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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)
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines enjoyed relative political calm in 2005, although relations between the government and the opposition remained tense. Concerns about the drug trade escalated when Caribbean neighbors complained about the country's ineffective counternarcotics policies.
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines achieved independence from Great Britain in 1979, with jurisdiction over the northern Grenadine islets of Bequia, Canouan, Mayreau, Mustique, Prune Island, Petit Saint 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 Unity 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 observers monitored the election, which had been preceded by large antigovernment protests and the first serious political unrest 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 (OECS) 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 removed Saint 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 Gonsalves's government. 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 Saint 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 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.
In June 2005, Barbados Prime Minister Owen Arthur charged that authorities in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines were not doing enough to stop the flow of illegal drugs or stifle international criminal networks operating out of Saint Vincent.
Also in 2005, opposition leaders questioned whether the supervisory mechanism for next year's elections was sufficiently independent. In particular, Eustace accused the ruling party of using public money for campaign purposes and voiced concerns about irregularities in the run-up to the general elections.
Citizens of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines can change their government democratically. The constitution provides for the election of 15 representatives to the unicameral House of Assembly to serve for five years. The prime minister is the leader of the majority party in the House. In addition, six senators are appointed to the House- 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 Saint Vincent banks. In 1995, the U.S. government alleged that Saint Vincent was becoming a drug-trafficking center and that high-level government officials were involved in narcotics-related corruption. Since then, Saint Vincent has taken steps to cooperate with U.S. anti-drug-trade efforts, such as signing an extradition treaty in 1996 with Washington. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines was not surveyed in Transparency International's 2005 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. In September, universal secondary education was introduced. Access to higher education is limited but improving as the University of the West Indies initiates degree programs with community colleges in Saint Vincent and other OECS states.
There is constitutional protection for freedom of assembly and association. Civic groups and nongovernmental organizations are free from government interference. 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 may report, under certain circumstances, to the Privy Council in London. The independent Saint Vincent Human Rights Association has criticized long judicial delays and a 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.
Murder convictions carry a mandatory death sentence; in November 2004, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves publicly endorsed the death penalty as a partial response to the rise in violent crime on the islands, urging judges not to be swayed by a Privy Council ruling that mandatory death sentences are unconstitutional. In 2004, 28 people were murdered in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, which is the highest number on record for the country. Prison conditions remain poor-one prison designed for 75 inmates houses more than 300-and prisons are the targets of allegations of mistreatment.
Violence against women, particularly domestic violence, is a major problem. The Domestic Violence Summary Proceedings Act, which 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.