The US Virgin Islands

Lonely Planet says that “if people are going to persist with an American dream, they may as well wake up to some of this . . . some of the most magnificent coast on earth” and “a taste of paradise.”

The U.S. Virgin Islands are a group of islands in the Caribbean Sea that are geographically part of the greater Virgin Islands. They are principally made up of four main islands St.

Thomas, St. Croix, St. John and Water Island, and are the only U.S. territory where traffic drives on the left side of the road. The U.S. Virgin Islands are located approximately 1,000 miles south of Miami, Florida and 50 miles east of Puerto Rico. The most recent population estimate is 120,000, with a majority living on St. Croix and St. Thomas. The climate is tropical with the temperature ranging from 70 to 90 degrees year round, with relatively low humidity for a US insular area.

The Virgin Islands were named by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage in 1493, after Saint Ursula and her virgin followers. Over the next 300 years, the islands were held by many European powers, including Spain, England, the Netherlands and France.

During World War I, the United States offered to purchase the islands from Denmark, fearing that the Germans might seize them for use as a submarine base. On January 17, 1917, under pressure to sell the islands for fear the U.S. would invade Denmark sold what were then known as the Danish West Indies to the U.S. for $25 million. Ten years later, the U.S. granted citizenship to all the inhabitants of the islands.

The U.S. Virgin Islands are an organized, unincorporated territory, meaning that while Congress has passed an organic act for the territory, not all protections of the US Constitution apply. Like Puerto Ricans, U.S. Virgin Islanders are U.S. citizens, but they are not allowed to vote in presidential elections. The territory elects a delegate to Congress; however, while the delegate is able to vote in committee, he cannot participate in floor votes. At the territorial level, fifteen senators are elected for two year terms to the unicameral Virgin Islands legislature, and the governor is elected every four years by a vote of the people. The territory has both a district court and a superior court, and judges are appointed by the President of the United States and the Governor.

In recent history, the U.S. Congress has organized several local referenda to aid in the territory’s self determination. Like Puerto Ricans, U.S. Virgin Island residents have been given the choice of independence, status quo, or statehood; however, these measures have failed to attract sufficient civic interest or voter turnout to produce even a noteworthy plurality, much less a majority, and thus the islands will retain their current territorial status for the foreseeable future.

In fiscal year 1995, the government’s annual operating budget was $500 million, of which $158 million were federal grants. Tourism is the primary economic driver of the territory, with the islands hosting close to 2 million visitors per year — many of whom visit on cruise ships. As such, the territory spends approximately $800 million annually towards tourism.

Being a top tourist destination, United, U.S. Airways, Delta, Continental Airlines and American Airlines serve the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The U.S. Postal code for the territory is VI.

*excerpt courtesy of Michael Keyser