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How Rosie became Dominica's Leader


Prime Minister Roosevelt Douglas of Dominica died unexpectedly at his home Sunday morning, and a doctor said a heart attack was the apparent cause. He was 58. Douglas, a former Marxist, was elected in January promising to clean up corruption and diversify the sluggish economy of the Caribbean country of 66,000 people.

The elections held in Dominica on January 31st and in St. Kitts and Nevis on March 6th reflected the struggle of small island nations in the face of a globalized economy and international crime.

The new Dominica Labour Party (DLP) government has promised to end a controversial passports-for-purchase program, but must deal with the collapse of the critical banana industry and questions about Prime Minister Rosie Douglas' anti-Western links.

Prime Minister Edison James called elections in January 2000 amid mounting questions about his government's handling of the country's Economic Citizenship Program.

For much of the 1990s Dominica, like a number of small Caribbean nations, has provided foreigners with passports in exchange for investments totaling millions of dollars. At the end of 1999, there were an estimated 1,000 such citizens, largely from Russia, China, Europe, and the United States, with most residing outside Dominica.

U.S. and British law enforcement agencies say that this nation of only 80,000 has made itself vulnerable to penetration by Russian and Chinese organized crime and international money launderers. In November 1999, Canada detained several Chinese carrying passports from Dominica on suspicion they were involved in an immigrant smuggling ring, then threatened to implement visa requirements for citizens of countries with citizenship for sale.

The DLP made the program a central campaign issue, claiming that James's United Workers Party (UWP) administration had undermined Dominica's sovereignty and was turning the country into "a center for international crime." The DLP also hammered the UWP on alleged corruption and nepotism in the tourist industry, particularly in relation to a proposed $100 million airport capable of servicing full-size passenger jets.

The UWP countered that there was no evidence that any of the economic citizens were criminals and promoted its record of building new homes, schools and roads, and economic growth of about 3.5 percent in 1999. James also questioned the source of the DLP's funding, underscoring a perennial concern in the Caribbean where campaign financing regulation remains virtually nonexistent and unsavory foreign influence common.

Meanwhile, DLP leader Rosie Douglas, a Canadian-trained political scientist, former Marxist, and Caribbean Black Power leader, continued to project the center-left image he adopted during the 1990s. He touted his relations with moderate European social democrats-Tony Blair's British Labour Party helped prepare the DLP's manifesto that advocated "an economy of enterprise"-and promised the business community in Dominica easier access to financing.

The UWP entered the contest holding 12 of 21 seats in parliament, to the DLP's five. The remaining four belonged to the conservative Democratic Freedom Party (DFP), which held power from 1980 to 1995 under Eugenia Charles and is now led by former diplomat Charles Savarin.

Crime and corruption concerns evidently swayed a significant portion of the electorate as the UWP retained only nine of its seats, while the DLP doubled its count to ten, one short of a majority. The DFP won the remaining two. Turnout fell to about 60 percent, from 65 percent in 1995, part of a continuing trend of increasing voter apathy in the English-speaking Caribbean.

Prior to the elections, the DLP had cozied up to the DFP, its once bitter enemy, and only days after the vote the two parties had agreed on a coalition government headed by Douglas, with Savarin given the tourism portfolio in the new cabinet.

Although the 58-year-old Douglas seems to have mellowed, he remains proud of his radical past and has maintained his friendships with Cuba, Libya, and Iraq- links which once led to a 15-year ban from the United States. In a profile of the new prime minister by Mark Fineman of the Los Angeles Times, Douglas even readily acknowledged the closest he has come to a regular job: the decade and a half he headed Mataba, a Libyan-based organization that financed and trained guerrilla movements in Africa until it was disbanded five years ago.

Douglas pledged to seek new investments from Libya and other old allies, but said he would also seek closer economic relations with Europe, Canada, and the United States. He insisted that his government would not be anti-West, noting that the United States. provides most of Dominica's 200,000 annual tourist visitors.

Some analysts in Dominica believe Douglas's radical bent will be tempered by a generally conservative society that is almost 80 percent Roman Catholic. Others note that Dominica's economic problems will serve to rein him in. Douglas himself said after the elections that he was not in a position to "pick fights" with the United States or anyone else, saying that "our economy is so vulnerable."

After taking office, Douglas repeated his vow to end the economic citizenship program. But the loss of income will hurt given the collapse of Dominica's critical banana industry following the WTO ruling against European preferences for Caribbean growers. Meanwhile, with a gross domestic product of just $234 million, the economy continues to stagger under a nearly $200 million debt and unemployment of at least 20 percent.

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