In contemporary political terms, "the Windward Islands" generally designates the ex-British colony comprising St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Grenada, and Dominica, now all independent states. Geographically and topographically, the Windwards include all the islands that stretch south from Dominica to Grenada and the Grenadines (not including Trinidad, Tobago, and Barbados). They are part of a volcanic chain and also exposed to periodic hurricanes that form off Africa in the Atlantic. The table provides information about the size, population, and gross domestic product of the formerly British islands.
For some time after Columbus's exploration of the islands, the Windwards were largely ignored by Europeans and left to the indigenous Caribs. In the early seventeenth century, the British and French undertook colonization, and so began the long struggle, an extension of long-standing Anglo-French conflict, for control of these islands. The Windwards were the scene of several important naval battles. In 1782, off St. Lucia, the French Admiral de Grasse was defeated by England's Admiral Rodney in a battle that had much wider implications for the future of this European conflict. During the Napoleonic Wars (1799–1815), the islands often changed hands, and it was only after the close of the conflict, at the Congress of Vienna (1815), that Britain established its dominance over them. This colonial past explains why in St. Lucia, and to a lesser extent in Dominica, English is the official language but French patois (dialect) is the commonly spoken language.
|Size (km2)||Population (in thousands)||GDP (per capita, in U.S. dollars)a|
|St. Vincent and N. Grenadines||390||130||3,000|
|Grenada and S. Grenadines||340||110||3,500|
The economic structure of these islands is largely determined by their topography. Of volcanic origin, the islands are generally rugged, mountainous, and well forested, with many streams and lakes. With an equable climate, ample rainfall, and rich soil, they produce a variety of tropical agricultural crops for export, all of which—including the formerly profitable crops of bananas, spices, limes, and cacao—are in decline. Although small-scale manufacturing has gained importance, the most substantial change has been the growth of the tourist trade, which now constitutes the economic mainstay of all the islands. Ecotourism is particularly important in Dominica, while sailing and more conventional tourism dominates in the other islands. Mustique in the St. Vincent Grenadines is privately owned, but the other small islands between St. Vincent and Grenada are very popular sailing venues. Carriacou in the Grenada Grenadines is one of the spots favored by sailors staying for longer periods. The deep sheltered harbors of Fort-de-France, Martinique, and Castries, St. Lucia, are the chief cities in the inter-island trade of the more northern islands of St. Lucia and Dominica. Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, serves mainly the southern islands of St. Vincent and Grenada, but its oil and gas wealth is converting it into one of the main investors in the whole eastern Caribbean. All these independent islands belong to the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) and to the Single Market and Economy plan of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). They are also members of the United Nations and the Organization of American States.
Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). Country Profile: Windward and Leeward Islands. London: EIU, 1997–. Annual survey.
Anthony P. Maingot
J. A. Cannon