Before Columbus’s arrival in 1493, there were Amerindians living on both islands, whose relics can still be seen in some areas. As in most of the other islands, however, they were slaughtered by European immigrants, although the Caribs fought off the British and the French for many years and their battle scenes are celebrated locally.
St Kitts became the first British settlement in the West Indies in 1623 and soon became an important colony for its sugar industry, with the importation of large numbers of African slaves. In April 1690 a severe earthquake struck, causing heavy damage to St Kitts, Nevis and Redonda. It was followed by a tidal wave which compounded the damage and, it is believed, destroyed Nevis’ first capital, Jamestown.
For a time St Kitts was shared by France and England; partition was ended by the Peace of Utrecht in 1713 and it finally became a British colony in 1783. From 1816, St Christopher, Nevis, Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands were administered as a single colony until the Leeward Islands Federation was formed in 1871. (For a detailed history of Nevis during this period, read Swords, Ships and Sugar–A History of Nevis to 1900, by Vincent Hubbard, available in St Kitts and Nevis bookshops.)
From 1958, St Kitts-Nevis and Anguilla belonged to the West Indies Federation until its dissolution in 1962. In 1967 their constitutional status was changed from Crown Colony to a state in voluntary association with Britain, in a first step towards self-government. Robert L Bradshaw was the first Premier of the Associated States. Local councils were set up in Anguilla and Nevis to give those islands more authority over local affairs. Anguilla broke away from the group and was re-established as a Crown Colony in 1971. During the 1970s independence was a burning issue but Nevis’ local council was keen to follow Anguilla’s lead rather than become independent with St Kitts. Negotiations were stalled because of British opposition to Nevis becoming a Crown Colony. Eventually, on 19 September 1983, St Kitts and Nevis became independent as a single nation.
The main political parties are the People’s Action Movement (PAM), the St Kitts and Nevis Labour Party (SKNLP), the Nevis Reformation Party (NRP) and the Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM). Dr Kennedy Simmonds (PAM) was elected Prime Minister in 1980 and held office until July 1995.
Elections in November 1993 were highly controversial when the PAM and the SKNLP each won four seats, the CCM two and the NRP one. The CCM declined to join in a coalition government to form a majority with either major party. The Governor then asked Dr Kennedy Simmonds to form a minority government with the support of the NRP, the PAM’s previous coalition partner. This move was highly unpopular, given that the Labour Party had won 54.4 percent of votes cast in St Kitts compared with 41.7 percent for the PAM. A state of emergency was declared for 10 days in December because of rioting and other disturbances, a curfew was imposed for five days and a detachment of soldiers from the Regional Security System joined the local police force for a week. Negotiations between Dr Denzil Douglas, the SKNLP leader, and Dr Simmonds, for a caretaker government for six months followed by fresh elections, failed. More clashes greeted the budget presentation in February 1994 with the SKNLP boycotting parliament (except to take the oath of allegiance in May) in support of fresh elections.
Also during 1994, St Kitts was rocked by a corruption scandal linked to senior political officials involving drugs trafficking, murder and prison riots. It was alleged that traffickers were exploiting St Kitts and Nevis and avoiding the better monitored, traditional routes. The crisis pushed the Government into calling a forum for national unity, at which it was decided that a general election should be held, three years ahead of schedule. In the meantime, all parties in the National Assembly participated in decisions on matters such as foreign investment and a code of conduct to regulate political activity. A Commonwealth observer team monitored the elections to prevent a recurrence of the 1993 disturbances.
In the months leading up to the 3 July elections, British police officers were brought in to assist the local police force. The campaign itself was marred by political party rivalry which was often violent, but the result was an overwhelming victory for the SKNLP, which won seven seats. The PAM was reduced to one, while the CCM and the NRP continue to hold two seats and one seat respectively. Dr Denzil Douglas became Prime Minister. In 1998 the police force was returned to local command.
In 1992 Mr Simeon Daniel, the Premier of Nevis for 21 years, lost his assembly seat in elections which saw Mr Vance Amory (CCM) become the new leader. Mr Amory is in favour of the secession of Nevis from the federal state and legislation was prepared in 1996. However he failed to get it debated in the House of Assembly in November because of a boycott of the session by the NRP. Caricom proposed the establishment of a commission to examine the future relations of St Kitts and Nevis in an attempt to avoid a hasty and messy secession. A three-member commission was sworn in at end-1997 to review the constitution.
Elections for the Nevis Island Assembly were held in February 1997 and Mr Amory was returned to power. The CCM retained its three seats and the NRP held its two seats. Nevis’ assembly voted unanimously for secession in 1997. However, a referendum on succession in July 1998 was unsuccessful when it failed to gain the approval of two-thirds of the electorate. Talks on constitutional reform were held in 1999 between the Federal Government and the Nevis Island Administration.
In September 1998 Hurricane Georges devastated the island of St Kitts. About 75 percent of homes were extensively damaged. A record clean up brought the island back to normal by the end of the year and most tourist facilities were open for business by the winter high season. In November 1999 the leeward side of both islands was hit by Hurricane Lenny, which brought high seas and flooding, wiping out many beaches and damaging hotels. The Four Seasons Hotel in Nevis remained closed for a year for repairs which included importing sand and constructing a breakwater to protect the beach by the hotel
General elections were held in March 2000 and the SKNLP was returned to power, winning all eight seats in St Kitts. There was no change in Nevis, the CCM winning two seats and the NRP one. Kennedy Simmonds, leader of the PAM since 1976, announced his resignation in 2000. The PAM had claimed massive fraud in the elections, in which it lost its single seat although the party won 35.5% of the vote in St Kitts