Freedom in the World
St. Kitts and Nevis
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
In July 2006, control of the Nevis Island Administration was transferred from the Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM) to the opposition Nevis Reform Party (NRP), and the NRP’s Joseph Perry was subsequently named the island’s third premier, ending 15 years of governance by the CCM. Despite fears that the 2005 downsizing of the sugar industry would hamper economic growth and development, 2006 saw an increase in growth due to an expanding tourism sector. During the year, Saint Kitts and Nevis sought international support to help stem the flow of illegal arms through the country.
European colonization of Saint Kitts and Nevis began in the seventeenth century with the arrival of English and French colonists. The English settled mostly on Nevis, while the French chose Saint Kitts. Intermittent warfare led to changes in sovereignty, but the Treaty of Paris in 1783 awarded both islands to Britain. In 1967, together with Anguilla, they became a self-governing state in association with Great Britain; Anguilla seceded late that year and remains a British dependency. The Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis attained full independence on September 19, 1983, but is a member of the Commonwealth.
In the run-up to the March 6, 2000, elections, incumbent prime minister Denzil Douglas was able to tout his government’s efforts at promoting tourist-resort construction, combating crime, and raising public employees’ salaries. Critics of the ruling Saint Kitts and Nevis Labour Party (SKNLP) claimed that the country had accumulated $192 million in debt and that the government had failed to reinvigorate the islands’ sugar industry. The SKNLP won a stronger parliamentary majority in the elections, taking all eight Saint Kitts seats in the 11-member National Assembly. Opposition leader Kennedy Simmonds’s People’s Action Movement (PAM), which had hoped to oust the SKNLP by winning three seats on Saint Kitts and forming a coalition with the parties that held the three Nevis seats, instead lost its only Saint Kitts seat to the SKNLP, which had previously held seven.
In 2002, the Financial Action Task Force removed the federation from its list of jurisdictions that were “noncooperative” in the fight against money laundering and other financial crimes.
Momentum began to gather in mid-2003 for Nevis to secede from Saint Kitts, a process that cast a shadow over the twentieth anniversary of independence from Britain. Nevis held the constitutional right to secede if two-thirds of the elected legislators in its local assembly approved and two-thirds of Nevisian voters endorsed secession in a referendum. Though a 1998 referendum on independence had failed to reach the required two-thirds majority, Nevisians continued to feel neglected by the central government. The cabinet has no Nevisian members, and the island is entitled to only 3 of the 11 seats in the national legislature. There is little support for independence from neighboring states or farther a field.
Douglas called early elections for October 25, 2004, and his SKNLP won seven Saint Kitts seats, while the opposition PAM took the remaining seat on the island. Douglas’s call for early elections was seen as a successful effort to ensure that he and the SKNLP would serve a third consecutive term in office. On Nevis, the Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM), a pro-independence party led by the premier of the island’s local assembly, Vance Amory, kept two seats, while the Nevis Reformation Party (NRP) held onto one. The NRP has historically favored succession from St. Kitts.
In March 2005, Douglas announced that Saint Kitts and Nevis would cease to produce sugar for export. The islands’ 300-year-old sugar industry had been unprofitable for a number of years and faced even steeper losses due to pending changes to Europe’s sugar-import regime. Some in the opposition PAM called on workers to take up machetes and march against the export shutdown, but sizable severance payments to former sugar laborers succeeded in mollifying many reform opponents. However, layoffs in the industry increased pressure on the government to seek alternative means for economic development.
In June 2006, the National Assembly approved a roadmap for electoral reform and established a new committee to solicit suggestions and make recommendations for changing the electoral system and voters’ lists. The government in January 2005 had accepted an offer from the London-based Commonwealth Secretariat to help reform the system.
In July 2006, the NRP won three of the five seats in the Nevis Island Assembly after 15 years in the opposition, thereby undoing the 4–1 majority that had been held by the CCM.
Saint Kitts and Nevis is an electoral democracy. The 2004 elections were generally deemed free and fair. The federal government consists of the prime minister, the cabinet, and the unicameral National Assembly. Elected Assembly members—eight from Saint Kitts and three from Nevis—serve five-year terms. Senators are appointed to the body, and their number may not exceed two-thirds of the elected members, with one chosen by the leader of the parliamentary opposition for every two chosen by the prime minister. Saint Kitts’s main political parties are the SKNLP and the PAM. On Nevis, the two main parties are the CCM, which had long been the majority party there, and the NRP, which won a majority of seats in the Nevis Island Assembly in June 2006. Nevis’s assembly is composed of five elected and three appointed members, and the local government pays for all of its own services except for those involving police and foreign relations. Saint Kitts has no similar body. The country is a member of the Commonwealth, and its head of state is Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, represented by a governor-general. In June 2006, Prime Minister Denzil Douglas’s government outlined a roadmap for constitutional reform to ensure greater equity in representation, revise electoral boundaries, and improve voter registration procedures.
In an effort to create greater transparency in political party financing, a constitutional amendment was approved in 2005 requiring the disclosure of all campaign donors whose gifts exceeded a certain threshold. However, drug trafficking and money laundering have had a corrupting influence on the political system by undermining the effectiveness of the police force and tainting the judicial process. Saint Kitts and Nevis was not surveyed in Transparency International’s 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Constitutional guarantees of free expression are generally respected. Television is government-owned, although it is managed by a Trinidadian company, and there are some government restrictions on opposition access to the medium. Douglas has kept pledges to privatize radio, selling off the government radio station in 1997. There are eight radio stations and two daily newspapers on the islands. In addition, each major political party publishes a weekly or fortnightly newspaper. Opposition publications freely criticize the government, and international media are available. Internet access is not restricted.
The free exercise of religion is constitutionally protected, and academic freedom is generally honored.
The right to organize civic organizations and labor unions is generally respected, as is freedom of assembly. The main labor union, the Saint Kitts Trades and Labour Union, is associated with the ruling SKNLP. The right to strike, while not specified by law, is recognized and generally respected in practice.
The judiciary is for the most part independent, and legal provisions for a fair and speedy trial are generally observed. The highest court is the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court on Saint Lucia, which includes a court of appeals and a high court. Under certain circumstances, there is a right of appeal to the Caribbean Court of Justice in Trinidad. However, the islands’ traditionally strong rule of law has been tested by an increase in drug-related crime and corruption, and the intimidation of witnesses and jurors is a problem. The national prison is overcrowded, and conditions are abysmal. The deportation of a number of felons from the United States under the U.S. Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 has contributed to law enforcement agencies’ sense that they are being overwhelmed. In March 2006, the government asked the UN Security Council for its support in combating illegal arms trafficking that had negatively affected crime rates on the islands.
Reports suggest that the country’s economic citizenship program, which allows the purchase of passports through real estate investments worth a minimum of $250,000 and a registration fee of $35,000, has facilitated the illegal immigration of people from China and other countries into the United States and Canada. In January 2005, the government enacted new work-permit rules for foreign nationals, requiring that the jobs in question be advertised to current citizens. The move was seen as an effort to curb the influx of workers from Guyana.
Violence against women is a problem on the islands. The Domestic Violence Act of 2000 criminalizes domestic violence and provides penalties for abusers. The Department of Gender Affairs, part of the Ministry for Social Development, Community, and Gender Affairs, has offered counseling for victims of abuse and conducted training on domestic and gender-based violence. There are no laws against sexual harassment. More girls than boys are enrolled in primary and secondary education. Only one of 14 parliamentary seats is occupied by a woman; however, she is the speaker.