British Virgin Islands

Introduction First inhabited by Arawak and later by Carib Indians, the Virgin Islands were settled by the Dutch in 1648 and then annexed by the English in 1672. The islands were part of the British colony of the Leeward Islands from 1872-1960; they were granted autonomy in 1967. The economy is closely tied to the larger and more populous US Virgin Islands to the west; the US dollar is the legal currency.
History

The Virgin Islands were first settled by Arawak Indians from South America around 100 BC (though there is some evidence of Amerindian presence on the islands as far back as 1500 BC).[2] The Arawaks inhabited the islands until the fifteenth century when they were displaced by the more aggressive Caribs, a tribe from the Lesser Antilles islands, after whom the Caribbean Sea is named.

The first European sighting of the Virgin Islands was by Christopher Columbus in 1493 on his second voyage to the Americas. Columbus gave them the fanciful name Santa Ursula y las Once Mil Vírgenes (Saint Ursula and her 11,000 Virgins), shortened to Las Vírgenes (The Virgins), after the legend of Saint Ursula.

The Spanish Empire claimed the islands by discovery in the early sixteenth century, but never settled them, and subsequent years saw the English, Dutch, French, Spanish and Danish all jostling for control of the region, which became a notorious haunt for pirates. There is no record of any native Amerindian population in the British Virgin Islands during this period, although the native population on nearby St. Croix was decimated.

The Dutch established a permanent settlement on the island of Tortola by 1648. In 1672, the English captured Tortola from the Dutch, and the British annexation of Anegada and Virgin Gorda followed in 1680. Meanwhile, over the period 1672–1733, the Danish gained control of the nearby islands of St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix.

The British islands were considered principally a strategic possession, but were planted when economic conditions were particularly favourable. The British introduced sugar cane which was to become the main crop and source of foreign trade, and slaves were brought from Africa to work on the sugar cane plantations. The islands prospered economically until the middle of the 1800s, when a combination of the abolition of slavery in the Territory, a series of disastrous hurricanes, and the growth in the sugar beet crop in Europe and the United States[3] significantly reduced sugar cane production and led to a period of economic decline.

In 1917, the United States purchased St. John, St. Thomas and St. Croix from Denmark for US$25 million, renaming them the United States Virgin Islands.

The British Virgin Islands were administered variously as part of the British Leeward Islands or with St. Kitts and Nevis, with an Administrator representing the British Government on the Islands. Separate colony status was gained for the Islands in 1960 and the Islands became autonomous in 1967. Since the 1960s, the Islands have diversified away from their traditionally agriculture-based economy towards tourism and financial services, becoming one of the richest areas in the Caribbean.

Geography Location: Caribbean, between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, east of Puerto Rico
Geographic coordinates: 18 30 N, 64 30 W
Map references: Central America and the Caribbean
Area: total: 153 sq km
land: 153 sq km
water: 0 sq km
note: comprised of 16 inhabited and more than 20 uninhabited islands; includes the islands of Tortola, Anegada, Virgin Gorda, Jost van Dyke
Area - comparative: about 0.9 times the size of Washington, DC
Land boundaries: 0 km
Coastline: 80 km
Maritime claims: territorial sea: 3 nm
exclusive fishing zone: 200 nm
Climate: subtropical; humid; temperatures moderated by trade winds
Terrain: coral islands relatively flat; volcanic islands steep, hilly
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Caribbean Sea 0 m
highest point: Mount Sage 521 m
Natural resources: NEGL
Land use: arable land: 20%
permanent crops: 6.67%
other: 73.33% (2005)
Irrigated land: NA
Natural hazards: hurricanes and tropical storms (July to October)
Environment - current issues: limited natural fresh water resources (except for a few seasonal streams and springs on Tortola, most of the islands' water supply comes from wells and rainwater catchments)
Geography - note: strong ties to nearby US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico
Politics

Executive authority in British Virgin Islands is invested in The Queen and is exercised on her behalf by the Governor of the British Virgin Islands. The Governor is appointed by the Queen on the advice of the British Government. Defence and Foreign Affairs remain the responsibility of the United Kingdom.

A new constitution was adopted in 2007 (the Virgin Islands Constitution Order, 2007[4]) and came into force when the Legislative Council was dissolved for the 2007 general election. The Head of Government under the new constitution is the Premier (prior to the new constitution the office was referred to as Chief Minister), who is elected in a general election along with the other members of the ruling government as well as the members of the opposition. An Executive Council is nominated by the Chief Minister and appointed by the Governor. There is a unicameral Legislative Council made up of 13 seats.

The current Governor is David Pearey (since 2006). The current Premier is Ralph T. O'Neal (since August 22, 2007).

People Population: 23,552 (July 2007 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 20.2% (male 2,410/female 2,337)
15-64 years: 74.5% (male 9,004/female 8,534)
65 years and over: 5.4% (male 665/female 602) (2007 est.)
Median age: total: 31.7 years
male: 31.9 years
female: 31.5 years (2007 est.)
Population growth rate: 1.923% (2007 est.)
Birth rate: 14.82 births/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Death rate: 4.42 deaths/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Net migration rate: 8.83 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.031 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1.055 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 1.105 male(s)/female
total population: 1.053 male(s)/female (2007 est.)
Infant mortality rate: total: 16.13 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 18.82 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 13.29 deaths/1,000 live births (2007 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 76.86 years
male: 75.71 years
female: 78.07 years (2007 est.)
Total fertility rate: 1.72 children born/woman (2007 est.)
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate: NA
HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS: NA
HIV/AIDS - deaths: NA
Nationality: noun: British Virgin Islander(s)
adjective: British Virgin Islander
Ethnic groups: black 83%, other 17% (includes white, Indian, Asian and mixed)
Religions: Protestant 86% (Methodist 33%, Anglican 17%, Church of God 9%, Seventh-Day Adventist 6%, Baptist 4%, Jehovah's Witnesses 2%, other 15%), Roman Catholic 10%, other 2%, none 2% (1991)
Languages: English (official)
Literacy: definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 97.8% (1991 est.)
male: NA%
female: NA%
Government Country name: conventional long form: none
conventional short form: British Virgin Islands
abbreviation: BVI
Dependency status: overseas territory of the UK; internal self-governing
Government type: NA
Capital: name: Road Town
geographic coordinates: 18 27 N, 64 37 W
time difference: UTC-4 (1 hour ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)
Administrative divisions: none (overseas territory of the UK)
Independence: none (overseas territory of the UK)
National holiday: Territory Day, 1 July (1956)
Constitution: 13 June 2007
Legal system: English law
Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal
Executive branch: chief of state: Queen ELIZABETH II (since 6 February 1952); represented by Governor David PEAREY (since 18 April 2006)
head of government: Premier Ralph T. O'NEAL (since 23 August 2007)
cabinet: Executive Council appointed by the governor from members of the House of Assembly
elections: none; the monarch is hereditary; governor appointed by the monarch; following legislative elections, the leader of the majority party or the leader of the majority coalition is usually appointed premier by the governor
Legislative branch: unicameral House of Assembly (13 elected seats and 1 non-voting ex officio member in the attorney general; members are elected by direct popular vote, 1 member from each of nine electoral districts, 4 at-large members; to serve four-year terms)
elections: last held 20 August 2007 (next to be held in 2011)
election results: percent of vote by party - VIP 45.2%, NDP 39.6%, independent 15.2%; seats by party - VIP 10, NDP 2, independent 1
Judicial branch: Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, consisting of the High Court of Justice and the Court of Appeal (one judge of the Supreme Court is a resident of the islands and presides over the High Court); Magistrate's Court; Juvenile Court; Court of Summary Jurisdiction
Political parties and leaders: Concerned Citizens Movement or CCM [Ethlyn SMITH]; National Democratic Party or NDP [Orlando SMITH]; United Party or UP [Gregory MADURO]; Virgin Islands Party or VIP [Ralph T. O'NEAL]
Political pressure groups and leaders: NA
International organization participation: Caricom (associate), CDB, Interpol (subbureau), IOC, OECS, UNESCO (associate), UPU
Diplomatic representation in the US: none (overseas territory of the UK)
Diplomatic representation from the US: none (overseas territory of the UK)
Flag description: blue, with the flag of the UK in the upper hoist-side quadrant and the Virgin Islander coat of arms centered in the outer half of the flag; the coat of arms depicts a woman flanked on either side by a vertical column of six oil lamps above a scroll bearing the Latin word VIGILATE (Be Watchful)
Culture The traditional music of the British Virgin Islands is called fungi after the local cornmeal dish with the same name, often made with okra. The special sound of fungi is due to a unique local fusion between African and European music. It functions as a medium of local history and folklore and is therefore a cherished cultural form of expression that is part of the curriculum in BVI schools. The fungi bands, also called "scratch bands", use instruments ranging from calabash, washboard, bongos and ukulele, to more traditional western instruments like keyboard, banjo, guitar, bass, triangle and saxophone. Apart from being a form of festive dance music, fungi often contains humorous social commentaries, as well as BVI oral history.
Economy Economy - overview: The economy, one of the most stable and prosperous in the Caribbean, is highly dependent on tourism, generating an estimated 45% of the national income. An estimated 820,000 tourists, mainly from the US, visited the islands in 2005. In the mid-1980s, the government began offering offshore registration to companies wishing to incorporate in the islands, and incorporation fees now generate substantial revenues. Roughly 400,000 companies were on the offshore registry by yearend 2000. The adoption of a comprehensive insurance law in late 1994, which provides a blanket of confidentiality with regulated statutory gateways for investigation of criminal offenses, made the British Virgin Islands even more attractive to international business. Livestock raising is the most important agricultural activity; poor soils limit the islands' ability to meet domestic food requirements. Because of traditionally close links with the US Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands has used the US dollar as its currency since 1959.
GDP (purchasing power parity): $853.4 million (2004 est.)
GDP (official exchange rate): $839.7 million (2003)
GDP - real growth rate: 1% (2002 est.)
GDP - per capita (PPP): $38,500 (2004 est.)
GDP - composition by sector: agriculture: 1.8%
industry: 6.2%
services: 92% (1996 est.)
Labor force: 12,770 (2004)
Labor force - by occupation: agriculture: 0.6%
industry: 40%
services: 59.4% (2005)
Unemployment rate: 3.6% (1997)
Population below poverty line: NA%
Household income or consumption by percentage share: lowest 10%: NA%
highest 10%: NA%
Inflation rate (consumer prices): 2% (2005)
Budget: revenues: $204.7 million
expenditures: $180.4 million (2004)
Agriculture - products: fruits, vegetables; livestock, poultry; fish
Industries: tourism, light industry, construction, rum, concrete block, offshore financial center
Industrial production growth rate: NA%
Electricity - production: 45 million kWh (2005)
Electricity - production by source: fossil fuel: 100%
hydro: 0%
nuclear: 0%
other: 0% (2001)
Electricity - consumption: 41.85 million kWh (2005)
Electricity - exports: 0 kWh (2005)
Electricity - imports: 0 kWh (2005)
Oil - production: 0 bbl/day (2005)
Oil - consumption: 600 bbl/day (2005 est.)
Oil - exports: 0 bbl/day (2004)
Oil - imports: 604.3 bbl/day (2004)
Oil - proved reserves: 0 bbl (1 January 2006 est.)
Natural gas - production: 0 cu m (2005 est.)
Natural gas - consumption: 0 cu m (2005 est.)
Natural gas - exports: 0 cu m (2005 est.)
Natural gas - imports: 0 cu m (2005)
Natural gas - proved reserves: 0 cu m (1 January 2006 est.)
Current account balance: $134.3 million (1999)
Exports: $25.3 million (2002)
Exports - commodities: rum, fresh fish, fruits, animals; gravel, sand
Exports - partners: Virgin Islands (US), Puerto Rico, US (2006)
Imports: $187 million (2002 est.)
Imports - commodities: building materials, automobiles, foodstuffs, machinery
Imports - partners: Virgin Islands (US), Puerto Rico, US (2006)
Economic aid - recipient: $NA
Debt - external: $36.1 million (1997)
Currency (code): US dollar (USD)
Currency code: USD
Exchange rates: the US dollar is used
Fiscal year: 1 April - 31 March
Communications Telephones - main lines in use: 11,700 (2002)
Telephones - mobile cellular: 8,000 (2002)
Telephone system: general assessment: worldwide telephone service
domestic: NA
international: country code - 1-284; connected via submarine cable to Bermuda; the East Caribbean Fiber System (ECFS) optic submarine cable provides connectivity to 13 other islands in the eastern Caribbean (2007)
Radio broadcast stations: AM 1, FM 5, shortwave 0 (2004)
Radios: 9,000 (1997)
Television broadcast stations: 1 (plus 1 cable company) (1997)
Televisions: 4,000 (1997)
Internet country code: .vg
Internet hosts: 490 (2007)
Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 16 (2000)
Internet users: 4,000 (2002)
Transportation Airports: 3 (2007)
Airports - with paved runways: total: 2
914 to 1,523 m: 1
under 914 m: 1 (2007)
Airports - with unpaved runways: total: 1
914 to 1,523 m: 1 (2007)
Roadways: total: 177 km
paved: 177 km (2002)
Ports and terminals: Road Town
Military Manpower available for military service: males age 18-49: 6,410 (2005 est.)
Manpower fit for military service: males age 18-49: 5,295 (2005 est.)
Manpower reaching military service age annually: males age 18-49: 201 (2005 est.)
Military - note: defense is the responsibility of the UK
Transnational Issues Disputes - international: none
Illicit drugs: transshipment point for South American narcotics destined for the US and Europe; large offshore financial center makes it vulnerable to money laundering