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Caribbean Islands

National Security

When crown colony rule ended in the mid-1950s, the police were the sole security and peace-keeping force in the country. Training was conducted in Barbados and Britain, and until the mid-1960s the chief of police was British. During the early years of the Leblanc government, the police functioned primarily as apolitical protectors of the peace. Nonetheless, with the intensification of social unrest in the early 1970s, the government perceived a serious threat to the security of the state. As a result, the Volunteer Defence Force was established in 1974. This group worked closely with the police and a unit of special constables to comb areas of the island suspected to be hideouts for the "dreads," the term used to describe many of the unemployed youth who had fled to the hills; several violent and fatal clashes ensued between the security forces and the youths. In November 1975, a full-time Defence Force was established by an Act of Parliament. Its role was "to maintain the integrity of the boundaries of Dominica, to assist the police force in the maintenance of law and order during civil disturbance, and to assist with relief at times of natural disaster as well as to assist with the development of Dominica by productive means." As prime minister and minister in charge of security, John assumed direct control over the activities of the Defence Force.

As the months went by, it became clear that John had personalized his relationship with, and control over, the Defence Force (he named himself colonel). He also chose to ignore the deteriorating economic situation of the country, instead surrounding himself with cronies from Roseau and resorting to a strategy of confrontation rather than consultation.

After independence on November 3, 1978, the growing arrogance of the prime minister was surpassed only by the sense of elitism that was increasingly associated with the style and actions of the members of the Defence Force. By that time, the main center of training had shifted away from Britain to Guyana, and a growing rift appeared between the Force and the police, who continued to be trained in Barbados and Britain. For the first time, Dominica was faced with the prospect of a highly politicized military force. It was well armed and trained, and although it was paid for by the country's taxpayers, it was accountable to persons who were fast being discredited.

Following the removal of the John government in June 1979, the domestic situation remained tense because the Defence Force, widely assumed to favor the ousted regime, had not been disbanded. Further complicating the situation, the country's infrastructure and economy had been destroyed by Hurricanes David and Frederick in 1979. Regionally, the New Jewel Movement had overthrown the government of Eric Gairy in Grenada by military coup on March 13, 1979, and the Anastasio Somoza regime had been defeated by the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Into this situation came the DFP government on July 20, 1980, soon to be followed by the swearing in of Reagan as president of the United States and Edward Seaga as prime minister of Jamaica in January 1981.

On March 17, 1981, Charles announced the discovery of a plot to overthrow her government. This disclosure led to the arrest of John along with senior officers of the Defence Force. In April the Defence Force was disbanded by an Act of Parliament. On December 19 of that same year, an attempt was made by members of the thendisbanded force to free John from prison. This attempt was foiled by the police and led to the arrest of the persons involved.

The need for internal security was forcefully established by these dramatic events. Nonetheless, having disbanded the Defence Force, Charles tried to avoid going back on her position that small countries like Dominica did not need more than a police force. Instead the government created the Special Service Unit (SSU) within the police force. The members of the unit were specially selected by the government and trained and equipped by the United States. The SSU constituted Dominica's contingent of the Regional Security System (RSS--see Appendix E). Although criticized by the Dominican Liberation Movement Alliance, these moves were welcomed by the population.

In the meantime, expansion and training of the SSU continued. Beginning in 1983, large supplies of military equipment were flown into Dominica regularly. Whereas the regular police, numbering 375 enlisted men and women, continued training in Barbados and Britain, the 80-member SSU force received all its training from the United States, and members were authorized to wear special combat uniforms and gear supplied by the United States.

For the second time in five years, the potential emerged for a rift between the two branches of the security forces, with unknown consequences for national stability. In order to remove this possibility, SSU members were occasionally required to wear police uniforms and to report for duty along with the regular police. Special search-and-seize missions for drugs were, however, entrusted to the SSU, and in the period between April 1981 and April 1982, thirteen civilian deaths related to this type of activity were reported by Amnesty International.

Several security-related laws were also passed in Parliament: the Prevention of Terrorism Act on February 19, 1981; the State Security Act on February 28, 1984; and a Treason Act on March 19, 1984. These pieces of legislation provided security forces with broad powers and were ostensibly aimed at preserving national security. Defense and security expenditures also doubled during the 1980 to 1984 period as compared with the previous four years.

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Lennox Honychurch's The Dominica Story offers an excellent historical overview of the island. Thomas Atwood's History of the Island of Dominica provides an account of the earliest recorded conditions in the colony, including graphic descriptions of the Caribs, Arawaks, flora and fauna, and early colonial government. Detailed and fascinating descriptions of the Caribs can be found in Douglas Taylor's The Island Caribs of Dominica and The Caribs of Dominica, Anthropology and Population. A comprehensive treatment of the period from 1800 to 1950, with particular regard to the emergence of social structures, is presented in W.E. Riviere's Active Resistance to Slavery in the Caribbean. Extensive economic information can be found in the World Bank's Dominica: Priorities and Prospects for Development. Data on current political and social conditions in Dominica are available in several publications of the Institute of Social and Economic Research of the UWI and the CDB. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of November 1987

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