JOHN COMPTON, 82 Prime minister of St. Lucia
John Compton, who guided the tiny Caribbean island of St. Lucia to independence from Britain and infuriated China by restoring ties with Taiwan, died Friday at the private Tapion Hospital in the capital, Castries, Commerce Minister Guy Mayers said. Mr. Compton, a three-time leader of St. Lucia who became prime minister most recently in December, surrendered his leadership duties after suffering a series of mild strokes in late April.
The farmer and attorney became chief minister of the then-colony in 1964, negotiated for more autonomy from Britain three years later and became the first prime minister upon independence in 1979. Voted out of power later that year, he returned to govern the mountainous island from 1982 to 1996.
Many on the island, with a population today of 168,000, knew him affectionately as "Daddy Compton," particularly in the eastern villages where he won his first election in 1954.
He gained a reputation for fearlessness three years later as a union leader directing a strike against the sugar-growing elite for better labor conditions, getting arrested after a confrontation in which he dared a white planter to run him over with a tractor. Like about 90 percent of his fellow islanders, Mr. Compton was black.
Mr. Compton governed as a pro-Western conservative and took heat 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, which previously had relations with St. Lucia under Mr. Compton. China, which regards Taiwan as a renegade province, broke off relations and condemned the reversal as a "brutal interference" in its internal affairs.
At home beginning in the 1960s, Mr. Compton oversaw the development of highways, airports, industrial complexes and housing projects on the 240-square-mile island.
Born in 1925 on the nearby island of Canouan, St. Vincent, Mr. Compton attended high school in St. Lucia and worked in oil refineries in Curacao for two years before studying in the United Kingdom. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1997.
Mr. Compton, who founded his United Workers Party 43 years ago, had 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.