. British Virgin Islands
The British Virgin Islands comprise about 50 small Caribbean islands;
around 15 are inhabited. They are located a few miles east of the U.S.
Virgin Islands. The North Atlantic Ocean lies to the north of the
islands, and the Caribbean Sea lies to the south.
The largest islands of the
group are Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, and Jost Van Dyke. Road Town,
the capital and largest town, is situated on Tortola.
The economy of the British
Virgin Islands is one of the more prosperous ones of any of the
Caribbean states, with a GDP per capita of around $38,500 (2004 est. GDP
The British Virgin Islands is
highly dependent on tourism, which accounts for 45% of national income.
The islands are a popular destination for U.S. citizens, with around
350,000 tourists visiting annually (1997 figures). Tourists frequently
go to the numerous white sand beaches, visit The Baths on Virgin Gorda,
snorkel the coral reefs near Anegada, experience the well-known bars on
Jost Van Dyke, or charter yachts to explore the less accessible islands.
Substantial revenues are also
generated by the registration of offshore companies. As of 2004, over
550,000 companies were so registered. In 2000 KPMG reported in its
survey of offshore jurisdictions for the United Kingdom government that
over 41% of the world's offshore companies were formed in the British
Virgin Islands. Since 2001, financial services in the British Virgin
Islands have been regulated by the independent Financial Services
The economy is closely linked
with that of the larger U.S. Virgin Islands to the west, and the
islands' currency, since 1959, is the US dollar.
More information on politics
and government of the British Virgin Islands can be found at the
Politics and government of the British Virgin Islands series.
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.
The Constitution of the
Islands was introduced in 1971. The Head of Government is the 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 Chief Minister is Orlando Smith (since
June 17, 2003) who is a member of ruling National Democratic Party
(NDP). The main opposition is the Virgin Islands Party (VIP).
The Islands were first settled
by Arawak Indians from South America in around 100 BC. They settled the
Islands until the 15th century when they were removed by the more
aggressive Caribs, a tribe from the Lesser Antilles islands, after whom
the Caribbean Sea is named.
In 1493, The Islands were
sighted and named by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to the
Americas. The Spanish Empire acquired the Islands in the early 16th
century, mining copper on Virgin Gorda. The Dutch established a
permanent settlement on Tortola in 1648. In 1672, the English arrived in
the region, and annexed the Islands, removing the Dutch populations from
Tortola in 1672, and from Anegada and Virgin Gorda in 1680. The English
introduced sugar cane to the Islands, which was to become the main crop,
and source of foreign trade. Slaves were brought from Africa to work on
the sugar cane plantations. The Islands prospered economically until the
growth in the sugar beet crop in Europe and the United States
significantly reduced sugar cane production.
The English, Dutch, French,
Spanish and Danish all jostled for control of the islands for the next
two hundred years; the final act seeing the English oust the Dutch and
gaining a permanent foothold in Virgin Gorda and Tortola.
By the 1600's England had
ended up with Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada and the other islands that
make up the present day BVI and the Danish had the other Virgin Islands
(St. John, St. Thomas, St. Croix). The BVIs were more strategic than
anything else for the British, but were planted when economic conditions
were particularly favourable.
In 1917, the United States
purchased St. John, St. Thomas and St. Croix from the Danish for US$17
million, renaming them the United States Virgin Islands. Subsequently,
the British renamed the islands they controlled as the British Virgin
The Islands were administered
variously as part of the Leeward Islands Colony 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.
The population of the Islands
is around 21,730 at 2003. The majority of the population (83%) are
Afro-Caribbean, descended from the slaves brought to the Islands by the
British. Other large ethnic groups include those of British and European
1999 census reports
The largest religion is
Christianity, of which 33% are Methodist, 17% Anglican and 10% Catholic.
Being a small group of
islands, transportation is limited. There are 113km of roads. The main
airport is located on Beef Island, near Tortola. Virgin Gorda and
Anegada have their own smaller airports. The main harbour is in Road
[Source: Wikipedia - British Virgin