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 2008, Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer and his United Progressive Party sparred with the opposition as both sides sought an advantage in the upcoming 2009 elections. In July, a British couple on their honeymoon were found murdered in their hotel, forcing the issue of rising crime to the top of the government’s agenda.
Antigua and Barbuda, a member of the Commonwealth, gained independence from Britain 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 elections, 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. Lester Bird and the ALP triumphed handily in both the 1994 and 1999 elections, but the government continued to be dogged by scandals.
In March 2004 elections,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, a talk-show host on the Bird-owned Radio ZDK and 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.
Antigua and Barbuda prevailed in a major trade dispute with the United States in February 2007, 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 in compensation annually by waiving intellectual property rights on U.S. music and books.
During 2008, the ruling UPP prepared for elections due the following year, while opposition groups attempted to draw attention to rising crime and incidents of government corruption.
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 forfive-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. In 2008, the government initiated reform of the electoral system by establishing the Antigua and Barbuda Electoral Commission (ABEC) to review electoral laws and redraw constituency boundaries, create a new voter registry, and introduce voter identification cards. Nonetheless, opposition members expressed concern that the reforms would be hastily implemented in the run-up to parliamentary elections, which are due by March 2009.
Although the government introduced anticorruption and integrity legislation in 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 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. Elected officials faced charges of corruption and vote-buying as the 2009 election season approached, and the issue of campaign finance reform emerged as public spending for candidates was called into question. Antigua and Barbuda was not ranked by Transparency International in its 2008 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 public television station. In 2007, the government expelled 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.
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 youth and an influx of criminal deportees, with links to the drug trade, from the United States and Europe. In July 2008, a British couple on their honeymoon were killed in a double homicide that occurred during a bungled robbery. The Antiguan government responded by hiring four retired commissioners from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in an effort to strengthen the police force. In October, the police force was shaken when one of its recruits was accused of rape, and the officer was suspended from the force pending the outcome of judicial proceedings scheduled in early 2009.
The 2005 Equal Opportunity Act 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 2008, Antigua and Barbuda initiated a program to subsidize early childhood education that would help address gender inequities.