Antigua and Barbuda (04/01)

For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.


Official Name:
Antigua and Barbuda

Area: Antigua--281 sq. km. (108 sq. mi.); Barbuda--161 sq. km. (62 sq. mi.).
Cities: Capital--St. John's (pop. 30,000).
Terrain: Generally low-lying, with highest elevation 405 m. (1,330 ft.).
Climate: Tropical maritime.

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Antiguan(s), Barbudan(s).
Population (2000): 71,400.
Annual population growth rate (1999): 1.1%.
Ethnic groups: Almost entirely of African origin; some of British, Portuguese, and Levantine Arab origin.
Religions: Principally Anglican, with evangelical Protestant and Roman Catholic minorities.
Language: English.
Education: Years compulsory--9. Literacy--about 90%.
Health: Life expectancy--71 yrs. male; 75 yrs. female. Infant mortality rate--18/1,000.
Work force (31,300): Commerce and services, agriculture, other industry.
Unemployment (est. 2000): 8.0%

Type: Constitutional monarchy with Westminster-style Parliament.
Constitution: 1981.
Independence: November 1, 1981.
Branches: Executive--governor general (representing Queen Elizabeth II, head of state), prime minister (head of government), and cabinet. Legislative--a 17-member Senate appointed by the governor general (mainly on the advice of the prime minister and the leader of the opposition) and a 17-member popularly elected House of Representatives. Judicial--magistrate's courts, Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (High Court and Court of Appeals, privy council in London).
Administrative subdivisions: Six parishes and two dependencies (Barbuda and Redonda).
Political parties: Antigua Labor Party (ALP, incumbent), United Progressive Party (UPP), Barbuda People's Movement (BPM).
Suffrage: Universal at 18.

GDP (est. 2000, current U.S. dollars): US$691.9 million.
GDP growth rate (est. 2000): 2.5%.
Per capita GDP est. 2000):US$9,690.
Natural resources: Negligible.
Agriculture (1998, 3.9% of GDP): Products--cotton, livestock, vegetables, pineapples.
Services: Tourism, banking, and other financial services.
Trade (est. 2000): Exports US$39.8 million--OECS (24%), United States (.10%), Trinidad and Tobago (7%), Barbados (21%). Imports US$375 million--United States (27%), U.K. (10%), OECS (1%).

Antigua was first inhabited by the Siboney ("stone people") whose settlements date at least to 2400 BC. The Siboney were succeeded by the Arawaks who originated in Venezuela and gradually migrated up the chain of islands now called the Lesser Antilles. The warlike Carib people drove the Arawaks from neighboring islands but apparently did not settle on either Antigua or Barbuda.

Christopher Columbus landed on the islands in 1493 naming the larger one "Santa Maria de la Antigua." The English colonized the islands in 1632. Sir Christopher Codrington established the first large sugar estate in Antigua in 1674, and leased Barbuda to raise provisions for his plantations. Barbuda's only town is named after him. Codrington and others brought slaves from Africa's west coast to work the plantations.

Antiguan slaves were emancipated in 1834 but remained economically dependent on the plantation owners. Economic opportunities for the new freedmen were limited by a lack of surplus farming land, no access to credit, and an economy built on agriculture rather than manufacturing. Poor labor conditions persisted until 1939 when a member of a royal commission urged the formation of a trade union movement.

The Antigua Trades and Labor Union, formed shortly afterward, became the political vehicle for Vere Cornwall Bird who became the union's president in 1943. The Antigua Labor Party (ALP), formed by Bird and other trade unionists, first ran candidates in the 1946 elections and became the majority party in 1951 beginning a long history of electoral victories.

Voted out of office in the 1971 general elections that swept the progressive labor movement into power, Bird and the ALP returned to office in 1976; the party won renewed mandates in the general elections in 1984 and 1989. In the 1989 elections, the ruling ALP won all but two of the 17 seats.

During elections in March 1994, power passed from Vere Bird to his son, Lester Bird, but remained within the ALP which won 11 of the 17 parliamentary seats. In the last elections in March 1999, the ALP gained another seat resulting in a distribution of 12 seats to the ALP, four seats to the opposition United Progressive Party (UPP) led by Baldwin Spencer, and one seat to the Barbuda People's Movement (BPM).

As head of state, Queen Elizabeth II is represented in Antigua and Barbuda by a governor general who acts on the advice of the prime minister and the cabinet. Antigua and Barbuda has a bicameral legislature: a 17-member Senate appointed by the governor general -- mainly on the advice of the prime minister and the leader of the opposition -- and a 17-member popularly elected House of Representatives. The prime minister is the leader of the majority party in the House and conducts affairs of state with the cabinet. The prime minister and the cabinet are responsible to the Parliament. Elections must be held at least every five years but may be called by the prime minister at any time.

Antigua and Barbuda has a multiparty political system with a long history of hard fought elections, two of which have resulted in peaceful changes of government. The opposition, however, claims to be disadvantaged by the ruling party's longstanding monopoly on patronage and its control of the electronic media.

Constitutional safeguards include freedom of speech, press, worship, movement, and association. Antigua and Barbuda is a member of the eastern Caribbean court system. Jurisprudence is based on English common law.

Principal Government Officials
Chief of State--Queen Elizabeth II
Governor General--Sir James Carlisle
Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs--Lester Bryant Bird
Ambassador to the U.S. and the OAS--Lionel A. Hurst
Ambassador to the United Nations--Patrick Albert Lewis

Antigua and Barbuda maintain an embassy in the United States at 3216 New Mexico Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20016 (tel. 202-362-5122).

Antigua and Barbuda's economy is service-based, with tourism and government services representing the the key sources of employment and income. Tourism is also the principal earner of foreign exchange in Antigua and Barbuda. However, a series of violent hurricanes since 1995 resulted in serious damage to tourist infrastructure and periods of sharp reductions in visitor numbers. Estimated overall economic growth for 2000 was 2.5%. Inflation has trended down going from above 2 percent in the 1995-99 period and estimated at 0 percent in 2000.

To lessen its vulnerability to natural disasters, Antigua has been diversifying its economy. Transportation, communications and financial services are becoming important.

Antigua is a member of the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union (ECCU). All members of the ECCU, The Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) issues a common currency for all members of the ECCU. The ECCB also manages monetary policy, and regulates and supervises commercial banking activities in its member countries.

Antigua and Barbuda is a beneficiary of the U.S. Caribbean Basin Initiative. Its 1998 exports to the U.S. were valued at aboutUS $3 million and its U.S. imports totaled about US $84 million. It also belongs to the predominantly English-speaking Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM).

Antigua and Barbuda maintains diplomatic relations with the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the People's Republic of China, as well as with many Latin American countries and neighboring Eastern Caribbean states. It is a member of the United Nations, the Commonwealth of Nations, the Organization of American States, the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, and the Eastern Caribbean's Regional Security System (RSS).

As a member of CARICOM, Antigua and Barbuda supported efforts by the United States to implement UN Security Council Resolution 940, designed to facilitate the departure of Haiti's de facto authorities from power. The country agreed to contribute personnel to the multinational force which restored the democratically elected government of Haiti in October 1994.

In May 1997, Prime Minister Bird joined 14 other Caribbean leaders and President Clinton for the first-ever U.S.-regional summit in Bridgetown, Barbados. The summit strengthened the basis for regional cooperation on justice and counter-narcotics issues, finance and development, and trade.

The United States has maintained friendly relations with Antigua and Barbuda since its independence. The United States has supported the Government of Antigua and Barbuda's effort to expand its economic base and to improve its citizens' standard of living. However, concerns over the lack of adequate regulation of the financial services sector prompted the U.S. Government to issue a financial advisory for Antigua and Barbuda in 1999. The U.S. also has been active in supporting post-hurricane disaster assistance and rehabilitation through USAID's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance and the Peace Corps. U.S. assistance is primarily channeled through multilateral agencies such as the World Bank, the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), and through the newly-opened USAID satellite office in Bridgetown, Barbados. In addition, Antigua and Barbuda receives counter-narcotics assistance and benefits from U.S. military exercise-related and humanitarian civic assistance construction projects.

Antigua and Barbuda is strategically situated in the Leeward Islands near maritime transport lanes of major importance to the United States. Antigua has long hosted a U.S. military presence. The former U.S. Navy support facility, turned over to the Government of Antigua and Barbuda in 1995, is now being developed as a regional Coast Guard training facility. The U.S. Space Command continues to maintain a space-tracking facility on Antigua. The U.S. embassy in Antigua closed on June 30, 1994.

Antigua and Barbuda's location close to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico makes it an attractive transshipment point for narcotics traffickers. International concerns have also been raised by the vulnerability of the off-shore financial sector to money laundering. To address these problems, the U.S. and Antigua and Barbuda have signed a series of counter-narcotic and counter-crime treaties and agreements, including a maritime law enforcement agreement (1995), subsequently amended to include overflight and order-to-land provisions (1996); a bilateral extradition treaty (1996); and a mutual legal assistance treaty (1996).

In 1999, Antigua and Barbuda had more than 207,000 stay-over visitors, more than 68,000 from the U.S. It is estimated that 4,500 Americans reside in the country.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Charge d'Affaires--Roand W. Bullen
Political/Economic Counselor--Charles N. Patterson, Jr.
Consul General--Theophilus J. Rose
Defense Attache--Lt. Col. John Churchill
Regional Labor Attache--vacant
Public Affairs Officer--Emilia Puma
Peace Corps Director--Earl Phillips (resident in St. Lucia)

The United States maintains no official presence in Antigua. The ambassador and embassy officers are resident in Barbados and travel to Antigua frequently. However, a U.S. consular agent resident in Antigua assists U.S. citizens in Antigua and Barbuda.

The U.S. embassy in Barbados is located in the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce Building, Broad Street, Bridgetown (tel: 246-436-4950; fax: 246-429-5246).

Consular Agent
Juliet Ryder
Hospital Hill, English Harbor
Tel: (268) 463-6531

Other Contact Information
U.S. Department of Commerce
International Trade Administration
Trade Information Center
14th and Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20230
Tel: 1-800-USA-Trade

Caribbean/Latin American Action
1818 N Street, NW
Suite 310
Washington, DC 20036
Tel: 202-466-7464
Fax: 202-822-0075