Dominica is a heavily forested, very mountainous island state, just 29 miles by 16 miles (290 square miles) in size. Although approximately half of its 80,000 population is under the age of sixteen, its 1989 per capita gross domestic product of U.S.$1,848 is in the middle strata among the member nations of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), trailing only Antigua, Saint Kitts-Nevis, and still-colonial Montserrat. Dominica, part of the Windward group of islands, is sandwiched between two French Overseas Departments, Martinique and Guadeloupe. Prior to the establishment of permanent British colonial control during the nineteenth century, Dominica experienced considerable French influence. The resultant French cultural "coloration" directly impacts eight of ten Dominicans today, according to Vera Green ( 1982), but includes the entire Dominican society if one considers such phenomena as dialect, legal practice, and tenant-landlord relations. Afro--West Indians dominate the Dominican population although the island also has scattered Europeans and Asians as well as one of the very few settlements of so-called black Caribs in the region.
As a sustained British colony for more than 150 years, Dominica experienced much the same colonization pattern established in other Commonwealth West Indian societies: elitist Crown governance in 1871; five elected council members after 1936; universal adult suffrage by 1951; home rule and Associate State status in 1967 (after two efforts to effect a federation had failed); and, finally, singular independence in 1978. All during this time, numerous efforts were made to confederate Dominica with other British colonies: in 1940, with the Leeward group of colonies; in 1956, with the Windward group. Compared with other Commonwealth Caribbean countries, Dominica was slow to develop political parties.