300. Telegram From the Embassy in Barbados to the Department of State1

1297. Subj: St. Lucia Independence Update.

1. We have reported previously that St. Lucia Premier John Compton appears to doubt the ability of his United Workers Party (UWP) to win a general election and therefore wants independence from Britain without first going to the polls. But the opposition St. Lucia Labor Party (SLP), both still convinced of its ability to win an election and unconvinced that post-independence polls will be fair, remains determined to force a general election prior to independence. (Apparently fearing less than the required two-thirds vote, Compton does not want a referendum, the only other means provided by the Constitution for [Page 741]demonstrating popular support for independence. The SLP is also opposed to a referendum because approval would mean independence under Compton, while a negative vote now would complicate going for independence later should they gain power.)

2. In recent discussion of HMG–GOSL consultations in London (April 27–28) the British Govt Rep to the Associated States2 (resident in St. Lucia), Eric Letocq (protect source), told an EmbOff on May 31 that HMG is not yet prepared to agree to independence for the island and that the British Govt’s request to Compton to prepare a “green paper on the benefits anticipated from independence” is basically a delaying maneuver on HMG’s part. However, Compton on his recent return from London, publicly portrayed this request as signifying that the road is clear for early independence. Letocq says that his govt—as much as it would like to be rid of the island—cannot go before Parliament requesting independence for St. Lucia without some concrete indication that the step is the will of the people. Compton’s Senior Minister, George Mallet, obliquely acknowledged to same Embassy officer that independence is not to be expected soon, but rather that it is more likely to occur up to a year in the future.

3. Based on a June 1 conversation with the opposition SLP’s deputy political leader, George Odlum, the opposition seems confident—as now seems to be the case—that HMG will not agree to independence without a general election.3 However, the SLP, while still reasonably confident it could hand the UWP an electoral defeat, is increasingly worried that Compton’s moves to improve the island’s economic outlook could make him a more formidable opponent than its leaders had thought. Odlum stated that a quick call for a general election by Compton is now a real possibility.

4. Comment: Premier Compton is an astute, if not very popular politician, and it is hard to understand his continued posturing on independence unless (A) he thinks the British, wishing to strengthen his hand against the leftists in SLP, will give in and grant independence without an election or (B) he has plans to call a sudden general election as soon as he has chalked up a few more economic development coups. (GOSL officials now assert that a long talked about US oil company employment-generating investment in a bulk storage facility is about [Page 742]to actually materialize.4 Another possible explanation for Compton’s behavior is that HMG’s recent stiffening in its position on the electoral precondition for independence caught him out on a limb, unable to back down gracefully and save face. Based on the recent conversation with Letocq, we now see it even less likely than before that the British Govt will agree to St. Lucia’s independence without a general election. Thus if Compton decides not to gamble on an election, the island’s break with Britain could conceivably be delayed until as late as mid-1979, the date a general election is constitutionally required.5

Simms
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770201–0543. Confidential. Repeated for information to London.
  2. The West Indies Associated States was the collective name for islands in the Eastern Caribbean whose status changed in 1967 from being British colonies to states in free association with the United Kingdom. These states included Antigua, Dominica, Grenada, Saint Christopher-Nevis-Anguilla, Saint Lucia, and Saint Vincent.
  3. A summary of Odlum’s meeting with Political/Economic Officer Bruce F. Porter is in the National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P830077–1906.
  4. In telegram 1004 from Bridgetown, April 12, 1978, the Embassy reported that Hess Oil had begun construction of an oil refinery in St. Lucia. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780159–0112)
  5. Dominica achieved independence at midnight on November 3, 1978. See Document 310.