Antigua and Barbuda (11/03)

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


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 (2001 Antiguan census): 75,401.
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 (Labor Commission est. 2002): 11-13%.

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.

Flag:  Antigua and Barbuda flag

GDP ( 2002): $710 million.
GDP growth rate (2002): 2.7%.
Per capita GDP (est. 2000): $9,690.
Natural resources: Negligible.
Agriculture (2001, 4% of GDP): Products--cotton, livestock, vegetables, and pineapples.
Services: Tourism, banking, and other financial services.
Trade (est. 2001): Exports--$17 million
Trade partners (2000): OECS (24%), U.S. (10%), Trinidad and Tobago (7%), Barbados (21%). Imports $375 million--U.S. (27%), U.K. (10%), OECS (1%).

Antigua was first inhabited by the Siboney ("stone people") whose settlements date at least to 2400 BC. The Arawaks who originated in Venezuela and gradually migrated up the chain of islands now called the Lesser Antilles succeeded the Siboney. 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 and the party has won renewed mandates in every subsequent election.

During elections in March 1994, power passed from Vere Bird to his son, Lester Bird. In the last elections in March 1999, the ALP gained a 12-seat majority, while the opposition United Progressive Party (UPP) led by Baldwin Spencer retained four seats, and the Barbuda People's Movement (BPM) retained one seat.

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 5 years but may be called by the prime minister at any time. National elections are anticipated to occur prior to March of 2004.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, financial and government services representing the key sources of employment and income. Tourism also is 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. Antigua and Barbuda's tourist sector continues to recover from past hurricanes and a downfall in numbers after the September 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. In 2002, more than half a million tourists visited Antigua and Barbuda, the majority from Europe and the U.S. Cruise ship arrivals numbered over 300,000, more than half the total number of arrivals. Tourism receipts totaled $240 million in 2002. The economy grew at a rate of 2.7% in 2002.

To lessen its vulnerability to natural disasters, Antigua has sought to diversify 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 share a common currency issued by the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB). 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. In 2001, its exports totaled $17 million, of which 22% went to the U.S. Antigua and Barbuda imported 28.5% of its goods from the U.S. Overall, imports totaled $335 million in 2001. 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.

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 advisory was lifted in 2001, but the U.S. Government continues to monitor the Government of Antigua and Barbuda's regulation of financial services. 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. 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 2002, Antigua and Barbuda had 198,000 stay-over visitors, with over 60,000 from the United States. It is estimated that 4,500 Americans reside in the country.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Charg� d'Affaires, a.i.--Marcia Bernicat
Political/Economic Officer--Paul Belmont
Consular Officer--Robert Fretz
Regional Labor Attach�--(vacant)
Economic-Commercial Affairs--Viki Limaye
Public Affairs Officer--Kathleen Boyle
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, Antigua, 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

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

Eastern Caribbean American Chamber of Commerce
P.O. Box 111
St. Michael, Barbados
Tel: 246-436-9493
Fax: 246-9494

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