Dominica was the first state in the Americas to have a female Prime
Minister. Dame Eugenia Charles served from 1980 to 1995.
At his appointment in 2004 the current Prime Minister, Roosevelt Skerrit,
was the youngest head of government in the world, aged 31.
Joined Commonwealth: 1978
Population: 72,000 (2013)
GDP: 1.8% p.a. 1990–2013
UN HDI: world ranking 93
Official language: English
Timezone: GMT minus 4hr
Currency: Eastern Caribbean dollar (EC$)
Area: 750 sq km
Capital city: Roseau
Population density (per sq. km): 96
The Commonwealth of Dominica is one of the Windward Islands in the
Eastern Caribbean, lying between Guadeloupe to the north and Martinique
to the south.
Roseau (capital, pop. 14,725 in 2011), Portsmouth (4,167), Canefield
(3,324), Marigot (2,411), Salisbury (2,147), Berekua (2,134), Mahaut
(2,113), St Joseph (1,746), Wesley (1,362) and Castle Bruce (1,087).
There are 1,510 km of roads, 50 per cent paved. Round-island network was
completed in the late 1980s, despite the technical difficulties
presented by Dominica’s mountainous terrain and friable volcanic rock.
Banana boats and tourist cruiseships call at Roseau, at the deep- water
harbour in Woodbridge Bay, and in Prince Rupert’s Bay, Portsmouth.
The airports at Melville Hall, 64 km north-east of Roseau, and Canefield,
5 km north of Roseau, can accommodate only turbo- prop passenger
aircraft. Tourists flying into Dominica must therefore generally come
via the nearby island of Antigua.
Dominica is a member of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of
States, Association of Caribbean States, Caribbean Community, Non-
Aligned Movement, Organisation internationale de la Francophonie,
Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, Organization of American
States, United Nations and World Trade Organization.
A volcanic island 46 km in length, Dominica has a central mountain ridge
running from Cape Melville in the north to the cliffs in the south.
Morne Diablotin rises to 1,447 metres. There are numerous mountain
streams and rivers, none of them navigable. The scenery is outstandingly
beautiful, with waterfalls and luxuriantly wooded mountains. Most
beaches are of black volcanic sand, with some of golden sand.
The climate is subtropical and hot, but cooled by sea breezes, with a
rainy season in June–October, when hurricanes may occur. Rainfall is
heavy, especially in mountain areas.
The most significant environmental issues are shortage of drinking
water; deforestation; soil erosion; pollution of the coastal zone by
chemicals used in farming and factories, and untreated sewage.
Dominica is known as the nature island of the Caribbean. Dense forest
and woodland cover 59 per cent of the land area, with subtropical
vegetation and orchids in the valleys. Tree ferns are indigenous to the
island. Arable and cropped land extends to some 32 per cent of the total
land area. The island has a fertile volcanic soil.
The forests have a wide range of bird species (at least three of them
rare and endangered, 2012), including the brilliant Dominica parrot, or
Sisserou, which is depicted on the national flag, various species of
doves and the mountain whistler. There are three distinct vegetation and
habitat zones determined by rainfall and elevation at defined levels
around the mountains. The country has two marine reserves and several
hectares of forest reserve.
Throughout its history the fertile island of Dominica has attracted
settlers and colonisers and has been the subject of the military, and
often bloody, squabbles of European powers. At the time of Columbus’s
visit on a Sunday (dies dominica) in November 1493, the island was a
stronghold of the Caribs from South America who were driving out the
Arawaks. In 1627 the English took theoretical possession without
settling, but by 1632 the island had become a de facto French colony; it
remained so until 1759 when the English captured it. In 1660 the English
and French agreed to leave the Caribs in undisturbed possession, but in
fact French settlers went on arriving, bringing enslaved Africans with
them. Dominica changed hands between the two European powers, passing
back to France (1778) and again to England (1783). The French attempted
to invade in 1795 and 1805 before eventually withdrawing, leaving
Britain in possession.
In 1833 the island was linked to Antigua and the other Leeward Islands
under a Governor-General at Antigua, but subsequently became part of the
Federation of the Leeward Islands Colony (1871–1939) before becoming a
unit of the Windward Islands group (1940–60). Dominica joined the West
Indies Federation at its foundation in 1958 and remained a member until
differences among larger members led to its dissolution in 1962.
Within Dominica, the formation of the Dominica Labour Party (DLP) from
the People’s National Movement and other groups in the early 1960s
spurred local demand for greater autonomy in internal affairs. Edward
LeBlanc became Chief Minister in 1961. Under his leadership, in 1967
Dominica became one of the West Indies Associated States, with full
internal self-government, while the UK remained responsible for foreign
policy and defence. At LeBlanc’s retirement in 1974, Patrick John
succeeded as DLP leader and Premier. After winning a large majority at
the 1975 elections, John pursued the course agreed by the Associated
States to seek independence separately.
On 3 November 1978, Dominica achieved independence as a republic within
the Commonwealth, and took the name of Commonwealth of Dominica. John
became its first Prime Minister, and Frederick Degazon the non-executive
In 1979 the DLP government collapsed and Oliver Seraphine of the
Committee for National Salvation (CNS) was invited to form an interim
government and prepare the way for elections within six months. The
elections in July 1980 were won by the Dominica Freedom Party (DFP) led
by Eugenia Charles (who became the first woman Prime Minister in the
region), winning 17 of the 21 seats. Patrick John, who had led the
country to independence, and Seraphine lost their seats.
There were two coup attempts early in the 1980s allegedly organised by
factions of the Defence Force sympathetic to the John regime. In 1985,
John was himself convicted of involvement in one such attempt, and
sentenced to 12 years imprisonment; the following year the former
commander of the Defence Force was hanged for murdering a police officer
during a coup attempt.
Eugenia Charles led the DFP to victory in the 1990 general election,
but, in June 1995, shortly after her retirement from politics, the DFP
lost its majority. The United Workers Party (UWP) emerged as election
victor with 11 seats; the DFP and the DLP each won five. Edison James,
leader of the UWP, was invited by the President to form a government.
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