issue 204 - February 1990
In the l920s, the time of Prohibition in the United States, the Bahamas became a haven for liquor smugglers and bootleggers. Following in their wake came the good-timers and a tourist trade which went on to be one of the most successful in the developing world. Yet by the 1980s this Caribbean archipelago was once more prey to drug smugglers.
This time round it was narcotics and on a far greater scale since the peddlers enjoyed official protection, albeit at a price. The corruption extended to the highest levels. Prime Minister Lynden Pindling, himself openly accused, was finally forced by the US in 1987 to curb the trade and agree to joint Bahamian-American coastguard action.
But there was another reason for action, that of drug addiction in the Bahamas itself, which had assumed epidemic proportions. This alarming development had been officially ignored as it appeared that addiction was confined mainly to the Haitian immigrants living on the outskirts of the capital, Nassau - well away from the tourist areas and Bay Street, the affluent commercial centre. But when addiction spread into Bahamian youth, it could no longer be ignored.
Pindling, nicknamed 'Black Moses' for his stand against the 'Bay Street Boys' (the white establishment) greatly resented US pressure and only half-heartedly purged his government. He turned the US involvement into a campaign issue in the 1987 election and was swept back to power, restoring to office several of those he had purged.
At the same time, Pindling resisted pressure to break the strict confidentiality laws that protect the well-established off-shore finance industry. There was no doubt that some of those 400 or so institutions were used by organized crime, both North and South American, to 'launder' the proceeds of their illicit dealing. As a result some business was lost to other Caribbean offshore centers which had complied with US pressure to permit inspection. Some international financial corporations were anxious to distance themselves from the increasingly bad image of the Bahamas.
The Bahamian image problem - crime, drugs and declining standards - has also hit tourism. This and the sharply decreased income from the drug trade have forced an economic downturn - which in turn has sharpened the focus on the poor distribution of wealth between black and white.
But although the question of race will remain, few want to make it into a bigger issue. They know that if they did, the Bahamas' dependence on tourism and off-shore finance would become all too apparent. Sun-seekers and bankers would vote with their feet and take their money bags with them.
Leader: Head of state Queen Elizabeth II of the UK. Prime Minister Sir Lynden Pindling
Economy: GNP per capita $10,280 (US $18,530)
Monetary unit: Bahamian dollar
Tourism and off-shore finance are main income earners. Exports include petroleum products, pharmaceuticals, rum and cosmetics. Imports are crude oil, machinery and foodstuffs. Only three per cent of the land is cultivated but virtual self-sufficiency in poultry, meat, eggs, fruit and vegetables. Limes, pineapples and avocados are among agricultural exports.
Health: Infant mortality figure not available
Culture: A member of the Commonwealth, Bahamas was formerly a British sugar-producing island using slave labour. Blacks are the majority of the population; whites make up only 10-15 per cent but control some 90 per cent of the wealth.
Sources: World Bank Report 1989, Latin America & Caribbean Review 1988.
Power rests with governor-general (on behalf of sovereign) who is advised by cabinet headed by Prime Minister.