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Caribbean, Saint Kitts and Nevis

island of Saint Kitts, Kennedy Simmonds, Liamuiga, British dependency, chief port

Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis, independent state, eastern Caribbean Sea, a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, comprising two of the Leeward Islands, Saint Kitts (or Saint Christopher) and Nevis, in the West Indies. The island of Saint Kitts is traversed by a mountain range, the highest point being Mount Liamuiga at 1,156 m (3,793 ft). The area of the country is 269 sq km (104 sq mi). The climate is tropical; the average annual temperature is 27°C (80°F).

The population of 38,736 (2002 estimate) consists primarily of descendants of western Africans. Descendants of Europeans and others constitute only a small minority. English is the official language, but a local patois is also spoken. Basseterre (population, 1994 estimate, 12,220) is the country’s capital and the chief port on Saint Kitts; Charlestown (population, 1990, 1,200) is the chief port on Nevis and the birthplace of 18th-century statesman Alexander Hamilton.

Agriculture is the principal economic activity, although tourism is of increasing importance. Ecotourism is being encouraged by the government, which is pushing for a national park on Nevis, similar to the one on Saint Kitts. Sugar and molasses are the chief products; coconuts and fruits and vegetables are also produced. Exports depend heavily on the production of sugar. Fishing is taking its toll on the coral reefs of the islands. There has been some loss of forests and woodlands in the past two decades, leading to soil erosion. Some pollution of the coastline is occurring as a result of oil spills from nearby tanker lanes. The unit of currency is the East Caribbean dollar (2.70 E.C. dollars equal U.S.$1; 2000 average).

Under the 1983 constitution, the head of state is the British monarch, represented in Saint Kitts and Nevis by a governor-general. The head of government is the prime minister, who must command a majority of the unicameral national assembly.

Italian Spanish navigator Christopher Columbus landed on the islands in 1493 and named Saint Kitts for his patron, Saint Christopher. The English settled Saint Kitts in 1623 and Nevis in 1628. The French seized Saint Kitts several times in the 17th and 18th centuries but finally ceded it to Great Britain by the Treaty of Paris in 1783. Saint Kitts, Nevis, and Anguilla were united as a British dependency in 1871 that became an internally self-governing member of the West Indies Associated States in 1967. Anguilla was placed under direct British rule in 1971 and was officially withdrawn from the dependency in 1980.

Saint Kitts and Nevis jointly attained full independence within the Commonwealth of Nations on September 19, 1983. Kennedy Simmonds, leader of the People’s Action Movement (PAM), became the nation’s first prime minister and held that position for more than ten years. An early election was called in 1995 after a scandal involving allegations of drug smuggling on the island rocked Simmonds’s government. The Labour Party won the election, and Labour leader Denzil Douglas became the nation’s new prime minister.

In 1997 lawmakers in Nevis authorized a referendum on the issue of whether Nevis should pursue independence from Saint Kitts. Pro-independence leaders claimed that the government in Saint Kitts had ignored the needs of residents on the smaller island of Nevis. Saint Kitts had an infrastructure that included paved roads, a state-of-the-art hospital, and a modern port and international airport that cater to tourists. Nevis had a single dirt road and a small, aging port. Pro-independence supporters also cited cultural differences that had developed between the two islands, expressing particular alarm at the perceived growth in drug smuggling and crime on Saint Kitts. The referendum failed to gain the necessary two-thirds majority for ratification.

In the 2000 legislative elections, the Labour Party won a majority of the elected seats in the legislature. As the party’s leader, Denzil Douglas began a second term as prime minister.

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