Arawak and Carib Amerindians were the earliest known inhabitants of what is now St. Lucia. There is no hard evidence for the folklore that Columbus sighted St. Lucia on St. Lucy's Day in 1498, but in keeping with the tradition, 13 December is still celebrated as the date of the island's discovery.
The islands were not settled until the mid-17th century because the Caribs defended the islands successfully for years. The French settled the islands, but the natural harbor at Castries brought English interest. The island changed hands between the British and the French no fewer than 14 times, until in 1814, the British took permanent possession. In 1838, St. Lucia came under the administration of the Windward Islands government set up by Great Britain.
Unlike other islands in the area, sugar did not monopolize commerce on St. Lucia. Instead, it was one product among many others including tobacco, ginger, and cotton. Small farms rather than large plantations continued to dominate agricultural production into the 20th century. A total of 10,328 slaves were freed when slavery was abolished in 1834. To replace the slave labor, East Indian indentured workers were brought to the island during the late 1800s.
St. Lucia has a democratic tradition which began in 1924 when a few elected positions were added to the appointed legislative council. St. Lucia became an associated state with full internal self-government in 1967 and on 22 February 1979 became an independent member of the Commonwealth.
The first three years of independence were marked by political turmoil and civil strife, as leaders of rival political parties fought bitterly. In 1982, the conservative United Workers' Party (UWP) won 14 of 17 seats in the House of Assembly. Party leader and prime minister John Compton, who had been premier of the island since 1964, became prime minister at independence.
The UWP dominance was eroded in 1987, when the party won only nine seats. Prime Minister Compton called for new elections almost immediately, but received the same result. In 1992, the UWP increased its majority to 11 seats, as the SLP won 6 seats. The SLP, which had been out of office for 15 years, won the April 1997 elections in a landslide, and its leader, Kenny Anthony, replaced Compton as prime minister.
St. Lucia suffered back-to-back tropical storms in 1994 and 1995 that caused losses of about 65% and 20% of each of those years' banana crops, respectively. In the late 1990s, the country's heavy reliance on bananas posed an additional economic threat as the United States challenged the preferential treatment accorded by several European nations to their former colonies in the Caribbean. In February 1999, a ruling by the World Trade Organization allowed the United States to impose trade penalties on Europe in response to these banana import policies. St. Lucia joined with its Caribbean neighbors in lobbying against the ruling.
In the most recent election in December 2001, Anthony's SLP won with 54% of the vote, securing 14 of the 17 seats in the Assembly. The opposition UWP obtained 36.6% of the vote, but only captured three seats.