Island in the eastern Caribbean, between Guadeloupe and Martinique, the largest of the Windward Islands, with the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Caribbean Sea to the west.
Government Dominica is an independent republic within the Commonwealth and is a multiparty parliamentary democracy. The constitution dates from independence (1978) and provides for a single-chamber, 30-member house of assembly. Twenty-one are representatives elected by universal suffrage in single-seat regional constituencies, and nine are appointed senators, five on the advice of the prime minister and four on the advice of the leader of the opposition. The assembly serves a five-year term, as does the president, who is elected by it and acts as constitutional and ceremonial head of state, appointing the prime minister on the basis of assembly support. The prime minister is head of government and chooses the cabinet of ministers, which is responsible to the assembly.
History The island was inhabited by the Amerindian Caribs at the time Christopher Columbus visited it in 1493 (since Columbus arrived at the island on a Sunday, he named it Dominica). English and French efforts to capture the islands were resisted by the Caribs in the 17th century. It became a British possession in 1763 and a colony in 1805. In 1834 African slaves were emancipated across the British Empire and in 1838 Dominica was the first British Caribbean colony to have a black-controlled legislature. From 1871, it was part of the Leeward Islands federation (until 1939) and became a crown colony in 1896. In 1940 it was transferred to the Windward Islands and remained attached to that group until 1958, when it joined the West Indies Federation, which lasted until 1962.
Full independence achieved In 1961 the leader of the left-of-centre Dominica Labour Party (DLP), Edward le Blanc, became chief minister; after 13 years in office he retired and was succeeded as prime minister by Patrick John. The DLP held office until full independence was achieved in November 1978, at which time its leader, John, became the first prime minister under the new constitution.
Centre-right DFP in power under Eugenia Charles Opposition to John's increasingly authoritarian style of government soon developed, and in the 1980 elections the centre-right Dominica Freedom Party (DFP) won a convincing victory on a free-enterprise programme. Its leader, Eugenia Charles, who was the Caribbean's first woman prime minister, embarked on a free-enterprise programme. The economy, which had been devastated by hurricanes in 1979 and 1980, grew strongly in the 1980s.
In 1981 John was thought to be implicated in a plot against the government, and a state of emergency was imposed. He was tried and acquitted in 1982, but retried in 1985 and found guilty, and was given a 12-year prison sentence.
Eugenia Charles was re-elected in 1985, and, with a reduced majority, in 1990. She resigned as leader of the DFP in August 1993, but continued as prime minister. Under her leadership, Dominica developed links with France and the USA, and in 1983 sent a small force to participate in the US-backed invasion of Grenada. In 1991 representatives of Dominica, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Grenada proposed federal integration of the Windward Islands and a draft constitution was produced but not implemented.
Left returns to power The 1995 general election was won by the centre-left United Workers' Party and its leader, Edison James, was appointed prime minister. Brian Alleyne became the new DFP leader. In February 2000, a DLP-DFP coalition was elected into government, with Rosie Douglas of the DLP as the prime minister. Douglas died in October 2000, and was succeeded by Pierre Charles. In January 2004, Charles also died in office, of a heart attack, and was succeeded as prime minister by the education minister, Roosevelt Skerritt, of the DLP.
The 31-year-old Skerritt became Dominica's youngest-ever prime minister. He pushed through an austerity programme, of higher taxes and reduced government spending, to tackle the country's economic difficulties, and secured $117 million of economic aid from China, with whom Dominica established diplomatic relations in 2004 and ended relations with Taiwan. In December 2006, the IMF praised the government's economic reforms.
Skerritt's DLP won a slim majority In the May 2005 general election and increased its share of the vote by 8%, to 60%, at the December 2009 general election. Under Skerritt, Dominica developed closer economic ties with oil-rich Venezuela and joined the Central and South American trade group ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America) in 2008.
Despite some growth in tourism and offshore finance, Dominica remained heavily dependent on agriculture, which employed a third of the workforce. Its banana exports faced increasing competition from the 2000s after the World Trade Organization forced the European Union to phase out preferential tariffs for producers from former colonies, and in August 2007, Hurricane Dean devastated banana production.