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Geography, facts & figures

Location
The second largest nation in the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic occupies the eastern two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola in the Greater Antilles, with Haiti occupying the western portion. Situated in the heart of the region, between North and South America, the country is bathed by the Caribbean Sea on the south coast and the Atlantic Ocean to the north. With a land area of 48,442 square kilometers, it is larger than the Bahamas, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, all the Virgin Islands and the entire French West Indies put together. The Dominican Republic is approximately the size of the US state of Maryland. To the west are Jamaica and Cuba; Puerto Rico is east beyond the 112-kilometer Mona Passage; and the southern tip of Florida is about 1,000 kilometers away. The DR shares a land frontier of 275 kms with Haiti.

Topography
A land of contrasts with towering mountains and rocky cliffs, rain forests, fertile valleys, cacti-studded desert regions, 1,600 kilometers of coastline and around 300 kilometers of prime soft sand beaches. The country is crossed by four rugged mountain ranges bisecting northwest to southeast. The largest is the Cordillera Central with Pico Duarte, the tallest point in the Caribbean, rising over 3,175 meters high. Three large fertile valleys rest between the ranges, one of which holds Lake Enriquillo in the southwest, the lowest point in the Caribbean falling 40 meters below sea level and the only salt water lake in the world inhabited by crocodiles.

Climate
The Dominican Republic enjoys a year round privileged tropical maritime climate. Its 17 36' - 19 58' latitude places the DR at the border of the tropical zone. Sea breezes refresh the insular territory (390 x 265 kms), evening out temperatures to average 23C in the early mornings to 32C at noon time year round. The lowest temperatures occur in the mountain areas near Constanza, where temperatures have dropped to 0C, and record highs have been registered at the frontier with Haiti, 39C in the summer. May through November are regarded as the rainy season. The hurricane season lasts from June through November, with August-September being the peak months. The last major hurricanes to hit the Dominican Republic were Jeanne (September 2004), Georges (September 1998) and David (August 1979).

History
Prior to Christopher Columbus' arrival on December 5th, 1492 when he made his first settlement in the Americas, the island was inhabited by the Taino Indians. The history of the country was marked by the influence of the Spanish conquistadors, the French, and the African slaves, until independence was proclaimed in 1844 by Juan Pablo Duarte, one of the country's founding fathers. Other historical notes are the occupation of American forces from 1916-24 to ensure payment of the national debt, the 30-year dictatorship of General Rafael Trujillo from 1930-1961 and the Civil War in 1965. Since 1966, the country has been a democracy. The next presidential elections are scheduled for 16 May 2004.

Population
Estimated 9.65 million (estimated 2009). 
A multi-racial and multi-cultural society of Spanish predominance. (European 16%, African origin 11%, Mixed 73%). 
Population Average Annual Growth Rate: 1.5% (2007) 
Urban Population: 64.5 (1999) 
Life Expectancy: 71 years 
Health: Infant mortality rate--39.5/1,000.

Major cities
The capital is Greater Santo Domingo (de Guzman), the oldest and largest city in the Caribbean with a land area of 230 square kilometers and a population of over 3.25 million. Santo Domingo (including population living in the National District and the Province of Santo Domingo) is the second largest city in the Caribbean, after Havana, Cuba. Other principal cities (according to the National Office of Statistics) as of 2009 are: Santiago de los Caballeros (737,043,000), La Vega (268,000), San Cristobal (268,000), San Pedro de Macoris (226,000), Higuey (201,000), San Francisco de Macoris (183,000),Puerto Plata (153,000), and La Romana (148,000). 

Administrative divisions
The Dominican Republic is divided into 31 provinces and one National District (Santo Domingo). The provinces are: Azua, Baoruco, Barahona, Dajabon, Duarte, Elías Piña, El Seibo, Espaillat, Hato Mayor, Independencia, La Altagracia, La Romana, La Vega, María Trinidad Sánchez, Monseñor Nouel, Monte Cristi, Monte Plata, Pedernales, Peravia, Puerto Plata, Salcedo, Samaná, Sánchez Ramírez, San Cristóbal, San José de Ocoa, San Juan, San Pedro de Macorís, Santo Domingo, Santiago, Santiago Rodríguez, and Valverde.

Government
A representative democracy governed by a President and a bicameral Congress formed by the 32-member Senate and 178-member Chamber of Deputies. Both houses are directly elected. Elections are held every four years, with the exception of the congressional and municipal election scheduled for May 2010 when officers will be elected for a 6-year period through 2012. This is to unify congressional and presidential elections in the same year. The national government is divided into 31 provinces and the capital district, each with its own civil government. Currently, the principal government officials are President Leonel Fernandez and Vice President Rafael Alburquerque. The next presidential elections are set for May 16, 2012, the next congressional elections are scheduled for May 2010. 

Main Political Parties (# of seats in Senate/Chamber) Dominican Liberation Party and the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD).

Education
Education is free from pre-school through 12th grade. 90% of Dominican children enroll in grade school. There is a dual system of private and public education, with an enrollment of approximately two million children. There are also public and private universities. The Universidad Autonoma de Santo Domingo, the state university, is the first university in the New World. It dates back to 1538.

Religion
The Roman Catholic Church is the most influential in the country. The Dominican Constitution consecrates freedom of cult. Other active religions represented in the DR are Evangelical, Seventh Day Adventist, Baptist, and Mormon.

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