The 1961 election victory of the DLP under the leadership of
Leblanc ushered in a period in Dominica's history when workers and
farmers united in one political movement. This alliance of town and
country challenged the descendants of landowners and businessmen
residing in the capital and began the vigorous involvement in
politics of large numbers of poor, uneducated persons.
At the community level, those who had exercised authority
through control of land, shops, credit, and transportation and were
associated with the defeated Dominica United People's Party were
challenged by small farmers and laborers. At the national level, it
was made abundantly clear that the "little people" had acquired
political power guaranteed by universal adult suffrage and the
presence of a political institution (the DLP) through which to act.
Wealth, which was traditionally viewed as coming from banks,
business houses, and estates, was now seen as emanating from the
labor of thousands of small banana farmers, the main engine of
growth in the 1960s.
In 1968 the Leblanc government responded to incipient signs of
social unrest by attempting to pass a bill in the House of Assembly
curb press freedoms. With this act, the moral imperative of the new
social order was badly shaken. Promulgation of this unpopular bill
was followed soon after by signs that the economic policies of the
government were floundering. The combined pressures of high
unemployment among the island's youth and increasingly aggressive
activity by trade unions and opposition political parties led to
the resignation of Leblanc as premier and DLP leader and his
replacement by Patrick John.
Fresh from his first election victory in 1975, John resorted to
a high-handed use of the security forces, and he also proposed
punitive legislation aimed again at curbing press freedoms.
Following a successful strike by the public service union in 1977
for increased wages, John attempted to solve the increasing
economic problems by signing investment deals with persons later
discovered to have very questionable business records. One such
deal with an American businessman involved the creation of a freetrade zone comprising about one-quarter of the island's most
productive agricultural land. The deal was scuttled after street
demonstrations throughout the island in 1978.
In that same year, the backbone of the economy, the banana
industry, was hit by a severe disease that wiped out 30 percent of
the cultivated acreage. An inquiry laid the blame on poor
management, industry officials known to have very strong ties with
the government, and the DLP. This led to vigorous demonstrations
against the government, inspired this time by the farmers who
traditionally had comprised the bulk of the party's supporters.
This threat to the power base of the party apparently pushed the
John administration to take drastic measures. Bills designed to
muzzle trade unions and the press were introduced in the House
early in 1979.
Following weeks of public meetings all over the island by
forces, some 10,000 demonstrators, including rural and urban
dwellers, gathered outside the House on May 29, 1979, the day on
which the bills were due to be debated and passed. What began as a
peaceful demonstration was soon thrown into tragic confusion by the
arrival of Defence Force personnel, who in the ensuing shooting
killed one youth and injured several other persons. This set the
stage for Dominica's first recorded removal of an elected
government from office by other than electoral means.
The country was shut down by an alliance of farmers, workers,
private businesses, opposition political parties, and churches,
grouped under the banner of the Committee for National Salvation.
This situation prevailed for twenty-eight days until the
resignation of members of government one by one eroded the
constitutional majority required for the prime minister to stay in
office. On June 21, a new president and prime minister were sworn
into office, and an interim government was constituted from among
the representatives of the organizations that had led the uprising.
The interim government, although constitutional, was seen by
opposition party, the Dominican Freedom Party (DFP), as
transitional. Within weeks of the inauguration of the government,
the DFP was calling for general elections. Many contenders emerged
in the long and bitter electoral campaign that ensued. They
included two factions of the DLP, the DFP, the Dominican Liberation
Movement Alliance (a leftwing
party led by young activists and academics), and several
candidates. In July 1980, the DFP, polling 52 percent of the votes,
won 17 of the 21 parliamentary seats. DFP leader Mary Eugenia
Charles became the Caribbean's first woman prime minister. The
party soon began to make in-roads into the traditional rural and
working-class base of the DLP. This was accomplished in part by the
active mobilization of youth into the party in the late 1970s and
the formation of the Young Freedom Movement, which by the late
1980s was an aggressive, well-organized, and evidently well-funded
organ of the party.
The DFP also benefitted from its control over all electronic
media and favorable support from the only newspaper published in
the country, the weekly New Chronicle. Control over the
radio station was particularly crucial because the station reached
practically the entire population. Although it had criticized the
John government for exercising control over a publicly-owned medium
such as the radio, the DFP exercised much the same type of control.
The party, for example, strictly controlled the news and granted
the political opposition only limited access to the radio.
The July 1985 parliamentary election was the first to take
place in Dominica since the United States military intervention in
Grenada (see Current Strategic Considerations, ch. 7). OECS
chairwoman, Charles, who had emerged as one of the most visible
defenders of the intervention, portrayed the election as a choice
between democracy and communism (see Foreign Relations, this
section). The prime minister charged that the DLP had become
communist and accused opposition leaders of receiving funds from
Cuba, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea), and
Libya. In an effort to create a new image, the DLP combined with
the United Dominica Labour Party to form the Labour Party of
Dominica (LPD). Nonetheless, the DFP captured 59 percent of the
vote and fifteen of the twenty-one elected House seats.
Despite a slightly reduced majority, DFP support remained
strong. Two years after the election, the LPD still suffered from
the effects of bitter leadership squabbles and a loss of
credibility following charges of mismanagement of public funds
brought against its leaders, particularly John, who was serving a
jail sentence. John was convicted of having been part of a plot to
attempt an armed overthrow of the Charles administration in 1981.
The plot involved elements of the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazi groups,
American and Canadian mercenaries, and underworld elements from the
United States. In December of that same year, a second coup was
attempted, this time aimed at releasing John, who was then still in
prison for his alleged part in the first coup attempt. After being
granted a new trial, John was again convicted in October 1985 and
sentenced to twelve years in prison.
Data as of November 1987