Background Note: Dominica

PA Source: Office of Public Communication, Bureau of Public Affairs Description: Historical, Political and Economic Overviews of the Countries of the World Date: Jan, 15 19931/15/93 Category: Country Data Region: Caribbean Country: Dominican Republic Subject: Travel, History, International Organizations, Trade/Economics, Military Affairs, Cultural Exchange, State Department [TEXT]

Official Name:

Commonwealth of Dominica


754 sq. km. (290 sq. mi.).
Mountainous volcanic island with rain forest cover.
Noun and adjective--Dominican (Dom-i-nee- can).
Population (1991):
Annual growth rate:
Ethnic groups:
Mainly African descent, some Carib Indians.
Roman Catholic (80%), Anglican, other Protestant denominations.
English (official); a French patois is widely spoken.
Years compulsory--to age 14. Literacy--about 80%.
Infant mortality rate--17/1,000. Life expectancy--men 71 yrs., women 74 yrs.
Work force (30,600):
Agriculture--37%. Services--30%. Industry and commerce--20%.
Parliamentary democracy; republic within Commonwealth.
November 3, 1978. Constitution: November 1978.
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.
10 parishes.
Political parties:
Dominica Freedom Party (incumbent), United Workers Party (official opposition), Dominica Labor Party (opposition).
Universal adult.
Green background, three striped cross of yellow, white, and black with a circular emblem of red in the center containing a Sisserou parrot encircled by 10 green stars.
GDP (1991):
$147 million.
GDP growth rate (1991):
2%. GDP per capita: $2,000.
Natural resources:
Timber, water (hydropower).
Agriculture (26% of GDP):
Products--bananas, citrus, coconuts, cocoa, herbal oils and extracts.
Industry (7% of GDP):
Types--agricultural processing, soap and other coconut-based products, apparel.
Exports--$55 million: bananas, citrus fruits, soap, cocoa. Major partners--European Community (EC), CARICOM, US. Imports--$140 million: machinery and equipment, foodstuffs, manufactured articles, cement. Major partners--CARICOM, US, EC, Japan.
Exchange rate:
Eastern Caribbean dollar $2.70=US$1.


Almost all Dominicans are descendants of African slaves imported by colonial planters in the 18th century. Dominica is the only island in the eastern Caribbean to retain some of its pre-Colombian population, the Carib Indians, about 500 of whom live on the island's east coast. The population growth rate is 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 significant number of Protestant churches have been re-established.


The island's indigenous Arawak people were expelled or exterminated by Caribs in the 14th century. Columbus landed there in November 1493. Because of prevailing winds and currents, 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, however, 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 groups of British and French foresters were harvesting timber by the start of the 18th century, normally in expeditions rather than from permanent settlements. Largely due to Dominica's position between Martinique and Guadeloupe, France eventually became predominant, and a French settlement was established and grew. However, as part of the 1763 Treaty of Paris that ended the Seven Years' War being fought in Europe, North America, and India, 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 still largely French population. The 1783 Treaty of Paris, ending American hostilities, 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 nonwhites. Three blacks were elected to the Legislative Assembly the following year, and by 1838, recently enfranchised blacks dominated that body. Most black legislators were smallholders 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 a federal colony attached to the Leeward Island Federation. The power of the black population progressively eroded until crown colony government, after severe colonial office pressure, was forced upon the assembly 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 Leeward Island administration and was governed as part of the Windwards until 1958, when it joined the short-lived Federation of the West Indies. 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 alone did not solve problems stemming from centuries of economic underdevelopment, however. In mid-1979, political discontent led to the formation of an interim government. This was replaced after 1980 elections by the Dominica Freedom Party under Prime Minister Mary Eugenia Charles, the Caribbean's first female prime minister. Chronic economic problems were compounded by the severe impact of Hurricanes David in 1979 and Allen in 1980. But by the end of the decade, the economy had made a healthy recovery, fueled by highly profitable banana exports.


Dominica has a Westminster-style parliamentary government, and there are three political parties--the Dominica Freedom Party (the majority party), the Democratic Labor Party, and the United Workers 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. He 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 elected by universal suffrage, and 9 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 West Indies Court of Appeal and, ultimately, to the Privy Council in London. Councils elected by universal suffrage govern most towns. Supported largely by property taxation, they 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--Clarence Seignoret Prime Minister--Mary Eugenia Charles Minister of External Affairs and Organization of Eastern Caribbean States Unity--Brian Alleyne Ambassador to the United States--Edward I. Watty (resident in Dominica) Ambassador to the United Nations--Frank Barron


During 1990 and 1991, Dominica's economy made significant progress toward restoring the levels of economic activity that were interrupted in 1989 by damage caused by Hurricane Hugo. The economy grew rapidly in 1990, as a result of higher banana prices and increased construction and tourism activity, but slowed again in 1991. Agriculture, with bananas and coconuts as principal crops, continues to be the economic mainstay, accounting for 26% of GDP. This sector is highly vulnerable to weather conditions and to external events that affect commodity prices. Since over 60% of foreign exchange earnings are from banana exports to the United Kingdom, possible loss of this protected market with the establishment of a single European market in 1992 poses a serious threat to Dominica's economy. Agricultural diversification is a key priority, and Dominica has made real advances toward it, 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. Manufacturing accounted for 7% of GDP in 1991. Soap is the island's second most important export after agricultural products. Other manufactured products (mostly for export) include garments, animal feed, bottled water, gloves, furniture, and food products. To attract export-oriented industry, the government has constructed factory structures for lease to investors. The country has recruited a number of foreign investors in light industry and food processing. Under an International Monetary Fund (IMF) program, the government reduced its deficit and cut taxes to encourage the private sector. The US Agency for International Development (USAID) provided more than $4 million for the program and also helped fund technical assistance in infrastructure development. Development of tourism has been slow, compared with that on neighboring islands, because Dominica is mostly volcanic and has few beaches. However, with high, rugged mountains covered by unexploited rainforests, freshwater lakes, hot springs, waterfalls, and diving spots, Dominica's unique landscape is beginning to attract tourists. Dominica, along with Antigua, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Kitts and the Grenadines, is a member of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank, which issues a common currency. Dominica is a beneficiary of the US Caribbean Basin Initiative. It is also a member of the 12-nation Caribbean Economic Community and Common Market, which has signed a framework agreement with the United States to promote trade and investment under the Enterprise for the Americas Initiative.


Dominica does not maintain a standing army but participates in the Regional Security System (RSS) with six other Caribbean states. The RSS arrangement calls for the maintenance of a paramilitary special service unit (SSU) within each police force and a Coast Guard. The SSU, consisting of 32 personnel commanded by the police commissioner, receives weapons and equipment under a US security assistance program. The police force has an additional 440 officers responsible for crime prevention and civil police duties. The coast guard, also within the police force, has 35 personnel and operates a 65-foot patrol boat and two 22-foot runabouts. It also receives equipment and maintenance support under a US security assistance program.


Like its Eastern Caribbean neighbors, the main priority of Dominica's foreign relations is economic development. It maintains representatives in Brussels, London, and New York and is represented jointly with other Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) members in Canada. As a small nation, it participates in diplomatic activity primarily through international organizations. It is also a member of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), Caribbean Community (CARICOM), and the British Commonwealth. It became a member of the United Nations and the IMF in 1978, and of the World Bank and Organization of American States (OAS) in 1979.


The United States and Dominica have excellent bilateral relations. The United States supports the Dominican Government's efforts to expand its economic base and provide a higher standard of living for its citizens. American assistance in the past primarily has been through multilateral agencies such as the CDB and the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute. More recently, USAID programs have provided considerable direct assistance in agricultural development, rural electrification, economic structural adjustment, and construction of schools, water projects, and health facilities. Dominica's economy benefits from access to US markets through the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI), but manufacturing accounts for a very small percent of GDP. A box factory built under the section 936 program with Puerto Rico is one result of Dominica's participation in the CBI. The Peace Corp has about 20 volunteers in Dominica, working primarily in education, agriculture, and health. There is no official US mission in Dominica. The ambassador and embassy staff in Bridgetown, Barbados, are accredited to the Dominica Government and travel there frequently.
Principal US Officials
Ambassador--G. Philip Hughes Deputy Chief of Mission--Tain P. Tompkins Political/Economic Counselor--Richard T. Miller Regional Labor Attache--Mary Ann Singlaub Consul General--Thomas Cairns Public Affairs Officer--Gerald Waters USAID Director--Mosina Jordan Peace Corps Director--Richard Pyle (resident in St. Lucia) The US embassy is located in the Canadian imperial Bank of Commerce Building, Broad Street, Bridgetown, Barbados, (tel). 809 436-4950.


Passports and visas are not required for American citizens, although some proof of citizenship (usually an original birth certificate and a photo ID) must be presented. Visitors also should have a return or onward ticket.
Travelers should check latest information before traveling.
Dominica is a member of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank. In common with the neighboring Windward and Leeward Islands, it uses the Eastern Caribbean dollar, currently pegged to the US dollar at EC$2.70=US$1.
Direct dial long-distance telephone, telegraph, and telex services are available.


Published by the United States Department of State -- Bureau of Public Affairs -- Office of Public Communication -- Washington, DC January 1993 -- Editor: Josephine C. Brooks Managing Editor: Peter Knecht Department of State Publication 9235 Background Notes Series -- This material is in the public domain and may be reprinted without permission; citation of this source is appreciated. For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, US Government Printing Office,Washington, DC 20402. (###)