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Dominican Republic

War, Revolution…and Dances

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In the Dominican Republic, the first decade of the 20th century was characterized by constant political turmoil. In between wars and revolutions, Dominicans found plenty of ways to amuse themselves.

Excursions to the countryside were common, as were Sunday concerts in the park. Literary and philanthropic societies, some of which were hosted by the country’s numerous masonic lodges, had been popular with Dominicans of all kinds since the 1800s. As the 19th century came to a close, the upper classes began to gather in recreation clubs.

By the last decade of the 19th century, nearly every city and large town in the Dominican Republic possessed its own high society club.

Members of Recreational Society "La Comparsa."
Members of Recreational Society “La Comparsa,” one of the recreational clubs established in Santiago de los Caballeros. Courtesy of La Republica Dominicana. Directorio y Guia General.

El Club Unión, established in Santo Domingo in 1892, was considered “the select social centre of the best Dominican Society.” The club was administered by a “carefully selected” Board of Governors made up of men from prominent Dominican families.

P.A. Ricart, President of Club Union of Santo Domingo.
P.A. Ricart, President of Club Union of Santo Domingo in 1906. Courtesy of La Republica Dominicana. Directorio y Guia General.

In the Blue Book, an illustrated compendium of Dominican businesses and society published in 1920, El Club Unión was described as follows:

The club is tastefully and comfortably furnished with billiard and card rooms, a selected library, with latest periodicals and magazines, from all parts of the world, a well-served café and comfortable lounging rooms, a stage for private theatricals and club reunions, and last, but not least, a magnificent ball room, with fine floor and full-length mirrors.” 1

Reading room of the Club Union.
Reading room of the Club Union in 1906. Courtesy of La Republica Dominicana. Directorio y Guia General.
Interior of Club Union
Assembly hall of the Club Union in 1906. Courtesy of La Republica Dominicana. Directorio y Guia General.
Interior of Club Union
Recreation room of the Club Union in 1906. Courtesy of La Republica Dominicana. Directorio y Guia General.

In Santiago de los Caballeros, the second largest city in the island, it was the Club del Recreo (also known as Centro de Recreo) that housed society events. Founded in 1894 in a local hotel, it wasn’t until 1902 that its new headquarters, built the previous year, were inaugurated with a “sumptuous ball.”

Headquarters of Centro de Recreo, built in 1901.

Gathering “the best of Santiago society,” El Recreo organized monthly dances, as well as piano, violin and flute concerts and soirees, their name for literary evenings that included speeches, poetry and music. Prominent national and international figures attended the club’s events—notable guests include Jose Marti, Cuban national hero, the esteemed Puerto Rican professor Eugenio Maria de Hostos and Ramon Albors, a professor at the Conservatoire de Paris who delighted the club members with a concert in 1897.

El Club Recreativo de Damas, established in the town of Puerto Plata, is credited in 1906 as having initiated a movement towards the integration of Dominican women in the country’s artistic scene.

Headquarters of Club Recreative de Damas in Puerto Plata.
Headquarters of Club Recreative de Damas in Puerto Plata. Courtesy of La Republica Dominicana. Directorio y Guia General.

Another such club was the Casino de la Juventud in the city of Santo Domingo. Its members organized “reinados”, where young society women were crowned as queens during dances.

By the 1890s, clubs were serving as venues for balls, cotillions and saraos (informal dances), which had previously been held in private homes. Their guests danced waltz, danza (a slower dance that originated in the Spanish Caribbean), polka and mazurcas, accompanied by live orchestras. (Merengue, which also originated in the Spanish Caribbean, was relegated to the “lower classes.”) In Santiago, quadrilles were taught by Lucas Resta, a master choreographer who had traveled through Paris, Milan and New York. Food was always plentiful, with platters of cold cults, sweets and copious amounts of champagne. (Veuve Cliquot, or “champaña de la viuda,” was particularly popular in the 19th and 20th centuries in the Dominican Republic, and still is to this day!)

There was no particular season designated for balls and dances, which were held year round. In his Directorio y Guia, published in 1907, Enrique Deschamps, president and founding member of Centro de Recreo, boasts that as many dances were held in the cooler months of January and February as in July and August. Clubs always held dances on Christmas Eve and “delicious parties” for the younger set on Christmas day.

Dances would start at ten and would go on until three in the morning—and often even later!

These dances were lavishly described in the illustrated magazines of the time. Reports always included the names of the young ladies and matrons in attendance, along with opulent descriptions of their charms.

Aside from recreation, one of the main purposes of these clubs was to promote the intellectual growth and edification of its members. Most clubs had their own small libraries with books imported from Europe and North and South America. Members would frequently gather to play chess together, have lectures and discussions, and some clubs would go on to publish newspapers or magazines for the general public.

 

In my next post, I’ll continue with some more amusements enjoyed by Dominicans in the Edwardian Era.

 

Sources:

Compañia Biografica. (1920) Libro Azul de Santo Domingo. New York City, N.Y: Klebold Press.

Deschamps, E. (1907) La Republica Dominicana. Directorio y Guia General. Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic.

Espinal Hernandez, E. (2005) Historia Social de Santiago de los Caballeros. 1863-1900. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

 

  1. Compañia Biografica. (1920) Libro Azul de Santo Domingo. New York City, N.Y: Klebold Press.
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The Sugar Industry in the Dominican Republic

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Sugar production in the Caribbean has been on my mind as I work on the second Arroyo Blanco book, A Time For Desire. In it, Roberto Sandoval and Rosa Castillo, who you might remember as one of the suffragettes in A Summer for Scandal, team up against one of the land-grabbing American corporations that took over the sugar industry in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico in the late 19th century.

Though sugar cane was introduced to the island of Hispaniola in the early 1500s by Spanish colonists, the sugar industry in what would later become the Dominican Republic did not develop as extensively as it did in Cuba and Puerto Rico until the outbreak of two foreign wars.

Until the mid-19th century, the Dominican sugar industry had been largely in command of criollo planters. (Criollos were the descendants of Europeans who were born in America.) Cattle ranching had been the predominant economic activity on that side of the island; during the first four hundred years of the colony, sugar cane cultivation was never as prevalent in Santo Domingo as it was in neighboring Haiti, Puerto Rico or Cuba. Various factors contributed to this, the main one being that the labor-intensive sugar production was maintained by the use of slave labor.

Slaves harvesting sugar cane.
Slaves harvesting sugar cane in the Caribbean.

For decades, limited resources in the eastern half of Hispaniola discouraged the importing of slaves. Once slavery was abolished when Haitian forces assumed control of the Dominican side of the island in 1822, sugar production decreased even more.

Political instability throughout the first half of the 19th century, from the Haitian occupation of 1822 to the War of Restoration in 1865, continued to limit sugar production.

At the beginning of the 1860s, civil war broke out in the United States. The booming sugar industry of the American South was severely impacted by the conflict. As production decreased and market demand increased, greater amounts of sugar were imported from the Caribbean.

Illustration depicting a celebration at the end of the Ten Years' War.
Celebrating the end of the Ten Years’ War. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

1868 marked the beginning of the Ten Years’ War in Cuba. Cuban planters fled to the neighboring Dominican Republic, where they contributed to the modernization of the sugar industry and became, along with Spanish and Italian entrepreneurs, the main investors in the revitalized industry.

By the beginning of the 20th century, traditional Dominican export crops like coffee, cacao and tobacco had been replaced by sugar. While Dominicans still cultivated sugar cane in their fields, ownership of the great sugar mills had passed to these foreign investors…and to large American corporations like the New-Jersey based South Porto Rico Sugar Company and the Connecticut-based West Indies Sugar Finance Corporation.

Cuban sugar refinery plant in 1857.
Cuban sugar refinery plant, 1857. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Aided by concessions and tax exemptions from the Dominican government, these corporations established large sugar estates in the eastern provinces. The land for these agricultural estates came from the independent farmers who’d lived in and worked on the land for generations. “By a combination of outright purchase, cajolery, tricks, threats, violence and legal maneuvers, the sugar companies easily wrestled homesites, farms and grazing land from their former holders or owners, leaving them landless and destitute,” wrote the American Bruce J. Calder 1 , who recounted how these suddenly landless peasants became dependent these sugar estates for wages.

Unemployment grew in the east, unrelieved by the corporations, who preferred to import labor from Haiti and other Caribbean islands during harvest time.

Hervesting sugar cane in the Dominican Republic, 1920.
Hervesting sugar cane in the Dominican Republic, 1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

It was these displaced farmers who would take up arms against U.S. troops during the 1916 Military Occupation (caused in part by the desire to protect American sugar interests from the constant revolutions that broke out during the first decade of the 20th century), motivated largely by their resentment of the American corporations that had driven them into landlessness and poverty, as well as the brutal aggression employed by U.S. marines. As conflicts between these insurgents and marines became more frequent and bloodier, and the marines’ reprisals to revolutionaries and pacifists alike grew more violent, the displacements continued. More and more families chose to flee the east and settle in the more sparsely populated north.

It wasn’t until well after the end of the Occupation in 1924 that sugar production in the Dominican Republic returned to the hands of Dominicans…or, that is to say, one Dominican in particular, the dictator Rafael Trujillo, whose iron control over the island’s economic interests extended to the sugar industry.

 

  1. Calder, Bruce. Caudillos and Gavilleros versus the United States Marines. Duke University Press, 1978.
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U.S. Interventionism in Latin America and the Caribbean

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Hi! My name is Lydia San Andres and I write historical romance set in 1911, in a fictional island in the Spanish Caribbean. Why a fictional island? Well…

As you probably know if you’ve been reading Jennifer Hallock’s posts on New Imperialism, the early 20th century saw the global expansion of U.S. power in the occupation of territories in the Pacific and Latin America, under the guise of political altruism. Claiming to seek the political stabilization of neighboring, the United States hoped to extend a “civilizing” influence over Latin America by diffusing American values and customs in order to facilitate investment by U.S. corporations.

The islands of Puerto Rico and Cuba were the first to fall under U.S. rule, as a result of the Spanish-American war that took place towards the end of the 19th century. During the next fifteen years, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and Haiti suffered interventions at the hands of the U.S. Government.

Source: The New Rose & Crown

The Dominican Republic was occupied in 1916 as the U.S. government claimed to be interested in protecting Americans and other foreigners from the revolutions that had plagued the country for at least a decade. Their true motivation lay mainly in securing American banking and investment interests, as well as preventing European expansion in the Caribbean, fearing, in particular, that if Germany were to gain a foothold in the Caribbean, it would result in the establishment of naval bases far too close to U.S. territory. Which was clearly not a pretext even though the U.S. troops remained in both Haiti and the Dominican Republic well after the end of WWI.

Meanwhile, in a speech made by President Wilson in 1916, he claimed that “It shall not lie with the American people to dictate to another what their government shall be.” Obviously, Wilson was the type to practice what he preached.

The U.S. policy of interventionism would continue until the FDR administration with the implementation of the Good Neighbor Policy and Roosevelt’s announcement that “the definite policy of the United States from now on is one opposed to armed intervention.” This policy would hold forever—or, um, at least until the advent of the Cold War.

The island in which my romances take place has so far gone untouched by U.S. interventionism (mostly because it’s fictional!) but it will not completely avoid dealing with United States’ expanding economic interests as the series goes on…

If you’d like to read more about the 1916 Occupation of the Dominican Republic, the 100th anniversary of which was commemorated this year, read this fascinating article by Lorgia García-Peña.

And if you’d like to know more about my books, A Summer for Scandal and The Infamous Miss Rodriguez, please visit my website or join me on twitter!