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Antigua, largest of a three-island unit in the Leeward Islands that, along with Barbuda and Redonda, comprises the independent state of Antigua and Barbuda.

Although the island was sighted during Columbus's second voyage to the Caribbean in 1493, geography and a lack of natural resources, including a limited supply of fresh water, conspired to deter sustained, permanent settlement by both the indigenous peoples of the region, the Arawaks and the Caribs, and the conquering Spanish. Unguarded and unexploited for over a century, Antigua was seized by an English expedition in 1632. Initially populated by small-scale subsistence and tobacco farmers, the island became a producer of sugarcane in the 1660s, a change that, with the subsequent introduction of African slaves, completely transformed the nature of the colony. By 1700 Antigua had developed into a traditional plantation society comprised of large estates, a small European planter class, and large numbers of slave laborers.

Full integration into the British mercantile system as a sugar producer provided Antigua with a secure, stable market into the nineteenth century. By the 1830s, however, as abolition and free trade became imperial policy, this flourishing dependence had begun to collapse. Acceptance of crown colony status in 1868 by the island elites preserved the basic features of colonial life, though growing numbers of bankrupt sugar estates and newly formed free villages of ex-slaves heralded the eventual stagnation of plantation society.

As the old planter and bureaucratic elite declined in numbers and influence in the early decades of the twentieth century, Antigua's long-oppressed lower classes began to mobilize. Inspired by the labor movements and pan-Africanist ideology that swept through the Caribbean in the years following World War I, local blacks formed the Antigua Trades and Labor Union (ATLU) in 1939 to promote political, economic, and social reforms. In the years that followed, as Britain began its long process of decolonization, the ATLU and its political wing, the Antigua Labor Party (ALP), under the leadership of Vere Bird, came to dominate island politics.

Having guided Antigua to independence in 1981, Bird became its first prime minister and proceeded to set up a personalist regime based on extensive corruption and nepotism, before passing power to his son, Vere Jr., in 1994. Vere Jr. has also been accused of corruption and engaging in bribery and questionable offshore banking dealings. In the 2004 elections, Bird and his ALP government were handily defeated by Baldwin Spencer of the United Progressive Party (UPP), which took control of 12 of the 17 legislative seats, thus ending the longstanding Bird family's grip over island politics. In the early 2000s, the ALP has been severely weakened from internal factionalism, and Vere Jr. faces criminal charges for corruption during his presidency.

Antigua and Barbuda
Population: 69,481 (2007 est.)
Area: Antigua 108 sq. mi; Barbuda 62 sq. mi
Official language: English
Languages: Local dialects
National currency: East Caribbean dollar
Principal religions: Anglican 25.7%; Seventh Day Adventist 12.3%; Pentecostal 10.6%; Moravian 10.5%; Roman Catholic 10.4%; Methodist 7.9%; Baptist 4.9%; Church of God 4.5%; other Christian 5.4%; other 2%; none or unspecified 5.8%
Ethnicity: Black 91%; mixed 4.4%; white 1.7%; other 2.9%
Capital: Saint John's
Annual rainfall: Averages 46 in
Economy: GDP per capita: US$10,900 (2005)

With nearly total elimination of agro-exports from its economy, Antigua is in the early 2000s heavily reliant upon U.S. capital and tourism. Antigua is involved in a trade dispute with the United States over its ban on online gambling, which is Antigua's second largest employer. Despite the WTO repeatedly siding with Antigua, the United States has made no changes.

See alsoBarbuda; Bird, Vere Cornwall; Leeward Islands.


Henry Paget, Peripheral Capitalism and Underdevelopment in Antigua (1985).

Franklin W. Knight, The Caribbean: The Genesis of a Fragmented Nationalism, 2d ed. (1990).

Robert Coram, Caribbean Time Bomb: The United States' Complicity in the Corruption of Antigua (1993).

Additional Bibliography

"New Prime Minister (Antigua & Barbuda)." Caribbean Update, May 1, 2004.

Rivlin, Gary. "Gambling Dispute with a Tiny Country Puts U.S. in a Bind." New York Times, August 23, 2007.

                                    Timothy P. Hawkins

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