Barbados | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2002

2002 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


In 2001, Prime Minister Owen Arthur appointed a woman, Mia Motley, a former education and culture minister, as attorney general. Motley, at 35, is the youngest person ever to hold the post, as well as the first woman to do so. The island-nation's hard-pressed tourism industry received a boost in early December when a British Airways Concorde flew to Barbados on the plane's first flight there since a 2000 crash in Paris caused a 16-month hiatus in service for the supersonic model. Upset over treatment of Barbadian fishermen found in disputed territory by authorities of Trinidad and Tobago, the Barbados government in December announced that it was embarking on a general review of its economic relationship with the twin-island republic.

A member of the Commonwealth, Barbados achieved independence in 1966. The British monarchy is represented by a governor-general. The government is a parliamentary democracy with a bicameral legislature and a party system based on universal adult suffrage. The senate comprises 21 members, all appointed by the governor-general: 12 on the advice of the prime minister, 2 on the advice of the leader of the opposition, and the remaining 7 at the discretion of the governor-general. A 28-member house of assembly is elected for a five-year term. Executive authority is vested in the prime minister, who is the leader of the political party commanding a majority in the house. Since independence, power has alternated between two centrist parties--the Democratic Labour Party (DLP), under Errol Barrow, and the Barbados Labor Party (BLP), under Tom Adams. Adams led the BLP from 1976 until his death in 1985. Adams was succeeded by Bernard St. John, but the BLP was defeated and Barrow returned to power in 1986. Barrow died in 1987 and was succeeded by Erskine Sandiford, who led the DLP to victory in the 1991 elections.

Under Sandiford, Barbados suffered a prolonged economic recession as revenues from sugar and tourism declined. By 1994, the economy appeared to be improving, but unemployment was still at nearly 25 percent. Sandiford's popularity suffered, and he was increasingly criticized for his authoritarian style of government. He lost a no-confidence vote in parliament when nine BLP legislators were joined by four DLP backbenchers and one independent legislator who had quit the DLP. David Thompson, the young finance minister, replaced Sandiford.

In the 1994 election campaign, Owen Arthur, an economist elected in 1993 to head the BLP, promised to build "a modern, technologically dynamic economy," create jobs, and restore investor confidence. The BLP won 19 seats; the DLP, 8; and the New Democratic Party (NDP), a disaffected offshoot of the DLP formed in 1989, won 1 seat.

Arthur combined a technocratic approach to revitalizing the economy with savvy politics. He appointed a number of promising young cabinet members and, in the run-up to the 1999 election, was able to boast that in five years, unemployment had been halved, to 12 percent. The BLP retained power in 1999 by winning 26 of 28 parliamentary seats, a rout that left Arthur firmly in control of his country's political fortune and gave him the mandate he needed to declare Barbados a republic. The feeble showing by Thompson's DLP in the elections created worries that the parliamentary opposition was in danger of withering away.

Since being returned to office, Arthur has devoted considerable attention to new crime-fighting strategies in the face of increases in the number of armed robberies and burglaries. The proposal to renounce allegiance to the queen is part of a two-year constitutional review under consideration by parliament. Among the reforms under consideration are changes in the legislative process and a proposal to allow women the same right to share their citizenship with foreign spouses that men have. In 2000, the three main political parties offered support for a plan to turn Barbados, known as "Little England" for its many colonial trappings, into a republic and replace the queen of England as head of state with a president who shares the island's majority African roots.

During the first half of 2001, economic performance appeared to be strong, a reflection of government efforts to diversify the economy by creating financial and computer services industries. However, in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, the vital tourism sector was struck hard, and local hopes hung on a boost in the winter season following the return of the Concorde in December. Following an upsurge in violent gun crimes, many linked to narcotics trafficking, joint patrols of the Royal Barbados Police Force (RBPF) and the all-volunteer Barbados Defence Force (BDF) have been initiated to patrol the island. Efforts by Arthur's government to make good on a 2000 promise to give workers more legal protection against unfair and summary dismissal was met with stiff resistance from the country's business sector, which claimed such an action could deal a serious blow to investor confidence.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Citizens can change their government through democratic elections, and the January 1999 elections were free and fair. Constitutional guarantees regarding freedom of religion and the right to organize political parties, labor unions, and civic organizations are respected. Apart from the parties holding parliamentary seats, other political organizations abound, including the small, left-wing Workers' Party of Barbados.

The judicial system is independent and includes a supreme court that encompasses a high court and a court of appeals. Lower-court officials are appointed on the advice of the Judicial and Legal Service Commission. The government provides free legal aid to the indigent. In 1992 the court of appeals outlawed the practice of the public flogging of criminals. The prison system is antiquated and overcrowded, with more than 800 inmates held in a building built for 350.

Human rights organizations operate freely, and the government allows private groups to visit prisons to ascertain conditions. The high crime rate, fueled by an increase in drug abuse and narcotics trafficking (there has been some decrease in drug-related crime recently), has given rise to human rights concerns. There are occasional reports of extrajudicial killings as well as more numerous complaints of excessive force used by the RBPF to extract confessions, along with reports that police do not always seek warrants before searching homes. A counternarcotics agreement signed between the United States and Barbados in late 1996 provides funding for the Barbados police force, the coast guard, customs, and other ministries, for a broad array of programs to combat drug-related crimes. Barbados also entered into an updated extradition treaty with the United States, as well as, in May 1997, a maritime law enforcement agreement. In 2001, new laws were enacted governing firearms, including tighter controls on ownership.

Freedom of expression is fully respected. Public opinion expressed through the news media, which are free of censorship and government control, has a powerful influence on policy. Newspapers are privately owned, and there are two major dailies. Private and government radio stations operate. The single television station, operated by the government-owned Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), presents a wide range of political viewpoints.

In 1992, a domestic violence law was passed to give police and judges greater power to protect women, although violence and abuse continue to be major social problems; however, women are represented at all levels of government and politics.

Part of the country's move to break with the British Crown has been a government effort to exalt Bajan heros at the expense of English ones, such as Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, whose statue stands in Trafalgar Square, Bridgetown. The effort has created resentment among many whites in the country. In response, Arthur appointed a 13-member National Reconciliation Committee to foster greater understanding between the majority Black and the minority Anglo communities.

There are two major labor unions and various smaller ones that are politically active. Women make up roughly half of the workforce. Violence against and abuse of women are significant social problems, and victims of sexual assaults, domestic violence, incest, and rape are often reluctant to report such incidents. Some 12,000 Barbadians--8.5 percent of the economically active population--earn less than the minimum wage of $85 a week.