Situation report: Violent protests and coup allegations in Dominica

Dominica’s citizenship-by-investment programme has sparked a major political row.

Roosevelt Skerrit takes to the airwaves to denounce the protests
Roosevelt Skerrit takes to the airwaves to denounce the protests

Background

One of the Caribbean’s poorer nations, the single-island state of Dominica has a chronically under-developed economy that suffers from a lack of infrastructure and few sandy beaches that do not allow the country to benefit from the high levels of American and European tourism that other countries in the region, such as the Bahamas and Barbados, have come to enjoy. With a highly limited resource endowment, the country has, like many other Caribbean islands, instead turned to offshore banking for revenue. It has also attempted to stimulate further investment by offering citizenship to anyone who purchases USD200,000 worth of real estate in the country and who pays a USD50,000 fee, an arrangement similar to other ‘citizenship by investment’ programmes in the region, such as that in Saint Kitts & Nevis and Antigua & Barbuda.

Unlike most other countries in the region, however, Dominica has also turned to the unusual method of raising funds by outright selling citizenship to any adults, regardless of whether they have ever been to or have any plans of going to the island, as long as they are ‘of good character’, do not have any criminal record, and are willing to deposit USD100,000 into the national treasury. The country is even willing to extend citizenship to the purchaser’s spouse for a USD7,500 fee, with dependents also eligible at a discounted rate. It is this system by which Dominican citizenship is up for sale that has deeply divided the island and dangerously polarised its two-party system.

60 minutes to scandal

The controversy over the programme came to a head in January, when leader of the opposition United Workers’ Party, Lennox Linton, appeared on 60 Minutes, an American broadcast newsmagazine, in a segment that served as an exposé of Dominica’s sale of citizenship. During the program, Linton identified international fugitives he claimed had not only been allowed to purchase Dominican citizenship, but were also given diplomatic passports so that they could frustrate efforts to bring them to justice by claiming to have diplomatic immunity. Chief among these, he said, was Francesco Corallo, who was wanted by Italian authorities for tax evasion but who claimed to be immune from arrest in Italy by virtue of a Dominican diplomatic passport.

Linton also wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit demanding he step down and accusing him of having administered the citizenship by investment programme in a corrupt manner that turned the programme into an immunity service for ‘a band of international rogues and vagabonds’, even saying people connected to terrorism had access to Dominican citizenship, which he called ‘an inexcusably reprehensible and dangerous threat to international peace and security’.

Extreme polarisation

The allegations quickly drew a strong condemnation from the government of long-serving prime minister Roosevelt Skerrit, who denied the charges and ordered his government to prepare a legal case against Linton for having committed slander. The Dominican ambassador to the United States issued a statement that was stronger still, accusing Linton of having committed ‘economic terrorism’.

In response, Linton called on his supporters to attend a UWP meeting and then march near the office of the prime minister in Roseau, the capital. While Linton stressed that he was against any violence, some of his supporters set fires and threw rocks at police near the intersection of Independence Street and Kennedy Avenue, located near a major shopping area frequently visited by foreigners. Police responded by firing tear gas.

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