Dominica was the last of the Caribbean islands to be colonized by Europeans
due chiefly to the fierce resistance of the native Caribs. The Caribs, who
settled here in the 14th century, called the island Waitikubuli, which means
‘Tall is her Body.’ Christopher Columbus, with less poetic flair, named the
island after the day of the week on which he spotted it – a Sunday (‘Doménica’
in Italian) – on November 3, 1493.
Daunted by fierce resistance from
the Caribs and discouraged by the absence of gold, the Spanish took little
interest in Dominica. France
laid claim to the island in 1635 and wrestled with the British over it through
the 18th century.
In 1805 the French burned much of
to the ground and since then the island remained firmly in the possession of the
British, who established sugar plantations on Dominica’s more accessible
In 1967 Dominica gained autonomy
in internal affairs as a West Indies Associated State, and on November 3, 1978
(the 485th anniversary of Columbus’
‘discovery’), Dominica became an independent republic within the
The initial year of independence
was a turbulent one. In June 1979 the island’s first prime minister, Patrick
John, was forced to resign after a series of corrupt schemes surfaced, including
one clandestine land deal to transfer 15% of the island to US developers. In
August 1979 Hurricane David, packing winds of 150mph, struck the island with
devastating force. Forty-two people were killed and 75% of the islanders’ homes
were destroyed or severely damaged. To get a feeling of the hurricane’s force,
see the school bus at the Botanical Gardens in Roseau.
In July 1980 Dame Eugenia Charles
was elected prime minister, the first woman in the Caribbean to hold the office.
Within a year of her inauguration she survived two unsuccessful coups and in
October 1983, as chairperson of the Organization of East Caribbean States,
endorsed the US invasion of Grenada.
Dominica’s more recent political history has also been turbulent. After the
sudden death of popular prime minister Roosevelt Douglas (‘Rosie’) in 2000,
after only eight months in office, his successor – the radical Pierre Charles –
also died on the job, four years later. In 2004 the then 31-year-old Roosevelt
Skerrit stepped into the breach. A popular choice with young people, Skerrit
comes from a Rastafarian farming family in the north of the island and is still
leading the country today.
The Dominican and Chinese
governments formalized relations in 2004 and the sparkling new Windsor Park
sports (mostly cricket) stadium in Roseau
is a gift from the Chinese that cost an estimated US$17 million. Skerrit broke
off long-standing relations with Taiwan
that same year, and said on the record that China
will give Dominica US$122 million in aid.
In August 2007 Hurricane Dean beat up Dominica and the nearby islands –
damage wasn’t too heavy compared to Hurricane David, but there were at least two
In January 2008 Dominica joined
the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, or ALBA – a regional trade group
that includes Venezuela,
designed to counterbalance American trade power. Plans for a Venezuelan oil
refinery on Dominica are up on the air at the time of writing; after the
refinery was announced, the tourism industry protested the plan, saying that it
would ruin the island’s image