Dame Eugenia CharlesDame Mary Eugenia Charles, Prime Minister, lawyer, politician and journalist who died in Martinique on Tuesday 6 September 2005 was born May 15, 1919 at Pointe Michel village on the south-west coast of Dominica. She was educated at the Convent High School, Roseau, and St. Joseph's Convent, Grenada. She read law at University of Toronto and was called to the Bar at the Inner Temple, London in 1949. She began private practice in Dominica that year. She wrote anonymous articles for the Herald and later the Star newspapers that were highly critical of the ruling Dominica Labour Party (DLP). When the government reacted she was in the vanguard of those who founded the Dominica Freedom Party (DFP) in 1968 following demonstrations against the passing of Seditious and Undesirable Publications Act in July by the DLP, then under the premiership of E.O. Le Blanc. She failed to win the Roseau north seat in the general election of 1970 contesting against Patrick John, but entered the House of Assembly as a Nominated Member that year.

In the general elections of 1975 she contested and won the Roseau Central seat and became Leader of Opposition in the new parliament. She was a delegate at the constitutional Conference for independence held at Marlborough House, London in 1977 and was an active spokesperson in the public meetings related to the constitution in the run-up to independence in November 1978. During political upheavals and a constitutional crisis in 1979 she served as a member of the Committee for National Salvation (CNS) that brokered the creation of an interim government to administer Dominica until general elections could be organized. She became the first Caribbean woman Prime Minister when she led the DFP to victory in the 1980 general elections. During this time she was given the nickname 'Mamo', by which she was popularly known for the rest of her life. Regionally she immediately became part a formidable team of Caribbean leaders including Edward Seaga of Jamaica and Tom Adams of Barbados who dominated Caribbean public life in the 1980s.

Her first term was dedicated to reconstruction of housing, roads and other infrastructure destroyed by Hurricane David which had hit Dominica in August 1979, and in getting the business of government and foreign relations back into order. This was made more difficult by destabilization and the attempted coups to overthrow her government in 1981 and the court cases that followed. Her government was re-elected in 1985 with a reduced majority and again in 1990 when the UWP, formed in 1988, became the main opposition in parliament.

Charle meets ThatchersIn 1991 she was knighted as Dame of the Order of Bath by Queen Elizabeth II at Harare, Zimbabwe during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference. She retired from the House of Assembly in 1995 and her Dominica Freedom Party lost the general elections of that year after fifteen years in power. During that time the country rose to an economic peak in 1988 but the momentum was not maintained and by 1993 there was evidence of the beginning of an economic decline due mainly to changes in international trade affecting the banana industry, the reduction of foreign aided projects and the economics of scale in relation to small independent island states.

Eugenia Charles meets Ronal Reagan Conflict over her domination of the cabinet and her views on a successor marred the last two years of her leadership. Her firm and forthright character and clear cut opinions were seen by some to be abrasive and she made many enemies but her admirers cited these as the only means by which to accomplish results under difficult circumstances. Dame Eugenia was best known outside of Dominica for her staunch anti-communism during the last years of the Cold War in the Caribbean and, as Chairman of the OECS, for leading the invitation to the United States government under President Ronald Reagan to invade Grenada in October 1983. For this she was often referred to as 'The Iron Lady of the Caribbean'.

Dame Eugenia meets Pope Following her retirement in 1995 she watched from the sidelines as the fortunes of the Dominica Freedom Party rapidly declined under new leadership, eventually loosing all of its seats in the House of Assembly at the general elections of 2005. By then, Dame Eugenia's memory and mental capacity to absorb what was going on around her was fading and in the opinion to some close to her, she had lost the will to live by the time she fell and fractured her left hip on 27 August 2005 and was flown to Martinique for treatment. Her passing removes yet another of the giants of Caribbean leadership who were active in the latter part of the 20th century.


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