Former Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Dominica
Pierre Charles was Prime Minister of Dominica from 2000 to 2004 as well as Member of Parliament for Grand Bay, Dominica from 1985 until his death.
Early life and education
Pierre Charles was born on 30 June 1954 in Grand Bay, on Dominica's south coast. The town of about 5,000 was a center of both Dominican culture and social and political activism. Pierre was one of seven sons and ten daughters born to Francis and Theodora (Francis) Charles. Pierre was educated at Grand Bay Boys' School and the Dominica Grammar School before completing high school at St. Mary's Academy in 1972. As a student he was a sergeant in the Cadet Corps, representing Dominica at the 1972 Regional Cadet Camp in Jamaica. That year he became a teacher at the Grand Bay Primary School.
Charles married Justina Musgrave, a nurse, and fathered three children. His son Camilo was named for the Cuban revolutionary hero Camilo Cienfuego. Charles was a member of the National Basketball League of Dominica, a Boy Scout leader, and belonged to a choral group called "La Jeune Etoile," which revived Dominican folk music. Later he managed the "Midnight Groovers" band.
In 1975 Charles and his friends formed the activist group L'Echelle (The Ladder). Inspired by the left-wing Caribbean political ideology of the times, their goal was to raise social consciousness among the young people of Grand Bay and involve them in the fight for Dominican independence from Great Britain. L'Echelle formed a loose-knit network with activists from neighboring islands, including Grenada, St. Vincent, and St. Lucia. The group's motto was "work and study." Charles worked with the Dominica Literacy Project and the Library Project at Tetre Lalay Grandbay.
In July of 1978 Charles defied the Dominican government by leading a group to the 11th World Festival of Youth and Students in Havana, Cuba. He was a founding member of the Dominica Cuba Friendship Society, which led to a Cuban government scholarship program that enabled hundreds of Dominicans to attend university in Cuba.
Charles became involved with Rosie Douglas's Popular Movement for Independence for Dominica and in 1977 he led Dominica's National Youth Council into the movement. The Commonwealth of Dominica gained independence from Great Britain in 1978. The following year Charles gave up teaching.
During the May 1979 political uprising against the government of Prime Minister Patrick John, Charles represented the National Youth Council on the Committee for National Salvation, which negotiated a settlement. In June 1979, at the age of 25, Charles was appointed a senator in the Dominica Interim Government. In the July 1980 general election he ran unsuccessfully for the Grand Bay parliamentary seat on the ticket of the left-wing Dominica Liberation Movement Alliance.
Charles was a leader of the reconstruction efforts after Hurricane David devastated Grand Bay in August of 1979. He served on the Grand Bay Village Council for more than a decade, eventually becoming chairman. In 1979 Charles helped establish an agricultural trade organization called Farm to Market. As operations manager and later field manager, he worked to develop markets for Dominica's small-farm produce.
In 1985 Charles—now a member of the major opposition party, the social democratic DLP—was elected to parliament from Grand Bay. He was reelected in each general election through 2000, when the DLP, in a coalition with the Dominica Freedom Party, took power for the first time in 20 years under the leadership of Rosie Douglas. Charles was appointed Minister of Public Works and Communications. During the eight months of Douglas’s rule, Charles was often called upon to function as the acting Prime Minister. When Douglas suddenly died in October 2000, Charles was elevated as Douglas’s successor.
In addition to his role as prime minister, Charles was in charge of finance, economic planning, and Caribbean and foreign affairs. He promised to attract foreign investment, create jobs, and diversify the island's economy.
Death and legacy
Charles underwent heart surgery twice in 2003. In November he took a three-week medical leave. Some members of his own party, as well as the opposition, called for him to step down. On 6 January 2004, while being driven home from an evening cabinet meeting, the 49-year-old prime minister died of a heart attack.
One year after Charles's death, the Dominican government renamed the Grand Bay Secondary School and a road in Grand Bay after the late prime minister. The Pierre Charles Foundation was established to provide student scholarships.
On 27 October 2014, the Melville Hall Airport enamed the "Douglas – Charles Airport" in honour of former Prime Ministers Roosevelt Douglas for their heroic contributions to the development of Dominica.