Dominica’s First Prime Minister Dead at 83

Dominica and the Caribbean Diaspora have witnessed with great shock the passing of the island’s first Prime Minister, Patrick John.

Popularly known as PJ, John took his last breath on Tuesday at the Dominica-Friendship Hospital, a few hours after being taken to the institution on Monday night. He was 83 years old.

The cause of death was not disclosed, but John had been suffering from diabetes and had one of his legs amputated in 2016.

As premier of Dominica, John led the country to independence from the United Kingdom in 1978, thereby becoming the first prime minister of the newly-formed republic.

John entered Parliament as a member of E.O. LeBlanc’s ruling Dominica Labour Party (DLP), holding several ministerial posts. When LeBlanc resigned in 1974, John succeeded him as prime minister.

Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit has expressed his condolences to John’s family on behalf of the country while highlighting his contribution to the development of Dominica.

“One can say whatever they want about Patrick John, but you cannot erase the fact that he made a tremendous contribution to Dominica’s development.”

“We are saddened by his death but we know he has not been well for some time.  He is known in sports, particularly football, he has made his contribution. May his soul rest in peace,” Skerrit said, indicating that the government would be responsible, tether with the family for his funeral.

John will be remembered for his astute leadership. On May 29, 1979, in the face of widespread protests to his austere leadership, soldiers fired on demonstrating crowds. In the ensuing scuffle, a young man was shot dead and several persons were injured. Resistance to his rule strengthened as public servants went on strike and the country was shut down. He was eventually forced to resign in June 1979 after several of his cabinet ministers deserted the party.

Before his removal from office, John was given the position of Colonel in the now-defunct Dominica Defence Force (DDF). During his tenure, he unsuccessfully attempted to overthrow the government of PM Eugenia Charles with the lining of white supremacist groups (in what became dubbed “Operation Red Dog”). As an outcome, he was imprisoned for twelve years, of which he served five years.

After several appeals from various persons to Prime Minister Dame Eugenia Charles for leniency, John was released on May 29 1990.

John resumed a role in public life particularly in sports, after his release, becoming President of the Dominica Football Association (DFA). In 2007 he was inducted into the CONCACAF Hall of Fame. The DFA administrative headquarters is named “Patrick John Football House” in his honour.

In November 2011, John was banned by FIFA from the sport for two years for his part in an alleged bribery scheme involving FIFA presidential candidate Mohamed bin Hammam.

John is survived by his wife, Desiree, who was admitted to a hospital on Monday with a broken ankle.

The national flag will be flown at half-mast as a sign of the official mourning period for the former prime minister.

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