support the GDR in implementing and strengthening social and environmental protections in the mining industry. The significant potential for revenue in the Dominican Republic’s mining sector carries an equally significant risk for environmental damage, harm to local communities, and fiscal abuse. The legal framework provides some broad protections, but these stop short of requiring public participation and transparency in negotiations with investors. Despite the constitutional requirement that revenues from the exploitation of the country’s minerals be directed toward development, no specific programs are required. The law mandates that 5% of revenue go to municipalities but there are no restrictions on municipal use of the funds, and no requirement that benefits be shared with the specific communities affected by pollution and displacement. The country’s officials have a dismal reputation for performance of such roles: the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index (2010/2011) rated the Dominican Republic 139th out of 139 in “favoritism in the discharge of public duties,” and 134th out of 139 in “diversion of government funds.” Donors can assist the GDR by providing technical support for development of transparent procedures for negotiating with investors and handling revenue. Donors can also help local NGOs build capacity to assist the government by providing oversight of mining operations and serving a public watchdog function.

SUMMARY

The Dominican Republic is a middle-income country with mountain ranges, fertile highlands and valleys, a high rate of urbanization and land degradation, and persistent poverty. The services sector is the country’s largest employer, with job growth in telecommunications, tourism and free- trade zones. The poor live in rural areas and urban slums, with the poorest communities located in the provinces on the border with Haiti. Rafael Trujillo, a prominent army commander, established absolute control of the Dominican Republic in 1930 and ruled the country as a dictator until he was assassinated by army opponents in 1961. Trujillo took advantage of his time in office to amass vast landholdings, mostly dedicated to sugar and cattle, for himself, his family and his close associates.

In 1962 the provisional government, under pressure from emerging democratic reformers to end the extreme concentration of land and widespread poverty, created a land distribution and titling program which continues to the present day. However, a chronic lack of capacity within the implementing agency and a lack of political will have combined to limit the number of beneficiaries to a small fraction of the population. As of 2012, only about a quarter of the country’s rural land – primarily large and high-value holdings – is estimated to be registered, and between a quarter and a half of urban residents have formal rights to their plots.

Formalization of land rights has been hampered by a history of political upheaval, corruption and limitations in the capacity and performance of government agencies. Programs requiring joint titling of married couples and partners have done little to increase the percentage of women holding registered titles. Land tenure insecurity persists, fueled by government land expropriations, institutional weaknesses, lack of effective law enforcement and local community support for land invasions and squatting.

The country’s land administration institutions have recently been restructured and decentralized, and land records have been digitized. Renewed commitment to the task of registering urban and rural land was announced by the GDR in November 2012. Most commercial farms continue to specialize in sugar cane, rice and bananas; small holders grow a diversity of crops for consumption and sale. Agriculture continues to shrink as a percentage of GDP, but the Dominican Republic’s small farmers have developed a growing niche industry in organic and fair trade products like coffee and cocoa for export and the overall annual growth rate of the sector was 5.4% in 2011.

The country sits in the center of the hurricane belt, and tropical storms routinely cause loss of life, destruction of property, and flooding. The government has begun to create strategies to address the expected impacts of climate change on multiple sectors, including agriculture and food security, human settlements, forests, and energy.

Local demands on water resources are often at odds with local reserves and limited by existing water delivery systems. The government has been revising and strengthening the legislative andzinstitutional frameworks governing water resources and setting the stage for integrated water resources management.
As a geographically diverse island ecosystem, the Dominican Republic has a high level of endemism. Almost all its reptiles and one-third of its vertebrates are threatened or endangered.

In the forest sector, the country has maintained the same percentage of forestland over the last ten years, although some observers worry that forestland continues to be degraded, especially in critical watersheds, and plantations are replacing primary and secondary forest. The creation of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, which oversees an environmental assessment process for development projects, has resulted in a greater emphasis on conservation, sustainable development and carbon sequestration. Most community-based forest management appears related to plantation and reforestation projects.

The Dominican Republic has at least US $58 billion in mineral reserves, and, from 2009 to 2012, the mining sector received between US $4 billion and US $ 5 billion in investment, primarily focused on the country’s world class gold reserves. The significant environmental and social costs of mining operations in the country have received media attention, and protests staged by environmental activists calling for enforcement of environmental standards have become common. Meanwhile, gold prices remain high and increasing numbers of rural residents in the Central Mountains devote some time to panning for gold in the country’s rivers.

Published / Updated: May 2013

Learn More