The Dominican Republic occupies the eastern two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola, which it shares with Haiti. It has a tropical climate, but moist, year-round trade winds keep temperatures between 72° and 83°Fahrenheit.
Almost 90 percent Dominicans live in rural areas where unemployment is high and malnutrition widespread. A family's diet consists mainly of rice, beans, and fish. Spanish is the official language, and Catholicism is the state religion.
In 1492, Columbus discovered Hispaniola, and the island became the center of Spanish rule in the West Indies. Soon, the indigenous people were wiped out, and slaves were brought from Africa to populate the island. The descendants of those slaves form most of the population today. For three centuries Hispaniola was governed by Spain, then by France. In 1804, the island won independence as the republic of Haiti. Forty years later, the eastern two-thirds of the island revolted and formed the Dominican Republic. Except for a brief period of annexation to Spain, the Dominican Republic has been independent ever since.