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St. Vincent and Grenadines
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
A June 2002 decision by the Financial Action Task Force kept the island on the list of uncooperative jurisdictions in the fight against money laundering. In the same month the Inter-American Convention against Corruption was signed. In August, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, of the Unity Labour Party (ULP), denied allegations that he used state funds to pay travel costs for family members who accompanied him on a visit to Rome. In October the United Kingdom canceled the country's debt, easing the burden of rebuilding in the wake of tropical storm Lili, which destroyed about 40 percent of the banana acreage and caused extensive damage to infrastructure. The periodic destruction caused by tropical weather has further strained the islands' troubled economy and made efforts of diversification more difficult. Crime continues to discourage tourism, which had begun a slow recovery from the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.
In the March 2001 elections, the social-democratic ULP captured 12 of the 15 contested parliamentary seats. The incumbent, conservative New Democrat Party (NDP) won only three seats. The election, which had been preceded by serious political unrest and popular mobilization, was monitored by international election observers for the first time in the country's history.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a member of the Commonwealth, with the British monarchy represented by a governor-general. St. Vincent achieved independence in 1979, with jurisdiction over the northern Grenadine islets of Bequia, Canouan, Mayreau, Mustique, Prune Island, Petit St. Vincent, and Union Island. The constitution provides for the 15-member unicameral House of Assembly, elected for five years. Six senators are appointed--four by the government and two by the opposition.
Gonsalves, a onetime radical opposition figure, led an initiative in 2001 to save the financially ailing Organization of Eastern Caribbean States by strengthening the organization in order to relieve administrative requirements now carried out by its individual members. After a controversial trip to Libya, Gonsalves was criticized for not revealing publicly that the Arab nation had promised to buy all the bananas that the Caribbean could produce.
Citizens can change their government through elections. The March 2001 election was considered free and fair by international observers. The judicial system is independent. The highest court is the West Indies Supreme Court (based in St. Lucia), which includes a court of appeals and a high court. A right of ultimate appeal reports, under certain circumstances, to the Privy Council in London. Murder convictions carry a mandatory death sentence.
Penetration by the hemispheric drug trade is increasingly causing concern. There have been allegations of drug-related corruption within the government and the police force, and of money laundering through St. Vincent banks. The drug trade has also caused an increase in street crime. In 1995 the U.S. government described St. Vincent as becoming a drug-trafficking center and alleged that high-level government officials are involved in narcotics-related corruption. Since then, St. Vincent has taken steps to cooperate with U.S. antidrug trade efforts, such as signing an extradition treaty in 1996 with the United States. In December 1999, a marijuana eradication effort in St. Vincent's northern mountains stirred up controversy after U.S.-trained troops from the Regional Security System (RSS) were accused of brutality and indiscriminate crop destruction in what the Barbados-based RSS claimed was a highly successful exercise. One person, who police said was fleeing from a search scene armed with a shotgun, was killed.
Human rights are generally respected. In 1999 a local human rights organization accused police of using excessive force and illegal searches and seizure, and of improperly informing detainees of their rights in order to extract confessions. The regional human rights organization, Caribbean Rights, estimates that 90 percent of convictions in St. Vincent are based on confessions. The independent St. Vincent Human Rights Association has criticized long judicial delays and the large backlog of cases caused by personnel shortages in the local judiciary. It has also charged that the executive branch of government at times exerts inordinate influence over the courts. Prison conditions remain poor--one prison designed for 75 inmates houses more than 400--and prisons are the targets of allegations of mistreatment. Juvenile offenders are also housed in inadequate conditions.
The press is independent, with two privately owned independent weeklies and several smaller, partisan papers. The opposition has charged one of the weeklies with governmental favoritism. The only television station is privately owned and free from government interference. Satellite dishes and cable are available to those who can afford them. The radio station is government owned, and call-in programs are prohibited. Equal access to radio is mandated during electoral campaigns, but the ruling party takes advantage of state control over programming. There is free access to the Internet. Academic freedom is generally honored.
Constitutional guarantees regarding free expression, freedom of religion, and the right to organize political parties, labor unions, and civic organizations are generally respected. Labor unions are active and permitted to strike. Violence against women, particularly domestic violence, is a major problem.