Freedom in the World 2010 - Antigua and Barbuda
|Publication Date||3 May 2010|
|Cite as||Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2010 - Antigua and Barbuda, 3 May 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c0ceb0bc.html [accessed 20 September 2014]|
Capital: St. John's
Political Rights Score: 3 *
Civil Liberties Score: 2 *
Antigua and Barbuda's political rights rating declined from 2 to 3 due to the collapse of a massive fraudulent investment scheme, which revealed how deeply the government had been influenced and corrupted by foreign business interests.
In 2009, the sudden implosion of the Stanford Financial Group due to an alleged $8 billion investment fraud exposed strong ties between billionaire financier R. Allen Stanford and the government of Antigua and Barbuda. Several defrauded investors filed lawsuits claiming that the government had benefited from the schemes and aided in the cover-up, heightening political tensions in the country.
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 March 2009 parliamentary elections returned Baldwin 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. The elections were deemed fair and competitive by the Organization of American States, which sent an observer mission. However, the voting was preceded by instances of violence, including the firebombing and vandalizing of three ALP offices.
In 2009, the collapse of the $8 billion Stanford Financial Group, run by U.S. financier R. Allen Stanford, revealed deep ties between Stanford and the government of Antigua and Barbuda. The resulting scandal rocked the country's politics. A consortium of defrauded investors sued the government, claiming that top officials had been aware of the scheme and benefited from it. They specifically accused the leadership of accepting preferential loans from Stanford's companies in exchange for not investigating his operations. The company's high-profile collapse accelerated a 6.5 percent economic contraction in 2009 that crippled the country's finances.
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 for five-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 Antigua and Barbuda Electoral Commission (ABEC) was established in 2008 to reform the country's electoral system, including introducing 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 2009, elected officials faced charges of corruption and vote-buying during the campaign season, and the repercussions from the collapse of the Stanford Financial Group included the surrender of the former chief financial regulator to U.S. authorities on charges of fraud. Antigua and Barbuda was not ranked by Transparency International in its 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Antigua and Barbuda generally 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. Some instances of intimidation related to the fallout of the Stanford Financial Group scandal were reported, including alleged government pressure on journalists to shape how they covered the case.
The government generally respects religious and academic freedoms.
Nongovernmental organizations are active, but lack adequate funding and are often strongly influenced by 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. The UPP's efforts to prevent corruption were deeply discredited by the fallout in 2009 from the Stanford Financial Group fraud.
The police generally respect human rights; basic police statistics, however, are 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 and an influx of criminal deportees, with links 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. Social discrimination and violence against women remain problems, however. In October 2009, the Directorate of Gender Affairs launched a public awareness campaign against gender-related violence following a number of highly publicized rape cases.
*Countries are ranked on a scale of 1-7, with 1 representing the highest level of freedom and 7 representing the lowest level of freedom.