U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
BACKGROUND NOTES: BARBADOS
PUBLISHED BY THE BUREAU OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS
Official Name: Barbados
Area: 431 sq. km. (166 sq. mi.); about three times the size of
Terrain: Flat, rising to a ridge in the center.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Barbadian(s); also "Bajan(s)."
Average annual growth rate: 0.2%.
Ethnic groups: African 80%, mixed 16%, European 4%.
Religions: Anglican 70%, Roman Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, and
Education: Attendance--primary school 100%, secondary school 93%.
Health: Infant mortality rate (1993)--21/1,000. Life expectancy--73
yrs. men, 75 yrs. women.
Work force (124,800, 1992): Commerce and tourism--25%. Government--
23%. Manufacturing--11%. Agriculture and fishing--6%.
Type: Parliamentary democracy; independent sovereign state within the
Independence: November 30, 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.
Subdivisions: 11 parishes and the city of Bridgetown.
Political parties: Democratic Labor Party, Barbados Labor Party,
National Democratic Party.
Suffrage: Universal at 18.
GDP (1993): $1.64 billion.
Real GDP growth rate: 1%.
Per capita GDP: $6,200.
Average inflation rate: 1.1%.
Natural resources: Petroleum, limestone.
Agriculture (8% of GDP): Sugar accounts for 3.4% of GDP and 80% of
Industry: Manufacturing (10% of GDP)--food, beverages, textiles, paper,
chemicals, fabricated products. Services--tourism.
Trade: Exports--$194 million. Major markets--CARICOM 31%, U.K. 17%,
U.S. 13%. Imports--$704 million. Major suppliers--U.S. 34%, European
Union 19% (U.K. accounts for 11% of all suppliers), CARICOM 16%, Japan
Official exchange rate: U.S. $1=BDS $2.
Barbados' population is about 80% African descent, 4% European descent,
and 16% mixed. About 70% 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 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
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; the slave trade ceased a
few years before the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire
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 five-
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, two with the advice
of the leader of the opposition, and seven at the governor general's
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. Barbados' defense expenditures account for about
2.5% of the government budget.
The three political parties--the Barbados Labor Party (BLP), the
Democratic Labor Party (DLP), and the National Democratic Party (NDP)--
all are moderate and have no real 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 small industry, and promoting tourism.
In parliamentary elections held on September 6, 1994, the BLP won a
decisive victory over the outgoing DLP and the government of Erskine
Sandiford. The BLP won 19 seats to the DLP's eight; one seat went to
the NDP. The new Prime Minister, 44-year-old economist Owen Arthur, has
brought new faces and new economic theories to his government.
Principal Government Officials
Head of State--Queen Elizabeth II
Governor General--Dame Nita Barrow
Prime Minister--Owen Arthur
Ambassador to the U.S. 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 City at 800 2nd Avenue, 18th floor, New
York, NY 10017 (tel. 212-867-8435).
After three years of steady decline brought on by fundamental macro-
economic imbalances that had begun to emerge in the 1980s, Barbados in
1993 experienced a real growth rate of nearly 1%. This trend continued
into the first half of 1994, with an increase in GDP of 3.8%. Most of
the growth was in the domestic sector--with the exception of tourism
revenues, which grew at an estimated 14%. The number of visitors from
the U.S. declined slightly but still constituted the largest share (29%)
of that market.
Contributing to this improved economic picture were stringent measures
taken in 1991-93 under a significant, albeit not yet completed,
International Monetary Fund (IMF) structural adjustment program. In
addition, a tripartite social compact among government, labor, and the
private sector in 1993 served to stabilize prices and wages, holding
inflation to an estimated 1.1%.
The exchange rate was steady at U.S. $1=BDS $2. As Barbados made a
concerted effort to increase debt payments, its foreign debt declined
for the third year in a row. The national debt, though, increased by
18% to $1.13 billion at the end of 1993, as a greater share of public
expenditure was financed locally.
Traditionally, sugar was Barbados' largest industry, but in recent
years, tourism and light industry have overtaken it. Sugar production
declined for the third consecutive year in 1993--to 48,500 metric tons--
as new management was brought in to reverse the trend. Estimates for
the 1994 crop are 50,000 metric tons. Export earnings from sugar--all
is sold to the U.K.--fell by 15% to $28.4 million.
Unemployment increased to 25% at the end of 1993, making job creation a
central issue in the political campaign of 1994.
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 its 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 and the Association of Caribbean States
(ACS) on July 25, 1994.
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 13 members. Barbados is
also a member of the Caribbean Development Bank, established in 1970
with headquarters in Bridgetown.
As a member of CARICOM, Barbados strongly backed efforts by the United
States to implement UN Security Council Resolution 940, designed to
facilitate the departure of Haiti's de facto authorities from power.
The country agreed to contribute personnel to the Multinational Force,
which restored the democratically elected Government of Haiti in October
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, Cuba, Canada,
Columbia, Costa Rica, China, 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.
As a relatively high-income country, Barbados receives only limited
economic assistance from the United States. The U.S. supports economic
development programs regionally that benefit Barbados and encourages
full participation in the Caribbean Basin and Enterprise for the
Americas Initiatives. The CARICOM nations, including Barbados, have
signed a framework agreement with the United States to promote trade and
investment in the region.
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--Jeanette W. Hyde
Deputy Chief of Mission--Tain P. Tompkins
Political/Economic Counselor--Thomas R. Hutson
Consul General--Dale Shaffer
Regional Labor Attache--Peggy Zabriskie
Economic-Commercial Officer--Carole Jackson
Public Affairs Officer--Tyrone Kemp
USAID Regional Director--Mosina Jordan
Peace Corps Director--James Scanlon (resident in St. Lucia)
The U.S. embassy in Barbados is located in the Canadian Imperial
Bank of Commerce Building, Broad Street, Bridgetown (tel: 809-436-4950;
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