Freedom in the World
Antigua and Barbuda
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
In 2007, the government of Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer was strongly criticized for ejecting two Caribbean journalists from the country. Separately, the World Trade Organization sided with Antigua in a long-running dispute with the United States over the online gambling industry.
Antigua and Barbuda, a member of the Commonwealth, gained independence in 1981. In 1994, Vere Bird of the Antigua Labour Party (ALP) stepped down as prime minister in favor of his son Lester. In the run-up to that year’s 1994 election, three opposition parties joined forces to form the United Progressive Party (UPP), which campaigned on a social democratic platform emphasizing the rule of law and good governance. But the ALP, led by Lester Bird, triumphed handily in both the 1994 and 1999 elections, even as his government continued to be dogged by scandals.
In March 2004, after a hard-fought and at times vitriolic campaign, the UPP, led by Baldwin Spencer, defeated the ALP. It took 12 seats in the 17-seat lower house, and its ally, the Barbuda People’s Movement (BPM), won the seat representing Barbuda. The ALP was reduced to four seats. The elections brought an end to the Bird political dynasty, which had dominated politics in Antigua and Barbuda since 1976.
In the spring of 2006, police arrested ALP activist James “Tanny” Rose for charges related to financial transactions at the state-owned Antigua Broadcasting Service. Rose, a talk-show host on Radio ZDK, owned by Lester Bird, was a notorious critic of the UPP government. He was charged with wrongdoing related to advertising commissions and sales during his tenure as director general of the state radio service. Rose was freed in 2007, when the courts threw out the government’s case against him.
In 2006, the Ministry of Tourism announced a boom in development, with 40 tourism-related construction and renovation projects totaling nearly US$1.4 billion planned for the next five years. In February 2007, Antigua and Barbuda prevailed in a major trade dispute with the United States when the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled that U.S. restrictions aimed at Antigua’s online gambling industry violated international law. In December, a WTO arbitration panel ruled that Antigua and Barbuda was entitled to collect up to US$21 million annually in compensation by waiving intellectual property rights on U.S. music and books. Antigua’s efforts to diversify its international partnerships continued in 2007, when it opened diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia to strengthen ties with oil-producing states in the Persian Gulf.
Antigua and Barbuda is an electoral democracy. The 1981 constitution establishes a parliamentary system, with a governor-general representing the British monarch as ceremonial head of state. The bicameral Parliament is composed of the 17-seat House of Representatives (16 seats for Antigua, 1 for Barbuda), to which members are elected for five-year terms, and an appointed Senate. Of the senators, 11 are appointed by the governor-general on the advice of the prime minister, 4 on the advice of the parliamentary opposition leader, 1 on the advice of the Barbuda Council (an 11-member local government body that runs Barbuda’s internal affairs), and 1 at the governor-general’s discretion. Antigua and Barbuda’s prime minister is typically the leader of the majority party or coalition that emerges from the legislative elections.
Political parties can organize freely. The government plans to reform the electoral system by establishing an Independent Electoral Commission to review electoral law and redraw constituency boundaries, creating a new voter registry, and introducing voter identification cards.
Although the government introduced anticorruption and integrity legislation in October 2002 and passed a bill in 2004 to improve governmental transparency, implementation has been slow. The 2004 Integrity of Public Life Act requires that public officials make an annual declaration of assets. In January 2005, the country became the fourth member of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States to ratify the Inter-American Convention against Corruption, which requires public officials to declare their assets and liabilities, improves cooperation on anticorruption efforts, and strengthens corporate accounting practices. Antigua and Barbuda was not ranked by Transparency International in its 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Antigua and Barbuda generally respects freedom of expression and freedom of the press, but in practice media outlets are concentrated among a small number of firms affiliated with either the current government or its predecessor. The Bird family continues to control television, cable, and radio outlets. The government owns one of three radio stations and the television station. In 2007, the government ejected two journalists from the country, one from Dominica and the other from Trinidad and Tobago, thereby violating the Caribbean Community’s freedom of movement clause for journalists. The Association of Caribbean Media Workers expressed its “absolute condemnation” of the expulsions.
The government respects religious and academic freedom.
Nongovernmental organizations and labor unions can organize freely. The Industrial Court mediates labor disputes, but public sector unions tend to be under the sway of the ruling party. Demonstrators are occasionally subject to police harassment.
The country’s legal system is based on English common law. The ALP government manipulated the nominally independent judicial system, which was powerless to address corruption in the executive branch. The UPP has since sought to increase the transparency of public affairs through new legislation and to establish clear guidelines for investment practices.
The islands’ security forces are composed of the police and the small Antigua and Barbuda Defence Forces. The police generally respect human rights; basic police reporting statistics, however, are confidential. The country’s prison is in primitive condition, and the abuse of inmates has been reported, though visits by independent human rights groups are permitted.
The government has responded to higher levels of crime with increased patrols, the reintroduction of roadblocks, and stiffer fines for firearms violations. The authorities attribute the crime to a new trend of gun possession among island youth and an influx of criminal deportees, with links to the drug trade, from the United States and Europe. In 2007, Antigua and Barbuda asked the United States to halt the flow of criminal deportees to the islands, but it received little assistance.
In March 2005, the government introduced the Equal Opportunity Act, which bars discrimination on the basis of race, gender, class, political affinity, or place of origin. Social discrimination and violence against women remain problems, however. The governmental Directorate of Women’s Affairs has sought to increase awareness of women’s legal rights. In 2007, Antigua and Barbuda swore in its first female governor general, Louisse Lake-Tack, and the country revamped its youth policy to address the concerns of pregnant girls, teen mothers, and other vulnerable groups.