Freedom in the World
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Barbados has not escaped the increase in crime experienced by much of the Caribbean region. In October 2002 Attorney General Mia Mottley announced that a National Commission on Law and Order would be set up to reduce lawlessness. In dealing with issues that have threatened the island's vital tourism industry, the commission will address legislative reform, law enforcement, the administration of justice, and penal reform. As part of an effort to reduce the backlog of several thousand legal cases, four judges and two magistrates will also be appointed. Mottley also strongly voiced reservations about the Inter-American Convention on Corruption, claiming that it did not sufficiently regulate private sector corruption. Prime Minister Owen Arthur appointed Mottley, who at 35 is the youngest person, as well as the first woman, to hold the post, in 2001. The economy is under continued pressure from the dual onslaught of a fall in tourism following the terrorist attacks of September 2001 and the reduced demand of its traditional export of sugar due to the downturn of the global economy.
Barbados became independent in 1966 and is a member of the Commonwealth. The government is a parliamentary democracy with a bicameral legislature and a party system with universal suffrage. The 28-member House of Assembly is elected for a five-year term. The 21-member Senate is 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. The prime minister is the leader of the political party with a majority in the House. Power has alternated between two centrist parties--the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) and the Barbados Labour Party (BLP).
By 1994, after a recession, the economy appeared to be improving, but unemployment was still at nearly 25 percent. Prime Minister Erskine 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 elections the BLP won 19 seats; the DLP, 8; and the New Democratic Party (NDP), a splinter of the DLP established in 1989, 1 seat. 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 retained power in 1999 by winning 26 of 28 parliamentary seats, leaving Arthur firmly in control of his country.
The Arthur government made efforts to reduce dependence on tourism and sugar through diversification into the financial and computer services industries. The September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States badly hurt the vital tourism sector. Joint patrols of the Royal Barbados Police Force (RBPF) and the all-volunteer Barbados Defence Force have been initiated to patrol the island as violent crimes, many linked to narcotics trafficking, increased.
The government can be changed through democratic elections. The January 1999 elections were free and fair. The constitution guarantees freedom of religion, and the right to organize political parties, labor unions, and civic organizations is respected. Apart from the parties holding parliamentary seats, there are other political organizations, including the small, left-wing Workers' Party of Barbados.
The judicial system is independent, and the Supreme Court includes a high court and a court of appeals. Lower-court officials are appointed on the advice of the Judicial and Legal Service Commission. The prison system is overcrowded and outdated, with more than 800 inmates held in a building built for 350. The government allows private groups to visit prisons. The high crime rate, fueled by an increase in drug abuse and narcotics trafficking, has given rise to human rights concerns. A constitutional change allows convicts to be hanged as soon as possible after their appeals are exhausted. There are occasional reports of extrajudicial killings as well as complaints of excessive force used by the RBPF to extract confessions, along with reports that police do not always seek warrants before searching homes.
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, presents a wide range of political viewpoints.
There are two major labor unions, and various smaller ones are active. Women make up roughly half of the workforce. A domestic violence law was passed in 1992 to give police and judges greater power to protect women. Violence and abuse of women and children continue to be major social problems.