From Prisoner to Prime Minister
Rosie Douglas-his life and legacy
Rosie Douglas was the son of the late Robert Bernard Douglas, a wealthy businessman, coconut farmer, and conservative politician who named his boys after world statesmen (he had brothers named Eisenhower, Atlee, and Adenauer).
He was schooled in Dominica's capital, Roseau, before being accepted to study agriculture at the Ontario Agricultural College in Kingston, Ontario Canada. It was the ambition of his father RBD, for Rosie to run his agricultural estate at Hampstead upon the completion of his studies.
However, after growing frustrated with the bureaucratic delays in obtaining his visa to enter Canada, he took the bold decision to make a phone call to then Canadian Prime Minister, John Diefenbaker,seeking his assistance.
About a month later, while working on a coconut tree in Hampstead, a call came from the Prime Minister.
Mr. Diefenbaker was impressed with the initiative taken by Douglas only 18 at the time, fast tracked his visa, and sent local MP Bruce Robinson to collect him at the airport.
According to Douglas addressing the Canadian media in 2000: "I told him what my problem was and within week I got my visa and went to Canada…"
Once in Canada, Douglas spent several months milking cows on an Ontario farm before enrolling in Agriculture at the University of Guelph.
Douglas naturally gravitated towards the Tories, and became involved in politics as a member of the young Conservative Party of Canada, under the guidance of the right honourable John Diefenbaker.
However, against his father's wishes, upon completing his studies in Agriculture, he moved to Montreal where he enrolled in political science at Sir George Williams University. It was a move that became known in the family as his "defection".
While attending Sir George, Douglas who worked as a teacher's assistant in the Political Science Department, became President of the Conservative Student Union becoming friends with Canadian student leaders including Pierre Trudeau and Rene Levesque.
Douglas used his platform within the Tory Party to advocate on behalf of Caribbean women who came to Canada under the domestic scheme, better housing conditions for blacks living in substandard conditions particularly in areas like North Preston, Nova Scotia, equal employment opportunities for blacks in Canada, and seeking to get the issue of racism in Canada on the Tory's national platform.
However, Douglas left the conservatives when national student leader Joe Clark, refused to address the issue of racism on a national level.
His political views also changed radically when he went to live on Indian reserves in Quebec and visited Nova Scotia's black communities in the 1960's. The impoverished conditions of black people there affected him so much he says he decided "there and then" that he would devote his life to improving the lot of black people around the world.
By the late 1960's Douglas after hearing Martin Luther King speak at the Massey Lectures at the University of Toronto had become an active supporter of the civil rights movement taking place in the United States, befriending the likes of King, and Stokley Carmichael.He along with community leaders like Vincention cricketer and political activist "Alfie Roberts", Nova Scotian human rights activist Rocky Jones and Antiguan political activist Tim Hector organized The Montreal Congress of Black Writers which featured renowned black economist, scholars and activists from around the world including Guyanese Pan-Africanist Walter Rodney,Trinidadian Marxist CLR James, American civil rights leader Angela Davis and Black Panther Party leader Bobby Seale.
When black students began to protest racism at Sir George Williams University, Douglas who by then had moved on to his masters at McGill University had developed strong leadership credentials in the Tory party, he'd been President of the Association of British West Indian Students, and was serving as Vice President of the Verdun Cricket Club emerged as the media savvy leader of what has come to be known as the Sir George Williams Computer Riot of 1969 (aka Concordia Computer Riot).
He along with Canadian Senator Anne Cools and others led an antiracism sit-in at Sir George Williams University, Montreal, which resulted in the peaceful occupation of the computer centre as negotiations took place between the administration and the student leadership.
However, once an agreement was reached, the riot police infiltrated the occupation escalating the matter into a violent conflict, the building caught fire, resulting in mayhem and destruction of the computer centre.
Douglas who was not present at the time of the conflict, maintains that the fire was set by agent provocateurs, was identified as the "ring leader" and charged with mischief and served 18 months in prison before being deported in hand cuffs and leg irons when he vowed that he would only return as "Prime Minister of my own country". Whilst in prison, Douglas wrote an extensive report on prison reform in Canada, set up literacy classes for prisoners who couldn't read or write and wrote the book Chains or Change.
According to Douglas: "I learned a lot about injustices in Canadian society when I went to jail...The truth is that I didn't become committed to the fight for equality is Dominica. I became committed to the movement in Canada."
Upon his release from prison Douglas, who had embarked on a cross Canada black unity tour, building solidarity with native Canadians, was placed under RCMP surveillance as revealed by the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Certain Activities of the RCMP and in1976 the Solicitor General Warren Allmand signed an order declaring Douglas a dangerous risk to Canada's national security, forcing his deportation.
After his deportation, Douglas pursued a broad range of political activity on the world stage getting involved with the Socialist International, building relations with Cuba, The People's Republic of China, and the Soviet Union securing hundreds of scholarship for Dominican students.
Douglas through his Dominica/China Friendship Association led Dominica's first diplomatic mission to China in 1984 along with then Portsmouth mayor Renwick Jean Pierre securing a commitment from the Chinese Government of US$1Million for projects for the town of Portsmouth.
Unfortunately, these funds remain uncollected as it was contrary to the policy of the conservative government of Eugenia Charles who was in government at the time.
In a press statement in 1984 Douglas wrote: "Attempts to build relations exclusively with Taiwan as is the case with the Government of the Commonwealth of Dominica is short sighted, reactionary and not in keeping with current political and economic relations on the world".
He also became the Executive Chairman of the Libyan based World Mathaba a group that armed, trained and advised guerrilla movements around the world where he persuaded Colonel Gaddafi begin negotiations with the British for the trial of suspects in the Lockerbie bombing and supported national liberation movements across Africa including the African Congress (ANC), which provided critical support to the toppling of apartheid and the freeing of Nelson Mandela.
In Douglas's view, there was nothing extremist about his activities, centred as they were on defeating retrograde despots and freeing Nelson Mandela, who was steadfastly supported by the Gaddafi regime.
"All Dominicans supported the freedom of Mandela," he says. "And the freedom of Mandela wasn't a cakewalk on a Sunday morning - it was a revolutionary struggle in which people fought, died, and killed."Douglas in his capacity as Executive Chairman of the World Mathaba was part of a negotiating team seeking Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait to avert the Gulf War. Speaking at the anti-sanctions forum in New York on January 20, 1996 Douglas stated:
"I visited Iraq in 1990. In fact, left Baghdad two days before the war really began, on probably the last flight out. They had first imposed sanctions in August 1990. So even at that time, children were already dying because of a lack of medicines. I visited hospitals and saw it. And that was six months into the sanctions and before the war actually began. So you can imagine how after five years, with a tightening of those sanctions, the children of Iraq are suffering. All children have a right to a decent life, all children have the right to benefit from the fruits and resources of their country. What is good for the children of America is also good for the children of Iraq, Iran, Cuba, Vietnam, China all over the world."
Back at home, in his native Dominica, Douglas launched the Popular Independence Committee which agitated for full political independence from Great Britain, helping to pave the way for Dominica to become an independence nation in 1978.
After serving as a senator in the post-independence government,Douglas won his seat the Paix Bouche constituency becoming an MP in 1985. He served as the International Secretary of the Dominica Labour Party eventually becoming leader in 1992, after the death of his brother Michael Douglas.
Rosie Douglas appealed during his political career to the cause of the socialist radical reformers. At the parliamentary elections on 31 January 2000 he led the DLP to victory against the governing UnitedWorkers' Party of Prime Minister Edison James. Douglas formed a coalition with the moderate Dominica Freedom Party and began office on 3 February 2000.
In May 2000 Douglas, true to his promise returned to Canada on an official state visit as the Prime Minister of Dominica, holding bilateral talks with his Canadian counter parts. He was quoted in the Canadianpress at the time as stating: "Yes, I feel the sacrifice was worth it." He said referring to his time in jail and deportation from Canada. "I feel exonerated."
As Prime Minister Douglas set out on an ambitious agenda oftransforming Dominica into a high income zone, he signed a US$300 million MOU with the Chinese for the building of an international airport, sought to establish a special relationship with the European Union with Dominica being sandwiched between two Departments of France, stronger ties with the British Labour Party of Tony Blair the French Socialist Party of Lionel Jospin, the German Social Democratic Party of Gerhard Schroder and other Social democratic parties in Government in Scandinavia, Italy and Portugal. He sought increased development spending from Canada, assistance from Sweden in transforming Dominica into an information technology centre, and Foreign Direct Investment in the Eco tourism and Medical tourism, increased economic cooperation with Africa, and appealed directly to African Americans to invest in Dominica, and for the congressional black caucus to lobby for the Caribbean in Washingtonin same way American Jews did for Israel.
After only eight months in the office Douglas was found on 1 October 2000 dead in his house in Portsmouth.
He had returned only one day before from state visits to Australia, Taiwan, Canada and Libya for the reconvening for the World Mathaba.
Among the leaders addressing the conference in Tripoli in addition to Douglas was President of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe, Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore, Namibia President Sam Nujoma, Chad President Idriss Deby, Mali President Alpha Oumar Konare, Gambia President Yahya Jammeh, Senegal President Abdoulaye Wade, Nation of Islam Leader Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Sandinista Liberation Front Daniel Ortega, and the late Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.
The purpose of the meeting was to redefine the evolving role of the Mathaba in light of the successes of the liberation movements in Africa, and to devise strategies to meet the challenges of globalization for emerging states. Douglas the only Caribbean Mathaba leader sought to connect African States with the aspirations of Caribbean and African American people's to unite to confront global political and economic challenges.
Pierre Charles was named as his successor, and he took oath soon later. But, he followed his predecessor's footsteps to die in office in January 2004, paving the way for Roosevelt Skerrit to assume theposition as Prime Minister of Dominica.
(By Cabral Douglas, son of Rosie Douglas)