Saint Lucia gained independence on 22 February 1979. This module provides an overview of the key events on Saint Lucia's road to independence.
Road to Independence
Saint Lucia was named by Christopher Columbus, who sighted the island on St Lucy’s day 1502. The island has been much fought over. At some time before Columbus’s arrival, the Caribs ousted the Arawaks; and European powers contended with the Caribs and one another for control between 1660 and 1814; in that period the flag of Saint Lucia changed 14 times.
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 the West Indies Act of 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.
On 22 February 1979, Saint Lucia 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, and Sir Allen Montgomery Lewis as its first Governor-General.
Meaning of Independence
Saint Lucia becoming an independent nation, now meant that Britain, no longer controlled the affairs of the country. It was now the responsibility of the newly elected Prime Minister and the locally elected Cabinet. Independence also meant that a Constitution, symbols, emblems, an army, and passports had to be developed for the country.
As an independent nation, Saint Lucia assigns Ambassadors overseas who represent the country. They sign treaties on behalf of Saint Lucia and become members of various international organisations. This is important, as it gives the country equal rights on various issues relating to international trade, policies and treaties.