U.S. Department of State, March 1999|
Bureau of East Asian Affairs
Area: Land--12,200 sq. km. (4,707 sq. mi.), includes more than 80 Islands. Comparative area--about the size of Connecticut.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--ni-Vanuatu.
Type: Parliamentary democracy.
GDP (1995): $236 million.
Vanuatu is a 'Y' shaped archipelago that comprises 80 islands. It is located 2,172 kilometers (1,303 mi.) northeast of Sydney and 5,750 kilometers (3,450 mi.) southwest of Honolulu. Fiji lies to the east, New Caledonia to the south, and the Solomon Islands to the northwest, all within the area of the South Pacific called Melanesia.
The two largest islands, Espiritu Santo (or Santo) and Malakula, account for nearly one-half of the total land area. They are volcanic, with sharp mountain peaks, plateaus, and lowlands. The last volcanic eruption was in 1945. The larger islands of the remaining half also are volcanic but are overlaid with limestone formations; the smaller ones are coral and limestone. Rainfall averages about 2,360 millimeters (94 in.) per year but can be as high as 4,000 millimeters (160 in.) in the northern islands.
The population of Vanuatu is 94% indigenous Melanesian. About 30,000 live in the capital, Port Vila. Another 9,600 live in Luganville (or Santo Town) on Espiritu Santo. The remainder live in rural areas. Approximately 2,000 ni-Vanuatu live and work in New Caledonia. Although local pidgin, called Bislama, is the national language, English and French also are official languages. Indigenous Melanesians speak 105 local languages.
Christianity has had a profound influence on ni-Vanuatu society, and an estimated 90% of the population is affiliated with a Christian denomination. The largest denominations are Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, and Anglican. John Frum, a syncretic sect, also is important on Tanna Island.
The prehistory of Vanuatu is obscure; archaeological evidence supports the commonly held theory that peoples speaking Austronesian languages first came to the islands some 4,000 years ago. Pottery fragments have been found dating back to 1300-1100 B.C.
The first island in the Vanuatu group discovered by Europeans was Espiritu Santo, when in 1606 the Portuguese explorer, Pedro Fernandez De Quiros, spied what he thought was a southern continent. Europeans did not return until 1768, when Louis Antoine de Bougainville rediscovered the islands. In 1774, Captain Cook named the islands the New Hebrides, a name that lasted until independence.
In 1825, trader Peter Dillon's discovery of sandalwood on the island of Erromango began a rush that ended in 1830 after a clash between immigrant Polynesian workers and indigenous Melanesians. During the 1860s, planters in Australia, Fiji, New Caledonia, and the Samoa Islands, in need of laborers, encouraged a long-term indentured labor trade called "blackbirding." At the height of the labor trade, more than one-half the adult male population of several of the Islands worked abroad.
It was at this time that missionaries, both Catholic and Protestant, arrived on the islands. Settlers also came, looking for land on which to establish cotton plantations. When international cotton prices collapsed, they switched to coffee, cocoa, bananas, and, most successfully, coconuts. Initially, British subjects from Australia made up the majority, but the establishment of the Caledonian Company of the New Hebrides in 1882 soon tipped the balance in favor of French subjects. By the turn of the century, the French outnumbered the British two to one.
The jumbling of French and British interests in the islands brought petitions for one or another of the two powers to annex the territory. In 1906, however, France and the United Kingdom agreed to administer the islands jointly. Called the British-French Condominium, it was a unique form of government, with separate governmental systems that came together only in a joint court. Melanesians were barred from acquiring the citizenship of either power.
Challenges to this form of government began in the early 1940s. The arrival of Americans during World War II, with their informal demeanor and relative wealth, was instrumental in the rise of nationalism in the islands. The belief in a mythical messianic figure named John Frum was the basis for an indigenous cargo cult (a movement attempting to obtain industrial goods through magic) promising Melanesian deliverance. Today, John Frum is both a religion and a political party with two members in Parliament.
The first political party was established in the early 1970s and originally was called the New Hebrides National Party. One of the founders was Father Walter Lini, who later became Prime Minister. Renamed the Vanua'aku Pati in 1974, the party pushed for independence; in 1980, the Republic of Vanuatu was created.
The constitution created a republican political system headed by a president who has primarily ceremonial powers and is elected by a two-thirds majority in an electoral college consisting of members of Parliament and the presidents of Regional Councils. The president serves a 5-year term. The president may be removed by the electoral college for gross misconduct or incapacity. The prime minister, who is the head of government, is elected by a majority vote of a three-fourths quorum of the Parliament. The prime minister in turn appoints the Council of Ministers, whose number may not exceed one-fourth of the number of parliamentary representatives. The prime minister and the Council of Ministers constitute the executive government.
Parliament is a 52-member unicameral house elected by all persons over 18 years old. Parliament normally sits for a 4-year term unless dissolved by majority vote of a three-fourths quorum or a directive from the President on the advice of the prime minister. The national Council of Chiefs, called the Malvatu Mauri and elected by district councils of chiefs, advises the government on all matters concerning ni-Vanuatu culture and language.
The Supreme Court consists of a chief justice and up to three other judges. Two or more members of this court may constitute a Court of Appeal. Magistrate courts handle most routine legal matters. The legal system is based on British law. The constitution also provides for the establishment of village or island courts presided over by chiefs to deal with questions of customary law.
Principal Government Officials
Vanuatu does not have an embassy in Washington. Its mission to the United Nations is located at 866 UN Plaza, 4th Floor, Room 41, First Avenue and 48th Street, New York, NY 10017. Vanuatu Maritime Services, which provides information on ship registration in Vanuatu, is located at 120 Broadway, Suite 1743, New York, NY 10271.
Government and society in Vanuatu tend to divide along linguistic--French and English--lines. Historically, English-speaking politicians such as Walter Lini, Donald Kalpokas, and other leaders of the Vanua'aku Pati favored early independence, whereas French-speaking political leaders favored continuing association with the colonial administrators, particularly France.
On the eve of independence in 1980, Jimmy Stevens' Nagriamel movement, in alliance with private French interests, declared the island of Espiritu Santo independent of the new government. Following independence, Vanuatu requested assistance from Papua New Guinea, whose forces restored order on Santo. From then until 1991, the Vanua'aku Pati and its predominantly English-speaking leadership controlled the Vanuatu Government.
In December 1991, and following a split in the Vanua'aku Pati, Maxime Carlot Korman, leader of the Francophone Union of Moderate Parties (UMP), was elected Vanuatu's first Francophone prime minister. He formed a coalition government with Walter Lini's breakaway VP faction, now named the National United Party (NUP).
Following parliamentary elections on November 30, 1995, Carlot Korman was succeeded by Serge Vohor, a dissident UMP leader. Over the next 2 years, government leadership changed several times thanks to unstable coalitions within the Parliament. In November 1997, the President dissolved Parliament. Following the subsequent election on March 6, 1998, Donald Kalpokas, the leader of the Vanua'aku Pati, was elected prime minister.
Vanuatu's economy is primarily agricultural; 80% of the population is engaged in agricultural activities that range from subsistence farming to smallholder farming of coconuts and other cash crops. Copra is by far the most important cash crop (making up more than 35% of the country's exports), followed by timber, beef, and cocoa. Kava root extract exports also have become important recently. In addition, the government has maintained Vanuatu's preindependence status as a tax haven and international financial center. About 2,300 registered institutions offer a wide range of offshore banking, investment, legal, accounting, and insurance and trust-company services. Vanuatu also has opened an international shipping register in New York City.
Copra, cocoa, and beef account for more than 60% of Vanuatu's total exports by value and agriculture accounts for approximately 20% of GDP. Manufacturing is Vanuatu's fastest-growing sector, having more than doubled from 3% to 7.3% of GDP between 1983 and 1990. Tourism is Vanuatu's most important source of foreign exchange and expanded to contribute 25% of GDP as recently as 1990. That contribution declined to 16%-17% in 1992. Government consumption accounted for about 27% of GDP in 1995.
Vanuatu is a small country, with few commodities produced for export. The result is a chronic trade deficit. Seventy-five percent of its exports are agricultural. In 1995, imports exceeded exports by a ratio of 3 to 1.
Vanuatu claims an exclusive economic zone of 680,000 square kilometers and possesses substantial marine resources. Currently, only a limited number of ni-Vanuatu are involved in fishing, while foreign fleets exploit this potential.
In 1997 the government, with the aid of the Asian Development Bank, committed itself to a 3-year comprehensive reform program. During the first year of the program the Government has adopted a value-added tax, consolidated and reformed government-owned banks, and started a 10% downsizing in the public service. Asian Development Bank funds will assist the government in improving financial management.
Vanuatu maintains relations with more than 65 countries, including Russia, the People's Republic of China, Cuba, and Vietnam. However, only Australia, the United Kingdom, France, New Zealand, and the People's Republic of China maintain embassies, high commissions, or missions in Port Vila.
The government's main concern has been to bolster the economy. In keeping with its need for financial assistance, Vanuatu has joined the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the Agence de Cooperation Culturelle et Technique.
The government encourages private enterprise, foreign investment, and producer cooperatives. Like other developing countries, Vanuatu is particularly interested in enterprises that add value to local primary products and that provide employment. In less lucrative sectors, the government sets up its own production companies or enters joint ventures with foreign investors.
Since 1980, Australia, the United Kingdom, France, and New Zealand have provided the bulk of Vanuatu's development aid. A number of other countries, including Japan, Canada, Germany, and various multilateral organizations, such as the Economic and Social Council for Asia and the Pacific, the UN Development Program, the Asian Development Bank, the European Economic Community, and the Commonwealth Development Corporation also provide developmental aid. The United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Japan also send volunteers.
Vanuatu retains strong economic and cultural ties to Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and France. Australia has provided the bulk of Vanuatu's military assistance, training its paramilitary mobile force and also providing patrol boats to patrol Vanuatu's waters.
Membership in International Organizations
Vanuatu is a member of the United Nations and its specialized and related agencies, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund; South Pacific Commission; South Pacific Forum; Non-Aligned Movement; Commonwealth, Group of 77; and Asian Development Bank (ADB).
The United States and Vanuatu established diplomatic relations in 1986. Between 1977 and 1987, Vanuatu received just under $3 million from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), including projects focusing on assisting the transition to indigenous plantation management. In June 1994, the regional USAID office located in Suva, Fiji, was closed due to U.S. Government budgetary cutbacks. However, the United States remains a major financial contributor to international and regional organizations that assist Vanuatu, including the World Bank, UNICEF, WHO, the UN Fund for Population Activities, and the Asian Development Bank.
In 1989, the United States concluded a Peace Corps agreement with Vanuatu. The Peace Corps has met with a warm welcome there and currently has about 30 volunteers in-country. The United States also provides military training assistance to the Vanuatu Mobile Force, a paramilitary branch of the Vanuatu police.
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--Arma Jane Karaer (resident in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea)
The mailing address of the U.S. Embassy in Papua New Guinea is P.O. Box 1492, Port Moresby (tel: 675-321-1455; fax: 675-321-3423).
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides Consular Information Sheets, Travel Warnings, and Public Announcements. Consular Information Sheets exist for all countries and include information on entry requirements, currency regulations, health conditions, areas of instability, crime and security, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. posts in the country. Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel to a certain country. Public Announcements are issued as a means to disseminate information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas which pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Free copies of this information are available by calling the Bureau of Consular Affairs at 202-647-5225 or via the fax-on-demand system: 202-647-3000. Consular Information Sheets and Travel Warnings also are available on the Consular Affairs Internet home page: http://travel.state.gov. Consular Affairs Tips for Travelers publication series, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad are on the internet and hard copies can be purchased from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, telephone: 202-512-1800; fax 202-512-2250.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-5225. For after-hours emergencies, Sundays and holidays, call 202-647-4000.
Passport information can be obtained by calling the National Passport Information Center's automated system ($.35 per minute) or live operators 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (EST) Monday-Friday ($1.05 per minute). The number is 1-900-225-5674 (TDD: 1-900-225-7778). Major credit card users (for a flat rate of $4.95) may call 1-888-362-8668 (TDD: 1-888-498-3648). It also is available on the internet.
Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP (877-394-8747) and a web site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm give the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled Health Information for International Travel (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency and customs regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest to travelers also may be obtained before your departure from a country's embassy and/or consulates in the U.S. (for this country, see "Principal Government Officials" listing in this publication).
U.S. citizens who are long-term visitors or traveling in dangerous areas are encouraged to register at the U.S. embassy upon arrival in a country (see "Principal U.S. Embassy Officials" listing in this publication). This may help family members contact you in case of an emergency.
Further Electronic Information
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network. Available on the Internet, DOSFAN provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy information. Updated daily, DOSFAN includes Background Notes; Dispatch, the official magazine of U.S. foreign policy; daily press briefings; Country Commercial Guides; directories of key officers of foreign service posts; etc. DOSFAN's World Wide Web site is at http://1997-2001.state.gov.
U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published on an annual basis by the U.S. Department of State, USFAC archives information on the Department of State Foreign Affairs Network, and includes an array of official foreign policy information from 1990 to the present. Contact the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-1800 or fax (202) 512-2250.
National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related information. It is available on the Internet (www.stat-usa.gov) and on CD-ROM. Call the NTDB Help-Line at (202) 482-1986 for more information.
Bureau of East Asian Affairs Background Notes
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