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

Official Name:  Barbados



Area: 431 sq. km. (166 sq. mi.); about three times the size of 
Washington, DC.
Cities: Capital--Bridgetown.
Terrain: Generally flat, hilly in the interior.
Climate: Tropical.


Nationality: Noun and adjective--Barbadian(s); also "Bajan(s)." 
Population (1996): 264,500.
Average annual growth rate (1996): 0.4%.
Ethnic groups: African 80%, mixed 16%, European 4%.
Religions: Anglican 70%, Roman Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, and 
Language: English.
Education: Attendance--primary school 100%, secondary school 93%.  Adult 
Health: Infant mortality rate (1995)--13/1,000. Life expectancy--75 yrs. 
men; 77 yrs. women.
Work force (1995): 136,000. Sectors--commerce, tourism, government, 
manufacturing, agriculture, and fishing.
Unemployment (1995): 19.7%.


Type: Parliamentary democracy; independent sovereign state within the 
Independence: November 30, 1966.
Constitution: 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 in 
Subdivisions: 11 parishes and the city of Bridgetown.
Political parties: Barbados Labor Party (BLP, incumbent), Democratic 
Labor Party (DLP), National Democratic Party (NDP).
Suffrage: Universal at 18.


GDP (1996): $1.99 billion.
GDP growth rate (1996): 5.2%.
Per capita GDP (1996): $7,538.
Average inflation rate (1996): 2.4%.
Natural resources: Petroleum, fishing, natural gas.
Agriculture (6.1% of GDP): Sugar accounts for 3.4% of GDP and 80% of 
arable land.
Industry: Manufacturing (6.1% of GDP)--food, beverages, textiles, paper, 
chemicals, fabricated products. 
Services: Tourism, banking and other financial services, Informatics 
(data processing). 
Trade (1995):  Exports--$286 million. Major markets--CARICOM 34%, U.K. 
21%, U.S. 18%. Imports--$743 million. Major suppliers--U.S. 40%, 
European Union 16% (U.K. accounts for 9% of all suppliers), CARICOM 19%.
Official exchange rate: Barbados dollars (BDS) 2=U.S. $1. 


About 80% of Barbados' population is of  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 in the 1620s at the site of 
present-day Holetown on the Caribbean coast found the island 
uninhabited. As elsewhere in the eastern Caribbean, Arawak Indians may 
have been annihilated by invading 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 which replaced the 
small holdings of the early British settlers. Some of the displaced 
farmers relocated to British colonies in North America. To work the 
plantations, slaves were brought from Africa; the slave trade ceased a 
few years before the abolition of slavery throughout the British empire 
in 1834.

Local politics were dominated by plantation owners and merchants of 
British descent. 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 monarch. Control 
of the government rests with the cabinet, headed by the prime minister 
and 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 the government 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 in 
London, 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 for 
administrative purposes. There is no local 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)--
are all moderate and have no major 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 September 6, 1994, the BLP won a 
decisive victory over the DLP of former Prime Minister Erskine 
Sandiford. The BLP won 19 seats to the DLP's eight; one seat went to the 
NDP. The new Prime Minister, Owen Arthur, who also serves as Minister of 
Finance, has given a high priority to economic development. The main 
opposition party, the DLP, is led by David Thompson.

Principal Government Officials

Head of State--Queen Elizabeth II
Governor General--Sir Clifford Straughn Husbands
Prime Minister--Owen Arthur
Ambassador to the U.S. and the OAS--Dr. Courtney Blackman
Ambassador to the UN--Carlston Boucher

Barbados maintains an embassy in the United States located at 2144 
Wyoming Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-939-9200), a 
consulate general in New York City at 800 2nd Avenue, 18th Floor, New 
York, NY 10017 (tel. 212-867-8435), and a consulate general in Miami at 
150 Alhambra Circle, Suite 1270, Coral Gables, FL 33134 (tel. 305-442-


Since independence, Barbados has transformed itself from a low-income 
economy dependent upon sugar production to a middle-income economy based 
on tourism. The economy went into a deep recession in 1990 after three 
years of steady decline brought on by fundamental macro-economic 
imbalances. After a painful readjustment process, the economy began to 
grow again in 1993. Growth rates have averaged between 3-5% since then.

The main factors responsible for the improvement in economic activity 
include an expansion in the number of tourist arrivals, an increase in 
manufacturing, and an increase in sugar production. Recently, offshore 
banking and financial services have also become an important source of 
foreign exchange and economic growth.

Economic growth has led to net increases in employment in the tourism 
sector, as well as in construction and other services sub-sectors of the 
economy. The public service remains Barbados' largest single employer. 
Although the total labor force increased from 126,000 in 1993 to over 
136,000 in 1996, unemployment fell from 21.5% at the height of the 
recession to an estimated 14% at the end of 1996. The exchange rate 
remains steady at U.S. $1=BDS $2.


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 its activities. Barbados was 
admitted to the United Nations in December 1966. Barbados 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 the Caribbean Community and Common 
Market (CARICOM). In May 1974, most of the remaining English-speaking 
Caribbean states joined CARICOM, which now has 14 members. Barbados is 
also a member of the Caribbean Development Bank, established in 1970, 
with headquarters in Bridgetown. The eastern Caribbean's Regional 
Security System, which associates Barbados with six other island 
nations, is also headquartered in Barbados. In July 1994, Barbados 
joined the newly established Association of Caribbean States (ACS).

As a member of CARICOM, Barbados supported 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 1994.

In May 1997, Prime Minister Owen Arthur hosted President Clinton and 14 
other Caribbean leaders 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.

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. Australia, Brazil, Cuba, 
Canada, Colombia, China, Guatemala, 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. From 1956 to 1978, the U.S. operated a naval 
facility in Barbados.

The U.S. and Barbados have had friendly bilateral relations since 
Barbados' independence in 1966. The U.S. has supported the government's 
efforts to expand the country's economic base and to provide a higher 
standard of living for its citizens. Barbados is a beneficiary of the 
U.S. Caribbean Basin Initiative. In recent years, U.S. assistance has 
been channeled primarily through multilateral agencies such as the 
Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank.

Barbados also receives counter-narcotics assistance and is the 
beneficiary of the U.S. military's exercise-related and humanitarian 
assistance construction program.

Barbados and U.S. authorities cooperate closely in the fight against 
narcotics trafficking and other forms of transnational crime. In 1996, 
the U.S. and Barbados signed a mutual legal assistance treaty (MLAT) and 
an updated extradition treaty covering all common offenses, including 
conspiracy and organized crime. A maritime law enforcement agreement was 
signed in 1997.

A popular tourist destination, Barbados had more than 111,700 U.S. 
visitors in 1996. In addition, Barbados had nearly 510,000 cruise ship 
passenger arrivals, the majority of whom were U.S. citizens. 
Approximately 3,000 Americans reside in the country.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials

Charge d'Affaires--Donald K. Holm
Political/Economic Counselor--Stephen R. Snow
Consul General--Philip M. Jones
Defense Attache--Lt. Col. Donald Robinson
Regional Labor Attache--Peggy Zabriskie
Economic/Commercial Officer--Leo Gallagher
Public Affairs Officer--Jennifer Clark
Peace Corps Director--David Styles (resident in St. Lucia)

The U.S. embassy in Barbados is located in the Canadian Imperial Bank of 
Commerce Building, Broad Street, Bridgetown (tel: 246-436-4950; fax: 

Other Contact Information:

U.S. Department of Commerce
International Trade Administration
Office of Latin America and the Caribbean
14th & Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20230
Tel: 202-482-1658, 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


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: 
http://travel.state.gov 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-

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). 
This may 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 

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. 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. 

[end of document]
Return to Western Hemisphere Background Notes Archive
Return to Background Notes Archive Homepage
Return to Electronic Research Collection Homepage