Freedom in the World
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Voters in the Bahamas’ May 2007 elections ousted the ruling Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) and brought former prime minister Hubert Ingraham of the Free National Movement (FNM) party back to power.
The Bahamas, a former British colony, became an independent state within the Commonwealth in 1973. Lynden Pindling served as the country’s first prime minister and head of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) for a quarter-century. After years of allegations of corruption and involvement by high officials in narcotics trafficking, Pindling and the PLP were defeated by the Free National Movement (FNM) party in 1992 elections. The FNM ruled the Bahamas for 10 years under Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham, until the 2002 elections brought the PNP, led by Perry Christie, back to power. In May 2007, the FNM triumphed at the polls, winning 23 parliamentary seats to the PLP’s 18, thereby restoring Ingraham to the prime minister’s office and demoting Christie to leader of the opposition. Christie and Ingraham are close personal friends and business partners, which has left many Bahamians feeling that their country’s politics are dominated by an exclusive clique. The economic and political policies of the Bahamas have remained remarkably consistent under both prime ministers.
As the Caribbean’s only upper-income country, the Bahamas has established a model service economy based on an impressive tourism sector—which accounts for 30 percent of national income—and offshore financial services. However, the Christie administration did not effectively curb narcotics trafficking, and rising rates of violent crime associated with drug-gang activity have proven difficult to contain. The Bahamas also suffers from a new trend of marijuana cultivation and trafficking by foreign nationals residing in the country. In addition, the offshore financial system, despite having undergone reforms, continues to be used for illicit purposes.
The Bahamas has prioritized the effort to build closer ties with the United States. The government has allowed the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to place armed sky marshals on selected flights between the two countries. The United States and the Bahamas cooperate regularly on migration matters, but migration to the Bahamas from Cuba and Haiti remains a political flashpoint. In March 2006, two Cuban dentists whose boat stalled in Bahamian waters en route to the United States were finally released after a year of detention. More than 600 Haitian migrants were captured in Bahamian waters during the first six months of 2007, an increase over the previous year.
The Bahamas is an electoral democracy. The lower house of the bicameral Parliament, the 41-member House of Assembly, is directly elected for five-year terms. The 16 members of the upper house, the Senate, are appointed for five-year terms by the governor-general, who represents the British monarch as head of state. Nine of the senators are appointed on the recommendation of the prime minister, four on the recommendation of the opposition leader, and three on the recommendation of the prime minister after consulting with the opposition leader. The head of the majority party or coalition in Parliament typically serves as prime minister.
Political parties can organize freely. The two leading parties are the FNM, headed by the new prime minister, Hubert Ingraham, and the PLP, led by outgoing prime minister Perry Christie.
The Bahamas was not ranked by Transparency International in its 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index.
The Bahamas has a well-developed tradition of respecting freedom of the press and freedom of expression. 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. Following his 2007 electoral victory, Prime Minister Ingraham suspended two journalists from the Broadcasting Corporation of the Bahamas, alleging that they were involved with the PLP. Full freedom of expression is constrained by strict libel laws. Access to the internet is unrestricted.
The people’s rights to religious and academic freedom are respected.
The Bahamas guarantees freedom of assembly. Constitutional guarantees of the right to organize civic organizations are generally respected, and human rights organizations have broad access to institutions and individuals. Labor, business, and professional organizations are generally free from government interference. Unions have the right to strike, and collective bargaining is prevalent. In 2007, mistreatment of migrant workers was reported, including claims of labor abuses from Mexican workers at local resort construction projects.
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. Some progress has been reported in reducing both the length of court cases and the backlog of criminal appeals. Nevertheless, some murder suspects have been held for up to four years before being brought to trial. In March 2006, the Privy Council ruled that death sentences for individuals convicted of murder in the Bahamas are unconstitutional. Violent crime is a continuing problem, although the country has not suffered the same crime levels as much of the rest of the Caribbean. The Royal Bahamas Police Force has increased coordination with the Royal Bahamas Defence Force to fight corruption and stem the illegal drug trade.
Nongovernmental organizations have documented the occasional abuse of prisoners and arbitrary arrest. Prison overcrowding remains a major problem, and juveniles are often housed with adults, increasing the risk of sexual abuse. A new “correctional training institute” separates convict populations sentenced for different crimes.
Discrimination against people of Haitian descent persists, and between 30,000 and 40,000 Haitians reside illegally in the Bahamas. Strict citizenship requirements and a stringent work-permit system leave Haitians with few rights.
The government remains strongly opposed to homosexuality. The Bahamian Plays and Films Control Board banned the gay-themed American film Brokeback Mountain in 2006, prompting local gay rights groups to voice concerns about censorship.
Violence against women is widespread, and child abuse and neglect remain serious issues of concern. In October 2006, a man convicted of attempting to rape an elderly woman was sentenced to eight lashes with a cat-o’-nine-tails, prompting condemnation from human rights groups. A high incidence of child labor also continues to be a concern, and children who work face a high risk of sexual exploitation.