Country profile: The Bahamas
Country profile: The Bahamas
The ‘swimming pigs’ of the Bahamas - now a big tourist attraction. © Gabrielle Manni
Tourists have been going to the Bahamas for a long time. It’s an escape. It has everything a perfect Caribbean holiday needs: sandy beaches, coconut trees, friendly people, clear water and interesting local food. It has reggae music in every restaurant and sunshine at least 355 days of the year. But there are a few problems too.
Tourists love some of this history: stories about pirates and attacks make it more exciting. There has always been corruption in the Bahamas. It has had slavery, selling alcohol illegally, and now, offshore banking, which is similar to piracy.
Junkanoo, a traditional performance of music, dance and costumes Mandy Roberts
Nassau, the capital, has casinos, luxury hotels and expensive shops. But many of the islands, for example in the south, do not have a lot of tourism and still have a simple way of living. In the northern half of the Bahamas, development is ending the typical island life. And the big difference between the very rich tourists and the local people has caused some crime.
The rich area in Nassau is ‘Out West’ but many Bahamians live ‘Over the Hill’ – their name for the simpler end of town with older houses and basic standards of living. On the outer islands, there is a different divide. In northern islands like Abaco, there’s a big difference between native Bahamians and illegal migrants from Haiti, who live in shanty towns (‘The Mud’) with simple buildings without proper sanitation and electrical wiring.
An 82-year-old Acklins Islander after Hurricane Joaquin, October 2015. Vanessa Arnell
The Bahamas is the richest country in the Caribbean and there is corruption in the government. But many young Bahamians like me are worried that the country has been asleep since its independence from Britain in 1973. It has done a lot to improve tourism, but it hasn’t created a future for Bahamian people. The big investors are using up the natural resources and everyone else lives off tourism to try to be like the US. They used to have good printing, citrus, sugar cane, rum and beer industries. But now they need to pay a lot to import these.
Young people do not have many choices: tourism or banking. And they do not understand that the government is not worried about this. If we’re going to continue using the phrase ‘It’s better in the Bahamas’ then we need new standards. Better than where? And if we can’t do this, maybe the country should listen to the young people, who say ‘It’s time to wake up, Bahamas’.
Country profile: The Bahamas Fact File
Leader Prime Minister Perry Christie.
Economy GNI per person $20,980 (Haiti $820, United States $55,230). Tourism is the most important industry. Tourism and related construction together are 60% of GDP and half of the islands’ jobs. Financial and business services, including offshore banking – are 35% of GDP, and there is very little other industry.
Money Bahamian dollar.
Main exports Very few: crawfish, crude salt and aragonite (a carbonate mineral).
People 383,000. Annual population growth 2011-15 1.4%. People per square kilometre 38 (UK 267).
Health Infant mortality 10 per 1,000 births (Haiti 52, US 6). Lifetime risk of maternal death 1 in 1,400 (Haiti 1 in 80, US 1 in 1,800). HIV 3.2%.
Environment There is some protection of sealife, with fishing regulations and national marine parks for young fish. But problems include coral reef decay, illegal over-fishing and solid waste disposal. Some areas recycle, but there are areas where they burn waste. CO2 emissions 5.2 tonnes per person.
Language English (official). Haitian immigrants speak Creole.
Religion Christian, with about 35% Baptist, 14% Anglican, 12% Catholic,9% Seventh Day Adventist and many other Protestant groups.
Human development index 0.790, 55th of 188 countries (Haiti 0.483, US 0.915).
Country profile: The Bahamas ratings in detail
Income distribution There is now more inequality and poverty because of unemployment, particularly for migrants, Bahamians with low skills and people in the more remote islands. There is now more difference between rich and poor.
Life expectancy 75 years (Haiti 63, US 79).
Position of women Many women have good jobs in tourism, politics and banking, but there is a lot of domestic violence and making women objects. Rape in marriage is legal. Bahamian women cannot pass on their citizenship to children born outside the country.
Literacy Bahamians are proud of their literacy (95.6%) and English in schools – and 98% of children go to primary school.
Freedom Everyone is allowed freedom of speech and say what they think. Local jails eg. ‘Fox Town’ are bad.
Sexual minorities Homosexuality is legal, but LGBT marriage is not, and many people do not like same-sex ‘behaviour’ – the country is very religious. People (usually tourists) can have same-sex unions privately, but this is illegal. LGBT rights movements have tried to change this, but have not had much success.
NI Assessment (Politics) The Progressive Liberal Party now runs the government. This is a high-energy, populist and socially liberal party. It says it is ‘centre-left’ but it has not done much to control finance capital or stop inequality. It supported gender equality in the referendum in June and has actively fought for stem-cell research in the country. But people have criticized it for not helping the outer islands eg. not giving much advance warning of Hurricane Joaquin in October 2015, or much help after it.
NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: https://newint.org/columns/country/2016/07/01/bahamas-country-profile/ (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have changed).