U.S. Department of State 
Background Notes: Dominica, April 1997 
Released by the Bureau of Inter-American Affairs.

OFFICIAL NAME: 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 (1995 est.): 74,200.
Annual growth rate: 0.4%.
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 95%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--10/1,000. Life expectancy-men 71 yrs., 
women 74 yrs.
Work force (1994): (30,600): Agriculture--37%; services--30%; commerce--
Unemployment: exceeds 20% (official 1994 figure -- 9.7%).


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 United Workers Party (ruling), Dominica 
Labor Party (opposition), and Dominica Freedom Party (opposition).
Suffrage: Universal adult.


GDP (1995): $215 million.
GDP growth rate (1994): 1.8%.
Per capita GDP: $2,900.
Natural resources: timber, water (hydropower), copper.
Agriculture (19% of GDP): products--bananas, citrus, coconuts, cocoa, 
herbal oils and extracts.
Manufacturing (7.5% of GDP): types--agricultural processing, soap and 
other coconut-based products, apparel.
Trade: (1996): Exports-- $48 million: bananas, citrus fruits, soap, 
Major markets--European Union (EU), CARICOM, U.S. (16%). Imports--$98 
million: machinery and equipment, foodstuffs, manufactured articles, 
cement. Major suppliers--CARICOM, U.S. (35%), 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 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 

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 

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 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 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 

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 1980's, the economy 
had made a healthy recovery, which weakened in the 1990's due to a 
decrease in banana prices.

In June 1995 elections, Edison James, leader of the United Workers 
Party, became Prime Minister, replacing Dame Eugenia Charles.


Dominica has a Westminster-style parliamentary government, and there are 
three political parties: The Dominica United Workers Party (the majority 
party), the Dominica Labor 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 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 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 five 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--Crispin Sorhaindo 
Prime Minister and Minister of External affairs, Legal Affairs and 
Labor--Edison James 
Ambassador to the United States--vacant 
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-


Agriculture, with bananas as the principal crop, is still the economic 
mainstay. Banana production employs, directly or indirectly, upwards of 
one-third of the work force. Banana exports to the United Kingdom 
account for approximately 50% of merchandise trade earnings. This sector 
is highly vulnerable to weather conditions and to external events 
affecting commodity prices. Hurricane damage in September 1995 led to a 
sharp drop in banana production and exports.

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 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 

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 Central Bank, which issues 
a common currency. 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 is also a member of the 14-
member Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM).


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 is also 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.

U.S.-Dominican Relations 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. Following the closure in July 1996, 
of USAID's Eastern Caribbean regional office, U.S. assistance is 
primarily channeled through multilateral agencies such as the Inter-
American Development Bank, the World Bank, and the Caribbean Development 
Bank (CDB). Technical assistance is also 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.

As a popular tourist destination for Americans, Dominica had nearly 
188,000 cruise ship passenger arrivals in 1996, the majority of whom 
were U.S. citizens. In addition, there were more than 13,500 other U.S. 
visitors in 1996. it is estimated that 4,500 Americans reside in the 

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials 
Ambassador--Jeanette W. Hyde 
Deputy Chief Of Mission--Donald K. Holm 
Political/Economic Counselor--Stephen R. Snow 
Consul General--Philip M. Jones
Defense Attache--Lt. Col. Donald Robinson 
Regional Labor Attache--Peggy Zabriskie 
Economic-Commercial Officer--Leo Gallagher 
Public Affairs Officer--Jennifer Clark 
Peace Corps Director--David Styles (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: 

Other Contact Information: 
U.S. Department Of Commerce
International Trade Administration 
Office of Latin America and the Caribbean 
14th and Constitution, NW 
Washington, DC 20230 
Tel: 202-482-1658; 800-USA-TRADE 
Fax: 202-482-0464

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


The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides 
Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets. Travel Warnings are 
issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel 
to a certain country. Consular Information Sheets exist for all 
countries and include information on immigration practices, currency 
regulations, health conditions, areas of instability, crime and 
security, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. posts in 
the country. Public Announcements are issued as a means to disseminate 
information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-
term conditions overseas which pose significant risks to the security of 
American travelers. Free copies of this information are available by 
calling the Bureau of Consular Affairs at 202-647-5225 or via the fax-
on-demand system: 202-647-3000. Travel Warnings and Consular Information 
Sheets also are available on the Consular Affairs Internet home page: 
http://travel.state.gov and the Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB). 
To access CABB, dial the modem number: (301-946-4400 (it will 
accommodate up to 33,600 bps), set terminal communications program to N-
8-1 (no parity, 8 bits, 1 stop bit); and terminal emulation to VT100. 
The login is travel and the password is info (Note: Lower case is 
required). The CABB also carries international security information from 
the Overseas Security Advisory Council and Department's Bureau of 
Diplomatic Security. Consular Affairs Trips for Travelers publication 
series, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a 
safe trip abroad, can be purchased from the Superintendent of Documents, 
U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-
7954; telephone: 202-512-1800; fax 202-512-2250. 

Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be 
obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-
5225. For after-hours emergencies, Sundays and holidays, call 202-647-

Passport Services information can be obtained by calling the 24-hour, 7-
day a week automated system ($.35 per minute) or live operators 8 a.m. 
to 8 p.m. (EST) Monday-Friday ($1.05 per minute). The number is 1-900-
225-5674 (TDD: 1-900-225-7778). Major credit card users (for a flat rate 
of $4.95) may call 1-888-362-8668 (TDD: 1-888-498-3648) 

Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers 
for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 
(404) 332-4559 gives the most recent health advisories, immunization 
recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water 
safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled Health Information 
for International Travel (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is 
available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 
20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.

Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency and 
customs regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest to 
travelers also may be obtained before your departure from a country's 
embassy and/or consulates in the U.S. (for this country, see Principal 
Government Officials listing in this publication). 

U.S. citizens who are long-term visitors or traveling in dangerous 
areas, are encouraged to register at the U.S. embassy upon arrival in a 
country (see Principal U.S. Embassy Officials listing in this 
publication). This may help family members contact you in case of an 

Further Electronic Information: 

Department of State Foreign Affairs Network. Available on the Internet, 
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DOSFAN's World Wide Web site is at http://www.state.gov; this site has a 
link to the DOSFAN Gopher Research Collection, which also is accessible 
at gopher://gopher.state.gov. 

U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published on a semi-annual basis 
by the U.S. Department of State, USFAC archives information on the 
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network, and includes an array of 
official foreign policy information from 1990 to the present. Contact 
the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. 
Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-1800 or 
fax (202) 512-2250.

National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department of 
Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related information, 
including Country Commercial Guides. It is available on the Internet 
(www.stat-usa.gov) and on CD-ROM. Call the NTDB Help-Line at (202) 482-
1986 for more information. 


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