Turks and Caicos joins rightward shift

By , Latin America correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Following the trend toward more conservative governments throughout the English-speaking Caribbean, voters in the British colony of the Turks and Caicos have replaced a "progressive" government with an avowedly conservative one.

Voting nov. 4, the islanders also signaled their intention to remain under the British flag -- at least for the time being. The ousted government had earlier suggested "independence is the only path that we can follow." Although Chief minister Owald O. Skippings had subsequently downplayed the independence theme, Norman B. Saunders of the conservative Progressive National Party made much of the issue, saying it is still too soon for the islands to cut their link with London.

The 7,000 residents of the 80 flat, arid islands that make up the colony apparently agreed with Mr. Saunders. His party won 8 of the 11 constituencies on the islands. Mr. Skippings's People's Democratic Movement managed to capture only three seats, all of them on Grand Turj, the largest and most populous island in the chain, which is an extension of the Bahamas chain.

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Mr. Saunders, a businessman and athlete, stressed economic development for the islands -- arguing for development of tourism and fishing. At present, the island economy is based on lobster, conch, and colorful stamps. The US dollar is the currency in the islands, and the United States maintains three small military bases on them, paying rent for their use. But soon two bases will be closed, and only a small US Air Force tracking station will remain open.

The islanders surprised Canada in the early 1970s by applying for admission to the Canadian federation as a province. The proposal died aborning when both Ottawa and the Turks and Caicos government decided it might not work out too well.

Mr. Skippings, a 22-year-old fisherman, became leader of his party on the passing of James McCartney, who had been seeking casino gambling for the islands.

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