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Antigua & Barbuda

History & Background

The nation of Antigua and Barbuda is located in the Eastern Caribbean, situated strategically in the Leeward Islands, between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, east-southeast of Puerto Rico, near maritime transport lanes of major importance to the United States. The largest of the islands is Antigua, which is about 13 miles across, and spans a total area of about 108 square miles. While the low-lying coral island of Barbuda consists of approximately 62 square miles. The capital, and island's main seaport, is the city of St. John's, which is located on the island of Antigua. Known as the "gateway to the Caribbean," this twin island state also includes Redonda, a small, uninhabited island which only consists of about 6 square miles and is located 32 miles southwest of Antigua. The total land area is about two and a half times the size of Washington, D.C.

In 1493, Christopher Columbus discovered the island, naming it Antigua after the Santa Maria La Antigua church in Seville, Spain where he prayed before leaving on his voyage. In 1632, the British were the first Europeans to colonize the islands and, with the exception of French occupation for a brief period of eight months in 1666, Antigua remained a British colony until 1967. Although it gained its independence on 1 November 1981, Antigua continues to be part of the Commonwealth of Nations and the 157th member of the United Nations (Charisma, 1997).

With a population of nearly 78,000 on Antigua, approximately 30,000 live in and close to the capital of St. John's. Barbuda's population is around 2,000, most of whom reside in Codrington, Barbuda's only city. While most of the population is of African descent, many are from British, American, Portuguese, Syrian, and Lebanese lineage. Antigua is home to many retired Europeans and North Americans, and the annual population growth is about 1.3 percent. The official language of the country is English, although natives also speak a local dialect known as Creole (Charisma, 1997).

Although the economy of Antigua and Barbuda is primarily service and tourism oriented, accounting for approximately 60 percent of the Gross National Product (GDP) and leading the way as the country's most important economic indicator, agriculture remains an important industry as well, although a declining one. Fruit and vegetable production dominate the agricultural scene, but the government has encouraged expansion into livestock, cotton, and export-oriented food crops. Some other crops produced include bananas, pineapples, coconuts, cucumbers, mangoes, and sugarcane.

The agricultural sector is constrained not only by the country's limited water supply (water management is a major environmental concern due to the limited supply of natural fresh water and is further hampered by the clearing of trees to increase crop production, which causes rainfall to run off too quickly), but also by labor shortages that reflect the pull of higher wages in tourism and construction. The growth of construction has been spurred by the tourism industry. Manufacturing industries that thrived during the 1980s are export oriented, producing clothing, furniture, paint, and galvanized sheets.

Antigua and Barbuda's government is a Parliamentary Democracy, a democracy based on the British Parliamentary system, and consists of a Cabinet of Ministers, headed by the Prime Minister. As head of state, Queen Elizabeth II is represented in Antigua and Barbuda by a governor general who acts on the advice of the Prime Minister and the cabinet. It also has a bicameral legislature, which includes a 17-member Senate appointed by the governor general and a 17-member popularly elected House of Representatives. The Prime Minister, leader of the majority party in the House, conducts affairs of state with the cabinet, both of which are responsible to the Parliament. Elections must be held at least every five years but may be called by the Prime Minister at any time. The Constitution was established in 1981 and constitutional safeguards include freedom of speech and freedom of worship, movement, and association, along with freedom of the press. Antigua and Barbuda is a member of the eastern Caribbean court system, and its legal philosophy is based on English law.

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