322. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Vaky) to Acting Secretary of State Christopher 1

SUBJECT

  • The Situation in Dominica

On May 29 widespread rioting broke out on the island of Dominica in the Eastern Caribbean, culminating long-standing differences between the government of Premier Patrick John and the major labor unions. Security forces fired into the air and into the crowd to restore order. At least one person was killed and some seven seriously wounded. The situation on the island is currently reported to be tense [Page 791]but quiet. There are approximately 120 U.S. citizens on Dominica, 20 of them Peace Corps volunteers. Most of the remainder are businessmen or long-term residents. Dominica is not a tourist spot and few are tourists. There does not appear to be any direct threat to Americans at the present time. Our Embassy at Bridgetown is sending a Consular Officer to Dominica by the most expeditious means.

Although the situation seems under control for the time being, both our Embassy at Bridgetown and the Agency agree that the weak and inefficient government of Patrick John may not survive this crisis. The five major labor unions and the opposition have issued strident calls for his resignation. The key is probably the 80-man defense force which has no personal loyalty to John, but is strongly loyal to its commander, Lt. Colonel Noel Johnson. We do not believe that Johnson has political ambitions of his own or any desire to be a kingmaker. However, he will probably put pressure on John to resign on grounds that he and his troops can only control the situation for a limited time so long as John remains.

The most probable scenario is a solution negotiated behind the scenes by which John would step aside and the President (Dominica opted for a republican form of government when it became independent last November) asks the leader of the opposition, Ms. Eugenia Charles, to form a government. Charles is not a strong personality, however, and her stewardship is likely to be temporary. The ultimate heirs to the John government are likely to be James Seraphin, a former Minister of Agriculture under the John government, or Michael Douglas, also formerly a member of the John government. Both men were eased out for various sins the greatest of which, in Dominican terms, was competence. Seraphin is believed to be a moderate. Douglas’s views may be more liberal but he is not known to be a leftist.2

There is a small Marxist element led by Roosevelt Douglas, brother of Michael Douglas. “Rosie” Douglas has had extensive contacts with the Cubans, and has traveled to Grenada a number of times since the coup there on March 13. He is likely to try to exploit the current situation of unrest and uncertainty, but he has no political party or movement of his own, and there are no indications that he is preparing to attempt a coup. Thus far, there is no evidence of Cuban or Grenadian meddling in the situation in Dominica.

We will keep a close eye on the situation as it develops, and are preparing to evacuate American citizens should this become necessary.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P790085–0863. Confidential. Drafted by Hewitt. Sent through Newsom.
  2. In telegram 2459 from Bridgetown, June 21, the Embassy reported the formation of a new government with Minister of Agriculture Oliver James Seraphin assuming the role of Prime Minister, after a vote of no confidence removed Patrick John from power. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790281–0734)