Dominica's problems are not as small as its population nor as little as its size, for this eastern Caribbean island is now facing more challenges than its fragile economy can take. The result of last Monday's elections was indeed proof that the population of the island has lost faith in their government. Now they look forward to an era where corruption can be a story of the past. Is that possible in a place where the political gains are becoming the motives of politicians rather than the well being of the people?
The population of Dominica -- not to be confused with the Spanish speaking Dominican Republic -- is only 80,000, 60,000 whom are registered voters. Over 100,000 of Dominica's residents have left the island for North America and Europe.
Like other Caribbean islands, Dominica's economy relies on fruit exports, tourism and donations from outside sources. Even with that, Dominica has struggled to maintain a reasonable level of income for its citizens (mainly blacks and immigrant Caribbean Americans). The hardship has recently increased after the loss of some of these economic variables, which have helped Dominicans in their never-ending quest for dignified living.
Dominica was and continues to be aware of its losses caused by the collapse of the banana industry as a result of the US challenge to preferential trade rules. International aid itself slowly dried up, leaving the country with fewer economic variables to fight with. Attempting to recover from its losses and subsidize their financial value with alternatives, the Dominican government, lead by the head of the Workers party, Prime Minister Edison James, followed a program commonly sponsored by other Caribbean countries. By the early 1990's, Dominica started to sell passports under programs linked to offshore banking centers.
Selling passports to foreigners was the heated topic of Monday's election. The Workers party claimed that no violations of the county's law have taken place with the full knowledge of the government. The opposition argued that thousands of international criminals are now taking advantage of the program, ruining therefore the good reputation of the country and its "real citizens." Prime Minister Edison James, in one of his many speeches, urged the voters to focus on the real issue, and put opposition rhetoric behind. But, they didn't. The Labor Party won the race, ousting the government and vowing to end corruption for good and to win back the once virtuous image of the country. Incoming leader Rosie Douglas has promised to find genuine options to help the country, aside of what he described as the former government's corruption and money laundering.
Such vision was not only inspired by the truth that the Workers Party had more resources and funds than its opposites, but for the uncontested fact that the country scored 3.5 percent growth last year. Moreover, a reasonable government achievement was sited where Workers managed to build new roads, schools and hospitals. While such a fact usually plays a major factor in the people's perception of whom to elect, Dominicans were little moved by it. A greater issue was indeed at risk.
When opposition leaders declared that the government was selling passports to gangs and gang leaders (especially Russian and Chinese), the Prime Minster simply dismissed the allegations as lies reflecting the desperate attempt of the opposition to generate a few more votes. But in November of last year Canada detained several Chinese carrying Dominican passports. The detained group was accused by the Canadian authorities of taking part in a large immigration smuggling ring. The news was very disturbing to the people of the small island. It was not only the country's and the people's reputation at risk, but also the 60 percent of the country's residents who live outside Dominica. Fear intensified when news was spread that Canada would consider the introduction of visa requirements for Dominica passport holders. What if other countries follow in Canada's footsteps? Some feared and wondered.
In a very small margin, the Labor Party won the race early Tuesday. A coalition with the conservative Dominica Freedom Party is now essential for the Labor Party to form a government. The Workers party leadership vowed to form a strong opposition as a first step of returning to power. The passport market days will soon be over. Then the question remains; how can Dominica sustain its population? Will foreign countries, relieved for the diminishing of the passport business, reward Dominica's leadership by pouring aid back into the economy, a step to be welcomed by the government now under construction? The puzzling notion is, if the aid is back, wouldn't that defeat the purpose of why the former government was ousted to start with? If the question is dignity, little difference is observed between passport discount services and international handouts. Such a dilemma must be thought out thoroughly, not only by the small island of Dominica, but also for most third world countries. The quest for economic prosperity must be accompanied by a dignified approach that teaches self-reliance, not dependence on political donations, which are hardly used properly.