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The coalition of the Dominica Labour Party (DLP) and the Dominica Freedom Party (DFP) came to power in the January 30, 2000, elections. The government of Prime Minister Pierre Charles, of the DLP, had a dismal year. The global economic downturn hurt the agriculturally based economy especially hard and contributed to the imposition of an unpopular program of stabilization and adjustment. The austerity measures have led to cabinet resignations and a reshuffling, civil service strikes, and popular protests. Corruption allegations in the police force and the resumption of passport sales have eclipsed the announcement that the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development and the Financial Action Task Force have removed the island from their lists of uncooperative tax and money laundering havens.
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 the 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 house elects the president for a five-year term.
Dominica's economy is primarily agricultural, though there have been efforts to build the infrastructure required to promote tourism and high-technology investment. Because of the island's volcanic geology, rugged terrain, and few beaches, most tourist activity is limited to cruise ship visits. Destruction caused by hurricanes, at times devastating, has further strained the banana industry, which has also been affected by changing market forces, especially increasing competition.
Unemployment continues to hover around 20 percent. A major escape valve is the continuing emigration of Dominicans to the United States and the Francophone Caribbean. Dominica's offshore business sector includes several thousand international companies, banks, and Internet gambling companies. Offshore banking interests continue to raise concerns about penetration by international organized crime, particularly Russian organizations. Despite the announcement in January 2000 that the practice will end, Dominica continues to raise money by selling passports and "economic citizenship."
Citizens are able to change their government through free and fair elections. In the January 2000 vote, 60,000 people registered to participate. There are no restrictions on political, civic, or labor organizations. There are three major and one minor political parties. Advocacy groups are free to operate and include the Association of Disabled People, the Dominican National Council of Women, and a women's and children's self-help organization.
The press is free and there is no censorship or government interference. There are several private newspapers and political party journals. Though the main radio station is state owned, there is also an independent radio. There is unimpeded access to cable television and regional radio broadcasts, as well as to the Internet. Academic freedom is respected.
Freedom of religion is recognized. While a majority of the population is Roman Catholic, some Protestant churches have been established. In the past, the small Rastafarian community has charged that its religious rights are violated by a policy of cutting off the dreadlocks of prisoners and that Rastafarian women are singled 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 overcrowded and has sanitation problems. In addition, minors are housed with adults. Prison visits by independent human rights monitors are permitted.
The Commonwealth of Dominica Police Force (CDPF) became responsible for security after the Dominica Defense Force (DDF) was disbanded in 1981. The DDF had been implicated in an attempted coup staged by supporters of former Prime Minister Patrick John, who 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 DLP candidate in the 1995 election. Occasional instances of excessive use of force by police are among 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 late that year to investigate public complaints against the police and to provide officers with counseling. In 2002 there were allegations of corruption relating to document falsification. Narcotics traffickers use the country as a transshipment point.
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, less than 10 percent of the workforce is unionized.
Inheritance laws do not fully recognize women's rights. When a husband dies without a will, the wife cannot inherit the 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.
There are 3,000 indigenous Carib Indians, many of whom live on a 3,783-acre reservation on the northeast coast created in 1903 and expanded in 1997. The reservation is governed by the 1978 Carib constitution.