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St. Kitts and Nevis (04/01)


For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.


Official Name:
Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis

Area: St. Kitts 168 sq. km. (65 sq. mi.); Nevis 93 sq. km. (36 sq. mi.).
Cities: Capital--Basseterre (pop. about 15,000).
Terrain: Generally mountainous; highest elevations are 1,156 m. (3,792 ft.) at Mt. Liamuiga on St. Kitts and 985 m. (3,232 ft.) at Nevis peak on Nevis.
Climate: Tropical.

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Kittitian(s), Nevisian(s).
Population (1999 est.): 42,500.
Annual growth rate (1999 est.): 2.8%.
Ethnic groups: Predominantly of African origin; some of British, Portuguese, and Lebanese descent.
Religions: Principally Anglican, with Evangelical Protestant and Roman Catholic minorities.
Languages: English (official).
Education (1999): Years compulsory--9. Literacy--98%.
Health (1999 est.): Infant mortality rate--12.7/1,000. Life expectancy--70 yrs.

Type: Constitutional monarchy with Westminster-style Parliament.
Constitution: 1983.
Independence: September 19, 1983.
Branches: Executive--governor general (representing Queen Elizabeth II, head of state), prime minister (head of government), cabinet. Legislative--an 11-member senate appointed by the governor general (mainly on the advice of the prime minister and the leader of the opposition) and an 11-member popularly elected house of representatives. Judicial--magistrate's courts, Eastern Caribbean supreme court (high court and court of appeals), final appeal to privy council in London.
Administrative subdivisions: 14 parishes.
Political parties: St. Kitts and Nevis Labor Party (ruling), People's Action Movement (PAM), Concerned Citizens Movement (a Nevis-based party), and Nevis Reformation Party.
Suffrage: Universal at 18.

GDP (1999): $300.7 million.
GDP growth rate (1999): 2.8%.
Per capita GDP (1999): US$7,075.
Natural resources: Negligible.
Agriculture: Products--sugarcane, cotton, peanuts, vegetables.
Industry (1999): Types--Financial and business services, tourism, construction, sugar processing, cotton, salt, copra, clothing, beverages, and tobacco.
Trade (1999): Exports--US$47.9 million. Major markets--U.K., U.S. and CARICOM. Imports--US$144.3 million.
Exchange rate: Eastern Caribbean $2.70=U.S.$1.

At the time of European discovery, the islands of St. Kitts and Nevis were inhabited by Carib Indians. Christopher Columbus landed on the larger island in 1493 on his second voyage and named it after St. Christopher, his patron saint. Columbus also discovered Nevis on his second voyage, reportedly calling it Nevis because of its resemblance to a snowcapped mountain (in Spanish, nuestra senora de las nieves or our lady of the snows). European colonization did not begin until 1623-24, when first English, then French colonists arrived on St. Christopher's island, whose name the English shortened to St. Kitt's island. As the first English colony in the Caribbean, St. Kitts served as a base for further colonization in the region.

St. Kitts was held jointly by the English and French from 1628-1713. During the 17th century, intermittent warfare between French and English settlers ravaged its economy. Meanwhile Nevis, settled by English settlers in 1628, grew prosperous under English rule. St. Kitts was ceded to Great Britain by the treaty of Utrecht in 1713. Both St. Kitts and Nevis were seized by the French in 1782.

The Treaty of Paris in 1783 definitively awarded both islands to Britain. They were part of the colony of the Leeward Islands from 1871-1956, and of the West Indies Federation from 1958-62. In 1967, together with Anguilla, they became a self-governing state in association with Great Britain; Anguilla seceded late that year and remains a British dependency. The federation of St. Kitts and Nevis attained full independence on September 19,1983.

As head of state, Queen Elizabeth II is represented in St. Kitts and Nevis by a governor general, who acts on the advice of the prime minister and the cabinet. The prime minister is the leader of the majority party of the house, and the cabinet conducts affairs of state. St. Kitts and Nevis has a bicameral legislature: An 11-member senate appointed by the governor general (mainly on the advice of the prime minister and the leader of the opposition) and an 11-member popularly elected house of representatives which has eight St. Kitts seats and three Nevis seats. The prime minister and the cabinet are responsible to the Parliament.

St. Kitts and Nevis, like most of the region, faces a threat from narco-traffickers who see the country as a potential drug transshipment point. In 1994, a controversy related to drug trafficking by two sons of the then-deputy prime minister was partially responsible for a prison riot which extensively damaged the prison. With the assistance of the Regional Security System (RSS), a cooperative defense organization of seven small eastern Caribbean island nations (including St. Kitts and Nevis), the riot ended soon after it began. Also in 1994, the chief of the special branch and criminal investigation division was killed while investigating a politically sensitive murder. In 2000, crime figure Charles "Little Nut" Miller was successfully brought to the United States by U.S. law enforcement authorities and convicted of criminal charges involving narcotics trafficking and murder.

St. Kitts and Nevis has enjoyed a long history of free and fair elections, although the outcome of elections in 1993 was strongly protested by the opposition, and the RSS was briefly deployed to restore order. The elections in 1995 were contested by the two major parties, the ruling People's Action Movement (PAM) and the St. Kitts and Nevis Labor Party. Labor won seven of the 11 seats, with Dr. Denzil Douglas becoming prime minister. In March 2000 elections, Denzil Douglas and the Labour Party were returned to power, winning eight of the 11 seats in Parliament. The Nevis-based Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM) won two seats and the Nevis Reformation Party (NRP) won one seat. The PAM party was unable to obtain a seat.

Under the constitution, Nevis has considerable autonomy and has an island assembly, a premier, and a deputy governor general. Under certain specified conditions, it may secede from the federation. In June 1996, the Nevis Island Administration under the concerned citizens movement of Premier Vance Amory announced its intention to do so. Secession requires approval by two-thirds of the assembly's five elected members and also by two-thirds of voters in a referendum. After the Nevis Reformation Party blocked the bill of secession, the premier called for elections for February 24, 1997. Although the elections produced no change in the composition of the assembly, Premier Amory pledged to continue his efforts toward Nevis' independence. In August 1998, a referendum on the question of independence for Nevis failed and Nevis presently remains in the Federation. The March 2000 election results placed Vance Armory, as head of the CCM, the leader of the country's opposition party.

Constitutional safeguards include freedom of speech, press, worship, movement, and association. Like its neighbors in the English-speaking Caribbean, St. Kitts and Nevis has an excellent human rights record. Its judicial system is modeled on British practice and procedure and its jurisprudence on English common law. The Royal St. Kitts and Nevis police force has about 340 members.

Principal Government Officials
Chief of State--Queen Elizabeth II
Governor General--Sir Cuthbert M. Sebastian
Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Home Affairs, and Finance---Dr. Denzil Douglas
Ambassador to the U.S. and Permanent Representative to the OAS--Dr. Osbert Liburd
Ambassador to the UN--Lee L. Moore, Q.C.
Principal Nevis Island Government Official, Premier--Vance Amory

The embassy of St. Kitts and Nevis is located at 3216 New Mexico Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20016 (tel. 202-686-2636).

St. Kitts and Nevis was the last sugar monoculture in the Eastern Caribbean. Faced with a sugar industry, which was finding it increasingly difficult to earn a profit, the Government of St. Kitts and Nevis embarked on a program to diversify the agricultural sector and stimulate the development of other sectors of the economy.

The government instituted a program of investment incentives for businesses considering locating in St. Kitts or Nevis, encouraging both domestic and foreign private investment. Government policies provide liberal tax holidays, duty-free import of equipment and materials, and subsidies for training provided to local personnel. Tourism has shown the greatest growth. By 1987, tourism had surpassed sugar as the major foreign exchange earner for St. Kitts and Nevis.

The economy of St. Kitts and Nevis experienced strong growth for most of the 1990s, but hurricanes in 1998 and 1999 contributed to a sharp slowdown in growth. Growth was only 1% in 1998 and 2.8% in 1999, compared to 7.3% in 1997. Tourism in particular suffered in 1998 and 1999 as a result of the hurricanes which forced the closure of one of the major hotels and heavily damaged the cruiseship pier. Significant new investment in tourism as well as continued government efforts to diversify the economy are expected to improve economic performance.. Consumer prices have risen marginally over the past few years. The inflation rate was 3%-4% for most of the 1990s..

St. Kitts and Nevis is a member of the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union (ECCU). All members of the ECCU, The Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) issues a common currency for all members of the ECCU. The ECCB also manages monetary policy, and regulates and supervises commercial banking activities in its member countries.

St. Kitts and Nevis maintains diplomatic relations with the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Taiwan, and South Korea, as well as with many Latin American countries and neighboring Eastern Caribbean states. It is a member of the Commonwealth, the United Nations and several of its specialized and related agencies, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the Organization of American States, the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, the Eastern Caribbean Regional Security System (RSS), and the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM). The Eastern Caribbean Central Bank is headquartered in St. Kitts.

As a member of CARICOM, St. Kitts and Nevis strongly backed efforts by the United States to implement UN Security Council Resolution 940, designed to facilitate the departure of Haiti's de facto authorities from power. The country agreed to contribute personnel to the multinational force, which restored the democratically elected Government of Haiti in October 1994.

In May 1997, President Clinton met with Prime Minister Douglas and 14 other Caribbean leaders during the first-ever U.S.-regional summit in Bridgetown, Barbados. The summit strengthened the basis for regional cooperation on justice and counternarcotics issues, finance and development, and trade.

Since St. Kitts and Nevis attained full independence in 1983, relations with the U.S. have been friendly. The U.S. embassy in Bridgetown, Barbados, conducts bilateral relations with St. Kitts and Nevis.

The United States seeks to help St. Kitts and Nevis develop economically and to help strengthen its moderate, democratic, parliamentary form of government. St. Kitts and Nevis is a beneficiary of the U.S. Caribbean Basin Initiative. U.S. assistance is primarily channeled through multilateral agencies such as the World Bank, and the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), and the newly opened USAID satellite office in Bridgetown, Barbados. In addition, St. Kitts and Nevis receives counternarcotics assistance and benefits from U.S. military exercise-related and humanitarian civic action construction projects.

St. Kitts and Nevis are strategically placed in the Leeward Islands, near maritime transport lanes of major importance to the United States. St. Kitts and Nevis' location close to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands makes the two-island federation attractive to narcotics traffickers. To counter this threat, the Government of St. Kitts and Nevis cooperates with the U.S. in the fight against illegal narcotics. In 1995, the government signed a maritime law enforcement treaty with the United States, later amended with an overflight/order-to-land amendment in 1996. St. Kitts and Nevis also signed an updated extradition treaty with the U.S. in 1996, and a mutual legal assistance treaty in 1997.

St. Kitts and Nevis are popular American tourist destinations. In 1999, more than 40% of the 84,000 stayover visitors were from the U.S. The majority of the 143,800 yacht and cruiseship passengers also were from the U.S. Fewer than 1,000 U.S. citizens reside on the island, and students and staff of Ross University Veterinary School constitute a significant population of U.S. citizens.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Charge d'Affaires--Roland W. Bullen
Political/Economic Chief--Charles N. Patterson, Jr.
Consul General--Theophilus J. Rose
Regional Labor Attache--vacant
Defense Attache--LTC John Churchill
Public Affairs Officer--Emilia Puma
Peace Corps Director--Earl Phillips (resident in St. Lucia)

The United States maintains no official presence in St. Kitts and Nevis. The ambassador and embassy officers are resident in Barbados and frequently travel to St. Kitts and Nevis. However, a U.S. consular agent residing in nearby Antigua assists U.S. citizens in St. Kitts and Nevis.

The U.S. embassy in Barbados is located in the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce Building, Broad Street, Bridgetown (tel: 246-436-4950; fax: 246-429-5246). Consular Agent: Juliet Ryder Hospital Hill, English Harbor, Antigua Tel: (268) 463-6531.

U.S. Department of Commerce
International Trade Administration
Trade Information Center
14th and Constitution, NW
Washington, DC 20230
Tel: 1-800-USA-TRADE

Caribbean/Latin American Action
1818 N Street, NW, Suite 310
Washington, DC 20036
Tel: (202) 466-7464
Fax: (202) 822-0075

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