El Pueblo dominicano provides an excellent, stimulating analysis of the crucial formative years in the history of the Dominican Republic, the second independent state in the Caribbean. Dr. Hoetink quite properly subordinates the narrative of political instability to a number of fundamental changes: in the agrarian and demographic structure, in the communications network, in the distribution of economic power, in the administration of justice, in political ideas and forms, and in cultural forms and social life. The author’s penetrating investigation establishes the relationship between these changes in the first eight chapters of the book, but carefully avoids positing any causative factors for them. The final chapter deals with the daily life of the Dominican people up to the end of the century. Hoetink admits that by 1900, although certain conventions had broken down, or been weakened, no really significant change had occurred at the level of daily life and social relations.

Hoetink’s method of dealing with the interrelated social and economic changes leads to some unavoidable repetition, but such is more than adequately offset by the plethora of information and perceptive conclusions. He clearly demonstrates that the availability (or lack) of capital and technology largely fashioned the structure of Dominican society. In the early period, the scarcity of manpower, the lamentable state of transportation, the general insecurity of life, and the chaotic nature of the economy encouraged small, isolated settlements with ruggedly independent farmers producing fruits and vegetables for their own consumption, with little surplus for the local urban markets.

After 1870, the influx of immigrants and capital, especially from Cuba, Puerto Rico and Curaçao, gave initial stimulus both to plantation agriculture and to a more stable economy. The expansion of plantation agriculture, and particularly the sugar plantations, distorted the traditional landholding patterns, disrupted the autarchic basis of agriculture, and virtually destroyed the prevailing relationship between merchants, peasants, local administrative bodies, and the central government. By the last decade of the nineteenth century, large-scale plantation enterprises under foreign auspices had created a very unstable, mobile rural population, tied to the cash economy, the great estates, and the company store. These conditions both reflected and perpetuated the political instability of the country.

The continuous military activity, the constant fear of invasion, and the successive changes of government resulted in nearly one-half of all land being placed in the hands of the government or the Church. Political leaders fused public and private functions without any apparent conflict of interest, especially during the regime of Ulises Heureaux (1882-1889). Bureaucrats, merchants, and the general public recognized that loans, taxes and public expenditures were personal arrangements, which did not bind a successor in office. Under these circumstances, political corruption became merely a form of income-distribution, and the Church, the Masonic lodges, and public-spirited merchant groups rendered many of the social services usually expected from a government.

Hoetink also questions the general assertion that the Haitian domination (1822-1844) stagnated Dominican development. Instead, he persuasively suggests that the general impoverishment enhanced racial democracy, while the military activity both against Haiti and, later, Spain provided a significant avenue of social mobility for the lower classes, most of whom were black. Anti-black sentiment and social exclusiveness increased with the arrival of Cuban exiles, and the temporary political stability of the Heureaux regime.

Few scholars writing about the Caribbean today possess the caliber and scope of vision of Harry Hoetink. His superlative work reveals meticulous research, unusual originality, balance, and a rare expert combination of the sociologist and historian. El Pueblo dominicano is not just another outstanding history: it is a veritable model of the historian’s craft, and the best approach to the writing of the interrelated history of Latin America and the Caribbean.