U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
BACKGROUND NOTES: DOMINICA
PUBLISHED BY THE BUREAU OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS
Official Name: Commonwealth of Dominica
Area: 754 sq. km. (290 sq. mi.).
Terrain: Mountainous volcanic island with rainforest cover.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Dominican (Dom-i-nee-can).
Population (1993): 72,000.
Annual growth rate: 0%.
Ethnic groups: Mainly African descent, some Carib Indians.
Religions: Roman Catholic (80%), Anglican, other Protestant
Languages: English (official); a French patois is widely spoken.
Education: Years compulsory--to age 14. Literacy--about 80%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--17/1,000. Life expectancy--men 71 yrs.,
women 74 yrs.
Work force (30,600): Agriculture--37%. Services--30%. Industry and
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 Freedom Party (incumbent), United Workers
Party (official opposition), Dominica Labor Party (opposition).
Suffrage: Universal adult.
GDP (1993 est.): $170 million.
GDP growth rate (1993): 1.8%.
Per capita GDP: $2,400.
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.
Trade: Exports--$55 million: bananas, citrus fruits, soap, cocoa.
Major partners--European Union (EU), CARICOM, U.S. Imports--$140 mil-
lion: machinery and equipment, foodstuffs, manufactured articles,
cement. Major partners--CARICOM, U.S., EU, Japan.
Exchange rate: Eastern
Caribbean $2.70=U.S. $1.
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 500 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 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, 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. But 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 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 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, after severe colonial office pressure, crown colony government
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
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,
though. In mid-1979, political discontent led to the formation of an
interim government; it was replaced after 1980 elections by the Dominica
Freedom Party under Prime Minister Mary Eugenia Charles, the Caribbean's
first female prime minister. There also were chronic economic problems,
which 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,
but it has weakened recently due to a decrease in banana prices.
Dominica has a Westminster-style parliamentary government, and there are
three political parties--the Dominica Freedom Party (the majority
party), the Dominica 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 five-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
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 five years, although the prime
minister can call elections any time. Next elections are due by
September 1995 but are expected to be called for May 1995.
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
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
Although the Dominican ambassador to the United States is 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).
Hurricane damage in 1989 slowed Dominica's economy, but during 1990-91,
the economy regained some ground. It grew rapidly in 1990 as a result
of higher banana prices and increased construction and tourism activity,
then slowed again in 1991. The government reported moderate GDP growth
in 1993 (1.8%), but the economy is struggling.
Agriculture--with bananas and coconuts as principal crops--is still the
economic mainstay, accounting for 26% of GDP. During 1993 and 1994,
banana prices fell significantly. This sector is highly vulnerable to
weather conditions and to external events affecting commodity prices.
More than 60% of foreign exchange earnings are from banana exports to
the United Kingdom; possible loss of this protected market under the
establishment of a single European market--which had been planned for
1992--posed a serious threat to Dominica's economy. Agricultural
diversification is a priority, and Dominica has made some progress
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 accounts for 7% of GDP. 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 factories for lease to
investors. The country has recruited a number of foreign investors in
light industry and food processing. To encourage the private sector,
the government reduced its deficit and cut taxes under an International
Monetary Fund (IMF) program. The U.S. 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. But
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. Although still a
small part of Dominica's economy, tourism is a growing source of foreign
Dominica is a member of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank, which issues
a common currency. It is a beneficiary of the U.S. Caribbean Basin
Initiative (CBI) and is a member of the 13-member Caribbean Community
and Common Market (CARICOM), which has signed a framework agreement with
the United States to promote trade and investment in the region.
Like its Eastern Caribbean neighbors, the main priority of Dominica's
foreign relations is economic development. The country maintains
representatives in Brussels, London, and New York and is represented
jointly with other Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS)
members in Canada. It is also a member of the Caribbean Development
Bank (CDB), the Caribbean Community, 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.
As a member of CARICOM, 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
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 has come through multilateral agencies such as the
CDB and the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute.
In addition, USAID programs have provided considerable direct assistance
in agricultural development, rural electrification, economic structural
adjustment, and construction of schools, water projects, and health
facilities, although most of this funding will be ended by FY 1996.
Dominica's economy benefits from access to U.S. markets through the CBI,
although 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 Corps has about 20 volunteers in Dominica, working primarily
in education, agriculture, and health.
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--Jeanette W. Hyde
Deputy Chief of Mission--Tain P. Tompkins
Political/Economic Counselor--Thomas R. Hutson
Consul General--Dale Shaffer
Regional Labor Attache--Peggy Zabriskie
Economic-Commercial Officer--Carole Jackson
Public Affairs Officer--Tyrone Kemp
USAID Regional Director--Mosina Jordan
Peace Corps Director--James Scanlon (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: 809-436-4950;
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