Describing The Commonwealth of Dominica

It is important first to clarify what may be a point of confusion. The island country of Dominica, or the Commonwealth of Dominica, is nothing to do with the Dominican Republic. The latter is the subject of another book published earlier in this series. The pronunciation of the name “Dominica” with respect to the Commonwealth of Dominica is “Domineeca” whereas with respect to the Dominican Republic the first and the second “i” is pronounced as the “i” in the word “this”. The Greater Antilles is a group of islands comprised of Cuba, the Cayman Islands, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and the island of Hispaniola which consists of the countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The Lesser Antilles, also known as the Caribbees, is comprised of the Leeward Island in the north, the Windward Islands to the south and the Leeward Antilles just off the northern coast of South America. The islands of the Lesser Antilles are volcanic in origin, form the eastern edge of the Caribbean plate and separate the Caribbean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean. The country of Trinidad and Tobago is formed by the six southernmost islands (although two are joined by a man-made causeway) of the Windward Islands and is about a third of the area of the Lesser Antilles and contains about the same proportion of the population of this whole group of islands.

The island and nation of Dominica is towards the north of the Windward Islands. As is the case with most of the islands of the Lesser Antilles Dominica has an Atlantic and a Caribbean coastline. A map of the area is shown on the Rosalie Bay web site although it does not quite extend south far enough to show Trinidad and Tobago. Dominica lies just north of latitude 15º north and a little to the west of longitude 61º west. It is 48 kms (30 miles) long and 24 kms (15 miles) wide and its area is 750 Square kilometres (290 square miles). The highest point is Morne Diablotins at almost 1500 metres (nearly 5,000 feet).

Christopher Columbus named Dominica after the day, Sunday (dominica in Latin), on which he first saw the island in 1493. Owing to its rugged geography and the ferocity of the native Carib Indians Dominica was not settled until 1635. The island became a fully independent nation in 1978. Pre-independence and subsequent continuing economic underdevelopment caused a period of unstable government. The situation was exacerbated by hurricanes in 1979 and 1980 and an attempted take-over by mercenaries. There was a period of recovery until the end of the 1980s but a decrease in banana production and a decline in tourism in the 1990s caused a decline in economic progress. Agriculture and tourism remain the major commercial enterprises. More detailed maps of the island and the region can be found at the "World Atlas" web site and at this site.

Dominica is a representative democracy with a two party political system. A unicameral assembly has 31 members of whom 21 are regional representatives elected under universal suffrage of qualified voters over the age of 18 years for five year terms and nine are appointed as senators for three year terms by the President. The latter is elected by the House of Assembly. The President appoints five senators on the advice of the Prime Minister and four on the advice of the leader of the opposition. A Speaker is also elected by the elected members of the Assembly after a general election. If the senators are not appointed they are elected by the regional representatives of the Assembly. Voting in general elections is not compulsory. The voter turn-out has been dropping from between 70% − 80% until the mid-eighties to less than 55% in 2009. Full details of the electoral system can be seen at the government’s Electoral Office site.

So far as the separation of powers is concerned there are three branches of government. The executive branch consists of the President, the Prime Minister and the cabinet. The legislative branch is the House of Assembly. The judicial system is the third arm of government. (There is also an elected local government system for the governance of towns and rural regions.) The legal system is based upon English Common Law. There are no military forces in the country.

The constitution guarantees freedom of speech and religio and there is no censorship of the press, radio or television. The national language is English although Antillean Creole, also known as “French Patois” is also spoken. Most Dominicans are of African slave descent. The few remaining Carib Indians, about 3,000, live on the east coast. The total population is about 72,000.

Dominica’s main trading partners are U.K., U.S.A., other E.U. countries and other CARICOM (Caribbean Community and Common Market) countries. Output is predominantly agricultural. The major crops are bananas, citrus fruits, coconuts and cocoa. There is also some timber production. So far as livestock is concerned cattle and pigs are raised. Mineral production is limited to pumice. Industrially soap is manufactured and there are ventures in essential oils, cigars and food processing. The major exports are bananas, cocoa, copra, citrus fruits, essential oils, spices and soap. Fishing mostly serves local needs although there are aquaculture ventures backed by Japan and Taiwan.

There is a tourist industry but the increasing sector of this activity is in the calling of cruise ships. Onshore long-stay tourism is not developing as quickly although there are good tourist attractions. The latter ventures are hampered by the lack of international flights to Dominica. Most visitors must “island hop” from Puerto Rica, Antigua, Barbados, St Lucia. Martinique, Guadeloupe or other Caribbean centres.

No railways exist in Dominica and the road network consists of just over 750 kms (470 miles). Some 2500 cars operate in the country and about 1500 trucks and ‘buses. There is a small merchant marine of less than a dozen vessels with a deadweight tonnage under 5000. As may be expected there are no major river systems but many swift flowing mountain streams producing hydroelectric power. There are ferry services from some Caribbean islands as shown on the L’Express Des Iles web site. Although written in French details of the destinations can be easily see by hovering the mouse over the “Destinations” tab on the top tool bar. Fare details are available at a different page of the same site.

Dominica has a marine tropical climate with very little seasonal variation. Rain may be expected in any month although January to May is called the “dry season”. It is the “dry season” that is said to be the best for visits to Dominica. The island does experience hurricanes from the tropical Atlantic Ocean in the “wet season”. The windward side of the island which experiences the trade winds directly is significantly wetter and cooler than the leeward side. Meteorological data is collected from both sides of the island at the Cane Field and Melville airports on the west and east sides respectively. Whilst there are no temperature extremes the rainfall can cause sudden and major landslides which affect travel and communications.

Roseau is the capital city of Dominica and by far the largest settlement on the island. It has a population of about 17,000, four times that of the second city of Portsmouth. Some ten cities have populations in excess of 1200. It is on the leeward side of the Island. Roseau’s scenic attractions include the Morne Trois Pitons National Park in which there are waterfalls, scenic plateaus and thermal springs. The area is of volcanic origin. The Boiling Lake is the best known physical feature about 10 kms east of the city. There are no major hotel chains in Dominica.

So far as service industries are concerned the major one is offshore banking services. There are tax and information exchange treaties with at least two countries, Ireland and Norway. There is a high level of confidentiality and it is not difficult to open an account. The country is considered to be a tax haven but the government does not propose to “flood” the country with banks conducting just offshore or dubious business.

As has been stated tourism, other than cruise ship activity, is not a major part of the economy. This does not mean that Dominica is bereft of natural physical attractions, man-made points of interest or a varied indigenous culture. The long term intention is to develop the island as a model ecotourism destination by marketing via specialist travel operators. There are well known attractions such as the Indian River in Portsmouth which has attracted film makers for location shooting for films including “Pirates of the Caribbean”. Scotts Head looks out where the Caribbean Sea merges with the Atlantic Ocean and over the Soufriere Marine Reserve. The Morne Trois Pitons National Park in which the world’s second largest boiling lake is situated is a World Heritage Site. Steep drop-offs, reefs and a good marine environment make for many fine diving spots.

The cost of living is indicated in East Caribbean Dollars at the Numbeo web site. The local currency exchange rate is EC$2.68 to the U.S. Dollar. Most local businesses are happy to deal in the U.S. Dollar. As usual the point must be made that it will be expensive to attempt to re-create a U.S. lifestyle in Dominica.

Dominica does not have any large game animals but it is rich in birds, reptiles, insects and marine life. The “Dominica Living” site shows photographs of most, including the national bird, the Sisserou Parrot, which appears on the national flag. There are also pictures of the island’s most dangerous creature, the boa constrictor, although generally there is nothing to fear on the island. Obviously in the seas surrounding Dominica there is a profusion of fish both large and small and whales, turtles, dolphin and molluscs. Iguanas are also common among the land animals along with many species of frogs (including the Mountain Chicken, one of the world’s largest frogs) and other amphibians. It is the wildlife that gives meaning to the description of Dominica as the “Nature Island” as does the flora of this tropical nation which includes areas of rain forest.

Cricket, netball, basketball and volleyball are the major sports in Dominica. Surfing and horse riding are also popular activities. Soccer and boxing are other sports that are supported in Dominica. Baseball is the predominant sport and Dominica has more Major League baseball players than any nation other than the United States of America even though there are just six teams and the season runs for only four months. Even so, cricket is considered the national sport. Water sports, swimming, surfing, kayaking, water skiing and fishing are important as would be expected in an island nation. Dominica has taken part in the Olympic Games five times. Two athletes were sent to the London Olympic Games in 2012 after an absence of eight years. The country has achieved no major distinctions in international sports and has never won an Olympic medal.

On this site the links at the "Resources" tab will be useful as will the book "How to Retire in the Commonwealth of Dominica" by Les Johns which can be bought directly from this site.

Other Considerations

If your lifestyle demands freeways, the sound of jet aircraft rumbling to and from the local airport, the smell of diesel fumes and you are allergic to fresh air and green plants then Dominica may not suit you. For a healthy outdoor life in usually amenable weather among friendly people who always have the time to speak to you and who will welcome you as much as you could be welcomed in Nature’s Island, the Commonwealth of Dominica could be attractive. It is important to go nowhere with preconceived or second-hand ideas. Dominica is looking to develop and to draw closer to First World conditions and economics. Conditions will undoubtedly change. With the usual precautionary care and with diligence in not burning bridges nor putting all eggs in one basket then Dominica could be your retirement haven. The easy visiting rules that apply to tourists make the application of the “Golden Rule" - visit before settling - very easy to apply.

The links at the Resources tab on this site and information in the book "How to Retire in the Commonwealth of Dominica" by Les Johns will save intending retirees much research time in their initial investigations.