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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
09BRIDGETOWN747 2009-12-07 19:36:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Bridgetown
Cable title:  

(C-AL9-01941) LEADERSHIP PROFILE: DOMINICA PM ROOSEVELT

Tags:   PINR PREL PGOV XL VE 
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1. (C) Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit of Dominica was the
youngest head of government in the world when he took office in
2004 at 31 years of age. His youth has been highlighted as a
reason for his naivetC) in international circles, but also as an
indicator of well-honed political instincts that have allowed him
to rise so quickly on the local scene. In international settings,
he can appear overwhelmed by his more experienced counterparts, but
at home, his charisma has paid dividends. In the course of his
tenure he has sidelined competitors, centralized power, and built
up a modest cult of personality among the population. Skerrit has
moved quickly to woo foreign patrons who funnel resources directly
through his office, and was the first among Eastern Caribbean
leaders to embrace ALBA. Skerrit has also shown an ability to take
political risks, as reflected in his calling snap elections
December 18th, approximately 10 months before they are due.





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Background



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2. (U) PM Skerrit is from the small town of Vielle Casse in the
far north of Dominica. He was educated at New Mexico State
University and the University of Mississippi. Upon returning to
Dominica, he was a lecturer at the Dominica State College and ran
for Parliament in the 2000 elections. Skerrit was selected as
Minister for Education, Sports and Youth Affairs. Upon the death
of PM Pierre Charles, Skerrit was surprisingly selected as PM in
early 2004, making him the world's youngest head of government. In
elections in 2005, Skerrit was able to run as the incumbent, and
his Labor party won 12 of 21 constituencies.





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Trusted Advisors



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3. (C) Skerrit appears to look to the Prime Minister of St.
Vincent and the Grenadines Ralph Gonsalves, a leftist populist and
one of the region's more savvy politicians, for mentoring. While
initially somewhat indecisive, Skerrit has over time marginalized
his core group of advisors by centralizing power and limiting the
role of his cabinet. Skerrit has methodically added portfolios to
the Prime Minister's office, the latest being the critical National
Security Ministry, which controls the police and coast guard. Most
recently, Dominica's capable and ambitious Minister of Foreign
Affairs, Vince Henderson, -- who is younger than Skerrit and once
seen as a future leader -- has had a public falling out with his PM
and has decided not to run for re-election. Minister of Trade,
Industry, Consumer and Diaspora Affairs Collin McIntyre is thought
to be Skerrit's closest colleague on his cabinet. Ron Peters, a
Skerrit confidante currently advising the State College, has unique
access, as does Skerrit's lawyer, Tony Astaphan.





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Method of Governing



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4. (C) Skerrit likes to keep power close to his chest and refuses
to delegate any major decision or opportunity to interact with the
populace. He often travels to Hong Kong or Venezuela for guidance
on major decisions, but will typically travel without technical
advisors. Skerrit's latest creation, the so-called Red Clinic, is

a rather blatant electioneering tool straight out of the Chavez
populist handbook. The Clinic, run every Wednesday out of the PM's
office, is a mechanism by which constituents line up at the PM's
door to plead for direct assistance, and the PM personally gives
cash handouts to these individuals. Skerrit describes the program
as a poverty alleviation scheme, and pledged in his November 3
National Day address to broaden access to other groups such as
laborers and small shopkeepers. Opposition figures and the NGO
community, on the other hand, view it as a crass but effective
device to create a cult of personality and boost support for the
ruling party among the lower classes. The test of this hypothesis
will be come in snap elections December 18th.





5. (C) Making major decisions without consulting his cabinet
severely limits the ability of others in the party to shape policy.
Due to the power in the hand of the PM, critics censor themselves
for fear of angering the leader, believes Edison James, a former
Prime Minister. This approach has in many cases led to economic
and social policies being created in fits and starts, often at the
whim of financial contributors such as China or Venezuela, as
opposed to emerging from a solid strategy on how to develop
Dominica in a way that addresses that country's long-term needs.
That is why Skerrit might on one day tout the development of
geothermal power to replace oil imports, and the next day praise
the investment from Venezuela of an oil storage facility. Or why
Skerrit might push for an oil refinery, not realizing that it will
contradict the country's tourism promotion slogan of "Nature Isle",
and have negative ramifications for the long-term image of the
country and its ability to attract additional investment in
sustainable tourism or alternative energy.





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Corruption



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6. (C) Detractors across many strata of society complain that
Skerrit has accumulated suspiciously significant personal assets in
his short time in office. When elected, he publicly claimed to
have almost no assets of value. Yet on his public salary of under
$2,000 USD per month, opponents point out that he has acquired
multiple properties worth over $200,000 USD. When asked to explain
how he could afford these properties, Skerrit has steadfastly
refused to answer, leaving it to lawyer/confidante Tony Astaphan to
explain away the assets (Astaphen maintains they were gifts,
despite paperwork showing that cash was paid). Other rumors
circulate that Skerrit receives money from Venezuela and China, and
that Skerrit may be personally involved in the sale of Dominican
diplomatic and tourist passports. There have also been a number of
recent scandals involving the government, including the purchase of
garbage bins and fertilizer at highly inflated prices from the U.S.
resident brother of Minister McIntyre. Dominica has established a
commission for Integrity in Public Office to investigate public
officials with assets greater than their public salaries would
support. The commission refused to investigate the two claims
brought against Skerrit on the grounds that those indiscretions
occurred before the commission was created, albeit after the law
establishing the commission had passed through Parliament.





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U.S. Relations



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7. (C) Skerrit, despite being educated in the U.S. on a USAID
scholarship, has not shown serious interest in maintaining a close
relationship with the U.S. While Skerrit rarely publicly
disparages the U.S., the relationship is clearly not a priority.
In his 2008 National Day address, Skerrit neglected to mention the
U.S. as a strategic partner, despite ongoing programs in health,
education, security cooperation, and an active Peace Corps program.
China and Venezuela, conversely, received repeated praise. For the
2009 version, the U.S. and the European Union were virtual
afterthoughts on a long list of countries providing assistance to
Dominica. Perhaps the most telling indicator was Skerrit's

repeated snubbing of the U.S. Ambassador on three occasions when he
had committed to meet in connection with major U.S. assistance
projects and on her farewell call to Dominica in January, 2008. On
the plus side, Skerrit's ambivalence has not (yet) graduated to
opposition, and the USG maintains a whole host of active programs
with ministries and civil society in the country.





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Comment



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8. (C) Skerrit has chosen Chavez as his chief financier and PM
Gonsalves as his political mentor. He has also used Venezuelan
assistance to finance pet projects and election campaigns. He has
shown himself willing to do Chavez' bidding in exchange for this
largesse: Antigua's opposition leader Lester Bird told the Charge
he received a call from Skerrit recently from Hong Kong in which
Skerrit asked him why he was so publicly critical of the Antiguan
government's ties with Chavez. "Don't you know," he asked, "that
this will just lead Chavez to give the governing party more money
to be sure you don't get elected." He urged Bird to tone down his
criticism of Chavez in hopes that Bird, too, might receive some
Venezuelan largesse. Due to Dominica's small size (70,000), even
limited funds from abroad can tip elections and minimize domestic
concerns. Skerrit may not be savvy enough to manage the Venezuela
relationship, and might end up losing assets such as the country's
control of disputed and oil-rich Bird Island to the Venezuelans, or
mortgaging the country's economic future to bad financial deals
with Chavez. Skerrit is clearly not at the head of the class among
Eastern Caribbean Prime Ministers - lacking self-assurance, looking
to outside figures for guidance and funding, and keeping other
cabinet members at bay from insecurity. If he continues on his
current path, his leadership is likely to bring increasing internal
opposition -- within his own party and from opposition parties --
as well as diminishing international stature for Dominica.
HARDT