Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Like many of the other small island nations in the Caribbean, the country did not maintain a standing army. In case of external threat or insurgency from within, it relied upon the Regional Security System (RSS), of which it was a member. Disturbances of a more limited nature were handled by a weaponless police force, under whose jurisdiction fell the armed paramilitary SSU and a small coast guard.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ (SVG) economy is dependent on the tourism and offshore banking industries. Agriculture is also an important sector of St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ economy. There is a high unemployment rate on the islands. SVG is the leading marijuana producer in the region and a transit point for other types of illicit drugs.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines, a West Indian island nation whose most conspicuous feature may well be its diminutive geographic and demographic size, was a stable, democratic state whose cultural, linguistic, and religious traditions had been influenced by constant political turnover in the first 300 years of its existence as a colonial territory.
The Royal Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Police is the only security force in the country and is responsible for maintaining national security. Its forces include the Coast Guard, Special Services Unit, Rapid Response Unit, Drug Squad, and the Anti-Trafficking Unit. The police force reports to the minister of national security, a portfolio held by the prime minister. The Criminal Investigations Department investigated all police killings and referred them to coroner’s inquests. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the police, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption.
Although extremists and Black Power movement partisans were active in St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the 1970s, and although terrorists assassinated the attorney general in 1973, there was comparatively little preoccupation with security-related issues until 1979. In that year, the prime minister of neighboring Grenada was overthrown and the Grenadines' Union Island temporarily fell to local insurgents. Following these incidents the nation's vulnerability became increasingly apparent, and more emphasis was placed on security-related matters. Nevertheless, the civil defense capabilities of the Vincentian security forces remained very limited.
One of the most important issues debated in the late 1980s was the extent to which St. Vincent and the Grenadines should participate in the Regional Security System [RSS]. Mitchell, along with Barbadian prime minister Errol Barrow, prevented the upgrading of the 1982 Memorandum of Understanding into a treaty. During the 1984 elections, Mitchell campaigned against expensive defense commitments, stating numerous times that he opposed the establishment of a separate military institution. Mitchell also campaigned against what he termed the "excessive militarization" of the region because he feared that a strong military could endanger the democratic process in times of economic hardship. Although he recognized that the Eastern Caribbean states had to defend themselves, Mitchell believed that economic assistance would do more to secure the region than a military buildup. Ironically, St. Vincent and the Grenadines was one of only two countries in 1986 whose contribution to the RSS budget was not in arrears.
The internal security of the nation was the responsibility of the Royal St. Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force. Headquartered in Kingstown and headed by a commissioner, the force numbered about 500 members in the late 1980s. The organizational structure of the Police Force included the Criminal Investigation Department, the Fire Brigade, and branches for immigration, traffic, and transport. Although the Police Force had a good record with respect to human rights, there were four news media allegations between 1983 and 1987 of police brutality, two of them related, resulting in the deaths of detainees.
The most serious internal disturbance that the police were called upon to control was the uprising on Union Island in December 1979, which resulted when a group of young Rastafarians seized the local airport, police station, and revenue office. The perceived neglect of the small Grenadine island by the incumbent SVLP government was a factor in the Rastafarians' decision to take such drastic action. The situation was brought under control when the prime minister called upon Barbadian troops to keep order on St. Vincent while the Royal St. Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force was dispatched to Union Island to subdue the mini-rebellion.
Also under the jurisdiction of the Police Force was the small Kingstown-based Coast Guard, which began operating in 1981. Its primary function was to participate in search-and-rescue missions, fisheries protection, smuggling prevention, and narcotics interdiction. As of 1984, the coast guard possessed one Singapore-built 22.9-meter patrol craft and two locally constructed 8.2-meter launches. One 15.3-meter Swiftship patrol craft reportedly was delivered to the country by the United States in 1986. The small number of vessels hindered the ability of the coast guard to police the vast expanses of the Grenadine Islands and surrounding territorial waters.
Police Force members operated unarmed unless an emergency occurred, in which case they were provided with the equipment needed to resolve the situation. In response to the Grenada crisis in 1983, a Vincentian SSU was created in early 1984 under the auspices of the RSS to arm some of the police permanently. Functioning as a paramilitary unit, the SSU had eighty members, all under the direction of the local police comnissioner. Under a United States security assistance program, the SSU received British and United States weapons and equipment.
To ensure that the SSU would not become an elitist group unaccountable to civilians, Mitchell took the unit out of the official camouflage military uniform and returned it to the local police uniform.
Medical facilities in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines do not meet U.S. standards. Major roads are in average to poor condition, and drivers may encounter wandering animals and slow moving heavy equipment. Drivers often stop in the middle of the roadway without warning, so drivers should always maintain a safe distance from the vehicle in front and watch for signs of sudden braking. Automobiles may lack working safety and signaling devices. Crimes, including murder, rape, armed robbery, petty street crime, automobile break-ins and burglary, do occur.
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