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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Barbados (08/04)


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

The flag of Barbados is three equal vertical bands of blue (hoist side), gold, and blue with the head of a black trident centered on the gold band.



Area: 431 sq. km. (166 sq. mi.); about three times the size of Washington, DC.
Cities: Capital--Bridgetown.
Terrain: Generally flat, hilly in the interior.
Climate: Tropical.

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Barbadian(s); also "Bajan(s)." Population (2003 estimate): 276, 607 (WF). Avg. annual growth rate (2001): 0.4%.
Ethnic groups: Black 90%, White 4%, Asian or mixed 6% (WF).
Religions: Protestant 67% (Anglican 40%, Pentecostal 8%, Methodist 7%, other 12%), Roman Catholic 4%, none 17%, other 12% (WF).
Language: English.
Education: Attendance--primary school 100%, secondary school 93%. Adult literacy--99%.
Health: Infant mortality rate (1998)--7.8/1,000. Life expectancy--70.9 yrs. (WF) men; 76.12 yrs. women (2002 est. WF).
Work force (2001, 142,000): Commerce, tourism, government, manufacturing, construction, mining, agriculture, fishing.
Unemployment (2001): 9.9%.

Type: Parliamentary democracy; independent sovereign state within the Commonwealth.
Independence: November 30, 1966.
Constitution: 1966.
Branches: Executive--governor general (representing Queen Elizabeth II, head of state), prime minister (head of government), cabinet. Legislative--bicameral Parliament.
Judicial--magistrate's courts, Supreme Court (High Court and Court of Appeals), privy council in London.
Subdivisions: Eleven parishes and the city of Bridgetown.
Political parties: Barbados Labor Party (BLP, incumbent), Democratic Labor Party (DLP), National Democratic Party (NDP).
Suffrage: Universal at 18.

GDP (in U.S. $billions): $2.6.
Gross domestic savings ratio (2001): 13.4%.
GDP growth rate (2002): -0.4%.
Per capita GDP (2002): $12,000.
Average inflation rate (2002): 20.17%.
Natural resources: Petroleum, Fishing, natural gas.
Agriculture (4% of GDP): Sugar accounts for 2.4% of GDP and 80% of arable land.
Industry: Manufacturing and construction (17% of GDP)--food, beverages, textiles, paper, chemicals, fabricated products.
Services: (76% of GDP) Tourism, banking and other financial services, Informatics (data processing).
Trade (2001): Exports--$259 million. Major markets--U.S. 17%, CARICOM 45%, U.K. 14%, and Canada 3%. Imports--$1,068 million. Major suppliers--U.S. 42%, U.K. 8%, Canada 4%, CARICOM 15%.
Official exchange rate: Barbados dollars (BDS) 2=U.S.$1.

About 90% of Barbados' population is of African descent, 4% European descent, and 6% Asian or mixed. About 40% of Barbadians are Anglican, and the rest mostly Roman Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, and Moravian. There also are small Jewish and Muslim communities. Barbados' population growth rate has been very low, less than 1% since the1960s, largely due to family planning efforts and a high emigration rate.

British sailors who landed on Barbados in the 1620s at the site of present-day Holetown on the Caribbean coast found the island uninhabited. As elsewhere in the eastern Caribbean, Arawak Indians may have been annihilated by invading Caribs, who are believed to have subsequently abandoned the island.

From the arrival of the first British settlers in 1627-28 until independence in 1966, Barbados was a self-funding colony under uninterrupted British rule. Nevertheless, Barbados always enjoyed a large measure of local autonomy. Its House of Assembly, which began meeting in 1639, is the third-oldest legislative body in the Western Hemisphere, preceded only by Bermuda's legislature and the Virginia House of Burgesses.

As the sugar industry developed into the main commercial enterprise, Barbados was divided into large plantation estates, which replace the small holdings of the early British settlers. Some of the displaced farmers relocated to British colonies in North America. To work the plantations, slaves were brought from Africa; the slave trade ceased a few years before the abolition of slavery throughout the British empire in 1834.

Plantation owners and merchants of British descent dominated local politics. It was not until the 1930s that the descendants of emancipated slaves began a movement for political rights. One of the leaders of this movement, Sir Grantley Adams, founded the Barbados Labor Party in 1938. Progress toward more democratic government for Barbados was made in 1951, when the first general election under universal adult suffrage occurred. This was followed by steps toward increased self-government, and in 1961, Barbados achieved internal autonomy.

From 1958 to 1962, Barbados was one of 10 members of the West Indies Federation, and Sir Grantley Adams served as its first and only prime minister. When the federation was terminated, Barbados reverted to its former status as a self-governing colony. Following several attempts to form another federation composed of Barbados and the Leeward and Windward Islands, Barbados negotiated its own independence at a constitutional conference with the United Kingdom in June 1966. After years of peaceful and democratic progress, Barbados became an independent state within the British Commonwealth on November 30, 1966.

Under its constitution, Barbados is a parliamentary democracy modeled on the British system. The governor general represents the monarch. Control of the government rests with the cabinet, headed by the prime minister and responsible to the Parliament.

The bicameral Parliament consists of the House of Assembly and Senate. The 30 members of the House are elected by universal suffrage to 5-year terms. Elections may be called at any time the government wishes to seek a new mandate or if the government suffers a vote of no-confidence in Parliament, with a 5-year maximum duration for Parliament. The Senate's 21 members are appointed by the governor general -- 12 with the advice of the prime minister, two with the advice of the leader of the opposition, and seven at the governor general's discretion to represent segments of the community.

Barbados has an independent judiciary composed of magistrate courts, which are statutorily authorized, and a Supreme Court, which is constitutionally mandated. The Supreme Court consists of the high court and the court of appeals, each with four judges. The Chief Justice serves on both the high court and the court of appeals. The court of last resort is the Judicial Committee of Her Majesty's Privy Council in London, whose decisions are binding on all parties. Judges of the Supreme Court are appointed by the governor general on the recommendation of the prime minister after consultation with the leader of the opposition.

The island is divided into 11 parishes and the city of Bridgetown for administrative purposes. There is no local government. Barbados' defense expenditures account for about 2.5% of the government budget.

The three political parties--the Barbados Labor Party (BLP), the Democratic Labor Party (DLP), and the semi-defunct National Democratic Party (NDP)--are all moderate and have no major ideological differences; electoral contests and political disputes often have personal overtones. The major political problems facing Barbados today are in promoting economic growth: creating jobs, encouraging agricultural diversification, attracting foreign investment, and promoting tourism.

The ruling BLP was decisively returned to power in May 2003 elections, winning 23 seats in the Parliament with the DLP gaining seven seats. The Prime Minister, Owen Arthur, who also serves as Minister of Finance and Minister of Culture, has given a high priority to economic development and diversification. The main opposition party, the DLP, is led by Sen. Clyde Mascoll, who was elected President of the DLP in 2001, as part of a party reorganization.

Principal Government Officials
Head of State--Queen Elizabeth II
Governor General--Sir Clifford Straughn Husbands
Prime Minister--Owen Arthur
Ambassador to the U.S. and the OAS--Michael King
Ambassador to the UN--June Clark

Barbados maintains an embassy in the United States located at 2144 Wyoming Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-939-9200), a consulate general in New York City at 800 2nd Avenue, 18th Floor, New York, NY 10017 (tel. 212-867-8435), and a consulate general in Miami at 150 Alhambra Circle, Suite 1270, Coral Gables, FL33134 (tel. 305-442-1994).

Since independence, Barbados has transformed itself from a low-income economy dependent upon sugar production to a middle-income economy based on tourism. The economy went into a deep recession in 1990 after 3 years of steady decline brought on by fundamental macroeconomic imbalances. After a painful readjustment process, the economy began to grow again in 1993. Growth rates averaged between 3%-5% since then until 2001, when the economy contracted 2.8%. As 2004 nears, there are signs of a gradual economic recovery.

The main factors responsible for the decline in economic activity include a decrease in the number of tourist arrivals following September 11 events, the general global economic downturn, and the impact of a depreciated Euro on sugar exports. Offshore banking and financial services have become an increasingly important source of foreign exchange and economic growth.

By year-end 2001, the recession led to a rise in unemployment, led by net decreases in employment in the tourism sector, as well as in construction and manufacturing sectors. The public service remains Barbados' largest-single employer. The employed labor force totaled 128,600 persons at the end of 2001, and the unemployed labor force expanded from 13,000 in 2000 to 14,000 in 2001. At the end of 2001, 62,900 persons were economically inactive. Unemployment rose in 2002 to 10.3%, but is still significantly lower than the 20% levels of the early 1990s.

As a small nation, the primary thrust of Barbados' diplomatic activity has been within international organizations. The island is a member of the Commonwealth and participates in its activities. Barbados was admitted to the United Nations in December 1966. Barbados joined the Organization of American States (OAS) in 1967.

On July 4, 1973, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, and Jamaica signed a treaty in Trinidad to found the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM). In May 1974, most of the remaining English-speaking Caribbean states joined CARICOM, which now has 14 members. Barbados also is a member of the Caribbean Development Bank, established in 1970, with headquarters in Bridgetown. The eastern Caribbean's Regional Security System, which associates Barbados with six other island nations, also is headquartered in Barbados. In July 1994, Barbados joined the newly established Association of Caribbean States (ACS).

As a member of CARICOM, Barbados 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 Owen Arthur hosted President Clinton and 14 other Caribbean leaders during the first-ever U.S.-regional summit in Bridgetown, Barbados. The summit strengthened the basis for regional cooperation on justice and counternarcotics issues, finance and development, and trade.

Barbados has diplomatic missions headed by resident ambassadors or high commissioners in Canada, the U.K., the U.S., and Venezuela, and at the European Union (Brussels) and the UN. It also has resident consuls general in Toronto, Miami, and New York City. Brazil, Canada, Colombia, China, Guatemala, the U.K., the U.S., and Venezuela have ambassadors or high commissioners resident in Barbados.

In 1751, George Washington visited Barbados, making what is believed to have been his only trip abroad. The U.S. Government has been represented on Barbados since 1824. From 1956 to 1978, the U.S. operated a naval facility in Barbados.

The U.S. and Barbados have had friendly bilateral relations since Barbados' independence in 1966. The U.S. has supported the government's efforts to expand the country's economic base and to provide a higher standard of living for its citizens. Barbados is a beneficiary of the U.S. Caribbean Basin Initiative. U.S. assistance is channeled primarily through multilateral agencies such as the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, and the recently opened USAID Caribbean Regional Program office in Bridgetown.

Barbados also receives substantial counternarcotics assistance and is eligible to benefit from the U.S. military's exercise-related and humanitarian assistance construction program.

Barbados and U.S. authorities cooperate closely in the fight against narcotics trafficking and other forms of transnational crime. In 1996, the U.S. and Barbados signed a mutual legal assistance treaty (MLAT) and an updated extradition treaty covering all common offenses, including conspiracy and organized crime. A maritime law enforcement agreement was signed in 1997. Barbados is the headquarters of the Regional Security System (RSS), which involves the Coast Guards of the OECS. It is currently supported by U.S. funding but is due to evolve into a regionally funded organization according to an agreed schedule.

A popular tourist destination, Barbados had over one million total tourists in 2002, mainly cruise ship visitors. The majority of tourists are from the U.K., the Caribbean, or the U.S. Approximately 140,000 Americans visited the island last year. An estimated 3,000 Americans reside in the country.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--Mary E. Kramer
Deputy Chief of Mission--Meg Gilroy
Political/Economic Counselor--Paul Belmont
Consul General--Bob Fretz
Regional Labor Attach´┐Ż--Al Anzaldua
Economic-Commercial Affairs--John Ashworth
Public Affairs Officer--Julie O'Reagan
Peace Corps Director--Earl Phillips

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).

Other Contact Information
U.S. Department of Commerce
International Trade Administration
Office of Latin America and the Caribbean
14th & Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20230
Tel: 202-482-1658, 800-USA-Trade
Fax: 202-482-0464

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

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