Saint Lucia : History


Saint Lucia has been much fought over. The Caribs ousted earlier Arawak settlers by around 800 CE, with the first Europeans arriving in the 16th century, but historical sources vary as to which explorers landed on the island first. What is more certain is that European powers wrestled with the Caribs, and one another, for control of the island between 1660 and 1814, with the flag of Saint Lucia changing 14 times in that period.

After unsuccessful early attempts by the Spanish to take control, possession of the island was disputed, often bloodily, by the French and British. A small English group made a failed attempt to settle in 1605; another English colony, started in 1638, was annihilated by the Caribs three years later.

The Caribs resisted French settlement with equal vigour, until a peace treaty (1660) with them permitted settlement, and ensured the safety of some French settlers from Martinique who had arrived during the preceding decade. The British made further attempts to gain control, and the island changed hands again and again, and was a focus for Anglo-French hostilities during the Napoleonic Wars. The British ultimately took possession under the Treaty of Paris in 1814, and Saint Lucia became a Crown colony.

A prosperous plantation economy developed; it was based on sugar, and worked by enslaved Africans until Britain abolished slavery in 1834.

The island was a member of the Windward Islands Federation until 1959. In 1959, Saint Lucia joined the West Indies Federation, under which it was proposed that the British Caribbean countries should proceed to independence as a federation. Disagreements among the larger members led to dissolution of the federation in 1962, and the larger members proceeded alone to independence.

In 1967, Saint Lucia received a new constitution, giving full internal self-government under universal franchise, as one of the states of the Federated States of the Antilles. In February 1979, it became independent, as a constitutional monarchy and member of the Commonwealth, with John Compton of the United Workers Party (UWP) as its first Prime Minister.

The Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) won the election in 1979 and adopted a policy of close collaboration with Grenada, which had recently undergone a revolution led by Maurice Bishop, and was aligned with Cuba and North Korea. Allegations of corruption resulted in an early general election in 1982, when the UWP was returned with a large majority. It was re-elected in 1987 and 1992 (with an 11:6 majority). Prime Minister Compton adopted IMF adjustment measures and returned the country to operation of a market economy. He also pursued the integration of the Eastern Caribbean countries through the OECS.

In March 1996, at a UWP convention, Compton lost the leadership, after 30 years, and was replaced as Prime Minister by Dr Vaughan Lewis. An early general election in May 1997 resulted in victory for the SLP, winning 16 of the 17 seats, with 61 per cent of the votes, and SLP leader Dr Kenny Anthony became Prime Minister. Lewis resigned as leader of the UWP, having lost his seat.