U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
BACKGROUND NOTES: ST. VINCENT & THE GRENADINES
PUBLISHED BY THE BUREAU OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS
Official Name: St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Area: 340 sq. km. (130 sq. mi.); slightly less than twice the size of
Washington, DC. The Grenadines include 32 islands, the largest of which
are Bequia, Mustique, Canouan, and Union. Some of the smaller islands
are privately owned.
Cities: Capital--Kingstown (pop. 29,600).
Terrain: Volcanic and mountainous; the mountains are almost
impenetrable, with the highest peak, Soufriere, rising to 1,219 meters
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Vincentian.
Annual growth rate: 1.4%.
Ethnic groups: African descent (66%), mixed (19%), East Indian (6%),
Carib Indian (2%).
Religions: Anglican (47%), Methodist (28%), Roman Catholic (13%), other
Protestant denominations, Seventh Day Adventist, Hindu.
Language: English (official); some French patois spoken.
Education: Literacy--96%. Compulsory--up to age 15.
Health (1991): Infant mortality rate--31/1,000. Life expectancy--women
72 yrs., men 68 yrs.
Work force: About 40,000. Agriculture--60%.
Type: Parliamentary democracy; independent sovereign state within the
Independence: October 27, 1979.
Constitution: October 27, 1979.
Branches: Executive--governor general (representing Queen Elizabeth II,
head of state), prime minister (head of government), cabinet.
Legislative--unicameral legislature with 15-member elected House of
Assembly and six-member appointed Senate. Judicial--District courts,
St. Vincent and the Grenadines Supreme Court (High Court and Court of
Appeals), privy council.
Subdivisions: 6 parishes.
Political parties: New Democratic Party (incumbent; holds 12 of 15
seats in parliament), St. Vincent Labor Party, Movement for National
Suffrage: Universal at 18.
GDP (1992): $200 million.
Per capita GDP: $1,730.
Natural resources: Timber, beaches.
Industry: Plastic products, detergents.
Trade: Exports--(bananas, eddoes and dasheen, arrowroot starch): $75
million. Major markets--U.K. 54%, CARICOM 34%, U.S. 10%. Imports--
(foodstuffs, machinery and equipment, chemicals and fertilizers): $128
million. Major suppliers--U.S. 36%, CARICOM 21%, U.K. 18%, Japan 3%.
Official exchange rate: St. Vincent and the Grenadines uses the Eastern
Caribbean (EC) dollar, which is tied to the U.S. dollar at the rate of
EC $2.70=U.S. $1.
Most Vincentians are the descendants of African slaves brought to the
island to work on plantations. There are also a few white descendants
of English colonists, as well as some East Indians, Carib Indians, and a
sizable minority of mixed race. The country's official language is
English, but a French patois may be heard on some of the Grenadine
islands. St. Vincent has a high rate of emigration. With extremely
high unemployment and under-employment, population growth remains a
Carib Indians aggressively prevented European settlement on St. Vincent
until the 18th century, although African slaves--whether shipwrecked or
escaped from St. Lucia and Grenada and seeking refuge in St. Vincent--
intermarried with the Caribs and became known as "black Caribs."
Eventual tensions between the Caribs and the black Caribs led to a civil
war in 1700.
The French settled on the island in 1719 and lived peaceably with the
Caribs, growing coffee, tobacco, indigo, cotton, and sugar on
plantations worked by slaves. Shortly afterward, the British tried to
seize control of the island. Possession was hotly disputed until 1763,
when the island was ceded to Britain. It was lost to the French again
in 1779 but regained by the British under the Treaty of Versailles in
Battles known as the Carib Wars continued between the British and the
black Caribs until the British subdued the black Caribs in 1796. That
year, General Abercrombie crushed a revolt fomented by the French
radical Victor Hugues. Over 5,000 black Caribs were eventually deported
to Roatan, an island off the coast of Honduras.
Slavery was abolished in 1834, and the resulting labor shortages on the
plantations attracted Portuguese immigrants in the 1840s and East
Indians in the 1860s. Conditions remained harsh for the former slaves
and for the immigrant agricultural workers, as depressed world sugar
prices kept the economy stagnant until the turn of the century.
From 1763 until independence, St. Vincent passed through various stages
of colonial status under the British. A representative assembly was
authorized in 1776, crown colony government installed in 1877, a
legislative council created in 1925, and universal adult suffrage
granted in 1951.
During this period, the British made several unsuccessful attempts to
affiliate St. Vincent with other Windward Islands in order to govern the
region through a unified administration. The most notable was the West
Indies Federation, which collapsed in 1962. St. Vincent was granted
associate statehood status in 1969, giving it complete control over its
internal affairs. Following a referendum in 1979, St. Vincent and the
Grenadines became the last of the Windward Islands to gain independence.
Natural disasters have plagued the country throughout the 20th century.
In 1902, La Soufriere volcano erupted, killing 2,000 people, just two
days before the Mt. Pelee eruption killed 30,000 on Martinique. Much
farmland was damaged and the economy deteriorated. In April 1979, La
Soufriere erupted again. Though no one was killed, thousands had to be
evacuated, and there was extensive agricultural damage. In 1980, a
hurricane devastated the banana and coconut plantations. In 1987,
Hurricane Emily destroyed as much as 70% of the banana crop.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a parliamentary democracy within the
British Commonwealth. Queen Elizabeth II is head of state and is
represented on the island by a governor general, an office with mostly
ceremonial functions. Control of the government rests with the prime
minister and the cabinet.
The parliament is a unicameral body with a 15-member elected House of
Assembly and a six-member appointed Senate. The governor general
appoints senators, four on the advice of the prime minister and two on
the advice of the leader of the opposition. The parliamentary term of
office is five years, although the prime minister may call elections at
As in other English-speaking Caribbean countries, the judiciary in St.
Vincent is rooted in British common law. There are 11 courts in three
magisterial districts. The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, comprising
a high court and a court of appeals, is known as the St. Vincent and the
Grenadines Supreme Court in St. Vincent. The court of last resort is
the Judicial Committee of Her Majesty's Privy Council.
There is no local government in St. Vincent, and all 6 parishes are
administered by the central government.
Principal Government Officials
Head of State--Queen Elizabeth II
Governor General--Sir David Jack
Prime Minister--James F. Mitchell
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Tourism--Alpian Allen
Ambassador to the U.S. and the OAS--Kingsley C. A. Layne
Ambassador to the UN--Herbert George Young
St. Vincent and the Grenadines maintains an embassy at 3216 New Mexico
Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20016 (tel. 202-462-7806). St. Vincent's
ambassador to the U.S. also is accredited to the OAS. St. Vincent also
has a consul resident in New York.
The People's Political Party (PPP), founded in 1952 by Ebenezer Joshua,
was the first major political party in St. Vincent. The PPP had its
roots in the labor movement and was in the forefront of national policy
prior to independence, winning elections from 1957 through 1966. With
the development of a more conservative black middle class, however, the
party began to steadily lose support, until it collapsed after a rout in
the 1979 elections. The following year, Joshua resigned from the
leadership, and the party dissolved itself in 1984.
Founded in 1955, the St. Vincent Labor Party (SVLP), under R. Milton
Cato, gained the support of the middle class. With a conservative law-
and-order message and a pro-Western foreign policy, it had gained enough
strength by the mid-1960s to become the most powerful political force
for the next 20 years. Following victories in the 1967 and 1974
elections, the SVLP led the island to independence, winning the first
post-independence election in 1979. Expecting an easy victory for the
SVLP in 1984, Cato called early elections. The results were surprising:
with a record 89% voter turnout, James F. Mitchell's New Democratic
Party (NDP) won nine seats in the House of Assembly.
Since the 1984 election, politics in St. Vincent have been dominated by
the NDP. With a reputation for sound fiscal management and bolstered by
a resurgent economy in the mid-1980s, Mitchell led his party to an
unprecedented sweep of all 15 House of Assembly seats in the 1989
elections. The opposition emerged from the election weakened and
fragmented but was able to win three seats during February 1994
elections under a "Unity" coalition.
The economy expanded at a healthy pace in late 1980s, with growth
averaging about 7%, principally due to strong performances by the
manufacturing and construction sectors and favorable banana prices. The
country has been able to maintain access to foreign capital, both
multilateral and bilateral aid, and credit. The government wants
economic diversification and infrastructure improvement.
The St. Vincent economy is heavily dependent on agriculture. Bananas
alone account for 60% of the work force and 20% of GDP. Despite its
good performance of late, such reliance on a single crop makes the
economy vulnerable to external factors. More than 60% of foreign
exchange earnings are from banana exports; possible loss of this
protected market with the establishment of a single European market--
which had been planned for 1992--poses a serious challenge to the
Vincentian economy. Indeed, banana exports have fallen sharply in the
last two years due to a combination of lower prices and drought.
Since 1984, an agricultural diversification program and modest land
reforms have helped strengthen the agricultural sector. St. Vincent now
exports a number of agricultural commodities--including arrowroots,
coconuts, sweet potatoes, tannias, and eddoes, primarily to Caribbean
Community and Common Market (CARICOM) countries. St. Vincent used to be
the world's largest producer and exporter of arrowroot, a crop used in
the manufacture of baby food and computer paper. But increased
competition has reduced production by more than 80% from its peak in
The tourism sector remains small, but it is robust and is assuming
greater importance. There were 157,532 visitors in 1990, an increase of
23% over the previous year, with cruise ship visitors up 58% and
stayover visitors up 8%. The tourist appeal of the country lies in the
privacy and the unspoiled and diverse beauty of the Grenadine islands.
Fine sailing waters amid these islands attract affluent visitors.
Efforts are underway to broaden this appeal, although development of
tourism is limited by airports that only handle small aircraft.
The government has sought to attract investment with liberal tax and
currency exchange regulations, revision of the tax code to promote
savings, and reduction of the fiscal deficit through government
expenditure control. The government has funded the wide-ranging
Development Corporation to locate foreign investors for joint ventures
in manufacturing and agriculture. St. Vincent's maritime laws have
resulted in a lucrative ship registry business.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines are beneficiaries of the U.S. Caribbean
Basin Initiative. The country belongs to the 13-member CARICOM, which
has signed a framework agreement with the United States to promote trade
and investment in the region.
St. Vincent's foreign relations were administered by the U.K. until
independence in 1979. It maintains close ties to the U.S., Canada, and
the U.K. and cooperates with regional political and economic
organizations such as the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States
(OECS) and CARICOM.
As a member of CARICOM, St. Vincent and the Grenadines strongly backed
efforts by the United States to implement UN Security Council Resolution
940, designed to facilitate the departure of Haiti's de facto
authorities from power. The country agreed to contribute personnel to
the Multinational Force, which restored the democratically elected
Government of Haiti in October 1994.
U.S.-ST. VINCENT RELATIONS
The United States and St. Vincent have good bilateral relations. The
U.S. supports the government's economic policies. The U.S. Agency for
International Development (USAID) contributes to the island in such
areas as agricultural diversification, small business development and
infrastructure improvement. Most of this assistance will end when the
regional USAID office in Barbados closes in FY 1996. The Peace Corps
has about 20 volunteers in St. Vincent working primarily in education
and health. The U.S. also actively supports the efforts of the St.
Vincent Government to control drug cultivation and trans-shipment on the
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--Jeanette W. Hyde
Deputy Chief of Mission--Tain P. Tompkins
Political/Economic Counselor--Thomas R. Hutson
Consul General--Dale Shaffer
Regional Labor Attache--Peggy Zabriskie
Economic-Commercial Officer--Carole Jackson
Public Affairs Officer--Tyrone Kemp
USAID Regional Director--Mosina Jordan
Peace Corps Director--James Scanlon (resident in St. Lucia)
The United States maintains no official presence in St. Vincent. The
ambassador and embassy officers are resident in Barbados and frequently
travel to St. Vincent.
The U.S. embassy in Barbados is located in the Canadian Imperial
Bank of Commerce Building, Broad Street, Bridgetown (tel: 809-436-4950;
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