Freedom in the World
St. Vincent and Grenadines
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Improvements in the tourism and manufacturing sectors in 2012 contributed to a slow recovery of the economy, which has struggled to rebound from a series of natural disasters and the global financial crisis. Overcrowded prison conditions were relieved in April with the long-awaited transfer of prisoners to the Belle Isle Correctional Facility, which had opened in 2009 but had remained empty.
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines achieved independence from Britain in 1979, with jurisdiction over the northern Grenadine islands, which include Bequia, Canouan, Mayreau, Mustique, Palm Island, Petit Saint Vincent, and Union Island, in addition to a number of smaller islets.
In the 2001 elections, the social-democratic Unity Labour Party (ULP) captured 12 of the 15 contested legislative seats, and Ralph Gonsalves became prime minister. The incumbent, conservative New Democratic Party (NDP) was reduced to three seats. In the 2005 polls, Gonsalves led the ULP to reelection, again taking 12 seats, while the NDP took the remaining 3 seats.
In 2009, the country was polarized over a November national referendum to replace its 1979 constitution with one produced by a government-appointed Constitutional Review Commission. Among other changes, the proposed constitution would have made the country a republic, facilitated the process of replacing the British Privy Council as the country’s highest appeals court, and limited marriage to that between a man and a woman. The opposition strongly opposed the new constitution for falling short of fully reforming the government. The measure failed to reach two-thirds majority, receiving support from only 43 percent of voters.
In the December 2010 general elections, the ULP, still reeling from the defeat of the proposed constitutional reform referendum, won a slim majority of 8 seats, and Gonsalves retained the post of prime minister. Meanwhile, the NDP more than doubled its representation, taking 7 seats. Despite threats of legal challenges from NDP leaders, observers from the Caribbean Community, the Organization of American States, and the National Monitoring and Consultative Mechanism deemed the elections free and fair.
The International Monetary Fund reported that improvements in the tourism and manufacturing sectors in 2012 contributed to a slow recovery of the economy, which had been hard hit by torrential rains that wiped out the country’s banana industry in 2011, destruction caused by Hurricane Tomas in 2010, and the global financial crisis. Part of Gonsalves’ economic plan to bolster the tourism industry has included the construction of the Argyle International Airport, which continued to be under construction at the end of 2012.
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is an electoral democracy. The constitution provides for the election of 15 representatives to the unicameral House of Assembly. The governor general appoints six senators to the chamber, four selected on the advice of the prime minister and two on the advice of the opposition leader; all serve five-year terms. The prime minister is the leader of the majority party. A governor general represents the British monarch as head of state.
In recent years, there have been allegations of money laundering through Saint Vincent banks and drug-related corruption within the government and the police force. However, the government has taken some measures to prevent and prosecute such crimes, such as enacting the Proceeds of Crime and Money Laundering (Prevention) (Amendment) Act 2012 in April. However, there is no independent body to investigate government corruption. Saint Vincent was ranked 36 out of 176 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index.
The press is independent, and the constitution guarantees freedoms of speech and the press. While Freedom of Information legislation was enacted in 2003, it has yet to be fully implemented. Government officials use libel lawsuits against members of the media. There are several privately owned, independent weeklies and one daily newspaper. The national newspapers publish opinions critical of the government. The St. Vincent and the Grenadines Broadcasting Corporation operates a television station. Satellite dishes and cable television are available. The main news radio station is partly government owned, but radio talk shows are increasing. Equal access to radio is mandated during electoral campaigns, but there have been allegations that the ruling party has taken advantage of state control over programming. Some journalists also allege that government advertising is used as a political tool. Internet access is not restricted.
Freedom of religion is constitutionally protected and respected in practice, and academic freedom is generally honored.
Freedoms of assembly and association are constitutionally protected, and nongovernmental organizations are free from government interference. Labor unions are active and permitted to strike and engage in collective bargaining.
The government generally respects judicial independence. The highest court is the Saint Lucia–based Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, which includes a court of appeals and a high court. The country recognizes the original jurisdiction of the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice, but the final court of appeal is still the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London. There are often long judicial delays and a large backlog of cases caused by personnel shortages in the local judiciary. Crowded prison conditions improved in 2012 with the long-awaited transfer of prisoners to the Belle Isle Correctional Facility in April; the prison officially opened in 2009 but had remained empty until 2012.
Women are underrepresented in political decision-making positions. Violence against women, particularly domestic violence, is a major problem. The Domestic Violence Summary Proceedings Act, which provides for protective orders, offers some tools that benefit victims. Same-sex sexual relations remain a criminal offense and carry sentences of up to 10 years in prison. In 2011, the government rejected a call by the UN Human Rights Council to repeal laws criminalizing same-sex relations.