64_G15_Spotlight_Bahamas

Global Issue 15

Spotlight The Bahamas 400 years after Blackbeard, who shares the spoils on the treasure isles? In the 40 years since its independence, The Bahamas has gained a robust political system, but its off-shore finance industry attracts criminal syndicates looking for money laundering opportunities Anver Versi The Bahamas, an archipelago of over 700 ‘paradise’ islands, is one of the great playgrounds of the Western Atlantic. Its history and political development was one of the undercurrents of the larger forces that shaped the emergence of a new power in the world. This was where Christopher Columbus first made landfall on his fateful search for a new route to Asia in the 15th century and set into motion the chain of events that led to the founding of the great civilisations of the Americas. The distance between Florida and the nearest Bahamian island is only 45 miles and the maze of islands and secret creeks, cays and coves that litter the archipelago became the setting for some of the most colourful and often blood-curdling adventures in the region’s history, as England, Spain and later the Americans fought fierce territorial battles to control the gateway to the New World. It was also the haunt of ship-wreckers, privateers, buccaneers, whalers, smugglers, slave traders and swashbuckling pirates – the likes of Blackbeard and his cohorts – of such notoriety that their legend continues to form the stuff of a seemingly endless slew of adventure novels and films. Today, The Bahamas, with a GPD of over US$11 billion and a per capita income of over $30,000, is the wealthiest state in the Caribbean, attracting four to five million tourists, mainly from the United States, who make the annual pilgrimage to the sun-soaked islands to bask in the dozens of resorts and gamble to their heart's content in the numerous casinos. But the palm-fringed villas, golf-courses and marinas crowded with expensive yachts cannot dispel the atmosphere of rakishness that has been part of the history of the islands for such a long time. Its thriving off-shore finance industry has attracted both legitimate customers and organised crime money laundering operatives. The difficulty of effectively policing the wide-spread islands made it, at least in the recent past, a haven for drug traffickers and illegal immigration. Crime has become a major political issue. The Bahamas celebrated 40 years of independence from British rule in June this year with characteristic zest and exuberance. But there is an increasing sense of disquiet among the population of around 350,000. Blacks, descended from Africans taken as slaves, or those freed from the Americas, form 85 per cent of the population (whites make up most of the remaining 15 percent). But the majority still feel marginalised and bypassed by the development regime since 1967, when Sir Lynden Pindling became Prime Minister after his Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) won the first legislative election following the granting of internal autonomy in 1964. His campaign for total independence from Britain helped his party to a landslide victory in 1972. Independence followed a year later, but his vision of economic independence to match political independence still remains a dream for most of the population. The Bahamas adopted the Westminster model of multi-party democracy. It has an elected legislative body comprising 38 seats and a 16-seat nominated senate. Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II is the titular Head of State, represented by the governor-general, Sir Arthur Foulkes. The senate is appointed by the governor-general on advice from the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. Nassau, the largest city, is the capital. Two political parties, the left-centrist PLP and the right-leaning Free National Movement (FNM) have dominated politics since independence. Other parties, including the Democratic National Alliance, which field- Most of the large businesses are still owned by foreigners. The local population wants a bigger stake in ‘paradise’ 64 l www.global -br ief ing.org thi rd quar ter 2013 global


Global Issue 15
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