John Compton, 82; prime minister guided St. Lucia to autonomy
John Compton, the prime minister of St. Lucia who guided his tiny eastern Caribbean island to independence from Britain and infuriated China by restoring ties with Taiwan, has died, a member of his Cabinet said. He was 82.
Compton, who won a third term as prime minister in December, did not resume leadership duties after suffering a series of mild strokes in the spring. He died of unspecified causes Friday at Tapion Hospital in Castries, St. Lucia, commerce minister Guy Mayers said.
The farmer and lawyer became chief minister of St. Lucia, then a British colony, in 1964. Compton, who negotiated for more autonomy from Britain three years later, became the island’s first prime minister upon its independence in 1979. Voted out of power later that year, he again led the country from 1982 to 1996.
Compton won his first political election in 1954 and gained a reputation for fearlessness three years later when, as a union leader, he directed a strike against the sugar-growing elite for better labor conditions. He was arrested after a confrontation in which he dared a white planter to run him over with a tractor. Like roughly 90% of the island’s current population of 168,000, Compton was black.
Compton, who governed as a pro-Western conservative, was criticized for welcoming U.S. military training exercises during the Cold War. He told critics the Caribbean needed Washington to fight drug trafficking and communism.
In the final act of his five-decade political career, he made an enemy of the world’s most populous nation when his government restored ties with Taiwan in May. China, which regards Taiwan as a renegade province, broke off relations with the island and condemned the reversal as a “brutal interference” in its internal affairs.
Born April 25, 1925, on the island of Canouan, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Compton attended high school in St. Lucia and studied in the United Kingdom, where he qualified as a lawyer at the University of Wales. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1997.
Compton, who founded his United Workers Party 43 years ago, resigned as its leader in 1996 but came out of retirement nine years later after his successor lost general elections. He defeated Prime Minister Kenny Anthony’s bid for a third five-year term at the polls last year in an upset.
Compton is survived by his wife, Lady Janice Compton, and five children.