Dominica, an island country in the Caribbean has grabbed news headlines in recent years because of hundreds of foreign nationals ever-increasing interest in buying citizenship in exchange for just one hundred thousand dollars. But, selling of citizenship is not the only source of earnings for the politicians and officials in Dominica, they also are engaged in selling diplomatic passports and even appointing foreign nationals as Dominica’s envoys in a number of countries, where this tiny island even has no presence. Our team of investigative reporters are working on finding information centering corruption and numerous forms of crimes that have been taking place in Dominica. This episode is about Dominica’s citizenship program, which is offered to prospective foreign clients.
Dominica officially the Commonwealth of Dominica, is an island country in the Caribbean. The capital, Roseau, is located on the western side of the island. It is geographically situated as part of the Windward Islands chain in the Lesser Antilles archipelago in the Caribbean Sea. The island is located near Guadeloupe to the northwest and Martinique to the south-southeast. Its area is 750 km2 (290 sq mi), and the highest point is Morne Diablotins, at 1,447 m (4,747 ft) in elevation. The population was 71,293 at the 2011 census.
The island was settled by the Arawak arriving from South America in the 5th century. The Kalinago displaced the Arawak by the 15th century. Columbus is said to have passed the island on Sunday 3 November 1493. It was later colonized by Europeans, predominantly by the French from the 1690s to 1763. The French imported enslaved people from West Africa to Dominica to work on coffee plantations. Great Britain took possession in 1763 after the Seven Years’ War, and it gradually established English as its official language. The island gained independence as a republic in 1978.
Its name is locally pronounced with emphasis on the third syllable, related to its French name of Dominique and the Spanish pronunciation of its name. Dominica has been nicknamed the “Nature Isle of the Caribbean” for its natural environment.
It is the youngest island in the Lesser Antilles, and in fact, it is still being formed by geothermal-volcanic activity, as evidenced by the world’s second-largest hot spring, called Boiling Lake. The island has lush mountainous rainforests, and it is the home of many rare plants, animals, and bird species. There are xeric areas in some of the western coastal regions, but heavy rainfall occurs inland. The sisserou parrot, also known as the imperial amazon and found only on Dominica, is the island’s national bird and featured on the national flag, which is one of only two national flags containing the color purple (the other being Nicaragua).
Dominica’s precolonial indigenous inhabitants were the Island Carib people, who are thought to have driven out the previous Arawak population. The Caribs called the island Wai‘tu kubuli, which means “Tall is her body.”
Christopher Columbus, sailing for Spain, named the island as Dominica, after the Latin term dies Dominica for Sunday, the day on which the Spanish first saw it in November 1493. Some Spanish colonizers settled here. But, as European explorers and settlers entered the region, indigenous refugees from surrounding islands settled Dominica and pushed out the Spanish settlers. The Spanish instead settled other areas that were easier to control and had more natural resources.
Spain had little success in colonizing Dominica. In 1632, the French Compagnie des Îles de l’Amérique claimed it and other “Petites Antilles” for France, but no physical occupation took place. Between 1642 and 1650, French missionary Raymond Breton became the first regular European visitor to the island.
In 1660, the French and English agreed that Dominica and St. Vincent should not be settled, but instead left to the Carib as neutral territory. But its natural resources attracted expeditions of English and French foresters, who began harvesting timber. In 1690, the French established their first permanent settlements. French woodcutters from Martinique and Guadeloupe began to set up timber camps to supply the French islands with wood, and they gradually became permanent settlers. They brought the first enslaved Africans from West Africa to Dominique, as they called it in French.
In 1715, a revolt of “poor white” smallholders in the north of Martinique, known as La Gaoulé, caused settlers to migrate to southern Dominique, where they set up smallholdings. Meanwhile, French families and others from Guadeloupe settled in the north. In 1727, the first French commander, M. Le Grand, took charge of the island with a basic French government. Dominique formally became a colony of France, and the island was divided into districts or “quarters”. The French had already developed plantation agriculture on Martinique and Guadeloupe, where they cultivated sugarcane with enslaved African workers. In Dominique they gradually developed coffee plantations. They imported so many African slaves to fill the labor demands that the population became predominantly African in ethnicity.
In 1761, during the Seven Years’ War in Europe, a British expedition against Dominica led by Andrew Rollo conquered the island, along with several other Caribbean islands. In 1763, France had lost the war and ceded the island to Great Britain under the Treaty of Paris. The same year, the British established a legislative assembly, with only European colonists represented. French remained the official language, but Antillean Creole, which had developed from it, was spoken by most of the population.
In 1778 the French, with the active co-operation of the population, began the re-capture of Dominica. This was ended by the Treaty of Paris (1783), which returned the island to British control. But the island population, especially the class of free people of color, resisted British restrictions. The British retained control through French invasions in 1795 and 1805, the first taking place during the period of the Haitian Revolution, which gained the independence of Haiti (formerly Saint-Domingue, France’s richest Caribbean colony).
Great Britain established a small colony in 1805. It used Dominica as part of the triangular trade, by which slaves were imported and sold as labor in the islands as part of a trade that included producing and shipping sugar and coffee as commodity crops to Europe. The best-documented slave plantation on the island is Hillsborough Estate, which had 71 male and 68 female slaves. The Greg family were notable: Thomas Hodgson, a brother-in-law, owned a slave ship, and Thomas Greg and his son John Greg were part-owners of sugar plantations on Dominica. In January 1814, 20 slaves absconded from Hillsborough. They were recorded as recaptured and punished with 100 lashes applied to the males and 50 for the females. The slaves reportedly said that one of their people had died in the plantation hospital, and they believed he had been poisoned.
In 1831, reflecting a liberalization of official British racial attitudes, the Brown Privilege Bill conferred political and social rights on free blacks (mostly free people of color, who generally were of mixed race, with African and European ancestry). With the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, Britain ended the institution of slavery throughout its empire, except in India.
With freedom came enfranchisement. In 1835, the first three men of African descent were elected to the legislative assembly of Dominica. Many slaves from the neighboring French colonial islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique fled to Dominica. In 1838, Dominica became the first colony of the British West Indies to have an elected legislature controlled by an ethnic African majority. Most of these legislators had been free people of color and smallholders or merchants before the abolition of slavery. Their economic and social views were different from the interests of the small, wealthy English planter class. Reacting to a perceived threat to their power, the planters lobbied for more direct British rule.
In 1865, after much agitation and tension, the colonial office replaced the elective assembly with one made up of one-half members who were elected and one-half who were appointed. Planters, who were allied with colonial administrators, outmaneuvered the elected legislators on many occasions. In 1871, Dominica became part of the British Leeward Islands. The political power of the ethnic African population progressively eroded. Crown colony government was re-established in 1896. All political rights were curtailed for people of colour and blacks, who were the overwhelming majority of the population. Development aid, offered as compensation for disfranchisement, resulted in negligible improvements in conditions for most ethnic Africans.
In World War I, many Dominicans, mainly the sons of small farmers, volunteered to fight in Europe for the British Empire. After the war, 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 governing Dominica, this group won one-third of the popularly elected seats of the legislative assembly in 1924, and one-half in 1936. In 1940, the administration of Dominica was transferred from the British Leeward Islands to the British Windward Islands. During World War II, some Dominicans volunteered in British and Caribbean forces. Thousands of Free French refugees from Martinique and Guadeloupe escaped to Dominica from the Vichy-controlled French islands, staying in Roseau and other villages.
Until 1958, Dominica was governed as part of the British Windward Islands. Caribbean islands sought independence from 1958 to 1962, and Dominica became a province of the short-lived West Indies Federation in 1958. After the federation dissolved in 1962, Dominica became an associated state of the United Kingdom in 1967, and formally took responsibility for its internal affairs. On 3 November 1978, the Commonwealth of Dominica was granted independence as a republic, led by Prime Minister Patrick John.
In mid-1979, political discontent with Founding Prime Minister Patrick John’s administration climaxed in a civilian coup and ended in the passage of a Motion of No Confidence in the House of Assembly, Dominica’s legislature, against John, collapsing the John administration. A new, so-called “Interim Government” was formed under Dominica’s second Prime Minister Oliver Seraphin; Seraphin’s main task was to prepare the country for fresh general elections constitutionally due in 1980, hence the unofficial title “Interim” Prime Minister. Seraphin organized and led a splinter of the Dominica Labor Party called the Democratic Labor Party into the 1980 general election and lost mainly because his nearly thirteen month-long premierships were dominated by the fallout from Category Five Hurricane David, which caused 56 deaths and untold damage across the island. Hurricane Allen the following year caused further damage. After the 1980 election, Seraphin’s government was replaced by one led by the Dominica Freedom Party (DFP) under Prime Minister Eugenia Charles; she was the Caribbean’s first female Prime Minister.
In 1981, Charles’s government was threatened with two attempted coups. The first was led by Frederick Newton, commander of the Military of Dominica, who organized an attack on the police headquarters in Roseau which resulted in the death of a police officer. Newton and five other soldiers were found guilty in the attack and sentenced to death in 1983; the sentences of the five accomplices were later commuted to life in prison, but Newton was executed in 1986. A second occurred later in the year when the country was threatened with a takeover by mercenaries in Operation Red Dog, led by Mike Perdue and Wolfgang Droege. They tried to overthrow Charles as Prime Minister and reinstall ex-Prime Minister John in exchange for control over the country’s development. The FBI was tipped off, and the ship hired to transport the mercenaries never left dock. The mercenaries lacked formal military experience or training, and most of the crew had been misled into joining by the ringleader Mike Perdue. White supremacist Don Black was also jailed for his part in the attempted coup, which violated US neutrality laws.
The Charles government supported the 1983 American Invasion of Grenada, earning Dominica praise from the Reagan administration and an increase in financial aid.
By the middle of the 1980s, the economy had begun to recover, before weakening again due to a decrease in banana prices. Eugenia Charles won the 1985 general election, becoming only the first incumbent Dominica Prime Minister to be popularly re-elected. The continuing downturn in the economy and the tight grip by Eugenia Charles on Dominica politics gave rise to a self-titled “Third Force” political formation in 1988, which disrupted the traditional two-party arrangement of governing DFP and Opposition DLP. “Third Force” soon formalized as United Workers Party and selected as its Leader Edison James, the former General Manager of the Dominica Banana Marketing Company. This was a strategic selection given James’s prestige among banana farmers and his originating from the East or Atlantic Coast that had begun to feel alienated by the West or Caribbean Sea Coast elites in Roseau, Dominica’s capita. Eugenia Charles again won the 1990 general election, the first incumbent Dominica Prime Minister to win three consecutive general elections. However, Eugenia Charles’s DFP had been pushed to within one seat of losing its majority in Parliament by the emergence of the UWP. It was, therefore, no great surprise when Eugenia Charles gave up political leadership of the Dominica Freedom Party in 1993 and did not contest the 1995 general election in any capacity. No longer benefiting from the veteran charismatic leadership of Prime Minister Eugenia Charles, the Dominica Freedom Party lost the 1995 election to the United Workers’ Party (UWP), whose leader Edison James became Prime Minister. James, former General Manager of the Dominica Banana Marketing Company attempted to diversify the Dominican economy away from over-reliance on banana. Further, James was unable to restore banana to its former selling price and prestige. Moreover, the James administration became embroiled in Opposition charges of official corruption.
In the January 31, 2000 general election, the UWP were defeated by a coalition of the DLP, led by left-leaning Roosevelt B. “Rosie” Douglas and the Dominica Freedom Party led by former trade union leader, Charles Savarin. Douglas became Prime Minister. One UWP member of the House of Assembly crossed the floor, joining the DLP-DFP coalition government. However, Douglas died on October 1, 2000 after only a few months. Prime Minister Douglas was replaced by Pierre Charles, who also died in office on January 6, 2004. Roosevelt Skerrit, also of the DLP, replaced Pierre Charles as Prime Minister, becoming the world’s youngest head of government at thirty-one. Under Skerrit’s leadership, the DLP won elections in May 2005 that gave the party 12 seats in the 21-seat Parliament, to the UWP’s 8 seats. An independent candidate affiliated with the DLP won a seat as well. Later, the independent candidate joined the government. With his 2005 election win, Skerrit became only the second incumbent Prime Minister of seven to be popularly re-elected.
In the 2009 election, the DLP won 18 of 21 seats. The UWP claimed campaign improprieties and embarked on a wide range of protest actions, including a boycott of Parliament. UWP’s boycott lasted at least three unauthorized absences from Parliament for two of their three Elected Representatives in Parliament in violation of Parliamentary procedure, leading to their two seats being declared vacant and by-elections being called to fill them; by-elections were conducted for those two vacant seats in July 2010, and the UWP again won both seats. The DLP under Skerrit went on to win the 2014 Dominican general election.
On 17 September 2012 Eliud Thaddeus Williams was sworn in as President (a largely ceremonial role), replacing Dr. Nicholas Liverpool who was reportedly removed from office due to ill health. On 30 September 2013, former Trade Union Leader and former Dominica Freedom Party Leader Charles Savarin was elected president having only days before resigned as a Minister of Government.
Tropical Storm Erika devastated the island in August 2015, killing 30 and causing severe environmental and economic damage Dominica was again struck on 18 September 2017, suffering a direct landfall from Category 5 Hurricane Maria. Early estimates of damage suggested 90% of the buildings on the island had been destroyed, with infrastructure left in ruins. The UK, France, and the Netherlands set up shipping and airlifts to take aid to the island; the scale of destruction has left most people homeless.
In December 2019, incumbent Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit won his fourth consecutive general election eighteen seats to three, becoming the first Dominica Prime Minister ever to do so.
Dominica is an island nation in the Caribbean Sea, the northernmost of the Windward Islands (though it is sometimes considered the southernmost of the Leeward Islands). The size of the country is about 289.5 square miles (750 km2) and it is about 29 miles (47 km) long and 16 miles (26 km) wide.
Next episode: Dominica, a country exposed to hurricane massacre
Sohail Choudhury is the Executive Editor of Blitz