1998 Scores

Status: Free
Freedom Rating: 1.5
Civil Liberties: 2
Political Rights: 1


In 1998, reformist Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham, whose re-election victory in 1997 marked a generational shift in Bahamian politics, began to honor his commitment to wage a tough campaign against crime.

The Commonwealth of the Bahamas, a 700-island nation in the Caribbean, is a member of the British Commonwealth. It was granted independence in 1973. The British monarchy is represented by a governor-general. Under the 1973 constitution, the country's bicameral parliament consists of a House of Assembly directly elected for five years and a 16-member Senate with nine members appointed by the prime minister, four by the leader of the parliamentary opposition, and three by the governor-general. The prime minister is the leader of the party that commands a majority in the House.

After 25 years in office, Lynden Pindling's Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) was ousted by Ingraham and the Free National Movement (FNM) in 1992 elections. The PLP had been dogged by years of allegations of corruption and official involvement in narcotics trafficking. Ingraham, a lawyer and former cabinet official, had been expelled by the PLP in 1986 for his outspoken attacks on corruption. He became leader of the FNM in 1990 and vowed to bring honesty, efficiency, and accountability to government. Pindling, at the time the Western hemisphere's longest-serving head of government, relied on his image as the father of the nation's independence. With 90 percent of the electorate voting, the FNM won 32 seats in the House of Assembly. The PLP won 17. Pindling held his own seat and became the official opposition leader.

Upon taking office, Ingraham appointed a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the Pindling government. In 1995 the commission detailed widespread mismanagement and malpractice in the national telephone and airline companies. In the 1997 election, Ingraham and the FNM claimed credit for revitalizing the economy by attracting foreign investment and won 34 of the parliament's 40 seats. In April 1997, Pindling resigned as opposition leader and was replaced by Perry Christie, who had served in the PLP cabinet until he denounced government corruption in the wake of a drug probe.

In 1998, Ingraham commuted the death sentences of 17 prisoners who had spent more than five years on death row. The commutation was in keeping with a limit set by the Privy Council, the highest court for several current and former British colonies. In September, Ingraham announced that his government would limit the right of appeal in capital cases. He also began the process of hiring 200 more police officers in an effort to combat violent crime.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Citizens can change their government democratically. Constitutional guarantees regarding the right to organize political parties, civic organizations, and labor unions are generally respected, as is the free exercise of religion.

The judicial system is headed by a Supreme Court and a Court of Appeal, with the right of appeal under certain circumstances to the Privy Council in London. There are also local courts. On the outer islands, local commissioners have magisterial powers. Despite anti-drug legislation and a 1987 agreement with the United States to suppress the drug trade, there is evidence of drug-related corruption and money laundering, although less than during the Pindling years.

Violent crime is a growing concern, particularly in Nassau. Nongovernmental organizations have documented the increase in recent years of violent crime and police brutality. Human rights groups have also criticized the "subhuman conditions" and overcrowding in the nation's prisons. The Fox Hill prison remains filled to more than twice its intended capacity. In 1996, Ingraham reinstated the death penalty for murder. In 1998, two of the 30 prisoners on death row were executed.

Full freedom of expression is constrained by strict libel laws. Unlike its predecessor, the Ingraham government has not made use of these laws against independent newspapers. It has amended media laws to allow for private ownership of broadcasting outlets.

In 1998, the government denied asylum requests and deported scores of Cuban refugees held in detention centers. Among those repatriated were three Cuban national baseball team members, who were returned despite an asylum offer from the government of Nicaragua. Bahamian authorities responded to criticism of the deportations by noting that they were complying with the terms of a 1996 memorandum of understanding with Cuba.

Labor, business, and professional organizations are generally free. Unions have the right to strike, and collective bargaining is prevalent. As many as 40,000 Haitians reside illegally in the Bahamas. Tight citizenship laws and a strict work permit system leave them with few rights. The influx has created social tension due to the strain on government services. In November, law enforcement authorities disbanded an international "flesh cartel" that was trafficking in illegal Asian immigrants by supplying U.S. businesses with cheap labor.

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