Dominica (07/02)

For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.


Commonwealth of Dominica

Area: 754 sq. km. (290 sq. mi.).
Cities: Capital--Roseau.
Terrain: Mountainous volcanic island with rainforest cover.
Climate: Tropical.

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Dominican (Dom-i-nee-can).
Population (1999): 71,200.
Annual growth rate: 0.9%.
Ethnic groups: Mainly African descent, some Carib Indians. Religions: Roman Catholic (80%), Anglican, other Protestant denominations.
Languages: English (official); a French patois is widely spoken.
Education: Years compulsory--to age 14. Literacy--94%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--15/1,000. Life expectancy--76 yrs.
Work force (1997): (49,860): Agriculture--37%; services--30%; commerce--20%.
Unemployment--exceeds 20% (official 1998 figure-10.0%).

Type: Parliamentary Democracy; republic within commonwealth.
Independence: November 3, 1978.
Constitution: November 1978.
Branches: Executive--president (head of state), prime minister (head of government), cabinet. Legislative--unicameral house of assembly. Judicial--magistrate and jury courts, Eastern Caribbean supreme court (high court and court of appeals), Privy Council.
Subdivisions: 10 parishes.
Political parties: Dominica Labor Party, Dominica Freedom Party (ruling coalition partners), and United Workers Party (opposition).
Suffrage: Universal adult.

Flag: Dominica flag

Economy (1999)
GDP: $260 million.
GDP growth rate: 0.9%.
Per capita GDP: $3,424.
Natural resources: timber, water (hydropower), copper.
Agriculture (17% of GDP): Products--bananas, citrus, coconuts, cocoa, herbal oils and extracts.
Manufacturing (8.5% of GDP): Types--agricultural processing, soap and other coconut-based products, apparel.
Trade: Exports--$54.2 million: bananas, citrus fruits, soap, cocoa. Major markets--European Union (EU), CARICOM, U.S. (16%). Imports--$137.9 million: machinery and equipment, foodstuffs, manufactured articles, cement. Major suppliers--CARICOM, U.S., EU, Japan.

Almost all Dominicans are descendants of African slaves brought in by colonial planters in the 18th century. Dominica is the only island in the eastern Caribbean to retain some of its pre-Columbian population--the Carib Indians--about 3,000 of whom live on the island's east coast. The population growth rate is very low, due primarily to emigration to more prosperous Caribbean Islands, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada.

English is the official language; however, because of historic French domination, the most widely spoken dialect is a French patois. About 80% of the population is Catholic. In recent years, a number of Protestant churches have been established.

The island's indigenous Arawak people were expelled or exterminated by Caribs in the 14th century. Columbus landed there in November 1493. Spanish ships frequently landed on Dominica during the 16th century, but fierce resistance by the Caribs discouraged Spain's efforts at settlement.

In 1635, France claimed Dominica. Shortly thereafter, French missionaries became the first European inhabitants of the island. Carib incursions continued, though, and in 1660, the French and British agreed that both Dominica and St. Vincent should be abandoned. Dominica was officially neutral for the next century, but the attraction of its resources remained; rival expeditions of British and French foresters were harvesting timber by the start of the 18th century.

Largely due to Dominica's position between Martinique and Guadeloupe, France eventually became predominant, and a French settlement was established and grew. As part of the 1763 Treaty of Paris that ended the seven years' war, the island became a British possession. In 1778, during the American Revolutionary War, the French mounted a successful invasion with the active cooperation of the population, which was largely French. The 1783 Treaty of Paris, which ended the war, returned the island to Britain. French invasions in 1795 and 1805 ended in failure.

In 1763, the British established a legislative assembly, representing only the white population. In 1831, reflecting a liberalization of official British racial attitudes, the Brown Privilege Bill conferred political and social rights on free nonwhites. Three Blacks were elected to the legislative assembly the following year. Following the abolition of slavery, in 1838 Dominica became the first and only British Caribbean colony to have a Black-controlled legislature in the 19th century. Most Black legislators were small holders or merchants who held economic and social views diametrically opposed to the interests of the small, wealthy English planter class. Reacting to a perceived threat, the planters lobbied for more direct British rule.

In 1865, after much agitation and tension, the colonial office replaced the elective assembly with one comprised of one-half elected members and one-half appointed. The elected legislators were outmaneuvered on numerous occasions by planters allied with colonial administrators. In 1871, Dominica became part of the Leeward Island Federation. The power of the Black population progressively eroded. Crown Colony government was re-established in 1896. All political rights for the vast majority of the population were effectively curtailed. Development aid, offered as compensation for disenfranchisement, proved to have a negligible effect.

Following World War I, an upsurge of political consciousness throughout the Caribbean led to the formation of the representative government association. Marshaling public frustration with the lack of a voice in the governing of Dominica, this group won one-third of the popularly elected seats of the legislative assembly in 1924 and one-half in 1936. Shortly thereafter, Dominica was transferred from the Leeward Island Administration and was governed as part of the Windwards until 1958, when it joined the short-lived West Indies Federation.

After the federation dissolved, Dominica became an associated state of the United Kingdom in 1967 and formally took responsibility for its internal affairs. On November 3, 1978, the Commonwealth of Dominica was granted independence by the United Kingdom.

Independence did little to solve problems stemming from centuries of economic underdevelopment, and in mid-1979, political discontent led to the formation of an interim government. It was replaced after the 1980 elections by a government led by the Dominica Freedom Party under Prime Minister Eugenia Charles, the Caribbean's first female prime minister. Chronic economic problems were compounded by the severe impact of hurricanes in 1979 and in 1980. By the end of the 1980s, the economy had made a healthy recovery, which weakened in the 1990s due to a decrease in banana prices.

In February 2000 elections, the Edison James United Workers Party (UWP) was defeated by the Dominican Labor Party (DLP), led by Roosevelt P. "Rosie" Douglas. Douglas died after only a few months in office and was replaced by Pierre Charles, also of the DLP.

Dominica has a Westminster-style parliamentary government, and there are three political parties: The Dominica Labor Party (the majority party), the Dominica United Workers Party, and the Dominica Freedom Party. A president and prime minister make up the executive branch. Nominated by the prime minister in consultation with the leader of the opposition party, the president is elected for a 5-year term by the parliament. The president appoints as prime minister the leader of the majority party in the parliament and also appoints, on the prime minister's recommendation, members of the parliament from the ruling party as cabinet ministers. The prime minister and cabinet are responsible to the parliament and can be removed on a no-confidence vote.

The unicameral parliament, called the House of Assembly, is composed of 21 regional representatives and nine senators. The regional representatives are elected by universal suffrage and, in turn, decide whether senators are to be elected or appointed. If appointed, five are chosen by the president with the advice of the prime minister and four with the advice of the opposition leader. If elected, it is by vote of the regional representatives. Elections for representatives and senators must be held at least every 5 years, although the prime minister can call elections any time.

Dominica's legal system is based on English common law. There are three magistrate's courts, with appeals made to the Eastern Caribbean court of appeal and, ultimately, to the Privy Council in London.

Councils elected by universal suffrage govern most towns. Supported largely by property taxation, the councils are responsible for the regulation of markets and sanitation and the maintenance of secondary roads and other municipal amenities. The island is also divided into 10 parishes, whose governance is unrelated to the town governments.

Principal Government Officials
President--Vernon Lorden Shaw
Prime Minister--Pierre Charles
Minister for Foreign Affairs--Osborne Riviere
Ambassador to the United States and Organization of American States--Swinburne Lestrade
Ambassador to the United Nations--Simon P. Richards

Although the Dominican ambassador to the United States has customarily been resident in Dominica, the country maintains an embassy in the U.S. at 3216 New Mexico Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20016 (tel. 202-364-6781). Dominica also has a consulate general co-located with its UN mission in New York at Suite 900, 820 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10017 (tel: 212-599-8478).

Agriculture, with bananas as the principal crop, is still Dominica's economic mainstay. Banana production employs, directly or indirectly, upwards of one-third of the work force. This sector is highly vulnerable to weather conditions and to external events affecting commodity prices. The value of banana exports fell to less than 25% of merchandise trade earnings in 1998 compared to about 44% in 1994.

In view of the EU's announced phase-out of preferred access of bananas to its markets, agricultural diversification is a priority. Dominica has made some progress, with the export of small quantities of citrus fruits and vegetables and the introduction of coffee, patchouli, aloe vera, cut flowers, and exotic fruits such as mangoes, guavas, and papayas. Dominica also has had some success in increasing its manufactured exports, with soap as the primary product. Dominica also recently entered the offshore financial services market.

Because Dominica is mostly volcanic and has few beaches, development of tourism has been slow compared with that on neighboring islands. Nevertheless, Dominica's high, rugged mountains, rainforests, freshwater lakes, hot springs, waterfalls, and diving spots make it an attractive destination. Cruise ship stopovers have increased following the development of modern docking and waterfront facilities in the capital. Eco-tourism also is a growing industry on the island.

Dominica is a member of the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union (ECCU). The Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) issues a common currency to all eight members of the ECCU. The ECCB also manages monetary policy, and regulates and supervises commercial banking activities in its member countries.

Dominica is a beneficiary of the U.S. Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI). Its 1996 exports to the U.S. were $7.7 million, and its U.S. imports were $34 million. Dominica also is a member of the 14-member Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) and of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).

Like its Eastern Caribbean neighbors, the main priority of Dominica's foreign relations is economic development. The country maintains missions in Washington, New York, London, and Brussels and is represented jointly with other organization of Eastern Caribbean states (OECS) members in Canada. Dominica also is a member of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) and the British Commonwealth. It became a member of the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 1978 and of the World Bank and Organization of American States (OAS) in 1979. As a member of CARICOM, in July 1994 Dominica strongly backed efforts by the United States to implement UN Security Council Resolution 940, designed to facilitate the departure of Haiti's de facto authorities from power. The country agreed to contribute personnel to the multinational force, which restored the democratically elected Government of Haiti in October 1994.

In May 1997, Prime Minister James joined 14 other Caribbean leaders, and President Clinton, during the first-ever U.S.-regional summit in Bridgetown, Barbados. The summit strengthened the basis for regional cooperation on justice and counternarcotics issues, finance and development, and trade.

The United States and Dominica have friendly bilateral relations. The United States supports the Dominican Government's efforts to expand its economic base and to provide a higher standard of living for its citizens. U.S. assistance is primarily channeled through multilateral agencies such as the World Bank, the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), and through the newly opened USAID satellite programs in Bridgetown, Barbados.. Technical assistance also is provided by the Peace Corps, which has about 20 volunteers in Dominica, working primarily in education, youth development, and health.

In addition, the United States and Dominica work together in the battle against illegal drugs. Dominica cooperates with U.S. agencies and participates in counternarcotics programs in an effort to curb narco-trafficking and marijuana cultivation. In 1995, the Dominican Government signed a maritime law enforcement agreement with the U.S. to strengthen counternarcotics coordination, and in 1996, the government signed mutual legal assistance and extradition treaties to enhance joint efforts in combating international crime.

Dominica had more than 210,000 cruise ship passenger arrivals in 1998 and about 65,000 stayover tourists. It is estimated that 4,500 Americans reside in the country.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--Earl N. Phillips, Jr.
Deputy Chief of Mission--Marcia Bernicat
Political/Economic Officer--Paul Belmont
Consular Officer-Theophilus J. Rose
Defense Attach�--LTC David Robles
Regional Labor Attach�--(vacant)
Economic-Commercial Affairs--Viki Limaye
Public Affairs Officer--Kathleen Boyle
Peace Corps Director--Earl Phillips (resident in St. Lucia)

The United States maintains no official presence in Dominica. The ambassador and embassy officers are resident in Barbados and frequently travel to Dominica.

The U.S. Embassy in Barbados is located in the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce Building, Broad Street, Bridgetown (Tel: 246-436-4950; Fax: 246-429-5246).

Other Contact Information
U.S. Department of Commerce
International Trade Administration
Trade Information Center
14th and Constitution, NW
Washington, DC 20230
Tel: 1-800-USA-TRADE

Caribbean/Latin America Action
1818 N Street, NW, Suite 310
Washington, DC 20036
Tel: 202-466-7464
Fax: 202-822-0075

Eastern Caribbean American Chamber of Commerce
P.O. Box 111
St. Michael, Barbados
Tel: 246-436-9493
Fax: 246-9494