St. Croix petition seeks U.S. territory status
Copyright © 2004 Nando Media
Copyright © 2004 AP Online

By MAT PROBASCO, Associated Press Writer

CHARLOTTE AMALIE, U.S. Virgin Islands (November 13, 4:21 am AST) - At least 5,500 residents of St. Croix, the largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, have signed a petition asking Congress to make the island its own U.S. territory.
Supporters say seceding from the rest of the Virgin Islands would bring the island more U.S. funds. St. Croix is poorer than the two other main islands of St. Thomas and St. John.

Volunteers, who are still collecting signatures, plan to give the petition to Congress in the near future, said Rena Brodhurst, president of the Committee for St. Croix's Self-Government. But some admit they are not optimistic about its chances for success.

Only about 20 percent of St. Croix's 27,000 registered voters have signed, and reorganizing the territorial government would take major legislative changes.

Still, the petition will draw attention to St. Croix's economic needs, said Donna M. Christensen, the U.S. Caribbean territory's nonvoting representative in Congress and a St. Croix native.

"I believe in the principle that St. Croix needs more attention ... Their position is a bit extreme, but I signed it just to draw some attention," she said.

Though St. Croix is home to the Western Hemisphere's second largest oil refinery and the Cruzan Rum distillery, unemployment is at about 13 percent compared to 9 percent on the other two islands.

St. Croix residents voted four of their seven territorial senators out of office in elections on Nov. 2. Many residents complained they were poorly represented and received less than their share of government money.

Terrance Nelson, elected to the Senate this year from St. Croix, said the island needed more help, but he didn't sign the petition.

He said changing in the local government structure would be a better way to get more funding.

Nelson said it was unfair that St. Thomas and St. John elected eight of the 15 senators, leaving seven to St. Croix.

Home to 110,000 people, the Caribbean islands have been a U.S. territory since the American government purchased them from Denmark in 1917.