At the time of European discovery, Carib Indians inhabited the islands of St. Kitts and Nevis. Christopher Columbus landed on the larger island in 1493 on his second voyage and named it after St. Christopher, his patron saint. Columbus also discovered Nevis on his second voyage, reportedly calling it Nevis because of its resemblance to a snowcapped mountain (in Spanish, "nuestra senora de las nieves" or our lady of the snows). European colonization did not begin until 1623-24, when first English, then French colonists arrived on St. Christopher's Island, whose name the English shortened to St. Kitt's Island. As the first English colony in the Caribbean, St. Kitts served as a base for further colonization in the region.
The English and French held St. Kitts jointly from 1628 to1713. During the 17th century, intermittent warfare between French and English settlers ravaged the island's economy. Meanwhile Nevis, settled by English settlers in 1628, grew prosperous under English rule. St. Kitts was ceded to Great Britain by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. The French seized both St. Kitts and Nevis in 1782.
The Treaty of Paris in 1783 definitively awarded both islands to Britain. They were part of the colony of the Leeward Islands from 1871-1956, and of the West Indies Federation from 1958-62. In 1967, together with Anguilla, they became a self-governing state in association with Great Britain; Anguilla seceded late that year and remains a British dependency. The Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis attained full independence on September 19, 1983.
The economy of St. Kitts and Nevis experienced strong growth for most of the 1990s but hurricanes in 1998 and 1999 contributed to a sharp slowdown. Real economic growth was 0.75 % in 2002 after a decline of 4.3 % in 2001. The economy experienced a mixed performance during 2002, with some sectors experiencing positive growth while others experienced varying levels of decline. The construction sector recorded a 4.51 % decline, manufacturing and hotels and restaurants also recorded significant declines of 4.01 and 9.89 % respectively, and sugar production fell by 5.1 %. Significant new investment in tourism, including a 648-room Marriott hotel and convention center that opened in December 2002, as well as continued government efforts to diversify the economy, are expected to improve economic performance. Consumer prices have risen marginally over the past few years. The inflation rate was 3%-4% for most of the 1990s.
As a member of CARICOM, St. Kitts and Nevis strongly backed efforts by the United States to implement UN Security Council Resolution 940, designed to facilitate the departure of Haiti's de facto authorities from power. The country agreed to contribute personnel to the multinational force, which restored the democratically elected government of Haiti in October 1994.
St. Kitts and Nevis is strategically placed in the Leeward Islands, near maritime transport lanes of major importance to the United States. St. Kitts and Nevis' location close to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands makes the two-island federation attractive to narcotics traffickers. To counter this threat, the Government of St. Kitts and Nevis cooperates with the U.S. in the fight against illegal narcotics. In 1995, the government signed a maritime law enforcement treaty with the United States, later amended with an overflight/order-to-land amendment in 1996. St. Kitts and Nevis also signed an updated extradition treaty with the U.S. in 1996, and a mutual legal assistance treaty in 1997.
Government officials are convinced that continued construction of a 648 room, U.S.$200 million Marriott Royal St. Kitts Resort and Casino and a Paradise Beach Resort and Casino at Frigate Bay, St. Kitts are signs of confidence in the economic future of St. Kitts and Nevis, despite the world-wide effects of the 9/11 tragedies.
St. Kitts and Nevis has enjoyed a long history of free and fair elections,
although the outcome of elections in 1993 was strongly protested by the
opposition and the Eastern Caribbean Regional Security System (RSS) was
briefly deployed to restore order. The elections in 1995 were contested
by the two major parties, the ruling People's Action Movement (PAM) and
the St. Kitts and Nevis Labor Party. Labor won seven of the 11 seats, with
Dr. Denzil Douglas becoming prime minister. In the March 2000 elections,
Denzil Douglas and the Labor Party were returned to power, winning eight
of the 11 seats in Parliament. The Nevis-based Concerned Citizens Movement
(CCM) won two seats and the Nevis Reformation Party (NRP) won one seat.
The PAM party was unable to obtain a seat.