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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)
The second reading for a new constitution for St. Vincent and the Grenadines was held in late 2004. Meanwhile, the political opposition maintained an effective campaign against the government and its policies throughout the year.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines 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 country is a member of the Commonwealth, with the British monarchy represented by a governor-general.
In the March 2001 elections, the social-democratic United Labour Party (ULP) captured 12 of the 15 contested parliamentary seats and Ralph Gonsalves became prime minister. The incumbent conservative New Democratic Party (NDP) won only 3 seats. International election observers monitored the election, which had been preceded by serious political unrest and popular mobilization, for the first time in the country's history.
In 2001, Gonsalves, a one time radical opposition figure, led a successful initiative to save the financially ailing Organization of Eastern Caribbean States by relieving it of some administrative requirements now carried out by its individual members. After a controversial trip to Libya, also in 2001, Gonsalves was criticized for not revealing publicly that the Arab nation had promised to buy all the bananas that the Caribbean could produce.
In June 2003, the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) removed St. Vincent and the Grenadines from its list of jurisdictions deemed non-cooperative in the fight against money laundering. This move was regarded as a major victory by the government of Prime Minister Gonsalves. In the same month, the U.S. Coast Guard detained eight ships when it discovered that several officers had licenses that were improperly issued by St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
In October 2004, the second reading of a proposed new constitution for the country was held, one week after the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) launched a new informational publication on the issue. Throughout the year, the opposition NDP, led by Arnhim Eustace, staged an effective publicity-based campaign against the prime minister's government and policies, culminating in a November 3 candlelight march. The protests were a response to perceived mismanagement and corruption by the Gonsalves administration.
The periodic destruction caused by tropical weather has further burdened the island's 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.
Citizens can change their government democratically. The constitution provides for representatives to the 15-member unicameral House of Assembly to be elected for five years. In addition, six senators are appointed - four by the government and two by the opposition. The March 2001 election was considered free and fair by international observers.
There have been allegations of drug-related corruption within the government and the police force, and of money laundering through St. Vincent banks. 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 Washington. St. Vincent and the Grenadines was not surveyed in Transparency International's 2004 Corruption Perceptions Index.
The press is independent, with two privately owned independent weeklies and several smaller, partisan papers. Some journalists believe that government advertising is used as a political tool. 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.
The right to freedom of religion is constitutionally protected and reflected in practice. Academic freedom is generally honored.
Civic groups and non-governmental organizations are free from government interference. There is freedom of assembly. Labor unions are active and permitted to strike.
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; in November, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves publicly endorsed the death penalty as a partial response to the rise in violent crime on the islands.
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 300 - and prisons are the targets of allegations of mistreatment. In February 2004, the Human Rights Association called on the government to ratify the Declaration on Human Rights adopted by the United Nations' General Assembly in 1998.
Violence against women, particularly domestic violence, is a major problem. The Domestic Violence Summary Proceedings Act that provides for protective orders offers some protection. The punishment for rape is generally 10 years in prison, while sentences of 20 years for sexual assaults against minors are handed down.