U.S. Department of State 
Background Notes: Bahamas, March 1998
Released by the Bureau of Inter-American Affairs. 


Official Name: The Commonwealth of The Bahamas


PROFILE

Geography 

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. 
Climate: Semitropical. 

People 

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Bahamian(s). 
Population (1995 est.): 273,055. 
Annual growth rate: 2%. 
Ethnic groups: African 85%, European 12%, Asian and Hispanic 3%. 
Religions: Baptist predominant (35%), Roman Catholic, Anglican, 
Evangelical Protestants, Methodist, Church of God. 
Language: English; some Creole among Haitian groups. 
Education: Years compulsory--through age 16. Attendance--95%. Literacy--
93%. 
Health (1995): Infant mortality rate--19/1,000. Life expectancy--men 69 
years, women 76 years. 
Work force (1996 est.): 146,600; majority employed in the tourism, 
government, and financial services sectors. 

Government 

Type: Constitutional parliamentary democracy. 
Independence: July 10, 1973. 
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 (40-member 
elected House of Assembly, 16-member appointed Senate). Judicial--Privy 
Council in U.K., Court of Appeal, Supreme Court, and magistrates' 
courts. 
Political parties: Free National Movement (FNM), Progressive Liberal 
Party (PLP). 
Suffrage: Universal over 18; 122,939 registered voters in 1992.

Economy 

GDP (1997): $3.8 billion. 
Growth rate: 3.5%. 
Per capita GDP (1995): $11,115. 
Natural resources: Salt, aragonite, timber. 
Agriculture (1996; 4% of GDP): Products--vegetables, lobster, fish. 
Tourism (1996)--50% of GDP. Banking (1996)--15% of GDP. Manufacturing 
(1996)--3% of GDP. Products--pharmaceuticals, rum.
Trade (1996): Exports ($201.7 million*)--salt, aragonite, chemicals, 
lobster, fruits, vegetables. Major markets--U.S. (50%), U.K., other EU 
countries, Canada. Imports ($1.26 billion)--foodstuffs and manufactured 
goods; vehicles and automobile parts; hotel, restaurant, and medical 
supplies; computers and electronics. Major suppliers--U.S. (70%), U.K., 
other EU countries, Canada.
Exchange rate: Bahamian dollar 1=U.S. $1. 

*Bahamas' export statistics do not include oil transhipments or the 
large transactions from the PFC Bahamas (formerly Syntex) pharmaceutical 
plant located in the Freeport free trade zone. 

PEOPLE 

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 16. The 
government fully operates 161 of the 210 primary and secondary schools 
in The Bahamas. The other 49 schools are privately operated. Enrollment 
for state and private primary and secondary schools amounts to more than 
62,000 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. 

HISTORY 

In 1492, Christopher Columbus made his first landfall in the Western 
Hemisphere 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 rumrunners. 
During World War II, the Allies centered their flight training and anti-
submarine operations for the Caribbean in The Bahamas. Since then, 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 40 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 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. 

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 Free 
National Movement (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. Winning again in March 1997, the ruling FNM controls 
35 seats in the House of Assembly, while the PLP controls five seats and 
serves as the official opposition. 

The principal focus of the Ingraham Aministration has been economic 
development and job creation. Many of his government's policies are 
aimed at improving the image of The Bahamas and making it an attractive 
place for foreigners to invest. In 1995, for example, the government 
passed stronger measures to prevent money laundering in the country's 
banking sector. 

The FNM has made considerable progress in rebuilding the infrastructure, 
revitalizing the tourism industry, and attracting new investment to The 
Bahamas. A good start has been made to mitigate crime and provide for 
social needs. 

Remaining challenges are to privatize The Bahamas' costly, inefficient 
national corporations, provide job retraining for hundreds of workers 
who will be affected by the change, and to continue creating jobs for 
new entries in the employment market. Currently, Bahamians do not pay 
income or sales taxes. Most government revenue is derived from high 
tariffs and import fees. A major challenge for Bahamians as the next 
century approaches will be to prepare for hemispheric free trade. 
Reduction of trade barriers will probably require some form of taxation 
to replace revenues when the country becomes a part of the Free Trade 
Area of the Americas (FTAA). The advantages may be hard for the 
government to sell since The Bahamas exports so little. 

Principal Government Officials 

Governor General--Sir Orville Alton Turnquest, G.C.M.G., Q.C. 
Prime Minister--Hubert A. Ingraham, P.C., M.P. 
Deputy Prime Minister, and Minister of National Security--Frank H. 
Watson 
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Janet Bostwick 
Ambassador to the United States and to the OAS--Sir Arlington Butler 
Ambassador to the United Nations--Maurice Moore
Consul General, Miami--Franklyn Rolle 

The Bahamas maintains an embassy in the United States at 2220 
Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel: 202-319-2660) and 
Consulates General in New York at 767 Third Ave., 9th Floor, New York, 
NY 10017 (tel: 212-421-6925/27), and in Miami at Suite 818, Ingraham 
Building, 25 SE Second Ave., Miami, FL 33131 (tel: 305-373-6295/96). 

ECONOMY 

The Bahamian economy is almost entirely dependent on tourism and 
financial services to generate foreign exchange earnings. Tourism alone 
provides an estimated 60% of the gross domestic product (GDP) and 
employs about half the Bahamian work force. In 1996, over 3.4 million 
tourists visited The Bahamas, 82% of them from the United States. 

A major contribution to the recent growth in the overall Bahamian 
economy is Sun International's Atlantis Resort and Casino, which took 
over the former Paradise Island Resort and has provided a much needed 
boost to the economy. In addition, the opening of Breezes Super Club and 
Sandals Resort has also aided this turnaround. The Bahamian Government 
has also adopted a proactive approach to courting foreign investors and 
has conducted major investment missions to the Far East, Europe, Latin 
America, and Canada. The primary purpose of the trips was to restore the 
reputation of The Bahamas in these markets. 

Financial services constitute the second-most important sector of the 
Bahamian economy, accounting for up to 15% of GDP, due to the country's 
status as a tax haven and off-shore banking center. As of December 1995, 
the government had licensed 418 banks and trust companies in The 
Bahamas. The Bahamas promulgated the International Business Companies 
(IBC) Act in January 1990 to enhance the country's status as a leading 
financial center. The act served to simplify and reduce the cost of 
incorporating off-shore companies in The Bahamas. Within five years, 
more than 44,000 IBC-type companies had been established. In February 
1991, the government also legalized the establishment of Asset 
Protection Trusts 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 is a beneficiary of the U.S.-
Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI), Canada's CARIBCAN program, and the 
European Union's Lome IV Agreement. Although The Bahamas participates in 
the political aspects of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), it has not 
entered into joint economic initiatives with other Caribbean states. 

The Bahamas has a few notable industrial firms: the Freeport 
pharmaceutical firm, PFC Bahamas (formerly Syntex), which recently 
streamlined its production and was purchased by the Swiss pharmaceutical 
firm Roche; the BORCO oil facility, also in Freeport, which tranships 
oil in the region; the Commonwealth Brewery in Nassau, which produces 
Heineken, Guiness, and Kalik beers; and Bacardi Corp., which 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 Hong Kong-based firm, 
Hutchison Whampoa, has opened a container port in Freeport. The Bahamian 
parliament approved legislation in 1993 that extended most Freeport tax 
and duty exemptions through 2054. 

The Bahamas is largely an import, service economy. There are about 110 
U.S.-affiliated businesses operating in The Bahamas, and most are 
associated with tourism and banking. With few domestic resources and 
little industry, The Bahamas imports nearly all its food and 
manufactured goods from the United States. American goods and services 
tend to be favored by Bahamians due to cultural similarities and heavy 
exposure to American advertising. 

Business Environment 

The Bahamas offers attractive features to the potential investor: a 
stable democratic environment, relief from personal and corporate income 
taxes, timely repatriation of corporate profits, proximity to the U.S. 
with extensive air and telecommunications links, and a good pool of 
skilled professional workers. The Government of The Bahamas welcomes 
foreign investment in tourism and banking and has declared an interest 
in agricultural and industrial investments to generate local employment, 
particularly in white-collar or skilled jobs. Despite its interest in 
foreign investment to diversify the economy, the Bahamian Government 
responds to local concerns about foreign competition and tends to 
protect Bahamian business and labor interests. As a result of domestic 
resistance to foreign investment and high labor costs, growth can 
stagnate in sectors which the government wishes to diversify. 

The country's infrastructure is best developed in the principal cities 
of Nassau and Freeport, where there are relatively good paved roads and 
international airports. Electricity is generally reliable, although many 
businesses have their own backup generators. In Nassau, there are two 
daily newspapers, three weeklies, and several international newspapers 
available for sale. There are also five radio stations. Both Nassau and 
Freeport have a television station. Cable TV is also available locally 
and provides most American programs with some Canadian and European 
channels. 

Areas of Opportunity 

The best U.S. export opportunities remain in the traditional areas of 
foodstuffs and manufactured goods: vehicles and automobile parts; hotel, 
restaurant, and medical supplies; and computers and electronics. 
Bahamian tastes in consumer products roughly parallel those in the U.S. 
With approximately 85% of the population of primarily African descent, 
there is a large and growing market in the Bahamas for "ethnic" personal 
care products. Merchants in southern Florida have found it profitable to 
advertise in Bahamian publications. Most imports in this sector are 
subject to high but non-discriminatory tariffs. 

FOREIGN RELATIONS 

The Bahamas has strong bilateral relationships with the United States 
and the United Kingdom, represented by ambassadors in both countries. In 
addition, High Commissioners represent The Bahamas in London and Ottawa. 
The Bahamas also associates closely with other nations of the Caribbean 
Community (CARICOM). The Bahamas has diplomatic relations with Cuba, 
although not with resident ambassadors. A repatriation agreement was 
signed with Cuba in 1996, and there are commercial and cultural contacts 
between the two countries. The Commonwealth of The Bahamas became a 
member of the United Nations (UN) in 1973 and the Organization of 
American States (OAS) in 1982. 

The Bahamas holds membership in a number of international organizations: 
the 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); OAS and related agencies, including Inter-
American Development Bank (IDB), Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), and 
Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO); the Caribbean Community 
(CARICOM), excluding its Common Market; the International Criminal 
Police Organization (INTERPOL); Universal Postal Union (UPU); and World 
Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). 

U.S.-BAHAMIAN RELATIONS 

The United States historically has had close economic and commercial 
relations with The Bahamas. Both countries share ethnic and cultural 
ties, especially in education, and The Bahamas is home to 7,000 American 
residents. In addition, there are about 110 U.S.-related businesses in 
The Bahamas and, in 1996, some 82% of the 3.4 million tourists visiting 
the country were American. 

As a neighbor, The Bahamas and its political stability are especially 
important to the United States. The U.S. and the Bahamian Government 
have worked together on reducing crime and reforming the judiciary. With 
the closest island only 45 miles from the coast of Florida, The Bahamas 
often is used as a gateway for drugs and illegal aliens bound for the 
United States. The U.S. and The Bahamas cooperate closely to handle 
these threats. U.S. assistance and resources have been essential to 
Bahamian efforts to mitigate the persistent flow of illegal narcotics 
and migrants through the archipelago. The U.S. and The Bahamas also 
actively cooperate on law enforcement, civil aviation, marine research, 
meteorology, and agricultural issues. The U.S. Navy operates an 
underwater research facility on Andros Island. 

In May 1997, Prime Minister Ingraham joined 14 other Caribbean leaders 
and President Clinton 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.

The Bahamas hosts U.S. preclearance facilities (U.S. Customs, 
Immigration, and Agriculture) for travelers to the U.S. at international 
airports in Nassau, Paradise Island, and Freeport. 

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials 

Ambassador--Sidney Williams 
Deputy Chief of Mission--Pamela F. Bridgewater 
Administrative Officer--Tracey Jacobson 
Consul--Vincent Principe 
Political-Economic Section Chief--Georgia T. Wright 
Public Affairs Officer (acting)--Georgia T. Wright 
U.S. Naval Liaison Officer--Lt. Cmdr. Stephen Lilly 
U.S. Coast Guard Liaison Officer--Lt. Richard Pineiro 
U.S. Customs Service--Frank Mullin 
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration--Toni Teresi 
U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service--Thomas J. Smiley

The U.S. embassy is located at 42 Queen Street, Nassau (tel. 242-322-
1181; telex 20-138); the local postal address is P.O. Box N-8197, 
Nassau, The Bahamas. 

OTHER CONTACT INFORMATION 

U.S. Department of Commerce 
International Trade Administration
Office of Latin America and the Caribbean 
14th and Constitution, NW 
Washington, DC 20230 
Tel: 202-482-0704; 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 

TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION 

The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides 
Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets. Travel Warnings are 
issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel 
to a certain country. Consular Information Sheets exist for all 
countries and include information on immigration practices, currency 
regulations, health conditions, areas of instability, crime and 
security, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. posts in 
the country.

Public Announcements are issued as a means to disseminate information 
quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-term 
conditions overseas which pose significant risks to the security of 
American travelers. Free copies of this information are available by 
calling the Bureau of Consular Affairs at 202-647-5225 or via the fax-
on-demand system: 202-647-3000. Travel Warnings and Consular Information 
Sheets also are available on the Consular Affairs Internet home page:  
and the Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB). To access CABB, dial the 
modem number: (301-946-4400 (it will accommodate up to 33,600 bps), set 
terminal communications program to N-8-1 (no parity, 8 bits, 1 stop 
bit); and terminal emulation to VT100. The login is travel and the 
password is info (Note: Lower case is required). The CABB also carries 
international security information from the Overseas Security Advisory 
Council and Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Consular Affairs 
Trips for Travelers publication series, which contain information on 
obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad, can be purchased 
from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, 
P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954; telephone: 202-512-1800; fax 
202-512-2250.

Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be 
obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-
5225. For after-hours emergencies, Sundays and holidays, call 202-647-
4000. 

Passport Services information can be obtained by calling the 24-hour, 7-
day a week automated system ($.35 per minute) or live operators 8 a.m. 
to 8 p.m. (EST) Monday-Friday ($1.05 per minute). The number is 1-900-
225-5674 (TDD: 1-900-225-7778). Major credit card users (for a flat rate 
of $4.95) may call 1-888-362-8668 (TDD: 1-888-498-3648).

Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers 
for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 
(404) 332-4559 gives the most recent health advisories, immunization 
recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water 
safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled Health Information 
for International Travel (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is 
available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 
20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.

Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency and 
customs regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest to 
travelers also may be obtained before your departure from a country's 
embassy and/or consulates in the U.S. (for this country, see "Principal 
Government Officials" listing in this publication). 

U.S. citizens who are long-term visitors or traveling in dangerous areas 
are encouraged to register at the U.S. embassy upon arrival in a country 
(see "Principal U.S. Embassy Officials" listing in this publication). 
Registering with the embassy may help you to replace lost identity 
documents or help family members contact you in case of an emergency.

Further Electronic Information: 

Department of State Foreign Affairs Network. Available on the Internet, 
DOSFAN provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy 
information. Updated daily, DOSFAN includes Background Notes; Dispatch, 
the official magazine of U.S. foreign policy; daily press briefings; 
Country Commercial Guides; directories of key officers of foreign 
service posts; etc. DOSFAN's World Wide Web site is at 
http://www.state.gov.

U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published on an annual basis by 
the U.S. Department of State, USFAC archives information on the 
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network, and includes an array of 
official foreign policy information from 1990 to the present. Contact 
the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. 
Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-1800 or 
fax (202) 512-2250. 

National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department of 
Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related information, 
including Country Commercial Guides. It is available on the Internet 
(www.stat-usa.gov) and on CD-ROM. Call the NTDB Help-Line at (202) 482-
1986 for more information.

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