U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
BACKGROUND NOTES: THE BAHAMAS
PUBLISHED BY THE BUREAU OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS
Area: 13,939 sq. km. (5,382 sq. mi.); slightly larger than Connecticut
and Rhode Island combined.
Cities: Capital--Nassau, New Providence. Second-largest city--
Freeport, Grand Bahama.
Terrain: Low and flat.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Bahamian(s).
Population (1993): 269,300.
Annual growth rate: 2%.
Ethnic groups: Black African 85%, European 12%, Asian and Hispanic 3%.
Religions: Baptist predominant (35%), Roman Catholic, Anglican,
Evangelical Protestants, Methodist, Church of God. Languages: English;
some Creole among Haitian groups.
Education: Years compulsory--through age 14. Attendance--95%.
Health (1993): Infant mortality rate--24 per 1,000. Life expectancy--
men 64 years., women 72 years.
Work force: 136,900; majority employed in the tourism, government, and
financial services sectors.
Type: Independent commonwealth. Independence: July 10, 1973.
Suffrage: Universal over 18; 122,939 registered voters in 1992.
Branches: Executive--British monarch (nominal head of state), governor-
general (representative of the British monarch), prime minister (head of
government), and cabinet. Legislative--bicameral parliament (49-member
House of Assembly, 16-member Senate). Judicial--Privy Council in U.K.,
Court of Appeal, Supreme Court, and magistrates' courts.
Political parties: Free National Movement (FNM), Progressive Liberal
GDP (1993): $3.1 billion.
Growth rate: 3%.
Per capita GDP (1993): $11,610.
Natural resources: Salt, aragonite, timber.
Agriculture (1993): 4% of GDP. Products--vegetables, lobster, fish.
Tourism (1993): 50% of GDP.
Banking (1993): 12% of GDP.
Manufacturing (1993): 4% of GDP. Products--pharmaceuticals, rum.
Trade (1993): Exports--$256.8 million(1): salt, aragonite, chemicals,
lobster, fruits, vegetables. Major markets--U.S. (50%), U.K., other EU
countries, Canada. Imports--$1.1 billion: foodstuffs and manufactured
goods; vehicles and automobile parts; hotel, restaurant, and medical
supplies; and computers and electronics. Major suppliers--U.S (70%),
U.K., other EU countries, Canada.
Exchange rate: 1 Bahamian dollar=U.S.$1.
(1) Bahamas' export statistics do not include oil transshipments or the
large transactions from the Syntex pharmaceutical plant located in the
Freeport free trade zone.
PEOPLE AND HISTORY
Eighty-five percent of the Bahamian population is of African heritage.
About two-thirds of the population reside on New Providence Island (the
location of Nassau). Many ancestors arrived in the Bahama Islands when
they served as a staging area for the slave trade in the early 1800s.
Others accompanied thousands of British loyalists who fled the American
colonies during the Revolutionary War.
School attendance is compulsory between the ages of five and 14. The
government fully operates 177 of the 220 primary and secondary schools
in The Bahamas. The other 43 schools are privately operated.
Enrollment for state and private primary and secondary schools amounts
to more than 60,000 students. The College of The Bahamas, established in
Nassau in 1974, provides programs leading to bachelors and associates
degrees. The college is now converting from a two-year to a four-year
institution. Several non-Bahamian colleges also offer higher-education
programs in The Bahamas.
In 1492, Christopher Columbus made his first landfall in the Western
Hemisphere at either Samana Cay or San Salvador Island in The Bahamas.
Spanish slave traders later captured native Lucayan Indians to work in
gold mines in Hispaniola, and, within 25 years, all Lucayans perished.
In 1647, a group of English and Bermudan religious refugees, the
Eleutheran Adventurers, founded the first permanent European settlement
in The Bahamas and gave Eleuthera Island its name. Similar groups of
settlers formed governments in The Bahamas until the islands became a
British crown colony in 1717.
The first royal governor, a former pirate named Woodes Rogers, brought
law and order to The Bahamas in 1718, when he expelled the buccaneers
who had used the islands as hideouts. During the American Civil War,
The Bahamas prospered as a center of Confederate blockade-running.
After World War I, the islands served as a base for American Prohibition
rumrunners. During World War II, the Allies centered their flight
training and anti-submarine operations for the Caribbean in The Bahamas.
Since the war, The Bahamas has developed into a major tourist and
financial services center.
Bahamians achieved self-government through a series of constitutional
and political steps, attaining internal self-government in 1964 and full
independence within the Commonwealth on July 10, 1973.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
The Bahamas is an independent member of the Commonwealth of Nations. It
is a parliamentary democracy with regular elections. As a Commonwealth
country, its political and legal traditions closely follow those of the
United Kingdom. The Bahamas recognizes the British monarch as its
formal head of state, while an appointed governor-general serves as the
Queen's representative in The Bahamas. A bicameral legislature enacts
laws under the 1973 constitution.
The House of Assembly consists of 49 members, elected from individual
constituencies for five-year terms. As under the Westminster system,
the government may dissolve the parliament and call elections at any
time. The House of Assembly performs all major legislative functions.
The leader of the majority party serves as prime minister and head of
government. The cabinet consists of at least nine members, including
the prime minister and ministers of executive departments. They answer
politically to the House of Assembly.
The Senate consists of 16 members appointed by the governor-general,
including nine on the advice of the prime minister, four on the advice
of the leader of the opposition, and three on the advice of the prime
minister after consultation with the leader of the opposition. The Free
National Movement (FNM), led by Prime Minister Hubert A. Ingraham, has
governed The Bahamas since August 1992.
For decades, the white-dominated United Bahamian Party (UBP) ruled The
Bahamas, then a dependency of the United Kingdom, while a group of
influential white merchants, known as the "Bay Street Boys," dominated
the local economy. In 1953, Bahamians dissatisfied with UBP rule formed
the opposition Progressive Liberal Party (PLP). Under the leadership of
Lynden Pindling, the PLP won control of the government in 1967 and led
The Bahamas to full independence in 1973.
A coalition of PLP dissidents and former UBP members formed the FNM in
1971. Former PLP cabinet minister and member of parliament Hubert
Ingraham became leader of the FNM in 1990, upon the death of Sir Cecil
Wallace-Whitfield. Under the leadership of Ingraham, the FNM won
control of the government from the PLP in the August 1992 general
elections. The ruling FNM controls 32 seats in the House of Assembly,
while the PLP controls 17 seats and serves as the official opposition.
The governor-general appoints the chief justice of the Supreme Court on
the advice of the prime minister and the leader of the opposition. The
governor-general appoints the other justices with the advice of a
judicial commission. The Privy Council of the United Kingdom serves as
the highest appellate court.
Principal Government Officials
Governor-General--Sir Clifford Darling, KT., J.P.
Prime Minister and Minister of Finance--Hubert A. Ingraham, P.C., M.P.
Deputy Prime Minister, Attorney General, and Minister of Foreign
Affairs--Orville A. Turnquest, Q.C., LL.B., M.P.
Ambassador to the United States and to the Organization of American
States (OAS)--Timothy Baswell Donaldson
Ambassador to the United Nations--Harcourt Turnquest
The Bahamas maintains an embassy in the United States at 2220
Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-319-2660) and
consulates general at 767 Third Ave., 9th floor, New York, NY 10017
(tel. 212-421-6925/27) and at Suite 818, Ingraham Building, 25 SE Second
Ave., Miami, FL 33131 (tel. 305-373-6295/96).
The Bahamian economy is almost entirely dependent on tourism and
financial services to generate foreign exchange earnings. Tourism alone
provides an estimated 50% of the gross domestic product and employs
about half the Bahamian work force. In 1993, over 3.6 million tourists
visited The Bahamas, 81% of them from the United States.
Economic growth in The Bahamas will likely remain slow as The Bahamas
tries to recover from the decline in tourism expenditures experienced in
the late 1980s and early 1990s. Recovery is complicated by continuing
high prices, intense competition from newer tourist destinations in the
region, continuing economic uncertainties in North America, and the
continuing structural shift of Caribbean tourism toward cruise travel
(which generates considerably less income for the tourist destination
than do stopover visits). The projected opening in early 1995 of a
renovated resort complex on Paradise Island may boost the number of
stopover visitors. In an effort to increase the number of stops
available to cruise ship passengers and to spread their spending more
widely, the Bahamian Government has earmarked funds for the expansion of
harbor facilities on islands beyond New Providence to offer cruise lines
options other than the two major ports-of-call in Freeport and Nassau.
Financial services constitute the second-most important sector of the
Bahamian economy, accounting for just over 10% of GDP, due to the
country's status as a tax haven and off-shore banking center. The
Bahamas promulgated the International Business Companies (IBC) Act in
January 1990 to enhance the country's status as a leading financial
center; about 25,000 companies have been established under this act.
The act served to simplify and reduce the cost of incorporating off-
shore companies in The Bahamas.
In February 1991, the government legalized the establishment of asset
protection trusts in The Bahamas. In 1993, the government licensed more
than 400 banks and trust companies in The Bahamas.
Agriculture and industry together account for less than 10% of GDP. The
Bahamas exports lobster and some fish but does not raise these items
commercially. There is no large-scale agriculture, and most
agricultural products are consumed domestically. The Bahamas imports
over $250 million in foodstuffs per year, representing about 80% of its
food consumption. The government aims to expand food production to
reduce imports and generate foreign exchange. It actively seeks foreign
investment aimed at increasing agricultural exports, particularly
specialty food items. The government officially lists beef and pork
production and processing, fruits and nuts, dairy production, winter
vegetables, and mariculture (shrimp farming) as the areas in which it
wishes to encourage foreign investment.
The Bahamian Government maintains the value of the Bahamian dollar on a
par with the U.S. dollar. The Bahamas' proximity to the U.S. provides
access to both the U.S.-Canadian market under terms of the Caribbean
Basin Initiative and to the European Union under the Lome Convention.
The Bahamas has a few notable industrial firms, including the
pharmaceutical firm Syntex, which recently streamlined its production,
and the BORCO oil facility, also in Freeport, which transships oil in
the region. Commonwealth Brewery in Nassau produces Heineken, Guiness,
and Kalik beers. Barcardi distills rum in Nassau for shipment to the
U.S. and European markets. Other industries include sun-dried sea salt
in Great Inagua, a wet dock facility in Freeport for repair of cruise
ships, and mining of aragonite (a type of limestone with several
industrial uses) from the sea floor at Ocean Cay.
The Hawksbill Creek Agreement established a duty-free zone in Freeport,
The Bahamas' second-largest city, with a nearby industrial park to
encourage foreign industrial investment. The Bahamian parliament
approved legislation in 1993 that extended most freeport tax and duty
exemption through 2054.
The Commonwealth of The Bahamas belongs to the United Nations (UN) and
some specialized and related agencies, including Food and Agriculture
Organization (FAO), International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO),
International Labor Organization (ILO), International Monetary Fund
(IMF), International Telecommunication Union (ITU), World Bank, World
Meteorological Organization (WMO), and World Health Organization (WHO);
Organization of American States (OAS) and related agencies, including
Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Caribbean Development Bank (CDR),
and Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO); the Caribbean Community and
Common Market (CARICOM), excluding its Common Market; the International
Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL); Universal Postal Union (UPU);
and World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).
The Bahamas most often takes a unified position with the Caribbean
region on foreign affairs. As a member of CARICOM, The Bahamas strongly
backed efforts by the U.S. to implement UN Security Council Resolution
940, designed to facilitate the departure of Haiti's de facto
authorities from power. The Bahamas agreed to contribute personnel to
the Multinational Force, which restored the democratically elected
government of Haiti in October 1994.
The United States historically has had close economic and commercial
relations with The Bahamas. The two countries cooperate closely on law
enforcement, marine research, meteorology, civil aviation, maritime
safety, and agricultural issues.
The U.S. and The Bahamas cooperate extensively on counter-narcotics
efforts. Operation Bahamas and Turks and Caicos is a major interdiction
operation jointly sponsored by the U.S., The Bahamas, and the Turks and
Caicos Islands. The Bahamas receives about $750,000 in counter-
narcotics assistance from the State Department's Bureau of International
The two countries enjoy close ethnic and cultural ties, especially in
education and sports. The U.S. Navy operates an underwater research
facility near Andros Island. U.S. preclearance facilities (U.S.
Customs, Immigration, and Agriculture) for travelers to the U.S. operate
at international airports in Nassau, Paradise Island, and Freeport.
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Deputy Chief of Mission--John S. Ford
Administrative Officer--Bryan Mcintosh
Political-Economic Section Chief--James P. McAnulty
Public Affairs Officer (acting)--Mary Eileen Earl
U.S. Naval Liaison Officer--Lt. Cmdr. Michael Doles, USN
U.S. Coast Guard Liaison Officer--Lt. Cmdr. James Maes, USCG
U.S. Customs Service--Frank Mullins
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration--Richard Stuart
U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service--James Ward
The U.S. embassy is located in the Mosmar Building, Queen Street, Nassau
(tel. 809-322-1181; telex 20-138); the local postal address is P.O. Box
Return to Western Hemisphere Background Notes Archive
Return to Background Notes Archive Homepage
Return to Electronic Research Collection Homepage