Background Note: Barbados

PA Source: Office of Public Communication, Bureau of Public Affairs Description: Historical, Political and Economic Overviews of the Countries of the World Date: Jan, 15 19931/15/93 Category: Country Data Region: Caribbean Country: Barbados Subject: Travel, History, International Organizations, Trade/Economics, Military Affairs, Cultural Exchange, State Department [TEXT]

Official Name:



431 sq. km. (166 sq. mi.); about three times the size of Washington, DC.
Flat, rising to a ridge in the center.
Noun and adjective--Barbadian(s); also "Bajan(s)".
Population (1992):
Avg. annual growth rate:
Ethnic groups:
African 80%, mixed 16%, European 4%.
Anglican 70%, Roman Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, and Moravian.
Attendance--primary school 100%, secondary school 93%. Adult literacy--99%.
Health (1992):
Infant mortality rate--9/1,000. Life expectancy--73 yrs. men, 75 yrs. women.
Work force (124,800, 1992):
Commerce and tourism--25%. Government--23%. Manufacturing--11%. Agriculture ∧ fishing--6%.
Parliamentary democracy; independent sovereign state within the Commonwealth.
November 30, 1966. Constitution: 1966.
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.
11 parishes and the city of Bridgetown.
Political parties:
Democratic Labor Party (incumbent), Barbados Labor Party (official opposition), National Democratic Party (opposition).
About 2.5% of budget.
Three vertical bands (blue, yellow, blue) with a broken trident in the center.
GDP (1992):
$1.7 billion.
Real GDP growth rate:
Per capita
GDP: $6,500.
Average inflation rate:
Unemployment rate (1992):
Natural resources:
Petroleum, limestone.
Agriculture (8% of GDP):
Sugar accounts for 3.4% of GDP and 80% of arable land.
Industry (10% of GDP):
Manufacturing--food, beverages, textiles, paper, chemicals, fabricated products.
Exports--$194 million. Major markets--CARICOM 31%, UK 17%, US 13%. Imports--$704 million. Major suppliers--US 34%, European Economic Community 19% (UK accounts for 11% of all suppliers), CARICOM 16%, Japan 3%.
Official exchange rate:


Barbados' population is about 80% African, 4% European, and 16% mixed. About 70% of Barbadians are Anglican, and the rest mostly Roman Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, and Moravian. There are also small Jewish and Muslim communities. Barbados' population growth rate has been very low--under 1% since the 1960s, largely through family planning efforts and a high emigration rate.


British sailors who landed on Barbados at the site of present-day Holetown in 1624 or 1625 found it uninhabited. Arawak Indians may have been native to the island but were later annihilated, apparently by marauding 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 under uninterrupted British control. 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. To work these plantations, slaves were brought from Africa, until the slave trade ceased a few years before the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire in 1834. Local politics were dominated by a group of British plantation owners and merchants. It was not until the 1930s that a movement for political rights was begun by the descendants of emancipated slaves. 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 universal adult suffrage was introduced. 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 British crown. Control of the government rests with the cabinet, headed by the prime minister, which is responsible to the parliament. The bicameral parliament consists of the House of Assembly and Senate. The 28 members of the House are elected by universal suffrage to 5-year terms. Elections may be called at any time it wishes to seek a new mandate or if the government suffers a vote of no confidence in parliament. The Senate's 21 members are appointed by the governor general--12 with the advice of the prime minister, 2 with the advice of the leader of the opposition, and 7 at the governor general's discretion. 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, 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. There is no local government--all divisions are administered by the central government.


The main political parties of Barbados have traditionally been the Barbados Labor Party (BLP) and the Democratic Labor Party (DLP). In 1989, finance minister Dr. Richie Haynes resigned from the governing party along with three fellow DLP parliamentarians. They formed a new political party--the National Democratic Party (NDP). In the 1991 general elections, Erskine Sandiford and the DLP retained power, winning 18 of 28 seats in the House of Assembly. The NDP failed to win any seats. The three political parties--BLP, DLP, and NDP--are all moderate and have no real ideological differences. As such, electoral contests and political disputes often have personal overtones. The major political problems facing Barbados today are promoting economic growth, reestablishing an healthy balance-of-payments, encouraging agricultural diversification, attracting small industry, and promoting tourism.
Principal Government Officials
Head of State--Queen Elizabeth II Governor General--Dame Nita Barrow Prime Minister--Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Ambassador to the US and the OAS--Dr. Rudi Webster Ambassador to the UN--Besley Maycock Barbados maintains an embassy in the United States located at 2144 Wyoming Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20008, tel. 202-939-9200, and a Consulate General in New York at 800 2nd Avenue, 18th floor, New York, NY 10017, tel. 212-867-8435.


The Barbadian economy is currently experiencing its most difficult post-independence challenge, with GDP declining 4% in 1991 and 4% in 1992. Fundamental macroeconomic imbalances began to emerge in the economy during the 1980s as Barbados' external competitiveness weakened due to policies that maintained high real exchange rates, high domestic costs, and a trade regime biased in favor of import substitution. As a consequence, exports declined, the trade deficit soared ($493 million in 1990), and investment contracted. Sugar continued its slide, and tourism, long the most dynamic sector of the economy, declined. The fiscal deficit, adversely affected by the decline in economic activity, was further aggravated by a rapid escalation of government expenditure in 1990. The fiscal deficit combined with a high external debt load and falling exports to reduce foreign exchange reserves drastically. By 1991, the key performance indicators--fiscal deficit, foreign exchange reserves, and central bank lending to the government--were at crisis levels, forcing the government to go to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for relief. The government has undertaken an IMF-sponsored structural adjustment program intended to reverse the internal and external imbalances by implementing measures to increase taxes, cut public expenditures, and curb private demand through higher interest rates and restrictive credit. Traditionally, sugar was Barbados' largest industry, but in recent years tourism and light industry have overtaken it in importance both as foreign exchange earners and as employers. Barbados' topographical features and climate are ideally suited for tourism. The infrastructure and services that support tourism (road transportation network, international airport, communications, health services, and banking services) are among the best in the Caribbean. While tourism accounted for 11% of GDP in 1990, its importance is even greater if its links to other sectors of the economy are considered. Nevertheless, tourism has softened over the last 2 years due to stiffer Caribbean competition from other islands, and international political and economic events. In 1992, there were 385,470 stayover visitors (116,000 from the US) from the previous year. Although annual sugar production sometimes exceeded 180,000 metric tons during the postwar period, it had dropped to a record low of 54,000 metric tons by 1992. Efforts to diversify agricultural production have had limited success because sugar receives high government subsidies and over 80% of the arable land is controlled by sugar interests. Manufacturing had become a significant sector of the economy by the mid-1980s, but has since declined, accounting for about the same level of GDP (8%) in 1990 as in 1960.


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 all Commonwealth activities. Barbados was admitted to the United Nations in December 1966. Wishing to participate fully in the inter-American system, it 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 Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM). In May 1974, most of the remaining English-speaking Caribbean states joined CARICOM, which now has 13 members. Barbados is also a member of the Caribbean Development Bank, established in 1970 with headquarters in Bridgetown. Barbados has diplomatic missions headed by resident ambassadors or high commissioners in Canada, European Economic Community (Brussels), UN, UK, US, and Venezuela. It also has resident Consuls General in Toronto and New York. Brazil, Canada, Columbia, Costa Rica, China, UK, US, 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 US Government has been represented on Barbados since 1824. The United States supports Barbados' efforts to achieve economic growth and social betterment. It seeks Barbados' understanding of US policies and support for US objectives in international organizations. As a relatively high-income country, Barbados receives only limited economic assistance from the United States. The US supports economic development programs regionally which benefit Barbados and encourages participation fully in the Caribbean Basin and Enterprise for the Americas initiatives. The CARICOM Nations, of which Barbados is one, have signed a framework agreement with the United States to promote trade and investment under the Enterprise for the Americas Initiative.
Principal US Officials
Ambassador--G. Philip Hughes Deputy Chief of Mission--Tain P. Tompkins Political/Economic Counselor--Thomas R. Hutson Consul General--Thomas E. Cairns Regional Labor Attaches--Raymond Brown Public Affairs Officer--Gerald Waters Director, United States Agency for International Development-- Mosina Jordan The US Embassy in Barbados is located in the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce Building, Broad Street, Bridgetown (tel. 809-436- 4950).


Visas, duty, and currency:
US citizens do not require passports and visas, but must present proof of citizenship (usually an original birth certificate and photo I.D.).
Medical and sanitation facilities and supplies are good. Travelers should check latest information.


Published by the United States Department of State -- Bureau of Public Affairs -- Office of Public Communication -- Washington, DC -- January 1993 -- Managing Editor: Peter A. Knecht -- Editor: Josephine C> Brooks Department of State Publication 8242 Background Notes Series -- This material is in the public domain and may be reprinted without permission; citation of this source is appreciated. For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, US Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402. (###)