The Windward Islands and Barbados
THE WINDWARD ISLANDS consist of Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent
and the Grenadines, and Grenada. The name Windward dates
back to the 1700s, to the time when English ships bound for Jamaica
followed the trade-wind passage, stopping at islands along the way.
The islands constitute a north-south chain in the southern section
of the Lesser Antilles and share a volcanic rock formation. These
nations also had highly similar political and economic systems in
the late 1980s. Despite these parallels, the Windwards were much
more heterogeneous than other Commonwealth Caribbean island
groupings. These differences prevented the establishment in the
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries of a common government
along the lines found in the Leeward Islands.
A French legacy distinguished the Windward Islands from their
Commonwealth Caribbean neighbors. The French established permanent
settlements on the four islands in the 1600s and controlled them
until the islands were seized by the British in the 1760s. Even
after the British takeover, France continued to compete with
Britain for authority over the Windwards, regaining control over
St. Lucia, for example, on several occasions. France did not
relinquish its claim to St. Lucia until 1815.
The islands varied widely in the degree to which they
subsequently assimilated British culture and mores. The most
extensive assimilation occurred in St. Vincent, where the
population easily adopted the English language and Protestantism.
In Grenada, on the other hand, the majority of the residents
remained Roman Catholics even though English became the sole
language of the island. Dominica and St. Lucia offered the greatest
resistance to British influence. A French creole language called
patois continued to be spoken in the late 1980s among much of the
rural population of both islands. Dominicans and St. Lucians were
also overwhelmingly Roman Catholic.
Beginning in the 1830s, the Windward Islands and Tobago
ostensibly were under the authority of the governor of Barbados. In
actuality, however, lieutenant governors on each of the islands
exercised considerable autonomy. In 1875 the governor of Barbados
attempted to implement a British proposal calling for a Windward
Islands confederation. Fearing a loss of political and financial
autonomy, Barbadian planters successfully defeated the measure. In
1885 Barbados withdrew from the government of the Windward Islands,
leaving St. Lucia, St. Vincent, and Grenada with a nominal governor
(Dominica had left earlier). In 1940 Dominica rejoined the
Windwards after being a reluctant member of the Leeward Islands
Federation for the previous seventy years. The weak Windwards
structure lasted until 1956; its members were absorbed the
following year in the ill-fated West Indies Federation (see The
West Indies Federation, 1957-62, ch. 1).
The newly independent nations of the Windward Islands shared
common political and economic patterns. All were constitutional
monarchies with a parliamentary system of government on the
Westminster model. St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and
Grenada each had a bicameral legislature consisting of an elected
House and a non-elective Senate. The prime minister was the leader
of the party that secured a majority of House seats. The pattern
was similar in Dominica except that House and Senate members were
part of a unicameral body. Agriculture was the leading component of
the gross domestic product for each of the islands. In the case of
Grenada, however, tourism had replaced agriculture as the primary
earner of foreign exchange by the mid-1980s. All of the Windwards
islands had high levels of unemployment and emigration.
In the late 1980s, following a tumultuous decade, national
security remained an important consideration for the leaders of the
Windward Islands. The overthrow in 1979 of the Grenadian government
and its replacement by the People's Revolutionary Government (PRG),
the temporary seizure the same year of Union Island in the
Grenadines, the attempted coup in 1981 in Dominica, and the
assassination in 1983 of PRG leader Maurice Bishop had shocked the
Windward population. These events led to the creation of
paramilitary Special Service Units within each of the national
police organizations. At the same time, however, leaders generally
continued to oppose the establishment of a regional army, fearing
that such an institution could endanger democracy.
Despite its nineteenth-century ties to the Windward Islands,
Barbados differed from its neighbors in several ways. Barbados lies
east of the Windwards and is characterized by lowlands, plains, and
rolling hills rather than the mountainous terrain of the Windwards.
The island also followed a distinct historical path. Barbados was
regarded as the most British nation in the Commonwealth Caribbean,
a reflection undoubtedly of the uncontested control exercised by
the British from 1625 until the granting of independence in 1966.
The economic base was different from most of the Windward nations
also; tourism had replaced agriculture as the primary foreign
exchange earner by the 1970s. Barbados was also distinguished from
its neighbors by the maintenance of a standing army. Barbados'
political structure, however, was identical to that found in St.
Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Grenada.
Data as of November 1987