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Saint Kitts and Nevis Facts and History

Updated on April 6, 2014
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Saint Kitts and Nevis is a Caribbean country at the northern end of the Leeward Islands group of the Lesser Antilles. The alternative name Saint Christopher and Nevis was official until 1988. The country consists of two islands, St. Kitts (St. Christopher) and Nevis, with a combined area of 101 square miles (262 sq km), including inland water.

The larger island, St. Kitts (65 square miles, or 168 sq km), is oval in shape, about 23 miles (37 km) long by 5 miles (8 km) wide. Its highest elevation is 3,792 feet (1,156 meters) on Mt. Misery, an extinct volcano with a lake in its crater. The climate is tropical and pleasant, with a mean temperature of about 79° F (26° C). Nevis, a volcanic cone nearly circular in shape, with an area of 36 square miles (93 sq km), lies about 2 miles (3 km) southeast of St. Kitts. Nevis Peak at its center is 3,232 feet (985 meters) high.

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Population

The population at the census of 2001 totaled 45,841, with nearly four-fifths living on St. Kitts and the remainder on Nevis; the estimated population in 2008 was 39,619. The largest town is Basseterre, the capital and chief port, on St. Kitts. Charlestown is the largest on Nevis.

Economy

Traditionally, sugar has been the dominant product and remains important, but low international prices after the 1970s led the government to encourage diversification of agriculture and expansion of fishing and industry. Newer industries have included garment and electronics assembly and especially tourism, which surpassed sugar as a foreign exchange earner in 1987. Tourists arrive both by air and by cruise ship.

Government

The British monarch is represented by a governor-general. The prime minister, assisted by a cabinet, exercises executive power. Parliament consists of a National Assembly with 11 elected representatives and three or four appointed senators. There is also a regional government for the island of Nevis.

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History

Called Liamuiga (fertile island) by the Carib Indians who once inhabited it, St. Kitts was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493. He named it St. Christopher, but when the first settlers from England arrived in 1623, they called it St. Kitts, the name by which it is best known today. The first island in the area to be settled by the British, it was referred to as the "mother colony of the West Indies." France also founded two settlements there in 1624, and the island was contended for by the two countries until it was awarded to Britain by the Treaty of Versailles in 1783. Nevis was settled by British colonizers in 1628.

St. Kitts and Nevis, along with neighboring Anguilla and the Virgin Islands, were united as a single British colony in 1816. In 1871 the Leeward Islands Federation was formed with St. Kitts and Nevis as members. Shortly afterward Anguilla joined the federation. From 1958 until 1962 the three islands were members of the West Indies Federation. In 1967 St. Kitts–Nevis–Anguilla became a state in association with Britain, enjoying internal autonomy while Britain retained responsibility for defense and foreign affairs. Anguilla soon left the association and was officially separated from it in 1980.

At midnight on Sept. 18, 1983, the independent nation of St. Kitts and Nevis came into being. It retained its membership in the Commonwealth and was admitted to the United Nations on Sept. 23, 1983. In a referendum held on Nevis in 1998, 61.7% voters favored secession, but the constitution required a two-thirds majority for the outcome to take effect.

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