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Saint Lucia’s economy showed signs of recovery in 2010, propelled by increases in tourism and investments in transportation infrastructure. However, Hurricane Tomas, the strongest hurricane to ever hit the country, caused major economic setbacks in October. Rising crime and high unemployment rates remained significant problems for Prime Minister Stephenson King’s government ahead of the 2011 general elections.
Saint Lucia, a member of the Commonwealth, achieved independence from Britain in 1979. Kenny Anthony led the Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) to victory in the 1997 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 2001 general elections, the SLP retained a majority of seats in the House of Assembly and Anthony returned to the premiership.
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. His party won 11 seats in the House of Assembly, but 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 UWP cabinet member who had served as acting prime minister for several months before Compton’s death.
During 2008, the opposition SLP repeatedly threatened to mount public demonstrations and called for King’s resignation. The SLP was particularly critical of the government’s intention to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), while opting out of a drug interdiction agreement with Britain. The Rome Statute was eventually ratified in August 2010.
In 2009, 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. The year saw a 12 percent decline in the tourism sector, precipitating an economic slowdown across most sectors. The country’s economy started to recover in 2010, due in part to an increase in tourism and investments in transportation infrastructure. Reconstruction efforts after Hurricane Tomas, which devastated the island in October, were responsible for much of the country’s economic expansion during this year. Some infrastructure investments, including the expansion of Hewanorra International Airport, had been approved before the hurricane’s onslaught. However, lost revenues in agriculture and tourism following the hurricane led to an increase in St. Lucia’s budget deficit by year’s end.This weak economic growth and an unemployment rate of 20 percent emboldened opposition leaders as the country prepared for the 2011 general elections.
The King administration faced increasing public scrutiny in 2010 over a major crime wave that has rocked the island since early 2010. Reports indicated a serious escalation in gang warfare activity as drug trafficking increases. Drive-by shootings, armed robbery, and homicide rates were also on the rise. In April, a judge was shot multiple times outside her home by unknown gunmen, while an armed break-in at the country’s main prison in September led to the escape of three inmates. Following these high-profile attacks, the prime minister issued a special address to the nation at the end of May, announcing that new strategies would be adopted to combat rising levels of violence and crime.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties:
Saint Lucia is an electoral democracy. The 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 and the SLP—dominate politics.
According to the Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI) project, Saint Lucia generally scores well on corruption and in 2009 received the highest ranking in the Caribbean region on government accountability. Government officials are required by law to present their financial assets annually.
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, three privately held radio stations, and one government-funded radio station. Three privately-owned television stations and one government-owned television station also operate.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 Saint 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. Amid other high-profile crimes in 2010, the alleged rape of a woman by a group of police officers in Augustbecame a public scandal. At year’s end, the case remained unsolved, as investigations moved back and forth between the police and judiciary with no formal action taken.
Citizens have traditionally enjoyed a high degree of personal security, though rising levels of crime—including drug-related offenses—have caused widespread concern. In 2010, the island experienced 44 murders, the bloodiest year on record. Saint Luciahas become a transit point for drugs destined for Britain.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 the target of hate crimes.