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Saint Vincent & the Grenadines - History

Saint Vincent & the Grenadines History

When Spanish explorers first sighted St Vincent, the island was thickly settled with Carib Indians who had driven off the earlier Arawak settlers. Heavy Carib resistance kept European colonists at bay long after most other Caribbean islands had well-established European settlements.

African slaves became the first permanent non-Carib settlers in 1675, when they made it to shore from a sinking Dutch ship. None of the European crew survived, but the Africans were absorbed into Carib society. Their descendants became known as Black Caribs, as distinct from the native Yellow Caribs.

The Caribs were generally hostile to all Europeans, but they tended to find the British, who claimed Carib land by royal grants, more objectionable than the French. The Caribs allowed the French to establish the first European settlement on the island in the early 1700s. Shortly after relinquishing control of St Vincent to the British under the Treaty of Paris, the French instigated a riot of Black and Yellow Caribs against English settlers, killing many Brits and burning their plantations. In retaliation, British troops landed on St Vincent and removed over 5000 Caribs to Roatan, an island off Honduras. A number of Yellow Caribs were moved to a reservation at Sandy Bay, in the northeastern corner of St Vincent.

With native opposition gone, plantation owners enjoyed stability and success until 1812, when a major eruption of La Soufrière destroyed most of the coffee and cocoa trees. Around the same time, the abolitionist movement was growing in Britain and by 1834 slavery was abolished and plantation owners forced to free more than 18,000 slaves.

Blacks turned away from plantations and planters began bringing in foreign laborers. But a hurricane in 1898 and another eruption of La Soufrière in 1902 destroyed what remained of the plantation economy.

In 1969 St Vincent became a self-governing state in association with the UK and in 1979 St Vincent & the Grenadines acquired full independence as a member of the Commonwealth. La Soufrière erupted that same year, spewing a blanket of ash over much of the island and causing the evacuation of 20,000 people to St Vincent's northern villages. The country remains prone to what insurance companies calls 'acts of God'. Major hurricanes in 1980 and 1986 wrought further havoc on the islands.

Sir James F Mitchell was elected prime minister in 1984. His New Democratic Party controlled the legislature throughout the '90s, and in 1998 Mitchell was elected to his fourth term. However, the NDP's popularity was slipping, and the rival Unity Labour Party took seven of the fifteen assembly seats.

Growing dissatisfaction with the NDP led to protests in May 2002. The Organization of Eastern Caribbean States negotiated an agreement that pushed elections forward two years to March 2001. The Unity Labour Party won by a landslide, and Dr. Ralph Gonsalves became the new prime minister. The country was listed on the Financial Action Taskforce set up by the G-7 nations as one of 35 countries to take action on money-laundering.

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