St. Vincent and the Grenadines (04/01)

For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.


Official Name:
St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Area: 388 sq. km. (150 sq. mi.); about 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.
Terrain: Volcanic and mountainous, with the highest peak, Soufriere, rising to 1,219 meters (4,000 ft.).
Climate: Tropical.

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Vincentian.
Population (2000): 113,200.
Annual growth rate (2000): 3.7%.
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%. Years compulsory--up to age 15.
Health (1998): Infant mortality rate--22.2/1,000. Life expectancy--females 72 yrs.; males--68 yrs.
Work force (about 40,000): Agriculture--40%.

Type: Parliamentary democracy; independent sovereign state within the Commonwealth.
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: Unity Labour Party (ULP)( holds 12 of 15 seats in parliament), New Democratic Party (NDP) ; People's Progressive Movement (PPM).
Suffrage: Universal at 18.

Economy (2000)
GDP: US$332.6 million.
Per capita GDP(1999): US$2,900.
Natural resources: Timber, beaches.
Industry: Types--Plastic products, food processing, cement, furniture, clothing, starch, and detergents.
Trade: Exports (2000, US$54.7 million)--bananas, eddoes and dasheen, arrowroot starch). Major markets--U.K., CARICOM, U.S. Imports (US $193.2 million)--foodstuffs, machinery and equipment, chemicals and fertilizers. Major suppliers--U.S., CARICOM, U.K., Japan.

Most Vincentians are the descendants of African slaves brought to the island to work on plantations. There also are 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 underemployment, population growth remains a major problem.

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. More than 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; 1998 and 1999 also saw very active hurricane seasons, with hurricane Lenny in 1999 causing extensive damage to the west coast of the island.

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 5 years, although the prime minister may call elections at any time.

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 six parishes are administered by the central government.

Principal Government Officials
Head of State--Queen Elizabeth II
Governor General--Sir Charles Antrobus
Prime Minister--Ralph Gonsalves
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Commerce and Trade--Louis Straker
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.

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 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, the SYLP dominated politics from the mid-1960s until the mid-1980s. 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.

From 1984 until elections in March 2001, politics in St. Vincent were dominated by the NDP. 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 the February 1994 elections under a "unity" coalition. In 1998, Prime Minister Mitchell and the NDP were returned to power for an unprecedented fourth term but only with a slim margin of eight seats to seven seats for the Unity Labour Party (ULP).

In May 2000, a series of disruptive protests against the policies of the NDP were settled with an agreement brokered by the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, to hold elections in March 2001, 2 years ahead of the constitutionally mandated date. In the March 2001 elections the ULP won a landslide victory over the NDP, taking 12 of the 15 parliamentary seats. The NDP held on to the remaining parliamentary seats, shutting out the PPM altogether. The election was monitored by international election observers for the first time in the country's history.

The St. Vincent economy has traditionally been dependent on agriculture, but the government has attempted to diversify the economy in recent years. Agriculture now accounts for about 9% of GDP compared to 11% in 1996 and 13% in 1993. Bananas account for more than 80% of agricultural output. and account for upwards of 60% of the work force and about 35% 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 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, new cruiseship and ferry berths came on-line, sharply increasing the number of passenger arrivals. In 2000, total visitor arrivals were about 280,700 . A relatively small number of Americans--under 1,000--reside on the islands.

St. Vincent is a member of the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union (ECCU). Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) issues a common currency for all members of the ECCU. The ECCB also manages monetary policy and regulates and supervises commercial banking activities in its member countries.

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 also is a member of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).

St. Vincent and the Grenadines maintains close ties to the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. and participates in 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.

In May 1997, Prime Minister Mitchell joined 14 other Caribbean leaders and President Clinton during the first-ever U.S.-regional summit in Bridgetown, Barbados. The summit strengthened the basis for regional cooperation on justice and counternarcotics issues, finance and development, and trade.

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. In 1997, the two countries signed a mutual legal assistance treaty.

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. U.S. assistance is primarily channeled through multilateral agencies such as the World Bank, the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), and through the newly opened USAID satellite office in Bridgetown, Barbados. 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 action projects.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Charge d'Affaires--Roland W. Bullen
Political/Economic Chief--Charles N. Patterson, Jr.
Consul General--Theophilus J. Rose
Defense Attache--LTC John Churchill
Regional Labor Attache--vacant
Public Affairs Officer--Emilia Puma
Peace Corps Director--Earl Phillips (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: 246-429-5246).

U.S. Department of Commerce
International Trade Administration
Trade Information Center
14th and Constitution, NW
Washington, DC 20230
Tel: 1-800-USA-TRADE

Caribbean/Latin American Action
1818 N Street, NW, Suite 310
Washington, DC 20036
Tel: 202-466-7464
Fax: 202-822-0075