Freedom in the World
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In September 2007, Prime Minister John Compton of the United Workers Party died at the age of 82. He was succeeded by Stephenson King, a cabinet member who had served as acting prime minister for several months during Compton’s illness. In May, Saint Lucia had broken diplomatic ties with China to recognize Taiwan, defying the regional trend.
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 opposition United Workers Party (UWP).
The SLP again swept to victory in the December 2001 general elections, winning 14 of 17 seats in the House of Assembly, just short of the 16–1 majority it had achieved in 1997. 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. Nevertheless, Anthony was the only party leader to survive the elections, which were called six months ahead of schedule. The leaders of the UWP and the National Alliance both lost their seats.
In March 2006, the SLP lost 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.
John Compton, Saint Lucia’s first prime minister after independence, came out of retirement to lead the UWP to an unexpected victory in the December 2006 elections. He was sworn in again as prime minister at the age of 81. Though his party won 11 seats in the House of Assembly, he pledged to “govern in a spirit of cooperation” with the SLP. In May 2007, Saint Lucia broke off diplomatic relations with China in favor of Taiwan, a move that contrasted with the regional trend. Compton was soon sidelined by illness and died in September. He was replaced by Stephenson King, a cabinet member from the UWP who had served as acting prime minister for several months before Compton’s death. King promptly reshuffled the cabinet, and several new ministers were sworn into office.
Saint Lucia is an electoral democracy. 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 chosen 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. Political parties are free to organize, but two parties—the UWP, in power since 2006, and the SLP, the official opposition—dominate politics. The December 2006 elections were deemed free and fair, marking the first time that observers from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Organization of American States (OAS) were invited to observe.
Government officials have been accused of corrupt activities, but the country scores well in international surveys. Saint Lucia ranked 24 out of 180 countries assessed in Transparency International’s 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index, the third-best performance in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The constitution guarantees freedom of speech, which is respected in practice. Libel offenses were removed from the criminal code in 2006. 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. Internet access is not restricted.
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 largely upheld. 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 recent years, the record of Saint Lucia’s police and judicial system has been blemished by a series of high-profile incidents, including severe beatings of inmates by police and cases of police assault. In April 2007, Saint Lucia proposed a measure to increase security and judicial cooperation within the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).
Although citizens traditionally have enjoyed a high degree of personal security, rising crime—including drug-related offenses, violent clashes during banana farmers’ strikes, and increased violence in schools—has created concern. A $17 million prison facility with a capacity to hold 500 inmates was completed in 2002. Still, prison overcrowding reemerged as a concern in 2007, when a major backlog in the judicial system led to prolonged pretrial detentions.
Women are underrepresented in politics and other professions. Female enrollment in primary and secondary education is slightly higher than male enrollment. Domestic violence is a serious concern, especially among women from low-income groups. Homosexuals are occasionally targeted in hate crimes.