COUNTRY PROFILE: St. Lucia
St. Lucia is the second largest island of the British Lesser
Antilles. Located roughly in the center of the Windward island
chain, it is nestled between Martinique to the north and St.
Vincent and the Grenadines to the south. Castries, the capital
city, is situated on the northwest coast and known for its
magnificent harbor. St. Lucia, said to be named for the patron
saint of the day on which it was discovered, has an uncommon
heritage of mixed cultural and historical influences, including
Amerindian, European, and African.
St. Lucia was inhabited by the Carib (Amerindian) Indians when
sighted by the Spanish in the first decade of the sixteenth century
(see The Pre-European Population, ch. 1). Many believe that
Columbus viewed the island in 1502; however, the sighting is not
accepted by all historians. St. Lucia remained uncolonized until
the mid-seventeenth century. Earlier attempts by the British in
1605 and 1638 had met with disaster; would-be colonizers were
either forced from the shores of the island or killed by its
inhabitants. The first successful attempt at appeasing the Caribs
followed the ceding of the island by the King of France to the
French West Indian Company in 1642. Permanent French settlement
occurred in 1660, after an armistice had been agreed to by the
St. Lucia, however, was not to enjoy a lengthy period of peace.
Military conflicts among the Dutch, British, Spanish, and French,
both on the European continent and in the colonies, resulted in St.
Lucia's falling alternately under the control of France and Britain
fourteen different times in the eighteenth and early nineteenth
centuries. During this period of constantly changing European
alliances, both the British and the French sought control of St.
Lucia for strategic purposes. The island's natural deep-water
harbors afforded ready protection for military vessels and also
served as an ideal location from which to monitor enemy military
movements in the Caribbean.
The years surrounding the French Revolution were particularly
violent ones in St. Lucia. Britain declared war on France following
the French declaration of support for the American revolutionary
effort in the late 1770s. The battle for control of St. Lucia
continued intermittently throughout the rise and fall of the French
Republic because possession of the sugar-producing islands of the
Caribbean was considered essential for raising revenue to support
the ongoing war in Europe. From 1793 until Napoleon's fall in 1815,
St. Lucia was captured alternately by France and Britain no fewer
than seven times. Although the French permanently ceded St. Lucia
to the British in 1815, it was many years before the population,
whose sympathies rested with the French, accepted British rule
without internal conflict.
St. Lucia was administered as a crown colony from 1838 until
1885. Executive authority remained in the hands of the British
monarch, and control was exercised by a colonial proxy who resided
in Barbados. Executive and legislative councils were created to
administer local affairs.
The twentieth century saw St. Lucia's gradual transition to
self-governance. Representative government was introduced in 1924
when a constitution was established; however, there was only
incremental progress toward the development of a locally-controlled
political system for the next thirty-four years. In 1958 St. Lucia
joined the short-lived West Indies Federation, which was dissolved
by the British Parliament in 1962 (see The West Indies Federation,
1957-62, ch. 1).
Following the dissolution, St. Lucia immediately agreed to
become an associated state of Britain, which entailed a mutually
sanctioned relationship that could be dissolved at any time by
either party. St. Lucia was granted full control over its local
government, with Britain retaining responsibility for foreign
affairs and national defense. This arrangement lasted until 1975,
when members of the West Indies Associated States chose to pursue
independence at their discretion and convenience (see The West
Indies Federation, ch. 1). Following three years of planning and
deliberation, St. Lucia gained independence on February 22, 1979.
Data as of November 1987