Denzil Douglas Biography
Began Political Career Early, Experienced Troubled Political Times, Won a Landslide Victory, Won a Third Term
Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis
With his election to Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis on July 3, 1995, Dr. Denzil Llewellyn Douglas, leader of the country's Labour Party (SKNLP), ended a twelve-year period in which the People's Action Movement (PAM) dominated the country's assembly. Douglas's arrival in high office followed the resignation of Kennedy Alphonse Simmonds, whose government had been tarnished by a series of scandals involving drug smuggling and organized crime. For several years SKNLP supporters had protested against Simmonds's seemingly unbreakable grip on power and the suspicion that government officials and their families were benefiting from special treatment by the police and security services. Among Douglas's first actions as prime minister was to begin reform of the police force in the hope that the country could shed its reputation as a haven for drug gangs and money launderers. He also faced the difficult task of solving the longstanding problem of violent crime, unrest, and increasing lawlessness, some of which had involved his own party's supporters. He even enlisted help from the British government to achieve this goal.
Progress on law and order was slow, but by 2004 Douglas had succeeded in re-establishing St. Kitts and Nevis as a tourist destination, giving as evidence for this a new 600-room Marriott hotel. In 1998 he successfully fought for the "No" campaign in Nevis's referendum over independence from St. Kitts, arguing that the smaller island could not sustain itself. Despite criticism of his record on crime, rising national debt, rising taxes, high unemployment, and the faltering banana and sugar markets, Douglas held on to power in elections in 2000 and 2004. He has consistently fought for social justice in domestic policy and for the place of St. Kitts and Nevis in the international community.
Began Political Career Early
Born on January 14, 1953, in the village of St. Pauls in St. Kitts and Nevis, Denzil Llewellyn Douglas was educated in local schools before attending the University of the West Indies in Trinidad and Tobago, where he graduated with a BSc in surgery in 1977 and a degree in medicine in 1984. After a two-year internship in Trinidad, Douglas returned to St. Kitts and Nevis and opened his own private medical practice where he became a popular family doctor.
Douglas began his career in the St. Kitts and Nevis Labour Party (SKNLP) as a student and by 1979 he had become the first Young Labour representative to sit on the National Executive Committee. His political ambition and commitment to public service also saw him become the secretary of the St. Kitts Amateur Football Association and, in the late 1980s, president of the St. Kitts and Nevis Medical Association. In 1987 he took on a more significant role in the SKNLP when he was made deputy chairman; he sought election to the Parliament of the National Assembly in the general election of 1989.
Douglas stood for election in the constituency of Newton Ground/Harris and, though he won one of the 11 available elected seats, the election was disastrous for the SKNLP which lost to Prime Minister Kennedy Alphonse Simmonds and his conservative PAM. PAM had held power since St. Kitts and Nevis, with its population of 39 thousand, became independent in 1983. In the aftermath of the defeat Douglas took over the leadership of the party and became the official leader of the opposition in the assembly. He faced a difficult task restructuring and modernizing the party and was over five years before the SKNLP was ready to take power.
Experienced Troubled Political Times
Between 1989 and 1993 PAM fell out of favour with the St. Kitts and Nevis voters, partly because Simmonds and his government were tarnished by political scandal, but also because after ten years in power they seemed to have achieved very little. In the election of 1993 PAM won only four seats, forcing Simmonds to make alliances with the Nevis Reformation Party (NRP), which held one seat. By doing so he held on to power with 41 percent of the popular vote, to SKNLP's 54 percent. But by then PAM's collapse as a political force was imminent. Rioting broke out in the capital Basseterre in protest at the way the popular vote had been ignored, with SKNLP supporters claiming not only that the government was illegitimate, but that Simmonds and his party was responsible for the general breakdown in law and order, St. Kitts and Nevis' growing role in the drug trade, and problems in the tourism industry.
In 1994 the political tension erupted into scandal when a fisherman discovered cocaine valued at millions of dollars buried on a beach. Two sons of the deputy prime minister, Sydney Morris, were implicated in drug smuggling and a third disappeared but they were bailed and seemed beyond the law; Morris, who resigned his post, soon returned to the government. Rioting broke out again, eventually triggering the formation of a multi-party national unity forum, and in 1995-three years early-an election.
Won a Landslide Victory
The election in 1995 marked a dramatic change in the country's political fortunes. The SKNLP won seven of the 11 elected seats, including Simmonds's own, and Douglas was sworn in as prime minister on July 4 with a mandate to reform the police, resolve the country's problems with money laundering and drug smuggling, improve the agricultural economy, and boost tourism. He also had to act on commitments to improve housing, education, healthcare, and other central issues. His first term, in which he also served as finance minister, was followed by an even more significant victory in the election of 2000, when the SKNLP won all eight of the St. Kitts seats in the assembly.
Many of the reforms Douglas established in his first term began to show signs of working in the second. For example, he had requested help from the British governent over reforming the police force and by 2000 levels of crime had fallen significantly; in 2002 St. Kitts and Nevis was removed from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) list of countries involved in money laundering. Tourism and foreign investment also improved and while the economy continued to struggle, in the run-up to the 2004 election Douglas was able to to point to a brand-new 600-room Marriott hotel as evidence that foreign investors and tourists were returning to the islands after a series of setbacks, including hurricanes, drought, and the World Trade Center attacks of 2001. Perhaps most importantly one of Douglas's first acts as premier in 1995 was to attend a conference of Carib-bean leaders in Guyana, where he helped negotiate further integration of the Caribbean economies within the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM). Improved free trade with other Caribbean countries made Douglas popular with businesses in St. Kitts and Nevis. Douglas has also shown considerable political skill in negotiating with countries outside the region to garner assistance and investment, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Norway, and Japan. His success has allowed the country to become a fully-fledged member of the international community.
Won a Third Term
After the victory in 2000 Douglas's government pushed forward with reforms to the welfare, education, and health systems, managing to retain his government's popularity despite the opposition's criticism of his management of the economy, in particular the decline of the banana and sugar growing industries. When Douglas called the early election in October 2004 there was certainly room for improvement. PAM leader Lindsey Grant attacked Douglas on unemployment, which stood at 10 percent in 2004, and the Eastern Caribbean $2 billion (US$742 million) deficit, but PAM managed to claw back only one seat on St. Kitts, giving the SKNLP seven to PAM's four elected seats.
But challenges facing Douglas and his government in his third term of office are significant. In particular Douglas has campaigned strongly to address the threat of HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean region, leading the effort to develop locally-produced generic antiretroviral drugs, to provide benefits for those affected by the disease, and to promote public health campaigns. He told the Stabroek News that besides its human cost, HIV/AIDS could undermine social cohesion and damage the region's developing economies. In domestic politics Douglas also faces the challenge of the possible break up of St. Kitts and Nevis if the smaller island goes ahead with its claim to independence and holds a second referendum (the first was held in 1998). Douglas has said that he does not believe Nevis's economy is self-sustaining, but many Nevisians disagree.
After over a decade in power, in 2004 Douglas remained a popular and respected leader both at home and in the many regional and international organizations in which he has represented his country. These include the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB), the Caribbean Community and Common Market, (CARICOM), the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), the Organisation of American States (OAS), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the British Commonwealth, and the United Nations.
Asia Africa Intelligence Wire, October 29, 2004.
Jamaica Observer, October 27, 2004.
Presidents and Prime Ministers, November 2000, p. 36.
Stabroek News, May 23, 2005.
"Biography of the Prime Minister," St. Kitts & Nevis, www.stkittsnevis.net/pm/index.html (June 2, 2005).
"St. Kitts and Nevis," Caribbean Net News, www.caribbeannetnews.com/stkitts/stkitts-nevis.htm (May 26, 2005).
St.Kitts-Nevis Labour Party, www.sknlabourparty.org/main.html (June 2, 2005).
"Denzil Douglas," Biography Resource Center, www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC (May 26, 2005).
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