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In July, 11 prisoners were transferred to Grenada, which sparked a major crisis for Prime Minister Kenny Anthony of the St. Lucia Labour Party (SLP). The prisoners had been transported after the government declared them to be clear and present threats to the national security. After protests from human rights organizations, the 11 were returned in October. An anonymous letter published in August in several local media outlets underscored the deterioration of the main prison, corruption among personnel, and woeful deficiencies in training, uniforms, and equipment. The appalling conditions of the St. Lucia prison, as well as the delay in completing construction of a new facility, came to light. The midyear resignation of the minister of Planning, Development and Housing, after his admission that he did not hold a doctorate in economics, further tainted the government. In July the government agreed to sign the Inter-American Convention against Corruption. Rising crime, especially violent offenses, and continuing drug trafficking are serious threats to the island's tourism industry.
The SLP swept to victory in the December 3, 2001, general elections, winning 14 of 17 seats in parliament, just short of the 16-1 majority it had achieved in 1997. However, in an election called six months ahead of schedule, constituencies dominated by banana farmers registered their discontent with Anthony's party, reflecting a measure of popular discontent with his efforts to keep the island's ailing banana industry solvent. Anthony was the only party leader to survive the election. Although her United Workers Party (UWP) won the other 3 seats, Morella Joseph--the first woman to lead a party into a general election--lost her seat, and National Alliance leader George Odlum and former UWP prime minister Vaughan Lewis failed in their efforts to be elected.
St. Lucia, a member of the Commonwealth, achieved independence in 1979. The British monarchy is represented by a governor-general. Under the 1979 constitution, a bicameral parliament consists of the 17member House of Assembly, and an 11member Senate, elected for five year terms. Six members of the upper body are appointed by the prime minister, three by the leader of the parliamentary opposition, and two in consultation with civic and religious organizations. The island is divided into eight regions, each with its own elected council and administrative services.
Upon taking office, Anthony began to address concerns of an electorate weary of economic distress and reports of official corruption. In 1999, his government faced a series of issues concerning the hotel and airline industries, both vital for the tourism industry. In 2000, Anthony and the SLP gave their approval for regulated casino gambling, brushing aside objections from religious groups and the UWP, focusing even more of their energies on revitalizing the country's tourism trade. In June 2001, Anthony announced a two-month crackdown on crime, including increased police patrols and heavy penalties for gun related crimes, which he said were necessary to combat a wave of murders and armed robberies that he blamed, in part, on a U.S. policy of deporting hardened criminals to the island.
Citizens are able to change their government through democratic elections. The 2001 elections were considered free and fair, although less than 50 percent of those eligible actually voted; 60 percent of registered voters turned out in 1997. Constitutional guarantees regarding the right to organize political parties, labor unions, and civic groups are generally respected, as is the free exercise of religion. Civic groups are well organized and politically active, as are labor unions, which represent the majority of wage earners. Nevertheless, legislation passed in 1995 restricts the right to strike.
The judicial system is independent and includes a high court under the West Indies Supreme Court (based in St. Lucia), with ultimate appeal under certain circumstances to the Privy Council in London. In July a treaty replacing the Privy Council with a Caribbean Court of Justice, to be based in Trinidad and Tobago, was approved by St. Lucia; implementation has not yet taken place. The region's governments have voiced concern that the Privy Council prevents the use of the death penalty as a response to high incidences of violent crime. The constitution requires public trials before an independent and impartial court. Traditionally, citizens have enjoyed a high degree of personal security, although there are episodic reports of police misuse of force. In recent years, an escalating crime wave, much of it drug related, violent clashes during banana farmers' strikes, and increased violence in schools created concern among citizens. The island's nineteenth-century prison, built to house a maximum of 101 inmates, houses more than 350. In 2002 the government sought to finish construction of a new $17 million prison facility on the eastern part of the island.
The media carry a wide spectrum of views and are largely independent of the government. There are five privately owned newspapers, two privately held radio stations, and one partially government-funded radio station, as well as two privately owned television stations. There is free access to the Internet. Academic freedom is generally honored.
Though there are no official barriers to their participation, women are underrepresented in politics and the professions. A growing awareness of the seriousness of violence against women has led the government and advocacy groups to take steps to offer better protection for victims of domestic violence.