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In 2006, Saint Lucia Prime Minister Kenny Anthony vowed to reverse rising crime rates that threatened to undermine the tourist industry. Prison overcrowding and abuses by the police force were also highlighted as major concerns. In December, Sir John Compton, one of St. Lucia’s “founding fathers” and prime minister on two previous occasions, was again elected to that post in a surprise victory for his United Workers Party.
Saint Lucia, a member of the Commonwealth, achieved independence from Britain in 1979. In May 1997, Kenny Anthony led the Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) to victory in legislative elections. Upon taking office as prime minister, he began to address the concerns of an electorate that was weary of economic distress and reports of official corruption. In 2000, Anthony and the SLP gave their approval for regulated casino gambling in an apparent effort to revitalize the country’s tourism trade, brushing aside objections from religious groups and the United Workers Party (UWP).
In June 2001, Anthony announced a two-month crackdown on crime, including increased police patrols and heavy penalties for firearms offenses. He maintained that the measures 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 born on Saint Lucia back to the island.
The SLP swept to victory in the December 2001 general elections, winning 14 of 17 seats in Parliament, just short of the 16–1 majority it had achieved in 1997. However, constituencies dominated by banana farmers registered their discontent with Anthony’s party, reflecting popular dissatisfaction with his efforts to keep the island’s ailing banana industry afloat. The farmers were unhappy that the Anthony administration had not helped to reduce the high production costs that made Saint Lucian exports uncompetitive. Nevertheless, Anthony was the only party leader to survive the elections, which were called six months ahead of schedule. Although her UWP won the other three seats in Parliament, Morella Joseph—the first woman to lead a party into a general election—lost her seat. National Alliance leader George Odlum and former UWP prime minister Vaughan Lewis also failed in their efforts to be elected.
In November 2003, the government and opposition announced the establishment of a Constitution Review Commission to examine Saint Lucia’s constitution as it related to issues of law and order. The level of criminal violence had increased noticeably, with police blaming much of the problem on drug-related gangs. The United States that year named Saint Lucia as a principal transit point in the eastern Caribbean for South American cocaine. Local authorities have also expressed concern at the increasing number of travelers coming through the island with fraudulent passports.
In March 2006, the SLP suffered its first election loss in nearly a decade in a by-election held in the Central Castries district, following persistent allegations of corruption in the National Conservation Authority. In June, the attorney general accused political parties of padding voter lists in certain districts with names of people who were not properly registered.
In the fall of 2005 and early 2006, Saint Lucia’s police and judicial system came under scrutiny following a series of high-profile incidents, including the severe beating of inmate Wilson Exhale at the Bordelais detention facility, the beating of Mathurine Williams by a police corporal in the village of Dennery, and the assault of a teenage girl by her police-officer father. In September 2006, the murder of a female British tourist resulted in the designation of a new police unit to protect tourists on the island.
Sir John Compton came out of retirement to lead the UWP to an unexpected victory in the December 2006 elections. Compton, who played a major role in securing St. Lucia’s independence and served as its first prime minister, was sworn in at the age of 81. Though his party won a majority of the seats in the House of Assembly, he “pledged to govern in a spirit of cooperation” with the SLP.
Saint Lucia is an electoral democracy. The 2006 legislative elections were considered free and fair, and an estimated 60 percent of eligible voters turned out, up from 50 percent in 2001. A governor-general represents the British monarch as head of state. Under the 1979 constitution, the bicameral Parliament consists of the 17-member House of Assembly, elected for five years, and an 11-member Senate. The prime minister is chosen by the majority party in the House of Assembly. Six members of the Senate 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 11 regions, each with its own elected council and administrative services. Two parties—the UWP, in power since 2006, and the SLP, the official opposition—dominate politics. Parties are free to organize.
Government officials have been accused of corrupt activities. In November 2005, Saint Lucia’s Constitutional Reform Commission was launched to review steps toward electoral reform, with an emphasis on increasing the transparency and credibility of election supervision mechanisms. For the first time, observers from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Organization of American States (OAS) were invited to observe the December 2006 elections. The observers recommended campaign finance reform as spending by both parties greatly exceeded previous election expenditures. Saint Lucia was not surveyed in Transparency International’s 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index.
The constitution guarantees freedom of speech, which is respected in practice. 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, one partially government-funded radio station, and two privately owned television stations. There is unrestricted access to the internet. In August 2006, Prime Minister Anthony filed a libel suit against opponents who had accused him of dealing in the illegal drug trade. The press subsequently accused the government of attempting to muzzle opposition voices during the period leading up to the December elections. In November 2006, St. Lucia’s Parliament repealed the libel section of the criminal code, marking a departure from Anthony’s increasingly stringent policy on press freedom.
The constitution guarantees free exercise of religion, and that right is respected. Academic freedom is generally honored.
Constitutional guarantees regarding the right to organize civic groups and labor unions and to assemble freely are generally respected. Civic groups are well organized and politically active, as are labor unions, which represent the majority of wage earners.
The judicial system is independent and includes a high court under the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (based in Saint Lucia). In July 2003, a treaty replacing the previous right of final appeal to the Privy Council in London with a new Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) based in Trinidad and Tobago was approved by Saint Lucia. In November of that year, the Parliament passed the Caribbean Court of Justice 2003 agreement, with Saint Lucia pledging to contribute $2.5 million toward the establishment of the regional court. The CCJ has an appellate function and also interprets the Caribbean Community (Caricom) Treaty.
Traditionally, citizens have enjoyed a high degree of personal security, although there are episodic reports of police misuse of force. In recent years, a rise in crime—including drug-related offenses, violent clashes during banana farmers’ strikes, and increased violence in schools—has created concern among citizens and prompted Anthony to step up enforcement of capital punishment sentences for violent offenders in 2006. In late 2002, the government finished construction of a new, $17 million prison facility on the eastern part of the island designed to hold 500 inmates. While it currently holds just under maximum capacity, prison authorities expressed concerns about overcrowding in August 2006, due in part to a major backlog in the judicial system that forced detainees to wait for up to six months before being processed for even minor offenses.
Though there are no official barriers to their participation, women are underrepresented in politics and other professions. Female enrollment in primary and secondary education is slightly higher than male enrollment. 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. In November 2004, the Ministry of Health noted that 67 percent of women seeking treatment for HIV/AIDS at clinics reported physical and sexual abuse. In July 2006, activists described the island’s domestic violence situation as scandalous following the stabbing death of a 23-year-old woman by her male companion. In addition, homosexuals were occasionally targeted for hate crimes, such as murder of Jermaine Nestor, whose body was found bound and gagged at the bottom of a cliff in March.