Political Rights: 1
Civil Liberties: 1
Status: Free
Population: 300,000
GNI/Capita: $14,860
Life Expectancy: 72
Religious Groups: Baptist (32 percent), Anglican (20 percent), Roman Catholic (19 percent), other Protestant (18 percent), other (11 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Black (85 percent), white (12 percent), Asian and Hispanic (3 percent)
Capital: Nassau


Despite ongoing efforts to curb narcotics trafficking and money laundering, the Bahamas continued to be faced with rising drug-related crime and the illicit use of the country's offshore financial system throughout 2003.

The Bahamas, a 700-island archipelago in the Caribbean, gained independence in 1973 and is part of the Commonwealth. Lynden Pindling served as first prime minister and head of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) for 25 years. After years of allegations of corruption and involvement by high officials in narcotics trafficking, Pindling was defeated by the Free National Movement (FNM) in 1992. Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham promised honesty, efficiency, and accountability in government. The FNM won 32 seats in the House of Assembly, to the PLP's 17.

In the 1997 election, Ingraham took credit for revitalizing the economy by attracting foreign investment, and his FNM received 34 seats to the PLP's 6. In April 1997, Pindling resigned as opposition leader and was replaced by Perry Christie.

In the May 2002 parliamentary poll, the PLP won 29 seats, while the FNM received only 8. Prime Minister Ingraham retired from politics, fulfilling a promise he had made prior to the elections. He was replaced by PLP leader Christie who, while not as popular as Ingraham, was able to capitalize on the large majority of his party. Christie and Ingraham are close personal friends and business partners, which may indicate that the new prime minister's economic and political policies are not likely to diverge much from those of his predecessor's.

Rising crime rates in the late 1990s, which undermined the early accomplishments of the Ingraham government, were linked to illegal trafficking in narcotics and gunrunning. Ingraham is credited with having subsequently improved the country's international reputation with policies that reduced money laundering and improved counter-narcotics cooperation with the United States. His administration set up a new antidrug intelligence unit and announced plans to bring the financial sector into full compliance with international standards and practices by strengthening requirements to report suspicious and unusual transactions. The Bahamas has promoted tourism and allowed the banking industry to grow, leading to the country having become one of the Caribbean's most affluent.

However, the Christie administration has not been able to effectively curb narcotics trafficking, and the incidence of violent crime associated with drug gang activity has escalated. In addition, the offshore financial system, despite having undergone reforms, continues to be used for illicit purposes. Several banks have been named in U.S. fraud cases, while at least two individuals have been convicted on fraud and forgery charges.

Following a confrontation with the U.S. ambassador over counter-narcotics policies that were mostly addressed, relations with the United States have improved. Bahamians are sensitive to the perception that their international policy is determined by Washington and have struck to independent foreign relations, including an upgrading of relations with Cuba, with the announcement that a Bahamian consul general will be appointed to Havana in 2004-2005.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

The 1973 constitution provides for democratic changes in government. Political parties can organize freely. There is a 49-member House of Assembly, directly elected for five years, and a 16-member Senate. The prime minister appoints 9 members; the leader of the parliament opposition, 4; and the governor-general, 3. The assembly was subsequently reduced to 40 members, in keeping with a campaign promise by the FNM.

Daily and weekly newspapers, all privately owned, express a variety of views on public issues, as do the government-run radio station and four privately owned radio broadcasters. Opposition politicians claim that the state-run television system, the Broadcasting Corporation of the Bahamas, gives preferential coverage to the ruling party. Full freedom of expression is constrained by strict libel laws. Media laws were amended to allow for private ownership of broadcasting outlets. There is free access to the Internet.

Religious and academic freedom are respected.

Constitutional guarantees of the right to organize civic organizations are generally respected, and human rights organizations have broad access to institutions and individuals. Labor, business, and professional organizations are generally free from governmental interference. Unions have the right to strike, and collective bargaining is prevalent.

The judicial system is headed by the Supreme Court and a court of appeals, with the right of appeal under certain circumstances to the Privy Council in London. Some progress has been reported in reducing both the length of court cases and the backlog of criminal appeals. Nevertheless, some murder suspects have been held up to four years before coming to trial.

Violent crime is a continuing concern and is a focus of the Christie government. Nongovernmental organizations have documented the occasional abuse of prisoners, arbitrary arrest, and lengthy pretrial detention. The Royal Bahamas Police Force has made progress in reducing corruption in the force, including introducing new procedures to limit unethical or illegal conduct. While the police have been recognized for their key role in regional efforts to stem the drug trade, coordination with the Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) has presented more difficulties that reflect general ambivalence about the RBDF's role in law enforcement.

Although the Ingraham administration made important efforts to relieve over-crowding of prisoners, there are persistent reports of overcrowding, and poor medical facilities are still the norm. Children continue to be housed with adults, and there have been reports of sexual abuse.

The Bahamas is an accessible transit area for illegal aliens seeking entrance to the United States. No laws specifically address trafficking in persons, but there are also no reports of such activity. The Bahamian government forcibly repatriates most asylum seekers, including Haitians and Cubans.

Discrimination against the disabled and persons of Haitian descent persists; 20 to 25 percent of the population is Haitian or of Haitian descent. Between 30,000 and 40,000 Haitians reside illegally in the Bahamas. Strict citizenship requirements and a stringent work permit system leave Haitians with few rights. There is no legislation regulating the processing of asylum seekers. The influx has created social tension because of the strain on government services.

Violence against women is a serious and widespread problem, and child abuse and neglect remain serious.

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