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Antigua and Barbuda
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
The United Progressive Party government of Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer was rocked by controversy in 2010 surrounding electoral irregularities in the 2009 legislative polls. In March, a High Court ruling invalidated the election of Spencer and other members of Parliament, though the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeals overturned the verdict in October. Meanwhile, Antigua and Barbuda continued to face economic difficulties and political tensions stemming from the 2009 Stanford Financial Group scandal.
Antigua and Barbuda, a member of the Commonwealth, gained independence from Britain in 1981. In the 2004 elections,the opposition United Progressive Party (UPP), led by Baldwin Spencer, defeated Prime Minister Lester Bird and the ruling Antigua Labour Party (ALP). The transfer of power ended the rule of the Bird political dynasty, which had governed the country continuously since 1976.
The 2009 parliamentary elections returned Spencer and the UPP to power with 9 seats in the 17-seat lower house; the ALP took 7 seats, while the Barbuda People’s Movement (BPM) retained the single seat representing Barbuda. While elections were deemed fair and competitive by the Organization of American States, the voting was preceded by instances of violence, including attacks on ALP offices, and there were accusations of voter registration irregularities.
The collapse in 2009 of the $8 billion Stanford Financial Group, run by U.S. financier R. Allen Stanford, exposed deep ties between Stanford and the government of Antigua and Barbuda. A consortium of defrauded investors sued the government, claiming that top officials had been aware of and benefitted from a Ponzi scheme run by the company. Antiguan authorities seized Stanford’s Bank of Antigua in July 2009. A new financial entity, the Eastern Caribbean Amalgamated Bank—co-owned by the Government of Antigua and five other Eastern Caribbean private financial institutions—took over the Bank of Antigua in October 2010. No Antiguan officials connected to the Stanford fraud scheme had been brought to trial in Antigua and Barbuda, nor formally extradited to the United States, as of year’s end.
Political tensions remained high in 2010. In March, a High Court ruling invalidated the reelection of Spencer and two other members of Parliament due to irregularities in the 2009 polls. However, in October, the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Spencer’s UPP, validating his position as prime minister. Earlier in July, the governor-general suspended three members of the Antigua and Barbuda Electoral Commission (ABEC)after the prime minister accused the commission of breaching electoral law. The ALP sharply criticized both the suspensions and the governor-general’s subsequent call for a tribunal from the Eastern Caribbean Court to investigate alleged offenses. In December 2010, the tribunal exonerated the chairman of the commission, though not the two other members also under investigation.
The collapse of Stanford’s Bank of Antigua in 2009 crippled the country’s finances. Public debt, at 100 percent of GDP, is one of the highest in the Caribbean. Economic performance in 2010 remained sluggish, especially in the country’s largest sector, tourism.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties:
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. The ABEC was established in 2008 to reform the country’s electoral system, including the introduction of voter identification cards. Political parties can organize freely.
The government has overseen the enactment of anticorruption and transparency legislation in recent years, but implementation has been slow. In the wake of the Stanford financial scandal, Baldwin Spencer’s government has sought to improve its image by addressing irregularities at the ABEC, including alleged violations of electoral law by its chairman. However, complaints remain that Antigua and Barbuda has not moved quickly to cooperate with U.S. authorities to investigate and extradite officials that have committed criminal activities in connection with bank fraud.
Antigua and Barbudagenerally respects 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.
The government generally respects religious and academic freedoms.
Nongovernmental organizations are active, but they lack adequate funding and are often strongly influenced by the government. 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. During the Bird years, the ALP government manipulated the nominally independent judicial system, which was powerless to address corruption in the executive branch. However, in recent years, the courts have increasingly asserted independence through controversial decisions against the government.
The police generally respect human rights, though basic police statistics remain 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 high crime rate to a new trend of gun possession among youth, as well as an influx of criminal deportees—with connections to the drug trade—from the United States and Europe.
The 2005 Equal Opportunity Act bars discrimination on the basis of race, gender, class, political affinity, or place of origin. However, societal discrimination and violence against women remain problems.