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)
Antigua and Barbuda’s political rights rating improved from 3 to 2 due to a decline in corrupt foreign business influence over the government.
The government of Antigua and Barbuda took steps in 2012 to reform the country’s financial regulatory environment in the aftermath of the discovery of a $7 billion dollar Ponzi scheme, which had exposed deep ties between foreign businesses and the government. In June, bank executive R. Allen Stanford, who had orchestrated the scheme, was found guilty of fraud in a U.S. court and sentenced to 110 years in prison. Meanwhile, the opposition Antigua Labour Party and its leader, Lester Bird, accused the government of lacking transparency and making unlawful changes to the procedures and composition of the country’s electoral commission. In November, Gaston Browne defeated Bird to become ALP leader.
Antigua and Barbuda, a member of the Commonwealth, gained its 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), ending the Bird political dynasty that had governed the country 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, a High Court ruling in March 2010 invalidated the election of Spencer and others due to electoral irregularities, though the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeals overturned the verdict in October 2010.
The 2009 collapse of the 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 benefited from Stanford’s $7 billion Ponzi scheme, in which clients were encouraged to invest in certificates of deposit from the Stanford International Bank of Antigua with false promises of security and high returns.
Although no Antiguan officials connected to the Stanford case have been brought to trial in Antigua and Barbuda, Stanford himself was found guilty by a U.S. court in March 2012 of 13 counts of conspiracy, fraud, and money laundering. He was sentenced to 110 years in prison in June. The U.S. government has also requested the extradition of Leroy King, former chief executive of Antigua’s Financial Services Regulatory Commission (FSRC), who faces multiple charges of fraud, conspiracy, and money laundering related to his alleged involvement in Stanford’s scheme. In April, Prime Minister Spencer issued a warrant for King’s arrest. King remained under house arrest in Antigua at year’s end, awaiting extradition to the United States.
Fallout from the collapse of the Stanford Financial Group’s companies, which had been one of the main providers of jobs in the country, as well as the global economic downturn and the consequent decline in tourism, continued to impact Antigua and Barbuda’s economy in 2012. Many former Stanford employees are still waiting for severance and pension payments.
Meanwhile, opposition leader Lester Bird and his ALP challenged the legitimacy and transparency of numerous government actions throughout 2012, including what they deemed to be unconstitutional changes made in December 2011 to the procedures and composition of the Antigua and Barbuda Electoral Commission, as well as the unlawful removal of some of its members. Bird also challenged the prime minister on his failure to request Parliament’s approval on a series of loan agreements dating back to 2004, as well as a controversial purchase by the Antigua Public Utilities Authority. However, Bird himself lost his position as ALP leader to Gaston Browne in November party elections, representing the first time in 66 years that the party will not be led by a member of the Bird family.
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 17-seat Senate. 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 has overseen the enactment of anticorruption and transparency legislation in recent years, but implementation has been slow. In 2012, Lester Bird and the opposition ALP accused the UPP government and Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer of not meeting the requirements of the country’s anticorruption and freedom of information legislation. Nevertheless, the government did take positive steps during the year to reform the country’s FSRC as well as regulations for the offshore financial and insurance sectors in order to combat corruption and restore confidence in the marketplace.
Antigua and Barbuda generally respects freedom of the press. However, defamation remains a criminal offense punishable by up to three years in prison, and politicians often file libel suits against opposing party members. Media outlets are concentrated among a small number of firms affiliated with either the current government or its predecessor. In October 2012, radio journalist Percival Simon was banned from ZDK Radio, which is owned by Bird, for openly supporting Gaston Browne, Bird’s political opponent for leadership of the ALP. The government owns one of three radio stations and the public television station. There are no restrictions on access to the internet.
The government generally respects religious and academic freedoms.
Nongovernmental organizations are active but inadequately funded and often influenced by the government. Demonstrators are occasionally subject to police harassment. Labor unions can organize freely and bargain collectively. The Industrial Court mediates labor disputes.
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.
Crime continues to be a problem in Antigua and Barbuda, and the government has responded with increased community policing, the reintroduction of roadblocks, and stiffer fines for firearms violations. The United Nations Development Programme’s 2012 Caribbean Human Development Report reported that Antigua and Barbuda suffers from a high rate of property crimes, such as robberies, with a lower violent crime rate. The country’s prison is overcrowded and conditions are very poor. The abuse of inmates has been reported, though visits by independent human rights groups are permitted
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. Women hold only 10 percent of the elected seats of the House of Representatives. Male and female same-sex sexual activity also remains criminalized under a 1995 law, and there have been cases of excessive force and discrimination of people based on sexual orientation at the hands of the police. Antigua and Barbuda serves as both a destination and transit country for the trafficking of men, women, and children for the purposes of forced labor and prostitution.