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.).
Terrain: Mountainous volcanic island with rainforest cover.
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
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
Prime Minister and Minister of External affairs, Legal Affairs and
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
Caribbean/Latin America Action 1818 N Street, NW, Suite 310 Washington,
DC 20036 Tel: 202-466-7464 Fax: 202-822-0075
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
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20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
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