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Saint Vincent and the Grenadines


Ralph Gonsalves, Caribs, time Britain, Caribbean nations, ULP

Saint Vincent was probably visited and named by Christopher Columbus in 1498 on his third voyage to the New World. The Carib people were living on the island at the time the first European travelers arrived. The Caribs fiercely resisted any attempts at European settlement for over 200 years. Coastal forts on the island have cannon ports that face inland; the Caribs were a greater menace to settlers than an enemy fleet.

The Caribs did, however, allow a cargo of Africans, shipwrecked in 1675, to settle on the islands and intermarry. Escaped slaves from other Caribbean islands were also allowed to seek refuge. Their black Carib descendents still live in the north of the island. As the number of black Caribs increased, tension mounted with the Carib and in 1700 there was a civil war.

The French were the first Europeans to settle the islands, and in 1719 they began to cultivate coffee, tobacco, indigo, and cotton on plantations worked by slaves. In 1722 the British arrived and possession of the islands was disputed. The British first assumed ownership in 1763 and finally wrested control from the French under the Treaty of Paris in 1783. The British army defeated the black Caribs in 1796 after a long conflict and deported over 5,000 of them to an island off the coast of Honduras.

By the time Britain gained control of the islands, Saint Vincent had proved suitable for growing sugarcane with slave labor. After Britain abolished slavery in the 1830s, the sugar plantations turned to Portuguese and East Indian immigrant laborers. Saint Vincent was not prosperous, however, and life was hard. The eruption of La Soufriere in 1902 devastated the northern half of the island, and economic conditions deteriorated further.

Self-rule was granted slowly to the islands under the collective name of Saint Vincent. In 1925 the first legislative council met; in 1951 all adults gained the right to vote; and in 1969 Saint Vincent and the Grenadines became a member of the West Indies Associated States with full autonomy over its internal affairs. Ten years later it was granted full independence.

On October 27, 1979, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines received full independence within the Commonwealth of Nations. That year the new country elected a government led by the Saint Vincent Labor Party. In 1984 the New Democratic Party won elections to the legislature, and its leader, James F. Mitchell, became prime minister. The party and its prime minister won reelection in 1989 and in 1994.

In 1998 general elections Mitchell’s NDP was voted in for a fourth term. The Labour Party polled 4,000 more votes than the NDP but failed to gain a parliamentary majority by just one seat (holding 7 of the 15 seats). Labour alleged widespread fraud, bribery, and intimidation, and threatened to take action unless there was a new vote. Mitchell remained in power. The government drew criticism from the United States and other Caribbean nations for not cracking down on drug smugglers and marijuana growers, and so enabling drug trafficking to flourish.

Antigovernment demonstrations led Mitchell to retire in 2000 and elections were held in 2001. A landslide victory by the Unity Labour Party (ULP) ended 17 years of rule by the NDP. The party’s leader, Ralph Gonsalves, became prime minister. Gonsalves and the ULP won reelection in December 2005.

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