Freedom in the World
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Barbados continued in 2012 to grapple with the impact of the global recession as Prime Minister Freundel Stuart faced a sluggish economy and rising crime rate. Meanwhile, the year saw a number of highly publicized sexual abuse allegations involving Barbadian customs officers.
Barbados gained its independence from Britain in 1966 but remained a member of the Commonwealth. The Barbados Labour Party (BLP) under Prime Minister Owen Arthur governed from 1994 to January 2008, when the opposition Democratic Labour Party (DLP) won a clear majority of 20 seats in the lower house of Parliament, leaving the BLP with the remaining 10 seats. However, the new government led by David Thompson of the DLP did not break markedly from the policies pursued by the Arthur government.
During much of the summer of 2010, Thompson remained out of office due to an undisclosed ailment, and DLP member Freundel Stuart took over as acting prime minister. While Thompson returned to office in late August, many important economic decisions, including the new budget and several proposed judicial and other reforms, were delayed. Thompson died on October 23, 2010 of pancreatic cancer and was replaced by Stuart.
As Barbados struggled to emerge from the economic recession, the government was forced to cut expenditures, freeze public wages, and shore up the country’s foreign reserves. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Barbados experienced only 1 percent economic growth in 2011, with the unemployment rate reaching more than 12 percent. According to a 2012 report by the Caribbean Development Bank, almost 10 percent of Barbadians are without an adequate supply of food, and close to 20 percent lack other basic necessities. Barbados is particularly weighed down by its debt-to-GDP ratio, and the IMF recommended that the country lower spending on its social partnership scheme of entitlements. In 2012, Barbados applied for a BD$66 (US$33 million) loan from the Inter-American Development Bank, but the bank has expressed concern about the country’s fiscal situation, in particular its ability to collect enough funds through taxes.
Barbados is an electoral democracy. Members of the 30-member House of Assembly, the lower house of the bicameral Parliament, are directly elected for five-year terms. The governor-general, who represents the British monarch as head of state, appoints the 21 members of the Senate: 12 on the advice of the prime minister, 2 on the advice of the leader of the opposition, and the remaining 7 at his own discretion. The prime minister is appointed by the governor-general and is usually the leader of the political party with a majority in the House.
Political parties are free to organize. Historically, power has alternated between two centrist parties—the DLP and the BLP. Other political organizations without representation in Parliament include the small, left-wing Workers Party of Barbados and the People’s Empowerment Party, an opposition force favoring trade union rights and greater state intervention in the economy.
Barbados was ranked 15 out of 176 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index, the second best ranking in the Americas after Canada.
Freedom of expression is respected. Public opinion expressed through the news media, which are free of censorship and government control, has a powerful influence on policy. Newspapers, including the two major dailies, are privately owned. Four private and two government-run radio stations operate. The single television station, operated by the government-owned Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation, presents a wide range of political viewpoints. The DLP has so far failed to make good on its promise to introduce a new Freedom of Information Act. Access to the internet is not restricted.
The constitution guarantees freedom of religion, which is widely respected for mainstream religious groups. However, members of Barbados’s small Rastafarian community have protested prison regulations that require inmates to have their long dreadlocks cut off while in detention, and have also reported discrimination in the areas of education and employment. Academic freedom is fully respected.
Barbados’s legal framework provides important guarantees for freedom of assembly, which are upheld in practice. The right to form civic organizations and labor unions is respected. Two major labor unions, as well as various smaller ones, are active.
The judicial system is independent, and the Supreme Court includes a high court and a court of appeals. Barbados has ratified the Caribbean Court of Justice as its highest appellate court. There are occasional reports and complaints of the use of excessive force by the Royal Barbados Police Force to extract confessions, along with reports that police do not always seek warrants before searching homes.
Barbados has been more successful than other Caribbean countries in combating violent crime, though the crime rate in 2012 remained at high levels. The drug trade continues to be an important problem for Barbados, as the island has become a transshipment point for cocaine originating from Venezuela.
The government has taken some positive steps to address overcrowding in the prison system and to discharge prison personnel accused of beating inmates, but there has not been substantial progress in their prosecution. The death penalty remains mandatory for certain capital crimes, though it has not been implemented since 1984. In October 2011, the government announced plans to update the Corporal Punishment Act, the Juvenile Offenders Act, and the Prevention of Cruelty Act, in response to rulings by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that found Barbados in violation of certain protections that are enshrined in the American Convention on Human Rights; however, no steps had been taken by the end of 2012.
Barbadian authorities have been criticized for excessively restrictive migration policies, including the treatment of foreign nationals at airports. In several separate cases, visitors from Jamaica claim to have been sexually abused and even raped by Barbadian immigration officers. In one case, the Caribbean Court of Justice in September 2012 accepted a lawsuit by Jamaican Shanique Myrie and the Jamaican government, and invited other interested regional states to join the suit. Barbados is a source and destination for human trafficking.
Women comprise roughly half of the country’s workforce, although the World Economic Forum reported that in 2010 women earned 26 percent less than men for comparable work. Women are underrepresented in the political sphere, comprising only 10 percent of the elected House. Violence against women and children remains a serious problem.