Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

POLITICS: How Did Dominica’s Prime Minister Rosie Douglas Die?

Peter Richards

PORT OF SPAIN, Mar 8 2001 (IPS) - It’s the type of stuff movies are made off. A radical politician becomes Prime Minister of a poor Third World country after years of being jailed and denied entry to other countries. He was also a strong critic of capitalism, oppression and colonialism.

But eight months after being elected to office, he is found dead on the floor of his residence.

Grieving citizens are taken aback by the sudden death of their Prime Minister, who hours before had returned home from an extensive overseas trip that included visits to London, Australia and Africa.

Four days earlier a doctor in London gave him a “clean bill of health”.

Was he murdered? How could a man who played basketball and exercised almost every morning and who had just been told that he was in good health be dead the dumbfounded supporters are asking, refusing to accept a report by foreign and local pathologists that he died as a result of a massive heart attack caused by hypertension. His heart, the pathologists agree, was twice its normal size.

Now six months after his death, the tiny Caribbean island of Dominica is to hold an investigation to determine just how Prime Minister Rosie Douglas, 58, died at his home in Portsmouth, along the island’s northern coast on Oct. 1, 2000.

“We have all the reports and we have submitted them to the police and a date is going to be set, giving the family here and overseas enough time to come down,” says Pierre Charles, the man who replaced Douglas as Prime Minister. The investigation, to be spearheaded by the local police, is likely to start in April, he added.

Charles says, “if there is any suspicion and a further investigation is required, we are quite willing to undertake that,” though admitting that he is “totally satisfied” that there had been no foul play.

But Douglas’ eldest son, Cabral is disputing the events leading up to his father’s death and is insisting that his father, who had close ties with some of the world’s radical and left wing leaders like Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Libya’s Muammar Ghaddafi, had been murdered.

The young Douglas has also hinted at the involvement of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) noting also that the “certificate” signed against his father in 1976 by the Canadian authorities labelling him ” a risk to national security” had “never been repealed”.

“Hence, we Dominicans must ask ourselves: would it be reasonable to believe that as a head of state with the power and resources to actually implement some of his left leaning ideas, that suddenly the surveillance campaign against Rosie Douglas would have diminished?” he wrote in a local newspaper last week.

Cabral maintains that someone gave his father a substance that enlarged his heart and questions whether his father’s death was not part of a “sophisticated state-supported, murder plot”.

He has asked why a “highly qualified British doctor recommended by the Dominican Embassy in London (had been) unable to detect” the symptoms that led to his father’s death.

“Not only did the British doctor not detect the disease, he confirmed scientifically that Mr. Douglas possessed no signs or symptoms of the disease,” Cabral wrote, asking how could his father’s heart expand to twice its normal size “in less than four days”.

“Is this sudden accelerated expansion consistent with the conditions of hypertension? The answer is absolutely not,” he adds.

The government says that it had problems securing the reports from the two pathology teams from Cuba and the University of the West Indies in Trinidad that collaborate the findings of the local pathologist. The delay, the authorities say has contributed to the ongoing controversy over the death of the Prime Minister.

Charles admits that his government had even considered sending “someone physically” to obtain the report from the University, while the other report “took some time from Cuba”.

The Prime Minister says the Douglas family had been informed of the problems surrounding the reports and that “I have nothing absolutely to hide”.

But Cabral insists that the reports were being “suppressed” by the authorities, “in spite of the fact that such a report takes no more than three days to (be) produced in the most busy of laboratories in the world”.

“Interestingly enough, a tribunal in Nigeria has recently revealed that the late President General Abiola was given a cocktail while he was in jail which expanded his heart to twice its size causing a rupture of his aorta in just 48 hours,” he said.

But while the Prime Minister would not comment on the contents of the reports, Charles, a long time political associate of the late Prime Minister, has dismissed suggestions that his administration played a role in Douglas’ death. “In my opinion the young man’s just looking for attention and fame,” he says of Cabral’s allegations.

But Prime Minister’s assurances have not convinced ordinary Dominicans and they have taken to the various talk shows and the newspapers to air their views. Some have even taken to the internet to voice their opinion on the matter.

One caller said that the situation had become “confusing given the conflicting views on the issue”, while another said he could not agree with the Prime Minister’s position that the younger Douglas was “seeking attention”.

“A young man trying to get information about his father who died suddenly and he is branded in that manner. What is happening?” asked one caller.

The Chronicle newspaper in a front-page comment last week called “for the release of all autopsy reports and a press release from the responsible authorities”, on the issue.

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