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Antigua and Barbuda: Land, People, Economy, History

Updated on April 5, 2014

Antigua and Barbuda, an independent island country of the eastern Caribbean, is situated at the southern end of the Leeward Islands chain. Formerly a colony and later a self-governing associated state of the Commonwealth, the country achieved independent status under the name Antigua and Barbuda in 1981. It comprises the islands of Antigua, Barbuda, and Redonda.

The Land

The main island of Antigua has an area of 108 square miles (280 sq km) and is for the most part a flat limestone and sandstone plateau, except for hills in the southwest that rise to 1,330 feet (405 meters) in Boggy Peak. The coast is deeply indented and lined with reefs, and there are a number of excellent beaches. English Harbor, on the south shore, is a protected harbor that is primarily used by yachts and boats. Barbuda (62 square miles, or 161 sq km), to the north, is a flat coral island with a large lagoon on the west side; and Redonda (0.5 square mile, or 1.3 sq km), to the southwest, is an uninhabited volcanic island.


St. John's, on the northwest coast, is the capital, largest city, and principal port. An international airport is located about 4.5 miles (7.2 km) east of St. John's.

The climate is generally dry and sunny, cooled by northeast trade winds, particularly in the months of November to May. The mean average temperature is about 81.5° F (27.5° C), and rainfall averages about 46 inches (1,168 mm) a year.


The People and Government

Most of the inhabitants of the islands of Antigua and Barbuda are of African descent. The official language spoken in the country is English. Population: 86,295 (2011 prov.).

The bicameral Parliament consists of an appointed Senate and an elected House of Representatives; each has 17 members. The British crown is represented by a governor-general, who appoints the prime minister from among the members of the House of Representatives. The judiciary consists of a high court of justice and a court of appeal, which are administered by the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court in Saint Lucia.


Tourism, which accounts for nearly 70% of the gross domestic product, is the most important industry; both islands have resort hotels. Agriculture, which is limited by water and labor shortages, primarily produces fruits and vegetables for local consumption. There are also lobster, shrimp, and crab farms. Chief industries are the distilling of rum and other alcoholic beverages, petroleum refining, and the manufacture of paints, furniture, and clothing. Appliances and electronic components are assembled for export. The growing financial services sector was dealt a serious blow when Texas financier Allen Stanford was found guilty of running a massive Ponzi scheme from his offshore bank in Antigua; before his arrest in 2009, he had been the island's largest private employer.


Christopher Columbus, who discovered Antigua in 1493, named the island after the Church of Santa María de la Antigua in Seville, Spain. The Spanish attempted to settle Antigua in 1520 but abandoned their efforts because of drought, and in 1629 there was a short-lived French settlement. The first permanent settlement was begun in 1632 by the English from St. Kitts under Sir Thomas Warner. Despite raids by the native Caribs, the English persisted in their cultivation of tobacco and sugarcane and established the island as a British colony. By the 18th century an active trade in slaves from Africa had been developed as a source of labor for the sugarcane fields. The emancipation of the slaves in 1834 was a considerable blow to the island's economic structure.

English Harbor, on the south shore, became known as Britain's best harbor in the West Indies. During the 1780s the dockyard there served as headquarters of the British admiral Horatio Nelson. Nelson's Dockyard was made a historic monument in 1961 and a national park in 1985.

On Jan. 3, 1958, Antigua became a member of the Federation of the West Indies. It continued in that status until the federation was dissolved in 1962. An attempt to form an East Caribbean Federation failed, and in 1966 the colony drew up a constitution aimed at eventual self-government. On Feb. 27, 1967, Antigua became a self-governing associated state of the Commonwealth, with Britain responsible for its defense and foreign affairs.

Antigua and Barbuda gained independence jointly on Nov. 1, 1981, with Vere Bird as the first prime minister. Barbuda's request for separate status was rejected by Britain. The new nation retained its membership in the Commonwealth of Nations. In the 1990s the country endeavored to overcome a reputation as a center for money laundering and drug trafficking. The political scene was dominated by the Antigua Labor Party and the Bird family from independence until 2004, when the opposition United Progressive Party came to power.


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