U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: St. Vincent and the Grenadines, April, 1997
Released by the Bureau of Inter-American Affairs.
OFFICIAL NAME: St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Area: 340 sq. km. (130sq. mi.); slightly less than twice the size of
The Grenadines include 32 islands, the largest of which are Bequia,
Mustique, Canouan, and Union. Some of the smaller islands are privately
Terrain: Volcanic and mountainous, with the highest peak, Soufriere,
rising to 1,219 meters (4,000 ft.).
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Vincentian.
Population: (mid-1995 est.) 109,900.
Annual growth rate: (1995) 0.65%.
Ethnic groups: African descent (66%), mixed (19%), West 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--98%. Compulsory--up to age 15.
Health (1995): Infant mortality rate--17/1,000. Life expectancy-females
72 yrs; males--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, Eastern Caribbean supreme court (high court
and court of appeals), final appeal to the privy council in London.
Subdivisions: 6 parishes.
Political parties: New Democratic Party (NDP, incumbent; holds 12 of 15
seats in parliament), Unity Labour Party (ULP).
Suffrage: Universal at 18.
GDP (1995): $276 million.
Per Capita GDP (1995): $2,520.
Natural resources: Timber, beaches.
Industry: Plastic products, food processing, cement, furniture,
clothing, starch, and detergents.
Trade (1994): Exports--$70 million (bananas, eddoes and dasheen,
arrowroot starch). Major markets--U.K., CARICOM, U.S. Imports--$120
million (foodstuffs, machinery and equipment, chemicals and
Major suppliers--U.S., CARICOM, U.K., Japan.
Official exchange rate: Eastern Caribbean (EC) dollar--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 major
Carib Indians aggressively prevented European settlement on St. Vincent
until the 18th century. 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.
Beginning in 1719, French settlers cultivated coffee, tobacco, indigo,
cotton, and sugar on plantations worked by African slaves. In 1763, St.
Vincent was ceded to Britain. Restored to French rule in 1779, St.
Vincent was regained by the British under the Treaty of Versailles in
1783. Conflict between the British and the black Caribs continued until
1796, when 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. The resulting labor shortages on the
plantations attracted Portuguese immigrants in the 1840s and east
Indians in the 1860s. Conditions remained harsh for both former slaves
and 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. Much
farmland was damaged and the economy deteriorated. In April 1979, La
Soufriere erupted again. Although no one was killed, thousands had to be
evacuated, and there was extensive agricultural damage. In 1980 and 1987
hurricanes devastated banana and coconut plantations.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a parliamentary democracy within the
Commonwealth of Nations. 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 in St. Vincent as the St.
Vincent and the Grenadines supreme court. The court of last resort is
the judicial committee of Her Majesty's Privy Council in London.
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--Sir 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 also
has a consul resident in New York.
Political Conditions 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 party dissolved itself
Founded in 1955, the St. Vincent Labor Party (SYLP), under R. Milton
Cato, gained the support of the middle class. With a conservative law-
and-order message and a pro-Western foreign policy, the SYLP dominated
politics from mid-1960's until the mid-1980's. Following victories in
the 1967 and 1974 elections, the SYLP led the island to independence,
winning the first post-independence election in 1979. Expecting an easy
victory for the SYLP 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. Bolstered by a resurgent economy in the mid-1980's, 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 the
February 1994 elections under a unity coalition.
The St. Vincent economy is heavily dependent on agriculture. Bananas
alone account for upwards of 60% of the work force and 50% of
merchandise exports. Such reliance on a single crop makes the economy
vulnerable to external factors. St. Vincent's banana growers benefit
from preferential access to the European market. In view of the European
Union's announced phase-out of this preferred access, economic
diversification is a priority.
Tourism has grown to become a very important part of the economy. In
1993, tourism supplanted banana exports as the chief source of foreign
exchange. The Grenadines have become a favorite of the up-market
yachting crowd. The trend toward increasing tourism revenues will likely
continue. In 1996, as new cruise ship and ferry berths came on line,
more than 46,000 cruise ship passengers arrived, the majority of whom
were U.S. citizens. More than 14,000 other U.S. citizens visited in
1996. A relatively small number of Americans -- under 1,000 -- reside on
St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a beneficiary of the U.S. Caribbean
Basin Initiative. The country belongs to the Caribbean Community and
Common Market (CARICOM), which has signed a framework agreement with the
United States to promote trade and investment in the region.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines 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. St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a member of the
United Nations, the Commonwealth of Nations, the Organization of
American States, and the Association of Caribbean States (ACS).
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 solid bilateral relations. Both
governments are concerned with eradicating local marijuana cultivation
and combating the transshipment of narcotics. The St. Vincentian
Government has generally been cooperative and responsive to U.S. offers
of assistance. In 1995, the U.S. and St. Vincent signed a maritime law
enforcement agreement. In 1996, the Government of St. Vincent and the
Grenadines signed an extradition treaty with the United States.
The United States supports the Government of St. Vincent and the
Grenadines' efforts to expand its economic base and to provide a higher
standard of living for its citizens. Following the closure in July 1996
of USAID's Eastern Caribbean regional office, U.S. assistance is
channeled primarily through multilateral agencies such as the World
Bank. The United States has about 20 Peace Corps volunteers in St.
Vincent working in education and health. The U.S. military also provides
assistance through exercise-related construction and humanitarian civic
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--Jeanette W. Hyde
Deputy Chief Of Mission--Donald K. Holm
Political/Economic Counselor--Stephen R. Snow
Consul General--Philip M. Jones
Defense Attache--Lt. Col. Donald Robinson
Regional Labor Attache--Peggy Zabriskie
Economic-Commercial Officer--Leo Gallagher
Public Affairs Officer--Jennifer Clark
Peace Corps Director--David Styles (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: 246-436-4950; Fax:
OTHER CONTACT INFORMATION:
U.S. Department of Commerce
International Trade Administration
Office of Latin America and the Caribbean
14th and Constitution, NW
Washington, DC 20230
Tel: 202-482-1658; 800-USA-TRADE
Caribbean/Latin American Action 1818 N Street, NW, Suite 310 Washington,
DC 20036 Tel: 202-466-7464 Fax: 202-822-0075
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