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Historical Review.
"If you have no confidence in self, you are twice defeated in the race of life. With confidence, you have won even before you have started." Marcus Garvey

A short historical look at the Relationship between St. Kitts & Nevis Written by Roy Herbert

Part 1

Most reasonable observers would describe the present relationship between St Kitts and Nevis as acrimonious. This posting attempts to delve into the history of this discord.

In 1952 General Elections were held in St Kitts, Nevis and Anguilla. There were a total of eight seats contested. Five in St Kitts, two in Nevis and one in Anguilla. The St Kitts and Nevis Labour Party led by Robert Bradshaw won all eight seats.

By the time elections rolled around again in 1957 there were signs of trouble in paradise. The Labour Party once again won all five seats in St Kitts.

But the party was rejected in both Nevis and Anguilla who voted for independents. The two independents in Nevis were Eugene Walwyn, a young lawyer and Wilmoth Nichols, a young teacher.

It is said Mr Bradshaw upon hearing he had been rebuffed by Nevis stated he would give Nevisians, "Bones in their rice and pepper in their soup".

The next General Elections were held in 1961. Nevis now had its first political party the United National Movement led by Eugene Walwyn.

Shortly before the elections, the Labour government in St Kitts, imposed an additional 5 cents, to the existing one cent, tax on exported cotton.

At the time cotton was the main export on the island of Nevis. Both Mr Walwyn and Nichols stormed out of the House Of Assembly in protest as Nevisians found a 500% increase on cotton export taxes unacceptable.

The secessionist movement in Nevis was born and Mr Walwyn led Nevisians on a protest march through the streets of Charlestown in Nevis.

They also boarded a boat and marched through the streets of Basseterre in St Kitts. The march in St Kitts occurrred around Easter time and it is said Mr Bradshaw disdainfully remarked, "The Masqueraders have come at Easter".

Mr Walwyn was able to galvanize Nevisians and his United National Movement won both seats in Nevis in the 1961 General Elections.

Nevisians entrusted the responsility of secession from St Kitts to him. Indeed, he travelled to Britain where his request for Nevis secession was denied by the British Government.

The next elections were held in 1966 and it was becoming quite obvious that there was no love lost between Mr Bradshaw and his Labour Party in St Kitts and the people of Nevis.

Rumours had started to circulate that Mr Walwyn was becoming too cosy with Labour in St Kitts. As a result he barely held on to his seat in Charlestown by a mere 42 votes.

But his UNM party did not fare so well in rural Nevis and lost that seat to a new St Kitts-based party called the People's Action Movement or PAM.

After the elections, again won by Labour, Mr Walwyn accepted the post of Attorney General. Nevisians considered this an act of treason.

Consequently, neither Mr Walwyn nor his United National Party ever won a seat again in General Elections in Nevis.

Meanwhile, the secessionist movement in Nevis was dead. But it would be resurrected.

Part 2

On August 1, 1970 the ferry which operated between St Kitts and Nevis sank. Chrestena, built to accomodate 155 passengers, had over 300. Two hundred passengers, mainly Nevisians, drowned that day.

The Labour government in St Kitts who owned and operated the ferry came in for some harsh criticism in Nevis. There was so much anti-Labour sentiment that in October, 1970 a new political party was formed.

It was called the Nevis Reformation Party or NRP and its goal was secession for Nevis. An isssue that had lay dormant for years was now active again.

NRP didn't have to wait long to do battle as General Elections were held the following year in 1971. They had immediate success when Ivor Stevens crushed Eugene Walwyn in Charlestown. Meanwhile, the other seat in Nevis was maintained by PAM and once again Labour won all the seats in St Kitts.

In the elections of 1975 the juggernaut that was Labour kept steamrolling. Incredibly, they won all seven seats in St Kitts yet again.

Labour had been in power for over thirty years, had won six consecutive elections and showed no signs of slowing down. PAM had no answer on how to tame this beast.

However, as popular as Labour was in St Kitts they were absolutely despised in Nevis. In fact, any Nevis political who dared speak favourably of Labour would in essence be committing political suicide. NRP never made that mistake and won both seats in Nevis.

It was obvious the chasm between St Kitts and Nevis was getting wider and wider. Realizing this, in August 1977, NRP called a referendum on secession. The results were as follows: 4,193 Nevisians voted yes, 14 voted no and there were 13 spoilt ballots.

The people of Nevis had spoken and they wanted to have no association with St Kitts who had been pursuing independence from Britain.

General Elections were next held in 1980 and for the first time PAM found success in St Kitts winning three seats. But Labour was a tough nut to crack and won four. The NRP now firmly entrenched in Nevis again won both seats on the island.

In a move that shocked Labour, PAM and NRP joined forces to form the new government. Then in 1983 history was made when the PAM/NRP coalition led St Kitts and Nevis into independence.

Some felt the PAM/NRP union heralded a new chapter in St Kitts and Nevis relations. Gone was the hostility between the two islands. For the first time Kittitians and Nevisians were co-operating in running the government. This they argued could only bode well for the future.

Others scoffed at the notion and said this was merely a marriage of convenience predicated on both parties hatred of the Labour.

One thing was certain, the PAM/NRP team was very efffective in keeping Labour out in the cold. PAM was able to defeat Labour in St Kitts for the first time in 1984. However, in 1989 PAM and Labour each won four seats and NRP joined with PAM once again to thwart Labour.

It was clear as long as PAM was able to win outright, or join with NRP to form the government there was a level of stability in St Kitts and Nevis. In other words, there were no loud calls for secession in Nevis.

Part 3

Federal Elections were held in St Kitts and Nevis in 1993. PAM and Labour each won four seats in St Kitts while CCM won two in Nevis and NRP one.

The CCM party in Nevis was in a good position because they controlled the balance of power. Labour, who had been out in the cold for thirteen years, approached CCM to form a coalition government. But CCM refused.

The move was applauded by many in Nevis. They felt how dare the repressive, mean spirited and anti-Nevis Labour Party come running to Nevis in a desperate attempt to regain power. They also reminded everyone what had happened to the last Nevis party that had joined with Labour.

However, many in St Kitts were of a different view. They felt CCM was holding a grudge against Labour unfairly. This was the "new" Labour, many of whom hadn't been born, or were in diapers, when the "old" Labour ruled the roost. They had tried to reach out to Nevis in friendship and put all the bitterness of the past behind but were rebuked by CCM.

In the end, PAM and NRP came together and formed what amounted to a lame duck minority government. This caused confusion, chaos and then violence erupted in the streets of Basseterre. A State of Emergency had to be called to restore order.

To regain some semblance of stability new elections were called in 1995. This time Labour would not be denied and swept to power taking seven of the eight seats in St Kitts.

Almost immediately there were rumblings of secession in Nevis again. Labour and Nevis were like oil and water. The two just didn't mix. It did not take long for the fireworks to start.

Labour angered Nevisians by initiating legislation that would give the federal government control of the off shore banking sector which was based in Nevis. The NIA fought fiercely against this. Also an office was opened in Nevis from which the federal government sought to conduct Nevis Affairs. Within days of its opening the office was vandalized.

In 1996, just one year after Labour took office, local elections were held in Nevis. CCM won on a secession platform. Then two years later in 1998 a referendum on secession was put to the people of Nevis. Leading up to the vote the differences in opinion between Nevisians and Kittitians were obvious.

Secessionists in Nevis referred to themselves as
freedom fighters. Many Kittitians referred to them as renegades. The Premier of Nevis stated secession was the only answer. The Prime Minister in St Kitts stated constitutional reform was the answer.

A majority of Nevisians were in favour of secession. A majority of Kittitians were against secession. While the Nevis Island Administration campaigned for secession the Federal government in St Kitts campaigned against secession.

On August 10, 1998 a referendum was put to the people of Nevis. Sixty-two percent voted yes while thirty-eight percent voted no. Sixty-seven percent was required so the referendum was defeated.

Since 1998 there have been two elections in the Federation of St Kitts and Nevis. In 2000 Federal Elections, Labour retained power by defeating PAM eight seats to none. A year later in 2001, CCM retained power in Nevis Local Elections by defeating NRP four seats to one.

The two governments do not see eye to eye and each commands the support of its respective electorate. Therefore, neither will feel compelled to budge. So the federal Labour government can be expected to continue to call for constitutional reform. Meanwhile, the local Nevis CCM government can be expected to continue to call for secession.

Only time will tell which one of the two solutions will be employed to restore peace between the two islands.

Nevis 1st Premier - Simeon Daniel

Ivor Stevens

Excerpt taken from the 2003 White paper (The Way Forward)
Written by the Nevis Island Administration (NIA)

The aspiration of the people of Nevis to be free to govern their own affairs has a long and deep-rooted history that dates back to the year 1882.   Prior to that date, the people of Nevis were free to determine the policies and programmes that governed the island albeit within the framework of a colony of England.

 

The freedom enjoyed prior to 1882 ended with an unwilling union with St. Kitts that was enforced by virtue of our colonial relationship.   Almost immediately, the people of Nevis began to advocate for a separation from St. Kitts.   The large majority of the instances in which we pressed our case for a return to self-governance are well documented, some of which are detailed below to illustrate the unwavering aspiration of the people of Nevis to be masters of their own destiny:

 

1.   In 1921, the people of Nevis wrote to the Secretary of State for the colonies in London requesting that His Majesty’s Government sanction the separation of Nevis from St. Kitts.

 

2.   In 1961, approximately four thousand persons assembled at Grove Park, Charlestown, in a demonstration sponsored by the United National Movement urging that Nevis secede from the union with St. Kitts.   At that demonstration, a resolution was moved by the people for Nevis to be separated from St. Kitts.       

 

3.   In 1975, the manifesto of the Nevis Reformation Party was in the following terms: “The Nevis Reformation Party will strive at all costs to gain secession for Nevis from St. Kitts – a privilege enjoyed by the island of Nevis prior to 1882.”

 

4.   On August 18, 1977, an unofficial referendum for secession was organized by the Nevis Reformation Party.   Of the 4,220 persons who voted, 4,193 voted ‘yes’ for secession, 14 persons voted ‘no’ and there were 13 spoilt ballots.

 

5.   Approximately 21 years after the unofficial referendum of August 1998, the people of Nevis once again voted in a referendum, this time in accordance with Section 113 of the St. Christopher and Nevis Constitutional Order 1983.  Of the 3,935 persons who voted, 2,427 voted ‘yes’, 1,498 voted ‘no’ and there were 11 rejected ballots. Approximately 62% of the electorate voted in favour of the separation of Nevis from the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis.

 

2.       Prelude to Independence (1983)

 

Following the general elections of 1980, the Peoples Action Movement and the Nevis Reformation Party formed a coalition government for St. Kitts and Nevis.  Not long after, the government initiated discussions to move St. Kitts and Nevis into political independence.

 

The new government presented a White Paper and proposals for a new Constitution.  Included amongst these proposals were provisions for:

 

(a)        the creation of a Nevis Island Assembly, with increased  powers to make laws with exclusive control over 21 specified matters which are enshrined in Schedule 5 of the Constitution;

            (b)        the creation of the Nevis Island Administration; and,

            (c)        the right of Nevis to secede from the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis as enshrined in Section 113 of the Constitution.

These provisions were undoubtedly included to signify the right of the people of Nevis to move our island into independence at the appropriate time.

 

On the other hand, the Labour Party, which until 1980 represented the dominant political force in St. Kitts, outlined its own vision for an independent St. Kitts and an independent Nevis.  The Labour Party’s philosophy was expressed in its Green Paper of 1982 and its manifestos of 1993, 1995 and 2000.   The Green Paper in particular,  stated in part that:

 

(a)        “nothing short of full and complete responsibility for their own affairs will satisfy the people of Nevis

 

            (b)        “the Labour Party interprets the results of the last General Elections in Nevis as an expression by the vast majority of the people of Nevis of a firm desire for the secession of Nevis from St. Kitts”

 

(c)        “each island should have its own separate constitution, legislature, government and political system”

 

(d)        “the people of each island should strengthen the bonds of friendship and family between the islands”

 

            (e)        “there should be a Treaty of Friendship between the islands which should provide for the free movement of people, trade and access to records with a joint committee to review relations between the islands on an ongoing basis”.

 

 

3.       A ‘Unique’ Constitution

On September 19, 1983, the islands of St. Kitts and Nevis became an independent nation known as the “Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis”. The Federation is governed by a constitution that is unique.

 

The new constitution contained a provision for the separation of Nevis from the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis - Section 113,   which gives Nevis the right, whenever it desires, to cease to be federated with the island of St. Kitts on a successful referendum held on Nevis only!

It was the expressed intention of the Nevis Reformation Party to allow the people of Nevis a sufficient period within which to enjoy some semblance of self-governance, under the new constitution, before proceeding to full independence.