Freedom in the World
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An August 2001 visit by Prime Minister Pierre Charles to dictator Muammar al-Qadhafi's Libya, where the Dominican leader and those of Grenada and St. Vincent and the Grenadines received promises of financial support, came under close scrutiny after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The trip revived U.S. State Department concerns about the island nation's sympathies first expressed in the 1980s, which focused on an opposition firebrand, Roosevelt Douglas, who died in October 2000 just months after becoming prime minister. The controversy came after the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) kept Dominica on its blacklist of countries it says is uncooperative in the fight against money laundering.
Dominica has been an independent republic within the Commonwealth since 1978. Internally self-governing since 1967, Dominica is a parliamentary democracy headed by a prime minister and a house of assembly with 21 members elected to five-year terms. Nine senators are appointed--five by the prime minister and four by the opposition leader. The president is elected by the house for a five-year term.
In 1993 Prime Minister Eugenia Charles of the Democratic Freedom Party (DFP) announced her intention to retire in 1995 after 15 years in power. External affairs minister Brian Alleyne defeated three other candidates in a vote of DFP delegates to become the new party leader.
In June 1995, the United Workers Party (UWP) won a narrow majority, 11 of 21 seats, in parliamentary elections. Edison James, a former head of the Banana Growers' Association, became prime minister. The UWP victory marked a significant shift of power from the traditional establishment to a new and younger business class. The DFP and the Dominican Labour Party (DLP) won five seats each. The DFP's Alleyne and the DLP's Douglas reached an agreement to share the official opposition post by alternating each year. Alleyne assumed the post first. A high court, however, ruled that one of the winning DFP candidates was not qualified to sit in parliament since he still held a public service position. The ruling reduced the DFP's representation in parliament to 4 seats. Special elections, held in 1996, resulted in an additional seat for the UWP, raising its share to 12 of 21 seats. Douglas became the opposition leader. In early 1996 Alleyne resigned as head of the DFP and was replaced by former diplomat Charles Savarin.
Dominica's offshore business sector includes some 4,600 international companies, 5 offshore banks, and 5 Internet gambling companies. Offshore banking interests, in particular, have raised concerns about penetration by international organized crime, particularly Russian organizations. In March 1999, the U.S. State Department noted the rapid expansion of offshore businesses and expressed concern that "between 200 and 300 Russians have reportedly purchased citizenship." James's decision to call snap elections for January 2000 caught some observers off guard, and during the campaign the prime minister touted the island's 3.5 percent economic growth in 1999 as well as his government's record of building homes, schools, and water pipelines. James denied the DLP's charge that some of the estimated 1,000 foreigners who received passports were criminals.
The centrist opposition DLP swept to victory for the first time in 20 years in January 30, 2000, elections, winning 10 of 21 parliamentary seats and forging a coalition with the right-wing DFP. DLP leader and former left-wing activist Douglas came to power after charging that the incumbent UWP, headed by James, had sold hundreds of passports to wealthy foreigners who, according to the United States, included Russian gangsters and Chinese immigrant smugglers. After the January 2000 election, Douglas announced that Dominica's program of raising money by selling passports and "economic citizenship" would end. Douglas, who maintained close links to Cuba, also promised a business development that minimized environmental damage, and the former Marxist quickly moved to assure the business sector that his years as a radical were behind him. He died of a heart attack on October 1, 2000, and was replaced by Pierre Charles, who was his communications and works minister. Ian Douglas, the late prime minister's nephew, retained the parliamentary seat for the DLP in a December 11, 2000 by-election.
During 2001, Dominica's important banana-growing sector was told by senior government officials that it must quickly achieve commercial profitability if it is to survive the pending end of preferential access to the Economic Union. In June, the FATF announced that is was retaining Dominica on its blacklist, after the government failed to pass legislation on exchanging financial information with other countries and international agencies. After it was blacklisted in 2000, Dominica tightened up regulation of the offshore financial sector and created a financial intelligence unit as well as a money-laundering-tracking authority. However, lacking an exchange of information law, these measures were perceived as inadequate by the watchdog group. In June the government also admitted it had lost a seven-year campaign to keep the pink mealy bug, which attacks a wide range of food crops, out of the island. Charles' August trip to Libya resulted in Dominica receiving an attractive financial assistance package, including $1 million in grants and $3 million in soft loans.
Citizens are able to change their government through free and fair elections, as was the case with the January 2000 vote in which 60,000 people were registered to participate. There are no restrictions on political, civic, or labor organizations. Several civic groups emerged during the James administration to call for more accountability and transparency in government.
The press is free, varied, and critical. Television and radio, both public and private, are open to a variety of views. Since 1990, television has been used as an effective campaign tool by all parties. The government respects academic freedom and labor rights.
Freedom of religion is recognized. However, the small Rastafarian community has charged in the past that its religious rights are violated by a policy of cutting off the dreadlocks of those who are imprisoned, and that Rastafarian women are harassed by immigration officials who single them out for drug searches.
There is an independent judiciary, and the rule of law is enhanced by the court's subordination to the inter-island Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court. However, the judicial system is understaffed, which has led to a large backlog of cases. The only prison on Dominica is plagued by overcrowding and sanitation problems.
The Dominica Defense Force was disbanded in 1981 after being implicated in attempts by supporters of former Prime Minister Patrick John to overthrow the government. John was convicted in 1986 for his role and given a 12-year prison sentence. He was released by executive order in 1990, became active in the trade union movement, and lost as a Dominica Labour Party candidate in the 1995 election. The Dominica police are the only security force. Occasional instances of excessive use of force by police are one of the few human rights complaints heard. In 1997 the commissioner and deputy commissioner of the police were forced to retire as a result of recommendations by a commission of inquiry that investigated allegations of mismanagement, corruption, and police brutality. Under new leadership, the police created the Internal Affairs Department to investigate public complaints against the police and to provide officers with counseling.
Workers have the right to organize, strike, and bargain collectively. Though unions are independent of the government and laws prohibit anti-union discrimination by employers, fewer than ten percent of the workforce are union members.
There are 3,400 indigenous Carib Indians, many of whom live on the northeast coast on a 3,783-acre reservation created in 1903 and expanded in 1997. The reservation is governed by the 1978 Carib constitution.
Inheritance laws do not fully recognize women's rights. When a husband dies without a will, the wife cannot inherit his property, though she may continue to inhabit their home. There are no laws mandating equal pay for equal work for men and women in private sector jobs. Government welfare officials have expressed concern over the growing number of cases of child abuse. Sexual harassment and domestic violence are common; however, there is no family court that specifically deals with domestic violence issues.