Background Note: St. Kitts and Nevis

PA Source: Office of Public Communication, Bureau of Public Affairs Description: Historical, Political and Economic Overviews of the Countries of the World Date: May, 15 19935/15/93 Category: Country Data Region: Caribbean Country: St. Kitts and Nevis Subject: Travel, History, International Organizations, Trade/Economics, Military Affairs, Cultural Exchange, State Department [TEXT]

Official Name:

Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis


St. Kitts 168 sq. km. (68 sq. mi.); Nevis 93 sq. km. (36 sq. mi.).
Capital--Basseterre (pop. about 15,000).
Generally mountainous, with highest elevation at Mt. Liamuiga 3,792 ft. (St. Kitts) and Nevis Peak 3,232 ft. (Nevis).
Noun and adjective--Kittitian(s), Nevisian(s).
Population (1990):
40,300 (St. Kitts 31,000, Nevis 9,300).
Annual growth rate (est.):
Ethnic groups:
Almost entirely of black African origin; some of British, Portuguese, and Lebanese origin.
Principally Anglican, with evangelical Protestant and Roman Catholic minorities.
English (official).
Education (1991):
Years compulsory--9. Literacy--98%.
Health (1990):
Infant mortality rate--22/1,000. Unemployment--12%.
Constitutional monarchy with Westminster-style parliament.
September 19, 1983.
Executive--governor general (representing Queen Elizabeth II, head of state), prime minister (head of government), cabinet. Legislative--an 11-member Upper House or Senate appointed by the governor general (mainly on the advice of the prime minister and the leader of the opposition) and an 11- member popularly elected House of Representatives. Judicial--Court of Appeal.
Administrative subdivisions:
14 parishes.
Political parties:
People's Action Movement (ruling), St. Kitts Labor Party, Nevis Reformation Party, Concerned Citizens Movement.
Universal at 18.
The flag is oblong, divided diagonally from the bottom right to the top left by a black stripe with yellow borders. The black stripe contains two white stars. The top background is green, and the bottom background is red.
GDP (1991):
$165 million.
Annual growth rate (1991):
Per capita GNP:
Natural resources:
Products--sugarcane, cotton, peanuts, vegetables.
Industry (1990):
Types--manufacturing 14%, transport and communications 15%, construction 13%, hotels and restaurants 8%.
Trade (1991):
Exports--USĘ$126 million. Major markets- -CARICOM, US, UK. Imports--US $115 million.
Official exchange rate:
Eastern Caribbean $2.70=US$1.


St. Kitts and Nevis lies in the Leeward Islands in the Eastern Caribbean, 17 degrees 15' North, 62 degrees 40' West. The sister islands are separated by a channel some 3 kilometers (2 mi.) wide. St. Kitts is roughly oval in shape, with a narrow neck of land extending like a handle from the southeastern end. The total length of the island is 36.8 kilometers (23 mi.), and its area is 168 square kilometers (68 sq. mi.). The central part of the main body consists of a rugged mountain range whose highest point is Mount Liamuiga (1,155 meters--3,792 ft.). St. Kitts is a volcanic formation, and most of the beaches are of black volcanic sand, although several white sand beaches are found on the southeastern portion of the island. Nevis has an area of 93 kilometers (36 sq. mi.). The island's dominant central peak, its tip usually encircled by clouds, rises gradually to an almost perfect cone to 985 meters (3,232 ft.), giving it a spectacularly beautiful appearance from the sea. There are long stretches of golden sandy beaches. Charlestown is the only town, with a population of about 1,200. The climate of St. Kitts and Nevis is pleasant and healthy. The islands lie on the path of the northeast trade winds, and there is a steady cool breeze throughout the year. The highest temperature recorded is 330C (920F), and the lowest is 170C (620F). Humidity is low, and there is no rainy season. Average annual rainfall on St. Kitts is about 140 centimeters (55 in.); on Nevis, somewhat less.


The islands were originally inhabited by Carib Indians. Christopher Columbus landed there in 1493 on his second voyage and named it after his patron saint, St. Christopher. Sir Thomas Warner led the original English party to the island in 1624. "Kitt" was an English shortened version of "Christopher," hence "St. Kitt's" island. It was from here that English colonists spread to other islands in the region. In 1624, the French under D'Esnambuc also colonized part of the island. Intermittent warfare between French and British settlers during the 17th century, ravaged the economy until it was ceded entirely to Britain by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. The final fight for the island occurred in 1782, when French forces captured Brimstone Hill. Columbus also discovered Nevis on his second voyage, and reputedly called it Nevis because of its resemblance to a snowcapped mountain (in Spanish "Nuestra Senora de las Nieves" or "Our Lady of the Snows"). On July 22, 1628, Warner sent Capt. Anthony Hilton to colonize Nevis. Hilton became the first governor of Nevis, setting it on a path to great prosperity for the next 150 years. Its relative opulence in the 17th century gave it the name "Queen of the Caribbees." Alexander Hamilton was born on Nevis in 1757. The Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis attained full independence on September 19, 1983.


As head of the Commonwealth, Queen Elizabeth II is represented in St. Kitts and Nevis by a governor general, who acts on the advice of the prime minister and the cabinet. The prime minister is the leader of the majority party of the House, and the cabinet conducts affairs of state. St. Kitts and Nevis has a bicameral legislature: an 11- member Upper House or Senate appointed by the governor general (mainly on the advice of the prime minister and the leader of the opposition) and an 11-member popularly elected House of Representatives. The prime minister and the cabinet are responsible to the parliament. St. Kitts and Nevis has enjoyed a long history of free and fair elections. In the March 1989 elections, the ruling People's Action Movement won six of the eight St. Kitts seats, with the St. Kitts Labor Party capturing the remaining two. The Nevis Reformation Party won two of the three Nevis seats, with the Concerned Citizens Movement winning the remaining one. The next election is scheduled for March 1994. Under the constitution, Nevis has considerable autonomy and has an island assembly, a premier, and a deputy governor general. Under certain specified conditions, it may secede from the Federation. Constitutional safeguards include freedom of speech, press, worship, movement, and association. Like its neighbors in the English-speaking Caribbean, St. Kitts and Nevis has an outstanding human rights record. Its judicial system is modeled on British practice and procedure and its jurisprudence on English Common Law. The Royal St. Kitts Police Force is a constabulary of about 340 members.
Principal Government Officials
Chief of State--Queen Elizabeth II Governor General--Sir Clement Arrindell Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Home Affairs, and Finance--Kennedy A. Simmonds Principal Nevis Island Government Official Premier--Vance Amory The embassy of St. Kitts and Nevis is located at 2100 M Street, NW, Suite #608, Washington, DC 20037 (tel. 202-833-3550).


Until recently, St. Kitts and Nevis was the last sugar monoculture in the Eastern Caribbean. Faced with continuing reductions in the US sugar quota, the Government of St. Kitts and Nevis embarked on a successful program to diversify the agricultural sector and stimulate the development of other sectors of the economy. In addition to encouraging the planting of alternate crops, the government has found new ways to use its sugarcane, such as for producing gelled ethanol for cooking fuel and a new cane spirits liquor. The government has instituted a program of investment incentives for businesses considering locating in St. Kitts or Nevis, encouraging both domestic and foreign private investment. Government policies provide liberal tax holidays, duty-free import of equipment and materials, and subsidies for training provided to local personnel. The formation of an Investment Promotion Agency in 1987 has greatly assisted this effort; light manufacturing has expanded, particularly in electronics. Tourism has shown the greatest growth, however. In 1987, tourism, surpassed sugar as the major foreign exchange earner for St. Kitts and Nevis. Completion of the US Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Southeast Peninsula Road project opened a whole new area of St. Kitts for hotel construction. Many of the island's most beautiful beaches are found in this area. St. Kitts and Nevis are beneficiaries of the US Caribbean Basin Initiative. As members of the 13-nation Caribbean Economic Community and Common Market, they have signed a framework agreement with the United States to promote trade and investment under the Enterprise for the Americas Initiative.


St. Kitts and Nevis maintains diplomatic relations with the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, China, and South Korea, as well as with many Latin American countries and neighboring Eastern Caribbean states. It is a member of the Commonwealth; the United Nations and several of its specialized and related agencies, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund; the Organization of American States; the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States; the Caribbean Regional Security System; and the Caribbean Common Market.


Since St. Kitts and Nevis attained full independence in 1983, US relations have been very friendly. The US Embassy in St. John's, Antigua, conducts bilateral relations with St. Kitts and Nevis. The United States seeks to help St. Kitts and Nevis develop economically and to help strengthen its moderate, democratic, parliamentary form of government. St. Kitts and Nevis is strategically placed in the Leeward Islands, near maritime transport lanes of major importance to the United States. St. Kitts and Nevis benefits from a number of AID projects, including scholarship and training programs and small business assistance.
Principal US Officials
The US Embassy in Antigua handles affairs with St. Kitts and Nevis. Charge d'Affaires--Bryant Salter The US Embassy is located on Queen Elizabeth Highway, St. John's, Antigua (tel. 809-462-3505).


Entry requirements:
A passport and visa are not required for US and Canadian citizens to enter St. Kitts and Nevis as temporary visitors for periods up to 6 months, but the Department of State recommends that US citizens always carry a valid passport as proof of citizenship. St. Kitts and Nevis immigration authorities require some proof of citizenship upon entry--a birth certificate or voter registration card and a valid drivers' license with photo. They also will require a return ticket or proof of onward travel.
St. Kitts and Nevis has a good internal telephone system, which is accessible from the United States by direct dialing area code 809 and the local number. International telephone, cable, and telex services are good and are available 24 hours a day.


Published by the United States Department of State -- Bureau of Public Affairs -- Office of Public Communication -- Washington, DC -- May 1993 -- Managing Editor: Peter Knecht Editor: Josephine C. Brooks Department of State Publication 8874 Background Notes Series -- This material is in the public domain and may be reprinted without permission; citation of this source is appreciated. For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, US Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402. (###)