Freedom in the World
Antigua and Barbuda
Antigua and Barbuda’s economy continued to struggle in 2011 following the collapse of the Stanford Financial Group two years earlier and as a result of an increase in crime affecting the country’s tourism industry.
Antigua and Barbuda, a member of the Commonwealth, gained its independence from Britain in 1981. In the 2004 elections, the opposition United Progressive Party (UPP), led by Baldwin Spencer, defeated Prime Minister Lester Bird and the ruling Antigua Labour Party (ALP). The transfer of power ended the rule of the Bird political dynasty, which had governed the country continuously since 1976.
The 2009 parliamentary elections returned Spencer and the UPP to power with 9 seats in the 17-seat lower house; the ALP took 7 seats, while the Barbuda People’s Movement (BPM) retained the single seat representing Barbuda. While elections were deemed fair and competitive by the Organization of American States, the voting was preceded by instances of violence, including attacks on ALP offices, and there were accusations of voter registration irregularities. In March 2010, a High Court ruling invalidated the election of Spencer and other members of Parliament due to electoral irregularities, though the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeals overturned the verdict in October.
The collapse in 2009 of the $7 billion Stanford Financial Group, run by U.S. financier R. Allen Stanford, exposed deep ties between Stanford and the government of Antigua and Barbuda. A consortium of defrauded investors sued the government, claiming that top officials had been aware of and benefitted from a Ponzi scheme run by the company. In July 2009, the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank—the monetary authority of six independent Caribbean nations, including Antigua and Barbuda—seized control of Stanford’s Bank of Antigua. A new financial entity, the Eastern Caribbean Amalgamated Bank—co-owned by the Government of Antigua and several other Eastern Caribbean private financial institutions—took over the Bank of Antigua in October 2010. No Antiguan officials connected to the Stanford fraud scheme have been brought to trial in Antigua and Barbuda. However, Stanford, who was accused of masterminding the massive fraud that led to his financial group losing more than $7 billion dollars, was in custody in the United States. In December 2011, a Texas judge ruled that he was mentally fit to stand trial.
Fallout from the collapse of the Stanford Financial Group, as well as the global economic downturn, continued to wreak havoc on Antigua and Barbuda’s economy in 2011. In July, the government and the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank were forced to take over the Antigua and Barbuda Investment Bank, which was established in 1990, to save it from collapse due to liquidity problems.
In addition to the Stanford financial crisis, crime continues to be a roadblock to the country’s economic recovery. Antiguan authorities attribute an increasing crime rate to drug trafficking and the deportation of expatriates from North America and Europe. In 2010, a leading cruise line canceled all calls to Antigua following the murder of one of its passengers on the island.
Antigua and Barbuda is an electoral democracy. The 1981 constitution establishes a parliamentary system, with a governor general representing the British monarch as ceremonial head of state. The bicameral Parliament is composed of the 17-seat House of Representatives (16 seats for Antigua, 1 for Barbuda), to which members are elected for five-year terms, and an appointed Senate. Of the senators, 11 are appointed by the governor general on the advice of the prime minister, 4 on the advice of the parliamentary opposition leader, 1 on the advice of the Barbuda Council (an 11-member local government body that runs Barbuda’s internal affairs), and 1 at the governor general’s discretion. Antigua and Barbuda’s prime minister is typically the leader of the majority party or coalition that emerges from the legislative elections. The Antigua and Barbuda Electoral Commission (ABEC) was established in 2008 to reform the country’s electoral system, including the introduction of voter identification cards. Political parties can organize freely.
The government has overseen the enactment of anticorruption and transparency legislation in recent years, but implementation has been slow. In the wake of the Stanford financial scandal, Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer’s government has sought to improve its image by addressing irregularities at the ABEC, including alleged violations of electoral law by its chairman. However, complaints remain that Antigua and Barbuda has not moved quickly to cooperate with U.S. authorities to investigate and extradite officials who have committed criminal activities in connection with bank fraud.
Antigua and Barbuda generally respects freedom of the press, but in practice media outlets are concentrated among a small number of firms affiliated with either the current government or its predecessor. The Bird family continues to control television, cable, and radio outlets. The government owns one of three radio stations and the public television station. There are no restrictions on access to the internet.
The government generally respects religious and academic freedoms.
Nongovernmental organizations are active, but they lack adequate funding and are often influenced by the government. Demonstrators are occasionally subject to police harassment. Labor unions can organize freely. The Industrial Relations Court mediates labor disputes.
The country’s legal system is based on English common law. During the Bird years, the ALP government manipulated the nominally independent judicial system, which was powerless to address corruption in the executive branch. However, in recent years, the courts have increasingly asserted independence through controversial decisions against the government.
The police generally respect human rights, though basic police statistics remain confidential. The country’s prison is in primitive condition, and the abuse of inmates has been reported, though visits by independent human rights groups are permitted. The government has responded to higher levels of crime in recent years with increased patrols, the reintroduction of roadblocks, and stiffer fines for firearms violations.
The 2005 Equal Opportunity Act bars discrimination on the basis of race, gender, class, political affinity, or place of origin. However, societal discrimination and violence against women remain problems.