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St. Kitts and Nevis
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
In 2007, Prime Minister Denzil Douglas marked his 12th year in power amid a slight economic rebound and growing fears about crime. Nevis held a special election to replace an opposition lawmaker who died from a sudden illness, but the balance of power in parliament remained unchanged.
Saint Kitts and Nevis gained independence from Britain in 1983 but remains a member of the Commonwealth. Denzil Douglas of the ruling Saint Kitts and Nevis Labour Party (SKNLP) has been prime minister since July 1995. In 2002 elections, the SKNLP won a stronger parliamentary majority, taking all eight Saint Kitts seats in the National Assembly and shutting out the opposition People’s Action Movement (PAM).
Momentum began to gather in mid-2003 for Nevis to secede from Saint Kitts. The constitution allowed the move if two-thirds of the elected legislators in Nevis’s local assembly and two-thirds of Nevisian referendum voters approved. 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 elected seats in the national legislature. There is little support for Nevisian independence among other countries in the region.
Douglas called early elections for October 2004, and his SKNLP won seven Saint Kitts seats, while the opposition PAM took the eighth. The Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM), a pro-independence party led by the premier of the Nevis local assembly, Vance Amory, kept two seats, while the Nevis Reformation Party (NRP) held on to one. The NRP has historically favored secession from Saint 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 changes to Europe’s sugar-import regime. Sizable severance payments to former sugar laborers succeeded in mollifying many reform opponents. In 2007, the economy grew by 6 percent, marking one of the stronger performances in recent years.
In July 2006, the NRP won three of the five seats in the Nevis Island Assembly after 15 years in opposition, breaking the 4–1 majority that had been held by the CCM. The NRP’s Joseph Parry was subsequently named the island’s third premier. In 2007, CCM lawmaker Malcolm Guishard died from a sudden illness, but a member of his party, Mark Brantley, won the special election to replace him in the National Assembly.
Saint Kitts and Nevis is an electoral democracy. The 2004 elections were free and fair. The federal government consists of the prime minister, the cabinet, and the unicameral National Assembly. A governor-general represents Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II as ceremonial head of state. Elected National 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 July 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.
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. While concerns persisted that drug trafficking and money laundering may undermine the effectiveness of the police force and taint the judicial process, St. Kitts and Nevis generally implemented its anti-corruption laws effectively and several top parliamentary figures publicly released their finances and called on the prime minister to do the same. Saint Kitts and Nevis was not surveyed in Transparency International’s 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Constitutional guarantees of free expression are generally respected. The sole local television station is government-owned, although it is managed by a Trinidadian company, and there are some restrictions on opposition access to the medium. The government radio station was privatized in 1997. There are eight radio stations and two daily newspapers, and each major political party publishes a weekly or fortnightly newspaper. Foreign media are available, and 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, but under certain circumstances, there is a right of appeal to the Caribbean Court of Justice in Trinidad. 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 poor. The repatriation of felons from the United States has contributed to law enforcement agencies’ sense that they are being overwhelmed.
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 illegal immigration 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.
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 has offered counseling for abuse victims 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.