Antigua

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Antigua is an island in the Caribbean due north of Venezuela. It is the main island of Antigua and Barbuda. First inhabited by the Siboney ("stone people"), whose settlements date at least to 2400 B.C., they were succeeded by the Arawaks. They originated in Venezuela and gradually migrated up the chain of islands now called the Lesser Antilles. The warlike Carib people drove the Arawaks from neighboring islands but apparently did not settle on either Antigua or Barbuda.

Christopher Columbus landed on the islands in 1493, naming the larger one "Santa Maria de la Antigua." The English colonized the islands in 1632. Sir Christopher Codrington established the first large sugar estate in Antigua in 1674, and leased Barbuda to raise provisions for his plantations. Barbuda's only town is named after him. Codrington and others brought slaves from Africa's west coast to work the plantations.

Antiguan slaves were emancipated in 1834, but remained economically dependent on the plantation owners. Economic opportunities for the new freedmen were limited by a lack of surplus farming land, no access to credit, and an economy built on agriculture rather than manufacturing. Poor labor conditions persisted until 1939, which saw the birth of the trade union movement in Antigua and Barbuda.

For most of its modern history Antigua has been dominated by the Antigua Labour Party (ALP), formed by Bird and other trade unionists. However, in March 2004, when the ALP lost power in national elections. to the United Progressive Party (UPP).

The head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, who is represented in Antigua and Barbuda by a governor general who acts on the advice of the prime minister and the cabinet. Antigua and Barbuda has a bicameral legislature: a 17-member Senate appointed by the governor general--mainly on the advice of the prime minister and the leader of the opposition--and a 17-member popularly elected House of Representatives. The prime minister is the leader of the majority party in the House and conducts affairs of state with the cabinet. The prime minister and the cabinet are responsible to the Parliament. Elections must be held at least every 5 years but may be called by the prime minister at any time.

Constitutional safeguards include freedom of speech, press, worship, movement, and association. Antigua and Barbuda is a member of the eastern Caribbean court system. Jurisprudence is based on English common law.

The proximity of Antigua to Venezuela makes it vulnerable to the power of Hugo Chavez there.

Antigua and Barbuda's economies consist of construction, banking and insurance, communications, and wholesale and retail trade sectors, and also a substantial gambling business that included many American customers. It enjoys a boon in construction related to the 2007 Cricket World Cup. Tourism and hospitality are 50% of its GDP.

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