Background Note: St. Lucia

PA Source: Office of Public Communication, Bureau of Public Affairs Description: Historical, Political and Economic Overviews of the Countries of the World Date: Apr, 15 19934/15/93 Category: Country Data Region: Caribbean Country: St. Lucia Subject: Travel, History, International Organizations, Trade/Economics, Military Affairs, Cultural Exchange, State Department [TEXT]

Official Name:

St. Lucia


619 sq. km. (238 sq. mi.).
Capital--Castries (pop. 57,000). Other cities- Soufriere, Vieux Fort.
Noun and adjective--St. Lucian(s).
Population (1992):
Annual growth rate (1992):
Ethnic groups:
African descent 90%, mixed 6%, East Indian 3%, Caucasian .8%.
Roman Catholic 90%, Church of England 3%, remainder Protestant sects.
English (official); a French patois is common throughout the country.
Years compulsory--ages 5-15. Attendance-- more than 80% urban, 75% rural. Literacy--82%.
Health (1992):
Infant mortality rate--20/1,000. Life expectancy--males 69 yrs., females 74 yrs.
Work force:
Agriculture--37%. Industry and commerce-- 20%. Services--18%.
Parliamentary democracy; independent sovereign state within the Commonwealth. Independence: February 22, 1979.
Executive--governor general (representing Queen Elizabeth II, head of state), prime minister (head of government), cabinet. Legislative--bicameral parliament. Judicial- -district courts, Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (high court and court of appeals), Privy Council.
Administrative subdivisions:
16 parishes.
Political parties:
United Workers Party (ruling), St. Lucia Labor Party (official opposition--designated by the number of representatives in parliament), Progressive Labor Party (opposition).
Universal at 18.
Blue with a gold, black, and white triangle in the center.
GDP (1991):
$402 million.
Annual growth rate (1991):
Per capita GNP (1991):
Average inflation rate (1991):
Natural resources:
Forests, beaches, minerals (pumice), mineral springs.
Agriculture (18% of GNP):
Products--bananas, cocoa, coconut, citrus fruits, livestock.
Industry (including manufacturing, 10% of GNP):
Types-- garments, electronic components, beverages, corrugated boxes.
8% of GNP.
1.3% of GNP.
Exports--$127 million: bananas, other agricultural products, oils and fats, manufactured goods. Partners--other CARICOM countries, UK, European Community, US. Imports--$271 million: food, fuel, manufactured goods, machinery and transport equipment. Partners--US, European Community, UK, other CARICOM countries.
Official exchange rate:
Eastern Caribbean $2.7=US$1.


St. Lucia's population is primarily African and mixed African- European, with small Caucasian and East Indian minorities. English is the official language, although many St. Lucians speak a French patois. Between 85% and 90% of the people are Roman Catholic, a further reflection of early French influence on the island. The population of just over 150,000 is evenly divided between urban and rural areas, although the capital, Castries, has grown significantly in recent years and contains over one third of the population. Despite a high emigration rate, the population is growing rapidly, about 2% per year.


St. Lucia's first known inhabitants were the Arawaks, believed to have come from northern South America to settle around 200-400 AD. Numerous archaeological sites on the island have produced specimens of the Arawaks' well-developed pottery. Caribs gradually replaced Arawaks during the period 800-1000. Europeans first landed on the island in either 1492 or 1502, during one of the New World voyages of navigator and cartographer Juan de la Cosa, who explored the Windward Islands south to the South American mainland. The Dutch, English, and French all tried to establish trading outposts on St. Lucia in the 17th century but faced opposition from hostile Caribs. The English, with their headquarters in Barbados, and the French, centered on Martinique, found St. Lucia even more attractive when the sugar industry developed in 1765. British influence gradually spread. English commercial law was introduced in 1827, criminal procedures in 1833, and in 1838, the French language was officially abolished. In that year, St. Lucia was incorporated into the British Windward Islands administration, headquartered in Barbados. The system lasted until 1885, when the capital was moved to Grenada. St. Lucia's 20th century history has been marked by increasing self- government. A 1924 constitution gave the island its first form of representative government, with a minority of elected members provided for the previously all-nominated legislative council. Universal adult suffrage was introduced in 1951, and elected members became a majority of the legislative council. Ministerial government was introduced in 1956, and in 1958, St. Lucia joined the short-lived West Indies Federation, a semi-autonomous dependency of the United Kingdom. When that collapsed in 1962, following Jamaica's withdrawal, a smaller federation was briefly attempted. After the second failure, the United Kingdom and the six Windward and Leeward Islands--Grenada, St. Vincent, Dominica, Antigua, St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla, and St. Lucia--developed a novel form of cooperation called associated statehood. As an associated state of the United Kingdom from 1967 to 1979, St. Lucia had full responsibility for internal self-government but left its external affairs and defense responsibilities to the United Kingdom. This interim arrangement ended on February 22, 1979, when St. Lucia achieved full independence. Ties to the UK remain, as the nation recognizes Queen Elizabeth II as titular head of state and is an active member of the Commonwealth. The island continues to cooperate with its neighbors through the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the East Caribbean Common Market (ECCM), and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).


St. Lucia is a parliamentary democracy modeled on the British Westminster system. The head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of St. Lucia, represented by the governor general. The governor general exercises basically ceremonial functions, but residual powers under the constitution can be used at the governor general's discretion. The actual power in St. Lucia lies with the prime minister and the cabinet, representing the majority party in parliament. The bicameral parliament consists of a 17-member House of Assembly elected by universal adult suffrage for 5-year terms and an 11-member Senate appointed by the governor general (6 on the recommendation of the leader of the opposition and 2 entirely at the governor general's discretion). The parliament may be dissolved by the governor general at any point during its 5-year term, either at the request of the prime minister, in order to take the nation into early elections, or at the governor general's own discretion, if the House passes a vote of no confidence in the government. St. Lucia has an independent judiciary composed of district courts and a high court. Cases may be appealed to the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeals and, ultimately, to Elizabeth II's Privy Council. The island is divided into 16 parishes and an urban area (the capital, Castries). Popularly elected local governments in most towns and villages perform such tasks as regulation of sanitation and markets and maintenance of cemeteries and secondary roads.
Principal Government Officials
Head of State--Queen Elizabeth II Governor General--Stanislaus A. James Prime Minister--John G. M. Compton Minister of Foreign Affairs--George Mallet Ambassador to the UN--Donatus St. Aimee Ambassador to the US and the OAS--Joseph E. Edwards St. Lucia maintains an embassy at 2100 M Street, NW, Suite 309, Washington, DC 20037 (tel. 202-463-7378).


Politics in St. Lucia is dominated by John Compton and his United Workers Party (UWP), which has governed the country for all but 3 years since independence. Compton was Premier of St. Lucia from 1964 until independence in February 1979 and remained Prime Minister until elections later that year. The St. Lucia Labor Party (SLP) won the first post-independence elections in July 1979, taking 12 of 17 seats in parliament. A period of turbulence ensued, in which squabbling within the party led to several changes of prime minister. Pressure from the private sector and the unions forced the government to resign in 1982. New elections were then called and were won resoundingly by Compton's UWP, which took 14 of 17 seats. The UWP was elected for a second time on April 16, 1987, but with only 9 of 17 seats. Seeking to increase his slim margin, Prime Minister Compton suspended parliament and called new elections on April 30. This unprecedented snap election, however, gave Compton the same results as before--the UWP retained 9 seats, the SLP, 8. On April 27, 1992, Prime Minister Compton's government again defeated the SLP, led by businessman Julian Hunte. In this election, the government increased its majority in parliament to 11 seats. The UWP has a reputation for being the more conservative of the two major political parties, but they are similar ideologically. While past campaigns have been marked by occasional inter-party name- calling and violence, the elections themselves are generally considered to be free and fair.


The economy has evolved from reliance on sugar to diversification, including agriculture, industry, and tourism. Agriculture, dominated by banana cultivation, is characterized by the participation of a large number of small- and medium-sized enterprises. This sector has been largely responsible for the extensive socio-economic changes that have taken place in St. Lucia since the 1960s. Its effects are felt in a number of sectors, particularly transport, distribution, and construction. Since over 60% of the foreign exchange earnings are from banana exports to the United Kingdom, possible loss of this protected market with the establishment of a single European market in 1992 poses a serious challenge to St. Lucia's economy. A variety of vegetables are produced for local consumption, and an attempt is being made to expand agriculture by encouraging the establishment of tree crops such as mangos and avocados. Manufacturing, a small but robust sector, has been encouraged by generous regulatory and tax relief, waiver of import duties, provision of factory shells, and other government incentives. A relatively ambitious diversification program has stimulated production of paper, metal products, textiles, beer, furniture, chemicals, and electronic components. Local manufacturers export mainly to the CARICOM countries, but a number of US-based firms have plants that export back to the United States. Improvements in roads, communications, and port facilities have created a more suitable investment climate for manufacturing as well as tourism and agriculture. Foreign investors have also been lured by an educated and skilled work force and relatively stable political conditions. The largest investment is a petroleum storage and transshipment terminal built by Hess Oil. A Caribbean Development Bank-funded (CDB) airport expansion project is currently underway. A new deepwater harbor has been drawing transshipment trade away from Barbados. A major manufacturing "free zone" has been established in Viuex Fort in the south. The tourism sector has made significant gains, experiencing a boom during the last few years despite some unfavorable external factors. Visitors to the island during the first 11 months of 1991 totaled 276,000, an increase of 23% over the same period in 1990. Not only has St. Lucia benefited from an expansion of the Caribbean tourist market as a whole, it has also been able to attract tourists away from alternative Caribbean destinations. St. Lucia has beautiful beaches and spectacular mountain scenery. The development of the tourism sector has been helped, in no small measure, by the government's commitment to providing a favorable investment environment. Incentives are available for building and upgrading tourism facilities, there has been liberal use of public funds to improve the physical infrastructure of the island, and the government has made efforts to attract cultural and sporting events and develop historical sites. The Tourism Board hopes to maintain momentum in the industry through coordinating businesses' approach to the market, emphasizing quality of service, and undertaking a publicity campaign to promote hospitality, support for the tourist industry, and public awareness of the importance of tourism to St. Lucia's economy. St. Lucia is a beneficiary of the US Caribbean Basin Initiative. It is also a member of the 13-nation Caribbean Economic Community and Common Market, which has signed a framework agreement with the United States to promote trade and investment under the Enterprise for the Americas Initiative.


The major thrust of foreign affairs for St. Lucia is economic development. The government is seeking balanced international relations with emphasis on mutual economic cooperation and trade and investment. It seeks to conduct its foreign policy chiefly through its membership in the OECS. St. Lucia participated in the Grenada rescue mission, sending members of its special services unit into active duty. St. Lucia is a member of the Commonwealth, the Organization of American States, and the United Nations. It seeks pragmatic solutions to major international issues. While maintaining good relations with its traditional friends--the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and many others--it also maintains diplomatic relations with Third World countries. St. Lucia has relations with both North and South Korea, with Cuba, and has been active in eastern Caribbean regional affairs--the OECS and CARICOM. Only two diplomatic missions exist in St. Lucia--the Venezuelan embassy, headed by a resident ambassador and an office of the Barbados-based British High Commission. Other countries maintain representatives in Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad, or Guyana. St. Lucia has no major outstanding disputes with other nations. It has no army but maintains a special defense unit within its police force and is training a coast guard. It claims an exclusive economic zone for a distance of 320 kilometers (200 mi.) from its coasts.


The United States and St. Lucia enjoy excellent bilateral relations. The United States supports the St. Lucian Government's efforts to expand its economic base and improve the lives of its citizens. US assistance in the past has been channeled primarily through multilateral agencies such as the CDB and the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute. More recently, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) has provided bilateral aid for hurricane relief (1981), agricultural programs, and road construction. USAID is assisting the agricultural sector through a major land registration and titling project that will help to establish security of land tenure for local farmers. It also is providing support to the banana industry. US security assistance programs provide limited military training to the special services unit and coast guard. The Peace Corps maintains about 20 volunteers in the country, working primarily in education, agriculture, and health.
Principal US Officials
Ambassador--G. Philip Hughes Deputy Chief of Mission--Tain P. Tompkins Political/Economic Counselor--Thomas R. Hutson Consul General--Thomas E. Cairns Regional Labor Attache--Raymond Brown Public Affairs Officer (USIS)--Gerald Waters Director, USAID--Mosina Jordan Director, Peace Corps--Richard Pyle (resident in St. Lucia) The United States maintains no official presence in St. Lucia. The ambassador and embassy officers are resident in Barbados and frequently travel to St. Lucia. The US embassy in Barbados is located in the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Broad Street, Bridgetown (tel. 809-426-3574).


Entry requirements:
US citizens visiting St. Lucia must show proof of citizenship, but a passport is not mandatory. Visitors should have an onward air or sea ticket.
St. Lucia is a member of the Eastern Caribbean (EC) Currency Authority. Its common currency with its neighboring Windward and Leeward Islands is the EC dollar, pegged to the US dollar at EC$2.65=US$1. Barclays Bank and the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce have branch offices at Castries and around the island.
St. Lucia is served by two airports. Vigie, Near Castries, is the arrival point for inter-island scheduled aircraft and small day-charter aircraft. Hewanorra Airport on the south coast near Vieux Fort has regularly scheduled jet flights from North America and Europe.
Tourist attractions:
Besides its beautiful beaches and attractive yacht harbors, St. Lucia boasts a safe, inactive volcano that still emits hot vapors and gases in controlled, constant activity. The "drive-in" volcano and related sulfur springs are located in southern St. Lucia, near the town of Souffriere and are framed by the dramatic twin Pitons, scenic ex-volcanic cones. Points of historic interest include Morne Fortune--site of a former fortress and Pigeon Island, Admiral Rodney's headquarters in the French Wars of the late 18th century, and later a US-leased base during World War II. St. Lucia is a regular port of call for cruise ships and has many excellent hotels.


Published by the United States Department of State -- Bureau of Public Affairs -- Office of Public Communication -- Washington, DC -- April 1993 -- Editor: Josephine C. Brooks; Managing Editor: Peter Knecht Department of State Publication 9234 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. (###)