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Barbados (09/06)


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); informally "Bajan(s)."
Population (July 2006estimate): 279,912.
Avg. annual growth rate (2006 estimate): 0.37%.
Ethnic groups: Predominantly of African descent 90%, White 4%, Asian or mixed 6%.
Religions: Protestant 67% (Anglican 40%, Pentecostal 8%, Methodist 7%, other 12%), Roman Catholic 4%, none 17%, other 12%.
Language: English.
Education: Attendance --primary school 100%, secondary school 93%. Adult literacy —99.7%.
Health: Infant mortality rate (2006 estimate)--11.77/1,000. Life expectancy --70.9 yrs. men; 74.82 yrs. women (2006 est.).
Work force (2004, 146,300): tourism, government, manufacturing, construction, mining, agriculture, fishing.
Unemployment (1 st quarter 2006): 8.1%.

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 (2005 est): $2.964 billion (official exchange rate); $4,745 billion (purchasing power parity).
GDP growth rate (2005): 4.1%.
Per capita GDP (2005 est.): $17,000.
Average inflation rate (first half of 2005): 2.4%.
Natural resources: Petroleum, Fish, quarrying, natural gas.
Agriculture (3.7% of GDP): Sugar accounts for approximately 1% of GDP and 80% of arable land.
Industry: Manufacturing and construction (13.7% of GDP)--food, beverages, electronic components, textiles, paper, chemicals.
Services: (62% of GDP) Tourism, banking and other financial services, data processing.
Trade (2005): Exports --$211 million; or 359 million including re-exports. Major markets U.S. 12.8%, Trinidad and Tobago 10.8%, U.K. 8.7%, St. Lucia 6.1%, and Jamaica 5.7% (2005, including re-exports). Imports --$1,604 billion Major suppliers --U.S. 36.5%, Trinidad and Tobago 22.0%, U.K. 5.51%, Japan 5.15%, Canada 3.5 (2005).
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 the 1960s, 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 replaced 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 the status of self-governing 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 Caribbean Court of Justice.

The island is divided into 11 parishes and the city of Bridgetown for administrative purposes. There is no local government.

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, has given a high priority to economic development and diversification. The main opposition party, the DLP, is led by David Thompson, a Member of Parliament.

Principal Government Officials
Head of State--Queen Elizabeth II
Governor General--Sir Clifford Straughn Husbands
Prime Minister--Owen Seymour Arthur

Deputy Prime Minister - Mia Amor Mottley
Ambassador to the U.S. and the OAS--Michael King
Ambassador to the UN--Dr. Christopher Hackett

Barbados maintains an embassy in the United States at 2144 Wyoming Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 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, FL 33134 (tel. 305-442-1994).

Since independence, Barbados has transformed itself from a low-income economy dependent upon sugar production into an upper-middle-income economy based on tourism. Barbados is now one of the most prosperous countries in the western hemisphere outside of the U.S. and Canada. 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% in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks and the global drop-off in tourism. Growth picked up again in 2003, and the economy grew by 3.4% in 2004, and by 4.1% in 2005.

Tourism drives the economy in Barbados, but offshore banking and financial services have become an increasingly important source of foreign exchange and economic growth. The sugar industry, once dominant, now makes up approximately 1% of GDP and employs only around 500 people. The labor force totaled 145,800 persons at the end of 2005. The average rate of unemployment for the first quarter of 2006 was estimated at 8.1%.

Barbados will host several games and the final of the Cricket World Cup in 2007, and much of the country's investment is directed toward accommodating the expected influx of visitors. The government and private sector are both working to prepare the country for the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME)--a European Union-style single market.

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 (CDB), established in 1970, with headquarters in Bridgetown. The eastern Caribbean's Regional Security System (RSS), 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).

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 counter narcotics 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,, China, Cuba, 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 and the World Bank, as well as the USAID 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. A popular tourist destination, Barbados had around 1.3 million tourists in 2005, mainly cruise ship visitors. The majority of tourists are from the U.K., Germany, the Caribbean, and the U.S. An estimated 3,000 Americans reside in the country.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador-- Mary E. Kramer
Deputy Chief of Mission--Mary Ellen T. Gilroy
Political/Economic Counselor--Sheila Peters
Consul General--Clyde Howard Jr.
Regional Labor Attach´┐Ż--Martina Strong
Economic-Commercial Affairs--Anthony Eterno
Public Affairs Officer--Julie O'Reagan
Peace Corps Director--Kate Raftery

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

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