2001 Scores

Status: Free
Freedom Rating: 1.5
Civil Liberties: 2
Political Rights: 1


Prime Minister Denzil Douglas led his St. Kitts Labor Party (SKLP) to a stronger parliamentary majority in elections held on March 6, 2000, in the island nation of St. Kitts-Nevis, winning all 8 seats on St. Kitts, out of 11 up for grabs for the 11-member national assembly. Opposition leader Kennedy Simmonds's People's Action Movement (PAM), which hoped to oust the SKLP, by winning 3 seats in St. Kitts and forming a coalition with the winners of seats in Nevis, instead lost its only seat on the island to the SKLP, which had previously held 7 seats. In February, gang leader Charles "Little Nut" Miller, a vicious representative of the Colombian drug cartel, who allegedly smuggled a ton of cocaine into the United States in 1994, was extradited to Miami after having fought for four years to stay in St. Kitts, where he had terrorized the population.

The national government comprises the prime minister, the cabinet, and the bicameral legislative assembly. Elected assembly members, eight from St. Kitts and three from Nevis, serve five-year terms. Senators, not to exceed two-thirds of the elected members, are appointed, one by the leader of the parliamentary opposition for every two by the prime minister. The British monarch is represented by a governor-general, who appoints as prime minister the leader of the party or coalition with at least a plurality of seats in the legislature. Nevis has a local assembly composed of five elected and three appointed members, and pays for all its own services except police and foreign relations. St. Kitts has no similar body. Nevis is accorded the constitutional right to secede if two-thirds of the elected legislators approve and two-thirds of voters endorse succession through a referendum.

The center-right PAM gained power in 1980 with the support of the Nevis Restoration Party (NRP). In 1983 the country achieved independence. The PAM-NRP coalition won majorities in the 1984 and 1989 elections.

In the 1993 elections the SKLP and the PAM each won four seats, though the former won the popular vote. The Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM) took two Nevis seats, and the NRP, one. The CCM opted not to join the coalition, leaving the PAM-NRP to rule with a five-seat plurality.

Douglas, the SKLP leader, protested the new government. Violence erupted, which led to a two-week state of emergency. The SKLP boycotted parliament in 1994. The PAM government was shaken by a drugs-and-murder scandal that same year, and the weakened government agreed to hold early elections.

In the July 1995 elections the SKLP won seven of eight St. Kitts seats and 60 percent of the popular vote. The PAM took the eighth St. Kitts seat and 40 percent of the popular vote. On Nevis, the CCM retained its two seats and the NRP held on to the third. Following the vote, the PAM alleged that the SKLP dismissed or demoted PAM supporters and filled their positions with SKLP supporters.

In July 1996 Nevis premier Vance Armory, reacting to St. Kitts's unwelcome move to open a government office in Nevis, announced his intention to break the 100-year-old political link between the two islands. On October 13, 1997, Nevis's five-person parliament unanimously voted for secession. However, in a referendum on August 10, 1999, secessionists won only a simple majority of the vote, falling short of the two-thirds margin required by the constitution.

The amount of cocaine passing through the Caribbean en route to the United States has reportedly doubled in recent years. St. Kitts is one of more than ten Caribbean islands to sign drug-enforcement pacts with the United States. Nevis has more than 10,000 offshore businesses, operating under strict secrecy laws, and CCM secessionists argued these were the bedrock of island strength in a global economy. However, a principal argument used against secession was that Nevis alone could not withstand the wiles of drug traffickers and money launderers. Nevis has resisted central government efforts to impose stiffer regulations (companies set up on Nevis territory need submit "no annual return or accounts") on the crime-prone financial industry.

In going into the March 2000 elections, Douglas was able to tout his government's efforts at promoting resort construction in St. Kitts, combating crime and raising public employees' salaries. Although he increased the SKLP's numbers, in Nevis the CCM won two seats and the NRP held on to the other one. The SKLP's critics claimed that the country had accumulated $192 million in debt and had failed to reinvigorate the islands' sugar economy.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Citizens are able to change their government democratically. The March 6 elections were free and fair. In the run-up to the secession referendum, Douglas promised to give Nevis a bigger role in federation affairs. Constitutional guarantees regarding free expression, the free exercise of religion, and the right to organize political parties, labor unions, and civic organizations are generally respected.

Drugs and money laundering have corrupted the political system. Apart from the 1995 drug-and-murder scandal, whose three hung juries suggest jury tampering and intimidation, there are also questions regarding business relations between SKLP leaders and the known drug trafficker Noel "Zambo" Heath.

The judiciary is generally independent. However, in March 1996 when the drug-and-murder scandal came to trial, the public prosecutions office failed to send a representative to present the case. The charges were dropped, raising suspicions of a government conspiracy. The highest court is the West Indies Supreme Court in St. Lucia, which includes a court of appeals and a high court. Under certain circumstances there is a right of appeal to the Privy Council in London.

The traditionally strong rule of law has been tested by the increase in drug-related crime and corruption. In 1995, it appeared that the police had become divided along political lines between the two main political parties. In June 1997, despite concerns of its cost to a country of 42,000 people, parliament passed a bill designed to create a 50-member Special Services Unit, which received some light infantry training, to wage war on heavily armed drug traffickers. The intimidation of witnesses and jurors is a problem. The national prison is overcrowded, and conditions are abysmal. In July 1998, the government hanged a convicted murderer, ending a 13-year hiatus in executions and defying pressure from Britain and human rights groups to end the death penalty.

A number of felons deported from the United States under the U.S. Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 have helped to make local law enforcement agencies in the region feel overwhelmed, as was the case in St. Kitts with Charles "Little Nut" Miller. The drug lord had in 1998 threatened to kill U.S. students at St. Kitts' Ross University if he was extradited, a magistrate had twice blocked Miller's extradition, but it was approved by the high court after police stopped and searched his car, finding two firearms, ammunition, and a small amount of marijuana.

Television and radio on St. Kitts are government-owned, although managed by a Trinidadian company, and there are some government restrictions on opposition access to them. Prime Minister Douglas has pledged to privatize the St. Kitts media. Each major political party publishes a weekly or fortnightly newspaper. Opposition publications freely criticize the government, and international media are available.

The main labor union, the St. Kitts Trades and Labour Union, is associated with the ruling SKLP. The right to strike, while not specified by law, is recognized and generally respected in practice. Violence against women is a problem, and there is no domestic legislation prohibiting it. Reliable reports suggest that the country's economic citizenship program, which allows for the purchase of passports through investments ranging from $200,000 to $285,000, has facilitated the illegal immigration of persons from China and other countries into the United States and Canada.

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