Most of St Vincent is
rugged and mountainous, volcanic in origin and with an active volcano,
La Soufrière, which rises to 1,234 metres and is the island’s highest
point; its last violent eruption was in April 1979.
Some 69 per cent of the country’s land area is forested.
Many of St Vincent’s beaches are of black volcanic sand, while the
Grenadine beaches are of fine white sand.
Joined Commonwealth: 1979
Population: 109,000 (2013)
GDP: 2.5% p.a. 1990–2013
UN HDI: World ranking 91
Official language: English
Timezone: GMT minus 4hr
Currency: Eastern Caribbean dollar (EC$)
Area: Total land area 389.3 sq km: St Vincent 344 sq km, and the
Grenadines 45.3 sq km.
Capital city: Kingstown
Population density (per sq. km): 280
St Vincent and the Grenadines, one of the Windward Island countries of
the Eastern Caribbean, lies near the southern end of the Caribbean
chain, about 97 km north of Grenada. The country comprises six parishes,
one of these being Grenadines.
Kingstown (capital, pop. 16,500 in 2010), Georgetown (1,400), Byera
(1,200), Biabou (900) and Chateaubelair (630) on St Vincent; Port
Elizabeth (770) on Bequia in the Grenadines.
There are 829 km of roads, 70 per cent paved. Cruiseships call at St
Vincent. A mail boat runs several times a week through the Grenadines
and ferries operate between the islands.
E. T. Joshua International Airport is at Arnos Vale, 3 km south-east of
Kingstown. There are small airports/airstrips on Bequia, Union Island,
Canouan and Mustique. A new international airport was due to be opened
at Argyle in the east of St Vincent in 2012.
St Vincent and the Grenadines is a member of the African, Caribbean and
Pacific Group of States, Association of Caribbean States, Caribbean
Community, Non-Aligned Movement, Organisation of Eastern Caribbean
States, Organization of American States, United Nations and World Trade
The country comprises the island of St Vincent and the northern
Grenadines, a series of 32 islands and cays, stretching south-west
towards Grenada. (The southern Grenadine islands are part of Grenada.)
The larger northern Grenadines are Bequia (pronounced Beck-way), Canouan,
Mayreau, Mustique, Isle D’Quatre and Union Island. St Vincent is
volcanic in origin, and has an active volcano, La Soufrière, which
erupted violently in 1812, and again in 1902. A mild eruption in 1971–72
created a volcanic dome in the crater lake, forming an island. This
exploded in another eruption in 1979, blasting ash, steam and stones
high into the air. A rugged mountain range runs from La Soufrière in the
north to Mt St Andrew (750 metres) above the Kingstown Valley in the
south. This mountainous backbone sends off lateral spurs which are
intersected by wooded valleys and numerous streams. Many of the beaches
of St Vincent are of black volcanic sand; there are some white-sand
beaches. The Grenadines have been much celebrated for their beaches of
fine white sand and clear waters.
Tropical, moderated by trade winds in June/July. The dry season is
January to May, the rainy season May/June to September. There is
significantly heavier rainfall in the mountainous interior. Tropical
storms and hurricanes may occur June–November.
The most significant environmental issue is pollution of coasts and
coastal waters by discharges from yachts and from industrial plants on
The mountains of St Vincent support a luxuriant growth of tropical
forest; coconuts and the more typical tropical coral island vegetation
occur on the Grenadines and coastal fringes of St Vincent island. Forest
covers 69 per cent of the land area, having increased at 0.4 per cent
p.a. 1990–2010. The botanical gardens, founded in 1765, conserve rare
species, including the mangosteen fruit tree, and a descendant from
Captain Bligh’s original breadfruit tree.
The Buccament Valley east of Layou is a tropical rainforest reserve,
home to the endangered St Vincent parrot, as well as many other species
such as the unique whistling warbler. Bequia’s rich marine flora and
fauna make it a popular resort for divers.
The country’s first known inhabitants were Arawaks, who were later
driven out by Caribs; the latter put up a strong resistance to European
colonisation. Christopher Columbus sighted the principal island on 22
January 1498, and named it after the saint whose feast falls on that
day. No immediate European immigration followed this discovery. In 1627
Charles I of England granted the island to Lord Carlisle, but no
settlers arrived. Charles II granted it to Lord Willoughby in 1672;
possession was disputed by the British, French and Spanish. All these
claims were resisted by the Caribs. The Caribs did not, however, oppose
the settlement of a shipload of enslaved Africans who escaped after a
shipwreck in 1673, and in due course seem to have merged with the Carib
community through intermarriage. In 1773, under an Anglo/Carib treaty,
the Caribs were allowed to continue to live independently in the north
of the island. France took the island in 1779, but restored it to
Britain in 1783, under the Treaty of Versailles. In 1795–96, the Caribs
rebelled, aided by the French in Martinique; when this had been crushed,
the rebels were deported to the island of Roatan in the Bay of Honduras.
A plantation economy, based on slave labour, developed, producing sugar,
cotton, coffee and cocoa. But in 1812 La Soufrière erupted and
devastated much of the island. After the emancipation of slaves by
Britain in 1834, indentured labour from the East Indies and Portugal was
brought in to remedy the labour shortage.
In the second half of the 19th century sugar slumped and the economy
remained very depressed for the rest of the century. In the early 20th
century, a series of natural disasters further damaged the society: with
a severe hurricane, and a further eruption of La Soufrière in 1902 which
devastated the northern half of the island and killed 2,000 people.
St Vincent and the Grenadines was a member of the Federation of the West
Indies. After its dissolution in 1962, and the move of larger Caribbean
countries to independence individually, the transition towards
independence began in St Vincent. At first, the smaller Eastern
Caribbean countries attempted to set up a federation of their own, but
negotiations among them were unsuccessful. Universal adult suffrage had
already been established (and the executive council became partly
elective) in 1951. Internal self-government was achieved in 1969 and
full independence in October 1979.
Elections held two months after independence in 1979 gave overwhelming
victory to Milton Cato’s St Vincent Labour Party (SVLP), the party which
had campaigned most vigorously for independence.
The newly independent country faced a series of political difficulties
with, first, an armed rebellion on Union Island by a Rastafarian
minority led by Bumba Charles, and then protests early in the 1980s,
which led to special ‘public order’ legislation. Cato called an early
general election in mid-1984, but was defeated by James Fitz-Allen
Mitchell’s New Democratic Party (NDP), formed in 1975. Mitchell, then
standing as an independent, had been Premier between 1972–74.
Mitchell’s NDP came to power in 1984 advocating policies of closer
economic and ultimately political union with the neighbouring Eastern
Caribbean countries. The country had played an active part in the
establishment of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States in 1981,
which achieved several of the aims the countries had failed to achieve
through the aborted plan for an East Caribbean Federation.
The NDP was returned to power at the 1989 elections, and at the 1994
elections, when it took 12 seats, the remaining three seats going to the
SVLP and Movement for National Unity coalition, which later merged to
become the Unity Labour Party (ULP). In the general election in June
1998 the NDP narrowly won a fourth successive election taking eight of
the House of Assembly’s 15 seats, with only 45 per cent of the votes
Following public protests at the raising of MPs’ remuneration and
pensions, in May 2000, through the offices of OECS and CARICOM, the
government agreed with the ULP that there would be a general election by
end March 2001. In August 2000, Mitchell stepped down from the
presidency of the ruling NDP and was replaced by Finance Minister Arnhim
Eustace, who became Prime Minister in October.
History Of Saint Vincent
And The Grenadines
Events that crippled the
people of St Vincent and the Grenadines
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