U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Bermuda, May 1996
Released by the Bureau of Public Affairs
Official Name: Bermuda
Area: 58.8 sq. km. (22.7 sq. mi.).
Cities: Capital--Hamilton (pop. 1,100). Other city--St. George (pop.
Terrain: Hilly islands.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Bermudian(s).
Annual growth rate: 0.7%.
Ethnic groups: Black 58%, white 36%, other 6%.
Religions: Non-Anglican Protestant 39%, Anglican 27%, Roman
Catholic 15%, other 19%.
Education: Years compulsory--to age 16. There is no formal measure
Health: Infant mortality rate--10/1,000. Life expectancy--men 70 yrs.,
women 78 yrs.
Work force: Clerical--23.5%. Services--23%. Laborers--18%.
Professional and technical--14.5%. Administrative and managerial--
11.5%. Sales--7%. Agriculture and fishing--2.5%.
Type: Parliamentary British colony with internal self-government since
Constitution: June 8, 1968; amended 1989.
Branches: Executive--British monarch (chief of state, represented by a
governor). Legislative--Senate (upper house), House of Assembly
(lower house). Judicial--Supreme Court.
Subdivisions: Nine parishes.
Political parties: United Bermuda Party (UBP), Progressive Labor
Party (PLP), National Liberal Party (NLP).
Suffrage: Universal at 18.
GDP: $1.8 billion; 34% of GDP comes from tourism and 28% from
GDP growth rate: 2.4%.
Per capita GDP: $26,600.
Inflation rate: 2.5%.
Natural resource: Limestone, used primarily for building.
Agriculture: Products--semitropical produce, dairy products, flowers.
Industry: Types--finance, insurance, structural concrete products,
paints, perfumes, furniture.
Trade: Exports (includes re-exports)--$35 million: semitropical
produce, light manufactures. Imports--$535 million: chemicals, food
and live animals, machinery/transport, miscellaneous manufactures.
Major suppliers--U.S. 70%, U.K. 7%, Canada 4%, Caribbean countries
4% (mostly oil from Netherlands Antilles).
Official exchange rate: Bermuda $1= U.S.$1.
Because Bermuda is a British colony, U.S. policy toward the United
Kingdom is the basis of U.S.-Bermudian relations. In the early 20th
century, as modern transportation and communication systems
developed, Bermuda became a popular destination for wealthy U.S.,
British, and Canadian tourists. In addition, the tariff enacted by the
U.S. against its trading partners in 1930 cut off Bermuda's once-
thriving agricultural export trade--primarily fresh vegetables to the
United States--and helped spur the colony to develop its tourist
industry, which has grown to become its principal economic asset.
During World War II, Bermuda became important as a military base
because of its location in the Atlantic Ocean. In 1941, the United
signed a lend-lease agreement with the United Kingdom giving the
British surplus U.S. Navy destroyers in exchange for 99-year lease
rights to establish naval and air bases in Bermuda.
The bases consisted of 5.8 square kilometers (2.25 sq. mi.) of land
largely reclaimed from the sea. The U.S. Naval Air Station was on St.
David's Island, while the U.S. Naval Air Station Annex was at the
western end of the island in the Great Sound. Effective September 1,
1995, both bases were closed and the land returned to the Government
of Bermuda. Only a tracking facility of the National Aeronautics and
Space Administration (NASA) remains in Bermuda, at Copper's Island
in St. David's.
An estimated 3,000 U.S. citizens lived in Bermuda in 1991, but that
figure has been substantially reduced following the 1995 closure of the
U.S. military bases there. Nearly 350,000 American tourists visited
Bermuda in 1995.
In 1994, some 70% of Bermuda's imports came from the United States.
Bermuda has heavy import duties, but no income, sales, or profit taxes;
there is a small real estate tax. Foreign, including U.S.-owned,
companies are exempt from Bermuda's stringent ownership and
employment regulations. Areas of opportunity for U.S. investment are
principally in the re-insurance and financial services industries,
although the former U.S. base lands also may present long-term
Principal U.S. Officials
Consul General--Robert A. Farmer
Director, NASA--Steven Stompf
Customs Officer--Robert Colbert
USINS Officer--Pat Moore
Agricultural Officer--Alexis Agostini
The U.S. consulate general is located at "Crown Hill," 16 Middle Road,
Devonshire, just outside Hamilton; tel: 441-295-1342; fax: 441-295-
Bermuda is an archipelago consisting of seven main islands and many
smaller islands and islets lying about 1,050 kilometers (650 mi.) east
of North Carolina. The main islands--with hilly terrain and subtropical
climate--are clustered together and connected by bridges; they are
considered to be a geographic unit and are referred to as the Island of
Bermuda was discovered in 1503 by a Spanish explorer, Juan de
Bermudez, who made no attempt to land because of the treacherous
reef surrounding the uninhabited islands. In 1609, a group of British
colonists led by Sir George Somers was shipwrecked and stranded on
the islands for 10 months.
Their reports aroused great interest about the islands in England, and
in 1612 King James extended the Charter of the Virginia Company to
include them. Later that year, about 60 British colonists arrived and
founded the town of St. George, the oldest continuously inhabited
English-speaking settlement in the Western Hemisphere.
Representative government was introduced to Bermuda in 1620, and it
became a self-governing colony.
Due to the islands' isolation, for many years Bermuda remained an
outpost of 17th-century British civilization, with an economy based on
the use of the islands' cedar trees for shipbuilding and the salt trade.
Hamilton, a centrally located port founded in 1790, became the seat of
government in 1815.
Slaves from Africa were brought to Bermuda soon after the colony was
established. The slave trade was outlawed in Bermuda in 1807, and all
slaves were freed in 1834. Today, about 60% of Bermudians are of
In the early 20th century, Bermuda's tourism industry began to develop
and thrive; Bermuda has prospered economically since World War II.
Internal self-government was bolstered by the establishment of a
formal constitution in 1968; debate about independence has ensued,
although a 1995 independence referendum was defeated.
Bermuda has enjoyed steady economic prosperity since the end of
World War II. Most Bermudians derive their livelihood, directly or
indirectly, from tourism. In 1994, more than 588,000 tourists--of whom
nearly 60% were from the United States--contributed an estimated
$524 million to the economy. A further source of foreign exchange for
Bermuda is the roughly 1,700 foreign companies there, many U.S.-
Bermuda has little in the way of exports or manufactures. Between
them, tourism and international companies account for more than 60%
of GDP. Job opportunities in these sectors plus retailing ensure
minimal unemployment (4.5% in late 1994), and many Bermudians
hold more than one job.
In 1991, about 25% of workers were union members. The influence of
unions extends beyond their membership because, under the Agency-
Shop Act, a majority of a company's employees may vote to have a
union represent them without a majority of the employees being union
members. The major companies have union contracts. The Bermuda
Industrial Union, Bermuda's largest labor organization, is an affiliate
of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.
Because of a lack of domestic production, almost all manufactured
goods and foodstuffs must be imported. Excluding imports into the
small free port--which are subsequently re-exported--1994 imports
were $551 million, up from $535 million in 1993. Imports from the
U.S. in 1994 were about $400 million. The United Kingdom, Canada,
and the Caribbean countries (mostly the Netherlands Antilles) also
were major trading partners. Exports amounted to just over $35 million
in 1993; revenue from tourism and other expenditures by foreigners
more than offset imports.
In fiscal year 1994, the government obtained slightly more than $128
million, or about 34% of its revenue, from import duties. As noted,
although it imposes no income, sales, or profit taxes, a small real
estate tax is levied. Heavy import duties are reflected in retail prices, which
by 1994 had risen by almost 50% since 1984 and by 150% since 1978.
Even though import duties remain high, wages have kept up with the
cost of living, and poverty--by U.S. standards--appears to be
In addition to resident Americans, nearly 4,800 immigrants from the
British Isles live in Bermuda, along with some 1,500 people from the
British Commonwealth Caribbean nations, about 1,600 from Canada,
and more than 2,100 from Portugal and the Azores. Of the total 1991
population, about 73% were born in Bermuda and 27% were foreign-
In February 1970, Bermuda converted from its former currency, the
pound, to a decimal currency of dollars pegged to the U.S. dollar.
Bermuda has 140 miles of private paved roads; 136 miles of public
paved roads; 25 miles of historic, unpaved railroad trail, used as
scenic trails; three ports, including the former U.S. Naval Air Station and
Naval Air Station Annex; and one airport, located at the former U.S.
Naval Air Station. It has seven radio stations, three television
stations, and a small cable microwave system.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
Bermuda is the oldest self-governing colony in the British
Commonwealth and has a great degree of internal autonomy. Its 1968
constitution provided the island with formal responsibility for internal
self-government, while the British Government retained responsibility
for external affairs, defense, and security. The Bermudian Government
is always consulted on any international negotiations affecting the
colony. Bermuda participates, through British delegations, in the UN
and some of its specialized and related agencies.
Queen Elizabeth II is chief of state and is represented in Bermuda by a
governor, whom she appoints. Internally, Bermuda has a parliamentary
system of government.
The premier is head of government and leader of the majority party in
the House of Assembly. The cabinet is composed of 14 members
selected by the premier from among members of the House of
Assembly and the Senate.
The 40-member House is elected from 20 electoral districts (two
representatives from each district) for a term not to exceed five years.
The Senate, or reviewing house, serves concurrently with the House
and has 11 members--five appointed by the governor in consultation
with the premier, three by the opposition leader, and three at the
The judiciary is composed of a chief justice and associate judges
appointed by the governor. For administrative purposes, Bermuda is
divided into nine parishes, with Hamilton and St. George considered
Bermuda's first political party, the Progressive Labor Party (PLP), was
formed in May 1963 with predominantly black adherents. In 1965, the
two-party system was launched with the formation of the United
Bermuda Party (UBP), which had the support of the majority of white
voters and of some blacks. A third party, the Bermuda Democratic
Party (BDP), was formed in the summer of 1967 with a splinter group
from the PLP as a nucleus; it disbanded in 1970. It was later replaced
by the National Liberal Party (NLP).
Bermuda's first election held on the basis of universal adult suffrage
and equal voting took place on May 22, 1968; previously, the franchise
had been limited to property owners. In the 1968 election, the UBP
won 30 House of Assembly seats, while the PLP won 10 and the BDP
lost the three seats it had previously held. In the elections of 1972,
1976, and 1980, the UBP continued to maintain control of the
government, although by decreasing margins in the Assembly.
Unsatisfied aspirations, particularly among young blacks, led to a brief
civil disturbance in December 1977, following the execution of two
men found guilty of the 1972-73 assassinations of Governor Sir
Richard Sharples and four others. In the 1980s, the increasing
prosperity of Bermudians, combined with limited land area, caused
severe pressure in housing. Despite a general strike in 1981 and poor
economic conditions worldwide during 1981-83, Bermuda's social,
political, and economic institutions showed resilience and stability.
John Swan replaced David Gibbons as premier in January 1982. The
1983 election issues centered on housing and social problems and
Swan's leadership. The UBP reversed the trend of prior elections,
increasing its majority in the House. In the October 1985 election, the
UBP again increased its majority; 1989 saw a sharp increase in PLP
power, although the UBP still dominated. In the most recent elections
in 1993, the UBP retained its 22 seats, while the NLP and independents
combined with the PLP for 18 seats.
Bermuda's positive experience with internal self-government has led to
discussions of possible complete independence or a more flexible type
of association. However, an independence referendum held in the
summer of 1995 was resoundingly defeated, due primarily to division
within the UBP and to the boycott called by the opposition PLP.
Premier and UBP leader John Swan was the major casualty of the
referendum, as he fulfilled his promise to resign should the referendum
Following Swan's resignation, David Saul was elected by UBP
members as the new party leader and premier. The opposition PLP has
put the island on notice that independence continues to be a major
priority on its agenda. Bermuda's current government can be
characterized as politically moderate and fiscally conservative.
Principal Government Officials
Chief of State--Queen Elizabeth II
Bermuda's interests in the United States are represented by the United
Kingdom, whose embassy is at 3100 Massachusetts Avenue, NW,
Washington, DC 20008; tel: 202-462-1340; fax: 202-898-4255.
The Bermudian Government's Department of Tourism has offices in
New York, Atlanta, Chicago, and Boston.
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
crime and security, political disturbances, and the addresses of the
posts in the subject country. They can be obtained by telephone at
(202) 647-5225 or by fax at (202) 647-3000. To access the Consular
Affairs Bulletin Board by computer, dial (202) 647-9225, via a modem
with standard settings. Bureau of Consular Affairs' publications on
obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad are available from
the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office,
Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may
be obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202)
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, price $14.00) 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).
Upon their arrival in a country, U.S. citizens are encouraged to
register at the U.S. embassy (see "Principal U.S. Officials" listing in this
publication). This may help family members contact you in case of an
Further Electronic Information:
Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB). Available by modem, the
CABB provides Consular Information Sheets, Travel Warnings, and
helpful information for travelers. Access at (202) 647-9225 is free of
charge to anyone with a personal computer, modem,
telecommunications software, and a telephone line.
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 weekly magazine of U.S.
foreign policy; daily press briefings; directories of key officers of
foreign service posts; etc. DOSFAN's World Wide Web site is at
http://www.state.gov; this site has a link to the DOSFAN Gopher
Research Collection, which also is accessible at
U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published on a quarterly
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.
Priced at $80 ($100 foreign), one-year subscriptions include four discs
(MSDOS and Macintosh compatible) and are available from the
Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O.
Box 37194, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-1800
or fax (202) 512-2250.
Federal Bulletin Board (BBS). A broad range of foreign policy
information also is carried on the BBS, operated by the U.S.
Government Printing Office (GPO). By modem, dial (202) 512-1387.
For general BBS information, call (202) 512-1530.
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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