The United States Virgin Islands

For the neighboring British territory, see British Virgin Islands.

Virgin Islands of the United States
Flag Coat of arms
Motto: "United in Pride and Hope"
Anthem: Virgin Islands March
Caribbean.
Capital
and largest city
Charlotte Amalie
18°21′N 64°56′W / 18.350°N 64.933°W / 18.350; -64.933
Official languages English
Ethnic groups ([1])
  • 72.9% Black
  • 16.1% White
  • 0.9% Asian
  • 8.1% Mixed / other
Demonym U.S. Virgin Islander
Government Unincorporated organized territory
 -  President Barack Obama (D)
 -  Governor John de Jongh (D)
 -  Lieutenant Governor Gregory R. Francis (D)
Legislature Legislature of the Virgin Islands
Unincorporated territory
of the United States
 -  Treaty of the Danish West Indies March 31, 1917 
 -  Revised Organic Act July 22, 1954 
Area
 -  Total 346.36 km2 (202nd)
133.73 sq mi
 -  Water (%) 1.0
Population
 -  2010 census 106,405
 -  Density 310.3/km2 (42nd)
803.7/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2012 estimate
 -  Total $3.778 billion [2]
Currency United States dollar (USD)
Time zone AST (UTC−4)
 -  Summer (DST) none (UTC−4)
Drives on the lefta
Calling code +1-340
ISO 3166 code VI
Internet TLD
Website
www.gov.vi
a. The United States Virgin Islands is the only United States dependency whose road traffic drives on the left.

The Virgin Islands of the United States (commonly called the United States Virgin Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands, or USVI) are a group of islands in the Caribbean that are an insular area of the United States. The islands are geographically part of the Virgin Islands archipelago and are located in the Leeward Islands of the Lesser Antilles.

The U.S. Virgin Islands consist of the main islands of Saint Croix, Saint John, and Saint Thomas, along with the much smaller but historically distinct Water Island, and many other surrounding minor islands. The total land area of the territory is 133.73 square miles (346.4 km2).[1] The territory's capital is Charlotte Amalie on the island of Saint Thomas.

As of the 2010 U.S. Census, the population was 106,405,[3] mostly composed by those of Afro-Caribbean descent. Tourism is the primary economic activity, although there is a significant rum manufacturing sector.[1]

Formerly the Danish West Indies, they were sold to the United States by Denmark in the Treaty of the Danish West Indies of 1916. They are classified by the UN as a Non-Self-Governing Territory, and are currently an organized, unincorporated United States territory. The U.S. Virgin Islands are organized under the 1954 Revised Organic Act of the Virgin Islands and have since held five constitutional conventions. The last and only proposed Constitution, adopted by the Fifth Constitutional Convention in 2009, was rejected by the U.S. Congress in 2010, which urged the convention to reconvene to address the concerns Congress and the Obama administration had with the proposed document. The convention reconvened in October 2012 to address these concerns, but was unable to produce a revised Constitution before its October 31 deadline.

History

The Virgin Islands were originally inhabited by the Ciboney, Carib, and Arawaks. The islands were named by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage in 1493 for Saint Ursula and her virgin followers. Over the next two hundred years, the islands were held by many European powers, including Spain, Great Britain, the Netherlands, France, and Denmark-Norway.

The Danish West India Company settled on Saint Thomas in 1672, on Saint John in 1694, and purchased Saint Croix from France in 1733. The islands became royal Danish colonies in 1754, named the Danish-Westindian islands (Danish: De dansk-vestindiske øer). Sugarcane, produced by slave labor, drove the islands' economy during the 18th and early 19th centuries, until the abolition of slavery by Governor Peter von Scholten on July 3, 1848.

For the remainder of the period of Danish rule, the islands were not economically viable and significant transfers were made from the Danish state budgets to the authorities in the islands. In 1867 a treaty to sell Saint Thomas and Saint John to the United States was agreed, but the sale was never effected.[4] A number of reforms aimed at reviving the islands' economy were attempted, but none had great success. A second draft treaty to sell the islands to the United States was negotiated in 1902 but was narrowly defeated in the Danish parliament.[4]

The onset of World War I brought the reforms to a close and again left the islands isolated and exposed. During the submarine warfare phases of the First World War, the United States, fearing that the islands might be seized by Germany as a submarine base, again approached Denmark with a view to buying them. After a few months of negotiations, a selling price of $25 million in United States gold coin was agreed (this is equivalent to $580 million in 2013 dollars). At the same time the economics of continued possession weighed heavily on the minds of Danish decision makers, and a consensus in favor of selling emerged in the Danish parliament.


The Treaty of the Danish West Indies was signed in August 1916,[5] with a Danish referendum held in December 1916 to confirm the decision. The deal was finalized on January 17, 1917, when the United States and Denmark exchanged their respective treaty ratifications. The United States took possession of the islands on March 31, 1917 and the territory was renamed the Virgin Islands of the United States. Every year Transfer Day is recognized as a holiday, to celebrate the acquisition of the islands by the United States. U.S. citizenship was granted to the inhabitants of the islands in 1927.

Water Island, a small island to the south of Saint Thomas, was initially administered by the U.S. federal government and did not become a part of the U.S. Virgin Islands territory until 1996, when 50 acres (200,000 m2) of land was transferred to the territorial government. The remaining 200 acres (81 ha) of the island were purchased from the U.S. Department of the Interior in May 2005 for $10, a transaction which marked the official change in jurisdiction.[6]

Hurricane Hugo struck the Virgin Islands in 1989, causing catastrophic physical and economic damage. The territory was again struck by Hurricane Marilyn in 1995, killing eight people and causing more than $2 billion in damage. The islands were again struck by Hurricane Bertha, Hurricane Georges, Hurricane Lenny and Hurricane Omar in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2008, respectively, but damage was not as severe in those storms.

Geography

The U.S. Virgin Islands are in the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, about 40 miles (64 km) east of Puerto Rico and immediately west of the British Virgin Islands. They share the Virgin Islands Archipelago with the Spanish Virgin Islands (administered by Puerto Rico) and the British Virgin Islands. The territory consists of four main islands: Saint Thomas, Saint John, Saint Croix, and Water Island, as well as several dozen smaller islands. The main islands have nicknames often used by locals: "Twin City" (St. Croix), "Rock City" (St. Thomas) and "Love City" (St. John).[7] The combined land area of the islands is roughly twice the size of Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Virgin Islands are known for their white sand beaches, including Magens Bay and Trunk Bay, and strategic harbors, including Charlotte Amalie and Christiansted. Most of the islands, including Saint Thomas, are volcanic in origin and hilly. The highest point is Crown Mountain, Saint Thomas (1,555 ft or 474 m).

Saint Croix, the largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, lies to the south and has a flatter terrain. The National Park Service owns more than half of Saint John, nearly all of Hassel Island, and many acres of coral reef. (See also Virgin Islands National Park, Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument, Buck Island Reef National Monument, Christiansted National Historic Site, and Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve.)

The U.S. Virgin Islands lie on the boundary of the North American plate and the Caribbean Plate. Natural hazards include earthquakes and tropical cyclones (including hurricanes).

Climate

Climate data for Saint Thomas, Virgin Islands
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 93
(34)
93
(34)
94
(34)
96
(36)
97
(36)
99
(37)
98
(37)
99
(37)
98
(37)
97
(36)
95
(35)
92
(33)
99
(37)
Average high °F (°C) 85
(29)
85
(29)
86
(30)
87
(31)
88
(31)
89
(32)
90
(32)
90
(32)
90
(32)
89
(32)
87
(31)
86
(30)
87.7
(30.9)
Average low °F (°C) 72
(22)
73
(23)
73
(23)
74
(23)
76
(24)
78
(26)
78
(26)
78
(26)
78
(26)
77
(25)
75
(24)
74
(23)
75.5
(24.3)
Record low °F (°C) 63
(17)
62
(17)
56
(13)
62
(17)
66
(19)
67
(19)
57
(14)
59
(15)
64
(18)
66
(19)
52
(11)
62
(17)
52
(11)
Precipitation inches (mm) 2.38
(60.5)
1.48
(37.6)
1.42
(36.1)
2.74
(69.6)
3.06
(77.7)
2.53
(64.3)
2.85
(72.4)
3.74
(95)
5.58
(141.7)
5.42
(137.7)
5.23
(132.8)
2.96
(75.2)
39.39
(1,000.5)
Source: weather.com[8]

The Islands experience a tropical savanna climate, affected by moderate trade winds.

Governance

Politics and government


The U.S. Virgin Islands are an organized, unincorporated United States territory. Even though they are U.S. citizens, U.S. Virgin Islands residents cannot vote in presidential elections. U.S. Virgin Islands residents, however, are able to vote in presidential primary elections for delegates to the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention.

The main political parties in the U.S. Virgin Islands are the Democratic Party of the Virgin Islands, the Independent Citizens Movement, and the Republican Party of the Virgin Islands. Additional candidates run as independents.

At the national level, the U.S. Virgin Islands elect a delegate to Congress from their at-large congressional district. However, the elected delegate, while able to vote in committee, cannot participate in floor votes. The current House of Representatives delegate is Donna Christensen (D).

At the territorial level, 15 senators – seven from the district of Saint Croix, seven from the district of Saint Thomas and Saint John, and one senator at-large who must be a resident of Saint John – are elected for two-year terms to the unicameral Virgin Islands Legislature.

The U.S. Virgin Islands have elected a territorial governor every four years since 1970. Previous governors were appointed by the President of the United States.

The U.S. Virgin Islands have a District Court, Superior Court and the Supreme Court. The District Court is responsible for federal law, while the Superior Court is responsible for U.S. Virgin Islands law at the trial level and the Supreme Court is responsible for appeals from the Superior Court for all appeals filed on or after January 29, 2007. Appeals filed prior to that date are heard by the Appellate Division of the District Court. Appeals from the federal District Court are heard by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. District Court judges are appointed by the President, while Superior Court and Supreme Court judges are appointed by the Governor.

On Oct 21, 1976, President Pub.L. 111–194 in which Congress urged the constitutional convention to reconvene.

Administrative divisions

Administratively, the U.S. Virgin Islands are divided into three districts and subdivided into twenty sub-districts.

Districts

The three districts correspond to the three major islands:

Sub-districts

Sub-districts of Saint Croix:

  1. Anna's Hope Village
  2. Christiansted
  3. East End
  4. Frederiksted
  5. Northcentral
  6. Northwest
  7. Sion Farm
  8. Southcentral
  9. Southwest

Sub-districts of Saint Thomas:

  1. Charlotte Amalie
  2. East End
  3. Northside
  4. Southside
  5. Tutu
  6. Water Island
  7. West End

Sub-districts of Saint John:

  1. Central
  2. Coral Bay
  3. Cruz Bay
  4. East End

Quarters, estates, and towns

While a Danish possession, the Islands were divided into "quarters" (five on St. John and nine on St. Croix) which were further divided into many dozens of "estates". Estate names are still used to write addresses; estates and quarters are used in describing real estate, especially on St. John[9] and St. Croix.[10] More densely populated towns such as Frederiksted and Christiansted on St. Croix were historically referred to as "districts", in contrast to the surrounding plantation land.

Self-determination

The U.S. Virgin Islands are on the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories. A 1993 referendum on status attracted only 31.4% turnout, and so its results (in favor of the status quo) were considered void. No further referenda have been scheduled since.

In 2004, the 25th legislature established the Fifth Constitutional Convention. In June 2009, Governor John de Jongh, Jr. rejected the resulting draft constitution, saying that the document "violates federal law, fails to defer to federal sovereignty and disregards basic civil rights".[11] However, a lawsuit filed by members of the Fifth Constitutional Convention to force Governor de Jongh to forward the document to President Barack Obama was ultimately successful. The president forwarded the proposal to Congress – which then had 60 days to approve or reject the document – in May 2010, along with a report noting concerns raised by the Justice Department and restating the issues noted by Governor deJongh. A Congressional resolution disapproving of the proposed constitution and requesting that the Fifth Constitutional Convention reconvene to consider changes to address these issues was signed into law by President Obama on June 30, 2010.[12][13]

A federal lawsuit in the District Court of the Virgin Islands is currentlyTemplate:Clarify timeframe pending to provide US Virgin Islanders with the ability to be represented in Congress and vote for U.S. President. The case is Civil No. 3:11-cv-110, Charles v. U.S. Federal Elections Commission. The case alleges it was racial discrimination present in an all-white and segregated Congress of 1917 that was the impetus to deny the right to vote to a majority non-white constituency.

Economy

Tourism is the primary economic activity. The islands normally host 2 million visitors a year, many of whom visit on cruise ships.

The manufacturing sector consists of mainly rum distilling. The agricultural sector is small, with most food being imported. International business and financial services are a small but growing component of the economy. Most energy is also generated from imported oil, leading to electricity costs four to five times higher than the U.S. mainland.[14] The Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority[15] also uses imported energy to operate its desalination facilities to provide fresh water.

Until February 2012, the Hovensa plant located on St. Croix was one of the world's largest petroleum refineries and contributed about 20% of the territory's GDP. It has since been largely shut down and is now operating as no more than an oil storage facility, provoking a local economic crisis.[16][17]

The U.S. Virgin Islands are located in the Atlantic Standard Time zone and do not participate in daylight saving time. When the mainland United States is on Standard Time, the U.S. Virgin Islands are one hour ahead of Eastern Standard Time. When the mainland United States is on daylight saving time, Eastern Daylight Time is the same as Atlantic Standard Time.

To draw more technology-focused companies and expand this segment of the economy, the government founded and launched University of the Virgin Islands Research and Technology Park in conjunction with private businesses and the University of the Virgin Islands.

The U.S. Virgin Islands are an independent customs territory from the mainland United States, but operate largely as a free port. U.S. citizens thus do not have to clear customs when arriving in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but do when traveling to the mainland. Local residents are not subject to U.S. federal income taxes on U.S. Virgin Islands source income; they pay taxes to the territory equal to what their federal taxes would be if they lived in a state.[18]

Demographics

As of the census[19] 2010, the US Virgin Islands had a population of 106,405[20] and there are 40,648 households, and 26,636 families residing in the territory. The racial makeup of the U.S. Virgin Islands was:[21]

Many residents can trace their ancestry to other Caribbean islands, especially Puerto Rico and the Lesser Antilles. The territory is largely Afro-Caribbean in origin.[1]

There were 40,648 households out of which 34.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 33.2% were married couples living together, 24.9% had a female householder with no husband present, and 34.5% were non-families. 30.2% of all households were made up of individuals and 6.3% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.64 and the average family size was 3.34.

In the territory the population was spread out with 31.6% under the age of 18, 8.0% from 18 to 24, 27.1% from 25 to 44, 24.9% from 45 to 64, and 8.4% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 33 years. For every 100 females there were 91.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 87.7 males. The annual population growth is −0.12%.

The median income for a household in the territory was $24,704, and the median income for a family was $28,553. Males had a median income of $28,309 versus $22,601 for females. The per capita income for the territory was $13,139. About 28.7% of families and 32.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 41.7% of those under age 18 and 29.8% of those age 65 or over.

Ethnicity

Most U.S. Virgin Islanders descend from Africans, who were enslaved and brought to the Caribbean by Europeans to labor on sugar plantations. Most of the residents were born in the islands, although many migrated to the U.S. Virgin Islands from other islands in the West Indies, the United States and other countries.

Language

The official language is English, although Virgin Islands Creole, an English-based creole, locally known as "dialect," is spoken in informal situations. The Virgin Islands Creole spoken on St. Croix, known as Crucian, is slightly different from that spoken on St. Thomas and St. John. Because the U.S. Virgin Islands are home to thousands of immigrants from across the Caribbean, Spanish and various French creole languages are also widely spoken. As of the 2000 census, 25.3% of persons over the age of five speak a language other than English at home. Spanish is spoken by 16.8% of the population and French is spoken by 6.6% [22][23]

Religion

As in most Caribbean countries, Christianity is the dominant religion in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Protestantism is most prevalent, reflecting the territory's Danish colonial heritage. There is also a strong Roman Catholic presence. There are some Jews living in the Islands,[24] and a significant Muslim population, primarily of Palestinian descent.

Culture

Transportation and communications

Main article: Transportation on the United States Virgin Islands

The Henry E. Rohlsen International Airport serves St. Croix and the Cyril E. King International Airport serves St. Thomas and St. John. The U.S. Virgin Islands are the only United States territory which drives on the left. This was inherited from what was then-current practice on the islands at the time of the 1917 transfer, to limit losses of livestock. However, as most cars being imported from the mainland United States are left-hand drive, the driver sits to the outside of the road, raising traffic safety issues.

U.S. Virgin Islands mail service is handled by the United States Postal Service, using the two-character state code "VI" for domestic mail delivery.[25][26][27] Zip codes are in the 008xx range.[27] As of January 2010, specifically assigned codes include 00801-00805 (St Thomas),[28] 00820-00824 (Christiansted),[29] 00830-00831 (St John),[30] 00840-00841 (Frederiksted),[31] and 00850-00851 (Kingshill).[32] The islands are part of the North American Numbering Plan, using area code 340, and island residents and visitors are able to call toll-free U.S. numbers.[25]

Media

The islands have a number of AM and FM radio stations (mostly on St. Thomas and St. Croix) broadcasting music, religious, and news programming. (See List of radio stations in U.S. Territories.) Full and low-power television stations are split between St. Thomas and St. Croix. (See List of television stations in the U.S. Virgin Islands.) Newspapers include:

  • The Avis, printed daily on St. Croix.
  • The Virgin Islands Daily News,[33] printed daily on St. Thomas.
  • St. John Tradewinds,[34] distributed weekly on St. John.
  • St. Thomas Source,[35] online only.
  • St. Croix Source,[36] online only.
  • St. John Sun Times,[37] printed bimonthly.

Education

The Virgin Islands Department of Education serves as the territory's education agency, and has two school districts: St. Thomas-St. John School District and St. Croix School District.[38]

The University of the Virgin Islands provides higher education leading to associate's, bachelor's, and master's degrees, with campuses on St. Thomas and St. Croix.

Holidays

  • January – (1st) New Years Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
  • February – (14th) Valentine's Day, President's Day (note: The Agriculture Fair occurs on this weekend)
  • March – (31st) Transfer Day
  • April – Easter, St. Thomas Carnival
  • May – Memorial Day
  • July – (3rd) Emancipation Day, (4th) Independence Day (St. John Festival is held on both days)
  • September – Labor Day, (11th) 9/11 Remembrance
  • October – Virgin Islands Puerto Rico Friendship Day/Columbus Day
  • November – (1st) David Hamilton Jackson Day also known as Bull and Bread Day, (11th) Veteran's Day, Thanksgiving Day
  • December – (24th-25th) Christmas Eve and Christmas, Crucian Festival (continues in January)

See also

References

External links

  • Gov.vi - Official Government Website
  • Official Tourism Website
  • Governor's Website
  • Office of the Lieutenant Governor
  • The World Factbook
  • United States Virgin Islands at UCB Libraries GovPubs.
  • DMOZ
  • Atlas of the United States Virgin Islands
  • United States Geological Survey.
  • Convention between the United States and Denmark for cession of the Danish West Indies
  • [1]

Coordinates: 18°21′N 64°56′W / 18.350°N 64.933°W / 18.350; -64.933

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