Resistance by native Caribs prevented colonization on St. Vincent until 1719. Disputed between France and the United Kingdom for most of the 18th century, the island was ceded to the latter in 1783. Between 1960 and 1962, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines was a separate administrative unit of the Federation of the West Indies. Autonomy was granted in 1969 and independence in 1979.
Economic growth slowed in 2008 after reaching a 10 year high of nearly 7% in 2006, and will likely slow in 2009 with the global economic downturn, though it will be above average for Latin America. Success of the economy hinges upon seasonal variations in agriculture, tourism, and construction activity as well as remittance inflows. Much of the workforce is employed in banana production and tourism, but persistent high unemployment has prompted many to leave the islands. This lower-middle-income country is vulnerable to natural disasters – tropical storms wiped out substantial portions of crops in 1994, 1995, and 2002. In 2007, the islands had more than 200,000 tourist arrivals, mostly to the Grenadines. Saint Vincent is home to a small offshore banking sector and has moved to adopt international regulatory standards. The government’s ability to invest in social programs and respond to external shocks is constrained by its high debt burden – 25% of current revenues are directed towards debt servicing. An agreement with Italy to write-off debt reduced the public debt-to-GDP ratio to about 70%. The GONSALVES administration is directing government resources to infrastructure projects, including a new international airport that is expected to be completed in 2011.