Country comprising three islands in the eastern Caribbean (Antigua, Barbuda, and uninhabited Redonda).
Government Antigua and Barbuda is an independent sovereign nation within the Commonwealth, with a multiparty parliamentary democracy but with the UK monarch as head of state. The constitution dates from independence in 1981. The UK monarch is represented by a governor general, who is appointed by and acts on the advice of the Antiguan prime minister. The parliament comprises an upper house, the Senate, and a lower chamber, the House of Representatives, each having 17 members. Senators are appointed for a five-year term by the governor general, 11 on the advice of the prime minister, four on the advice of the leader of the opposition, one at the governor general's own discretion, and one on the advice of the Barbuda Council, the main instrument for local government. Members of the house are elected by the first-past-the-post system for a five-year term. The prime minister is chosen by the governor-general on the basis of which person commands majority support in the House.
History The original inhabitants of Antigua and Barbuda were Carib Indians. The first Europeans to visit Antigua were with Christopher Columbus in 1493, although they did not go ashore. He named the island after the church of Santa María de la Antigua at Seville. Antigua was first colonized by Britain in 1632. Charles II leased Barbuda in 1685 to the Codrington family, who ran a sugar plantation on Antigua. Barbuda was a source of stock and provisions for the plantation and was inhabited almost entirely by black slaves, who used the relatively barren land cooperatively. The Codringtons finally surrendered the lease in 1870. Barbuda reverted to the crown in the later 19th century. The Antiguan slaves were freed in 1834 but remained poor, totally dependent on the sugar crop market. Between 1860 and 1959 the islands were administered by the UK within a federal system known as the Leeward Islands. Antigua and Barbuda was made an associated state of the UK and given full internal independence in 1967, with the UK retaining responsibility for defence and foreign affairs. Barbuda, with a population of about 1,200 people, started a separatist movement in 1969, fearing that Antigua would sell Barbudan land to foreign developers.
Independence from the UK In the 1971 general election, the Progressive Labour Movement (PLM) won a decisive victory, and its leader, George Walter, replaced Vere Bird, leader of the Antigua Labour Party (ALP), as prime minister. The PLM fought the 1976 election on a call for early independence while the ALP, led by Vere Bird, urged caution until a firm economic foundation had been laid. The ALP won and declared in 1978 that the country was ready for independence.
Opposition from the inhabitants of Barbuda delayed the start of constitutional talks, and the territory eventually became independent as Antigua and Barbuda in 1981, with Vere Bird as its first prime minister.
Bird and ruling ALP retain hold on power Despite its policy of non-alignment, Vere Bird's ALP government actively assisted the US invasion of Grenada in 1983 and went on to win 16 of the 17 seats in the 1984 general election. In the 1989 general election Bird and the ALP again won a sweeping victory, but in 1990 his government was tarnished by allegations that one of his sons, a cabinet minister, was involved in illegal arms deals. Calls by parliament for Vere Bird's resignation in 1991 were unsuccessful but in 1993 he stepped down and, after a close election, was succeeded by his younger son, Lester, who went on to lead the ALP to victory in the 1994 general election. Lester Bird and the ALP, which dominated the media, remained in power a further decade. Despite allegations of government corruption and missing funds from the country's healthcare system, Bird's ALP won the 1999 general election.
UPP wins power In 1992, the centre-left United Progressive Party (UPP) was formed through a merger of the Antigua Caribbean Liberation Movement, the Progressive Labour Movement, and the United National Democratic Party. Its leader, Baldwin Spencer, a labour activist, went on hunger strike following the 1999 general election in opposition to state media bias. His campaigning led to the formation of an independent electoral commission, to oversee elections, and state television providing access to the opposition. With the economy faltering because of a slowdown in tourism and campaigning on an anti-corruption platform, Spencer led the UPP to a landslide victory in the March 2004 general election. The UPP won 55% of the vote to end 28 years in power by the ALP and Bird dynasty.
Spencer's government made some progress in fighting organized crime and official corruption, promoted tourism, and strengthened economic ties with the rapidly developing BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China). It secured re-election in March 2009, but with a reduced majority. Tourism and growth in offshore financial services had made Antigua one of the Caribbean's most prosperous nations. But in March 2012, Antigua's reputation was damaged when a US court found its largest investor, the Texan billionaire Allen Stanford, guilty of running a fraudulent $7 billion Ponzi (pyramid investment) scheme from an offshore bank in Antigua which collapsed in 2009.
ALP returns to power Antigua's tourism-dependent economy was badly hit by the global recession from 2009 and, with national debt reaching 90% of GDP, voters turned against the UPP at the June 2014 general election. The ALP was swept back to power, winning 14 of the 17 lower house seats, and its leader Gaston Browne became prime minister. He pledged to revive the economy through attracting inward investment.
Antigua and Barbuda
Official Guide to Antigua and Barbuda
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