Capital City: Kingstown
Largest City: Kingstown
Official Currency: East Caribbean dollar (XCD)
GDP (nominal): $601 million (2008)
Population: 2008 estimate 120,000
Land Area: 389 km2
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is a nation in the Lesser Antilles chain, which lies at the eastern border of the Caribbean Sea where it meets the Atlantic Ocean. Its 389-square-kilometre (150 sq mi) territory consists of the main island of Saint Vincent and the northern two-thirds of the Grenadines, which are a chain of smaller islands stretching south from Saint Vincent to Grenada.
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines -- History --
The island now known as Saint Vincent was originally named "Hairouna" by the Carib Indians. Carib Indians aggressively prevented European settlement on St. Vincent until the 18th century. At that time, formerly enslaved Africans, who had either been shipwrecked or who had escaped from Barbados, St. Lucia and Grenada and sought refuge in mainland St. Vincent, intermarried with the Caribs and became known as Garifuna or Black Caribs.
Beginning in 1719, French settlers gained control of the island and began cultivating coffee, tobacco, indigo, cotton, and sugar on plantations. These plantations were worked by enslaved Africans. In 1763, France ceded control of St. Vincent to Britain. However, France re-invaded the island in 1779. The French regained control after landing at Calliaqua, near Fort Duvernette. The British then finally regained St. Vincent under the Treaties of Versailles (1783). These treaties were ancillary treaties to the Treaty of Paris (1783), through which Great Britain officially recognised the end of the American Revolution.
Between 1783 and 1796, there was conflict between the British and the Black Caribs, who were led by defiant Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer. In 1796 British General Sir Ralph Abercromby put an end to the open conflict by crushing a revolt which had been 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 Saint Vincent 1834. An apprenticeship period followed which ended in 1838. After its end, labour shortages on the plantations resulted, and this was initially addressed by the immigration of indentured servants. In the late 1840s many Portuguese immigrants arrived from Madeira and between 1861 and 1888 shiploads of East Indian labourers arrived. 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 its independence in 1979, St. Vincent passed through various stages of colonial status under the British. A representative assembly was authorised in 1776, Crown Colony government was installed in 1877, a legislative council was created in 1925, and universal adult suffrage was granted in 1951.
During the period of its control of St. Vincent, the British made several unsuccessful attempts to affiliate the island with other Windward Islands. This would have simplified Britain's control over the region through a unified administration. In the 1960s, several regional islands under British control, including St. Vincent, also made an independent attempt to unify. The unification was to be called the West Indies Federation and was driven by a desire to gain freedom from British rule. The attempt collapsed in 1962.
St. Vincent was granted "associate statehood" status by Britain on October 27, 1969. This gave St. Vincent complete control over its internal affairs but was short of full independence. On October 27, 1979, following a referendum under Milton Cato, St. Vincent and the Grenadines became the last of the Windward Islands to gain independence. Independence came on the 10th anniversary of St. Vincent's associate statehood status.
Natural disasters have featured in the country's history. 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 again there was extensive agricultural damage. In 1980 and 1987, hurricanes compromised 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.
On November 25, 2009, a referendum was held in which voters were asked to approve a new constitution, which would make the country a republic, replacing Queen Elizabeth II as head of state with a President. A two-thirds majority was required, but it was defeated by 29,019 votes (55.64 per cent) to 22, 493 (43.13 per cent). A celebration was then held in the country, where over 10,000 people attended a party in the capital Kingstown.
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines -- Economy --
Agriculture, dominated by banana production, is the most important sector of this lower-middle-income economy. The services sector, based mostly on a growing tourist industry, is also important. The government has been relatively unsuccessful at introducing new industries, and a high unemployment rate of 22% continues. The continuing dependence on a single crop represents the biggest obstacle to the islands' development. Tropical storms wiped out substantial portions of crops in both 1994 and 1995.
The tourism sector has considerable potential for development over the next decade. The recent filming of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies on the island has also helped to increase tourism and expose the country to the wider world. Recent growth has been stimulated by strong activity in the construction sector and an improvement in tourism.
A further boost is expected to be provided by the new international airport which is currently under construction. There is a small manufacturing sector and a small offshore financial sector whose particularly restrictive secrecy laws have caused some international concern. In addition, the natives of Bequia are permitted to hunt up to four Humpback Whales per year under IWC subsistence quotas.
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines -- Culture --
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines music includes big drum, calypso, soca, steelpan and also reggae. String band music, quadrille and bele music and traditional storytelling are also popular. The national anthem of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is "St Vincent Land So Beautiful", adopted upon independence in 1979; it was written by Phyllis Joyce McClean Punnett with music by Joel Bertram Miguel. The most popular international singer from St. Vincent is Marlon Roudette, lead singer from the band Mattafix. The band is famous for their hit single "Big City Life" which reached the number 1 spot on the charts in Austria, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Poland and Switzerland.
Other singers include Kevin Lyttle ("Turn Me On") and Alston "Becket" Cyrus ("Teaser"), Bomani, Maddzart, Skarpyon, and Jamesy P. Most recently, Problem Child became the local carnival Road March winner in July 2007 with his hit song "Party Animal", which propelled him to Trinidad and Tobago's 2008 carnival Soca monarch finals. St. Vincent's recording studios include Skakes Studio, JR Studios, Sky studio and Non-fiction Recordings.
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines -- Political system, law and government --
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is a parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy within the Commonwealth of Nations with Queen Elizabeth II as head of state, bearing the title Queen of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. The Queen does not reside in the islands and is represented in the country by the Governor General of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, currently Sir Frederick Ballantyne.
The office of Governor General has mostly ceremonial functions including the opening of the islands' House of Assembly and the appointment of various government officials. Control of the government rests with the elected Prime Minister and his or her cabinet. There is a parliamentary opposition made of the largest minority stakeholder in general elections, headed by the leader of the opposition. The current Prime Minister is the Honourable Dr. Ralph Gonsalves.
The country has no formal armed forces, although the Royal Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force includes a Special Service Unit.
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines are a full & participating member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), ALBA and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).