Freedom in the World
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Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
In the May 2002 elections, the Free National Movement (FNM) party, which had ruled for the previous ten years, was defeated by the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP). Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham retired from politics, fulfilling a promise he had made prior to the elections. He was replaced by Perry Christie, leader of the PLP. Out of the 40 seats in the House of Assembly, the PLP won 29 seats, while the FNM received only 8. Christie and Ingraham are close personal friends and business partners, which may indicate that the new prime minister's economic and political policies are not likely to diverge much from those of his predecessor. Ingraham is credited with having improved the country's international reputation with policies that reduced money laundering and by improving counternarcotics cooperation with the United States. The Bahamas has promoted tourism and allowed the banking industry to grow; as a result the country has become one of the Caribbean's most affluent.
The Bahamas is a 700-island archipelago in the Caribbean. It gained independence in 1973 and is part of the Commonwealth. The 1973 constitution established a 49-member House of Assembly, directly elected for five years, and a 16-member appointed Senate. The prime minister appoints 9 members, the leader of the parliament opposition 4, and the governor-general 3. The assembly has been reduced in size to 40, in keeping with a campaign promise by the FNM.
Lynden Pindling served as first prime minister and head of the PLP for 25 years. After years of allegations of corruption and involvement by high officials in narcotics trafficking, Pindling was defeated by the FNM in 1992. Prime Minister Ingraham promised honesty, efficiency, and accountability in government. The FNM won 32 seats in the House of Assembly, to the PLP's 17.
In the 1997 election, Ingraham took credit for revitalizing the economy by attracting foreign investment, and his FNM received 34 seats to the PLP's 6. In April 1997, Pindling resigned as opposition leader and was replaced by Perry Christie, who had served in the PLP cabinet until he denounced government corruption in the wake of a drug probe.
Rising crime rates in the late 1990s, which undermined the early accomplishments of the Ingraham government, were linked to illegal trafficking in narcotics and gunrunning. The Ingraham administration set up a new anti-drug intelligence unit and announced plans to bring the financial sector into full compliance with international standards and practices by strengthening requirements to report suspicious and unusual transactions.
Constitutional guarantees are generally respected, including the right to organize political parties, civic organizations, and labor unions, as is the free exercise of religion. Human rights organizations have broad access to institutions and individuals. The judicial system is headed by the Supreme Court and a court of appeals, with the right of appeal under certain circumstances to the Privy Council in London. Significant progress has been reported in reducing both the length of court cases and the backlog of criminal appeals.
Violent crime is a continuing concern and was a focus of the Ingraham government. Nongovernmental organizations have documented the occasional abuse of prisoners, arbitrary arrests, and lengthy pretrial detentions. The Royal Bahamas Police Force has made progress in reducing corruption in the force, including introducing new procedures to limit unethical or illegal conduct. While the police have been recognized for their key role in regional efforts to stem the drug trade, coordination with the Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) has presented more difficulties that reflect general ambivalence about the RBDF's role in law enforcement. Violence against women is a serious and widespread problem, and child abuse and neglect remain serious.
The Ingraham administration made important efforts to relieve overcrowding of prisoners. There are persistent reports of overcrowding, and poor medical facilities are still the norm. Children continue to be housed with adults, and there have been reports of sexual abuse. The Bahamas is an accessible transit area for illegal aliens seeking entrance to the United States. The Bahamian government forcibly repatriates most asylum seekers, including Haitians and Cubans.
Daily and weekly newspapers, all privately owned, express a variety of views on public issues, as do the government-run radio station and four privately owned radio broadcasters. Opposition politicians claim that the state-run television system, the Broadcasting Corporation of the Bahamas, gives preferential coverage to the ruling party. Full freedom of expression is constrained by strict libel laws. Media laws were amended to allow for private ownership of broadcasting outlets.
Labor, business, and professional organizations are generally free from governmental interference. Unions have the right to strike, and collective bargaining is prevalent.
Discrimination against the disabled and persons of Haitian descent persists. Between 25,000 and 40,000 Haitians reside illegally in the Bahamas. Strict citizenship requirement and a stringent work permit system leave Haitians with few rights. The influx has created social tension because of the strain on government services.