Antigua and Barbuda
Antigua and Barbuda (ăntē´gə, –gwə, bärbu´də), independent Commonwealth nation (2005 est. pop. 68,700), 171 sq mi (442 sq km), West Indies, in the Leeward Islands. It consists of the island of Antigua (108 sq mi/280 sq km) and two smaller islands, the more sparsely populated Barbuda (62 sq mi/161 sq km) and uninhabited Redonda (0.6 sq mi/1.6 sq km). Saint John's, on Antigua, is the capital. Antigua is a hilly island with a heavily indented coast, while Barbuda is a flat coral island dominated by a large lagoon on its western side. Most residents are of African ancestry. Anglicanism is the predominant religion. Tourism is the most important industry, and the on-line gambling and offshore financial services sectors generate additional foreign currency earnings. The last two sectors have been hurt, however, by a 2006 U.S. ban on the processing of payments to on-line gambling firms and by the 2009 collapse, due to fraud, of the bank that was the nation's largest employer. Agriculture, fishing, and manufacturing (bedding, handicrafts, and electronics) also contribute to the economy. There is a U.S. air force tracking station on the north coast of Antigua. Periodic hurricanes can cause heavy damage to the islands. The country has a parliamentary-style government with a bicameral legislature. The British monarch is the titular head of state, but primary executive power lies with the prime minister. Many inhabitants of Barbuda, culturally and politically distinct from Antiguans, have pressed for independence from the larger island.
Antigua was sighted by Columbus in 1493 and named for a Spanish church in Seville. The islands were successfully colonized in 1632, when the British introduced sugarcane from St. Kitts. Barbuda was colonized from Antigua in 1661. The abolition of slavery in 1834 hurt the sugar industry; sugar has not been commercially grown on the island since 1985.
Antigua, with Barbuda and Redonda as dependencies, became an associated state of the Commonwealth in 1967 and achieved full independence within the Commonwealth in 1981. The Labor party, and the Bird family, led the nation in its first decades. Vere Bird was the nation's first prime minister and was succeeded by Lester Bird, his son, in 1994. The islands suffered extensive damage from Hurricane Luis in 1995. Six consecutive terms of Labor governments ended in 2004 when the United Progressive party (UPP) won the election; Baldwin Spencer became prime minister. Spencer and the UPP remained in power after the 2009 election.
In 2009 allegations that American financier Allen Stanford had been running a Ponzi scheme had a significant effect on the country. The Stanford Financial Group was based there; it and its affiliates employed many inhabitants; and the government had received substantial loans from the group while the Birds were in power. A run on Stanford's banks led the government to seize them; other Stanford properties were also seized. The 2014 elections resulted in a Labor victory, and Gaston Browne became prime minister.