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Following the sudden death of Prime Minister Pierre Charles in January 2004, parliament appointed Roosevelt Skerrit to succeed him.
Dominica has been internally self-governing since 1967 and an independent republic within the Commonwealth since 1978. The centrist opposition Dominica Labour Party (DLP) swept to victory for the first time in 20 years in the January 30, 2000 parliamentary elections, winning 10 of 21 seats and forming a coalition with the right-wing Dominica Freedom Party (DFP). DLP leader Roosevelt "Rosie" Douglas was named prime minister, but died of a heart attack in October 2000. Douglas was replaced by Pierre Charles, who was Douglas' communications and works minister.
On January 6, 2004, Prime Minister Charles, 49, collapsed and died of heart failure. He was succeeded by Roosevelt Skerrit, also of the DLP, who had been serving as education and youth affairs minister.
Skerrit's government, which has only a slender majority in parliament, inherits tremendous financial troubles, compounded by a loss of his party's popular support as a result of the implementation of austerity measures; the recent global economic downturn hurt the agriculturally based economy especially hard and contributed to the imposition of an unpopular program of stabilization and adjustment. Despite facing these difficulties, in April 2004, the DLP won a by-election by a landslide, ratifying Skerrit's popularity. In addition, on April 10, China promised $122 million in return for the revocation of the recognition of Taiwan, bringing in more than a third of the government's normal revenue for five years.
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 residents of Dominica to the United States and the francophone Caribbean.
The 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 of Dominica are able to change their government through free and fair elections. Dominica is 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. There are three major political parties and one minor one.
The press is free, and there is no censorship or government interference. There are four private newspapers and an equal number of political party journals. Although the main radio station is state-owned, there is also an independent station. Citizens have unimpeded access to cable television and regional radio broadcasts, as well as to the Internet.
Freedom of religion is recognized. While a majority of the population is Roman Catholic, some Protestant churches have been established. In the past, members of the small Rastafarian community charged that their religious rights were violated by a policy of cutting off the dreadlocks of prisoners, and that Rastafarian women are singled out for drug searches. Academic freedom is respected.
Advocacy groups are free to operate and include the Association of Disabled People, the Dominican National Council of Women, and a women and children's self-help organization. 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.
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 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. There were continuing allegations of corruption relating to document falsification. Narcotics traffickers use the country as a transshipment point.
Of the 3,000 indigenous Carib Indians, many 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.
There are no laws mandating equal pay for equal work for men and women in private sector jobs. Inheritance laws do not fully recognize women's rights. When a husband dies without a will, the wife cannot inherit their property, though she may continue to inhabit their home.