Freedom in the World
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
In 2009, St. Lucia was battered by economic uncertainty and rising crime as Prime Minister Stephenson King reshuffled his cabinet amidst strong criticism from the opposition.
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, defeating the United Workers’ Party (UWP). As prime minister, Anthony began to address the concerns of an electorate that was weary of economic distress and reports of official corruption. In the December 2001 general elections, the SLP captured 14 of 17 seats in the House of Assembly.
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. Compton was soon sidelined by illness and died in September 2007. 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.
The SLP in 2008 repeatedly threatened to mount public demonstrations and called for King’s resignation. The opposition disagreed with the government over its signing of the International Criminal Court agreement, its initial reluctantstance on the Economic Partnership Agreement with Europe, and its failure to enter a drug interdiction agreement with Britain.
In 2009, Prime Minister King reshuffled his cabinet for the second time since taking office in an effort to regain political momentum in the face of a deteriorating economic situation. A 12 percent decline in the tourism sector precipitated an economic slowdown across most sectors and emboldened opposition leaders. King faced increasingly effective criticism from the opposition on topics including the planned privatization of the Water and Sewerage Authority and higher salary scales for public servants. In August, the opposition led protests in an effort to force out the minister of health and the attorney general. Meanwhile, problems with renovations at the country’s High Court prompted a strike by court employees and members of the bar association.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties:
Saint Lucia is an electoral democracy. The December 2006 elections were deemed free and fair, marking the first time that observers from the Caribbean Community and the Organization of American States were invited to observe. 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 few incidents of official corruption recorded in 2009 were appropriately addressed through the judicial system, and the country generally scores well in international surveys. Government officials are required by law to present their financial assets annually. Saint Lucia was ranked 22 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index, the best performer 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, four privately held radio stations, one government-funded radio station, and four privately owned television stations. In June 2009, a political firestorm erupted when suspected criminals made public threats against law enforcement officials in television and radio interviews. Police commissioners denounced the reports as inflammatory and possibly illegal, and threatened to sue the television and radio stations involved. However, no legal actions were eventually taken. 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 freedoms of assembly and association 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 St. Lucia-based Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court. 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 2009, there were numerous complaints of physical abuse by police and prison officers, highlighted by the case of Keiran Herman, who reported physical abuse and torture at the La Toc station.
Although citizens traditionally have enjoyed a high degree of personal security, rising crime—including drug-related offenses—has created concern. As of October 2009, there had been 33 murders in St. Lucia, and the island seemed on pace to surpass the 39 murders recorded in 2008. Saint Lucia is third in the Caribbean after Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago in terms of the interdiction of drug mules headed for Britain each year.Prison overcrowding remains a problem, with major backlogs in the judicial system leading to prolonged pretrial detentions.
Women are underrepresented in politics and other professions. Domestic violence is a serious concern, especially among women from low-income groups. Homosexuals are occasionally targeted in hate crimes.