Saint Lucia is a
mountainous country of volcanic origin ringed with sandy beaches.
The country has more Nobel laureates per capita than any other country:
poet and playwright Derek Walcott, born in Castries, Saint Lucia, on 23
January 1930, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1992; and Sir
Arthur Lewis was Nobel economics laureate in 1979.
Joined Commonwealth: 1979
Population: 182,000 (2013)
GDP: p.c. growth: 1.1% p.a. 1990–2013
UN HDI: World ranking 97
Official language: English
Timezone: GMT minus 4hr
Currency: Eastern Caribbean dollar (EC$)
Area: 616 sq km
Capital city: Castries
Population density (per sq. km): 295
Saint Lucia is part of the Windward Islands group, which form an arc
jutting out from the Eastern Caribbean into the Atlantic. It lies south
of Dominica and north of Barbados.
Castries (capital, pop. 67,700 in 2010, including Bexon, Babonneau,
Ciceron and La Clery), Dennery (3,700), Laborie (3,500), Monchy (3,100),
Vieux Fort (3,000), Grande Rivière (2,700), Augier (2,500), Micoud
(2,200), Soufrière (1,500) and Anse La Raye (1,400).
There are 1,210 km of roads, mainly unpaved. The main cross-island route
runs from Castries in the north to Vieux Fort in the south.
The main ports are Castries and Vieux Fort. A fast catamaran service
operates between Saint Lucia, Martinique and Dominica. Several cruise
lines call at the island.
Hewanorra International Airport lies 67 km south of Castries and George
F. L. Charles, 3 km to the north-east.
Saint Lucia is a member of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of
States, Association of Caribbean States, Caribbean Community,
Non-Aligned Movement, Organisation internationale de la Francophonie,
Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, Organization of American
States, United Nations and World Trade Organization.
Saint Lucia hosts the headquarters of the Organisation of Eastern
Saint Lucia is a pear-shaped mountainous island of volcanic origin, 43
km long. In the centre of the island, Mt Gimie rises to 950 metres,
while Gros Piton (798 metres) and Petit Piton (750 metres) lie to the
west, rising sheer out of the sea. Sulphurous springs, steam and gases
bubble out of a volcanic crater a few kilometres from Petit Piton. The
mountains are intersected by short rivers, debouching in places into
broad fertile valleys.
The hot tropical climate is moderated all year round by the north-east
trade winds. The dry season is January to April, the rainy season May to
The most significant environmental issues are deforestation and soil
erosion, particularly in the north of the island.
With its economy traditionally based on agriculture, about 30 per cent
of the land area is under cultivation. Elsewhere there is rainforest
with exotic and varied plant-life, many with brilliant flowers. Forest
covers 77 per cent of the land area.
This small island has rich birdlife including several unique species,
for example the Saint Lucia oriole and the Saint Lucia black finch. The
Saint Lucia parrot was the subject of a successful conservation
programme established in 1978 which raised the population from some 150
birds to over 400. Native reptiles include the Saint Lucia tree lizard
and the pygmy lizard.
Saint Lucia has been much fought over. The Caribs ousted earlier Arawak
settlers by around 800 CE, with the first Europeans arriving in the 16th
century, but historical sources vary as to which explorers landed on the
island first. What is more certain is that European powers wrestled with
the Caribs, and one another, for control of the island between 1660 and
1814, with the flag of Saint Lucia changing 14 times in that period.
After unsuccessful early attempts by the Spanish to take control,
possession of the island was disputed, often bloodily, by the French and
British. A small English group made a failed attempt to settle in 1605;
another English colony, started in 1638, was annihilated by the Caribs
three years later.
The Caribs resisted French settlement with equal vigour, until a peace
treaty (1660) with them permitted settlement, and ensured the safety of
some French settlers from Martinique who had arrived during the
preceding decade. The British made further attempts to gain control, and
the island changed hands again and again, and was a focus for
Anglo-French hostilities during the Napoleonic Wars. The British
ultimately took possession under the Treaty of Paris in 1814, and Saint
Lucia became a Crown colony.
A prosperous plantation economy developed; it was based on sugar, and
worked by enslaved Africans until Britain abolished slavery in 1834.
The island was a member of the Windward Islands Federation until 1959.
In 1959, Saint Lucia joined the West Indies Federation, under which it
was proposed that the British Caribbean countries should proceed to
independence as a federation. Disagreements among the larger members led
to dissolution of the federation in 1962, and the larger members
proceeded alone to independence.
In 1967, Saint Lucia received a new constitution, giving full internal
self-government under universal franchise, as one of the states of the
Federated States of the Antilles. In February 1979, it became
independent, as a constitutional monarchy and member of the
Commonwealth, with John Compton of the United Workers Party (UWP) as its
first Prime Minister.
The Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) won the election in 1979 and adopted
a policy of close collaboration with Grenada, which had recently
undergone a revolution led by Maurice Bishop, and was aligned with Cuba
and North Korea. Allegations of corruption resulted in an early general
election in 1982, when the UWP was returned with a large majority. It
was re-elected in 1987 and 1992 (with an 11:6 majority). Prime Minister
Compton adopted IMF adjustment measures and returned the country to
operation of a market economy. He also pursued the integration of the
Eastern Caribbean countries through the OECS.
In March 1996, at a UWP convention, Compton lost the leadership, after
30 years, and was replaced as Prime Minister by Dr Vaughan Lewis. An
early general election in May 1997 resulted in victory for the SLP,
winning 16 of the 17 seats, with 61 per cent of the votes, and SLP
leader Dr Kenny Anthony became Prime Minister. Lewis resigned as leader
of the UWP, having lost his seat.
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