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The Americas

Caribbean Islands

 

Modern Bahamas (Lucayan Archipelago)
AD 1973 - Present Day
Incorporating Heads of State (1973-2023), & Independent Constitutional Monarchy (1973-On)

The Bahamas are the northernmost chain of islands in the Americas to be situated between the North Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Part of the Lucayan Archipelago, the islands stretch from a point just to the east of Florida in the United States to a point just to the north of Hispaniola (today's Haiti and Dominican Republic). To the south is Cuba and to the south-east, between the Bahamas and Haiti, are the Turks and Caicos Islands, a British possession.

The Bahamas include seven hundred islands and 2,400 cays, with a total land area of 13,877.16 square kilometres. Only thirty islands are inhabited but, as of the year 2000, the Bahamas had a population of over 300,000. The islands draw their name from 'Bahama' (meaning 'large upper middle island'), the Taino name for what is now called Grand Bahama Island. An alternative theory shows it originating in the Spanish 'bajamar' (meaning 'shallow water').

The islands were settled by the Taino group of Native Americans between about AD 300-400. They arrived in the Greater Antilles chain from South America. Those who settled the Bahamas were known as the Lucayans. Throughout the Caribbean, the Taino had small cities which were ruled by chieftains. In 1493, almost immediately after the initial landing by Christopher Columbus in the Bahamas on 12 October 1492, the Taino population was devastated an epidemic, either of swine influenza or smallpox, which struck across the Antilles and resulted in the disappearance of the native population by 1515.

The Spanish empire never settled the Bahamas, but it did enslave and deport a substantial number of natives to work in Cuba and Hispaniola within the Spanish Colonies. The rest mainly died out due to disease. The first permanent European settlement was established in 1649 by English Puritans who were known as the 'Eleutheran Adventurers'.

Those adventurers nearly starved to death before receiving food from the Massachusetts Bay English Colony. In gratitude, they sent brasileto wood back to the colony, and the proceeds were used to buy land for the future Harvard University. The Bahamas became a British crown colony in 1718 when they restored order after a brief reign by pirates (since 1706).

The Bahamas became an 'Independent Constitutional Monarchy' in 1973, with a parliamentary democracy based on the British model. The head of state remains the monarch of the United Kingdom, represented locally by a governor-general who is appointed by the monarch on the recommendation of the prime minister of the Bahamas. The parliament is a bicameral body which consists of a senate. Its members are appointed by the governor-general on the advice of the prime minister, the leader of the opposition, and an elected 'House of Assembly'. The country is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.

Caribbean Islands

(Information by John De Cleene, with additional information from The Times Atlas of World History, Geoffrey Barraclough (Ed, Hammond Inc, 1979), from 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, Charles C Mann (Vintage, 2005), and from External Links: The Bahamas (Encyclopaedia Britannica), and Bahamas (The Government of the Bahamas), and Bahamas (Rulers.org), and Our Past (Bahamas.com), and Government House: The Bahamas (Advisor.Travel), and Royals, republicanism and reparations (The Guardian), and Why rising sea levels pose existential threat to the Bahamas (The Guardian).)

1973

Sir John Warburton Paul

UK acting governor (previously governor).

1973

The 'Commonwealth of the Bahamas' becomes independent of direct control by the United Kingdom. With its own parliament now controlling island affairs, it joins the United Nations as well as the Commonwealth of Nations.

Built on a hill known as Mount Fitzwilliam and completed in 1806, Government House is an imposing Georgian-era stuccoed-coral-rock building on Duke Street. The Oriental Herald, in 1825, had stated that 'the new Government-House, standing on the centre of the ridge which overlooks the town... is built in the European style of architecture and is universally considered the best building of the kind throughout the West Indies'.

Government House, Bahamas
Government House stands on Mount Fitzwilliam hill, in the Bahamas, a Georgian construction of stuccoed-coral-rock on Duke Street

1973 - 1979

Sir Milo B Butler

Governor-general.

1979 - 1988

Sir Gerald Cash

Governor-general.

late 1980s

The late eighties see allegations of collusion arise between members of the government and drug traffickers. The allegations begin to weaken the hold of the ruling Progressive Liberal Party (PLP), which has been in power since 1953 and the days of more direct British controls.

In addition, immigration from the perennially poor Haiti, both legal and illegal, begins to tax the economic and social resources of the Bahamas and becomes a contentious issue to the present day.

1988 - 1992

Sir Henry Taylor

Governor-general.

1992

The Free National Movement (FNM) wins elections and comes to power for the first time since it had been formed in 1972, defeating the PLP. The new prime minister is Hubert A Ingraham. The outgoing prime minister is Sir Lynden O Pindling, who has been in office since 1967.

Sir Lynden Pindling, Bahamas
Lynden Pindling (1930-2000, shown centre) was the first Bahamian prime minister, while also serving as the PLP party leader between 1956-1997 and being known as the father of the nation

1992 - 1995

Sir Clifford Darling

Governor-general.

1995 - 2001

Sir Orville Alton Turnquest

Governor-general.

2001 - 2005

Dame Ivy Dumont

First female governor-general.

2003

From this point onwards (to 2023) some 4.6 million tourists visit the Bahamas. Tourism grows to account for around forty percent of the Bahamas' gross domestic product. The islands also function as a major base for bank branches and subsidiaries and for insurance companies. Some of the banking activities remain questionable, sometimes highly so.

2005 - 2006

Paul Adderley

Acting governor-general.

2006 - 2010

Arthur Dion Hanna

Governor-general.

2010 - 2014

Sir Arthur Foulkes

Governor-general.

2014 - 2019

Dame Marguerite Pindling

Female governor-general.

2016

Despite experiencing a sluggish economy, the government of Prime Minister Perry G Christie (PLP) institutes a National Health Insurance (NHI) programme which provides universal healthcare coverage, much like the NHS does in Britain.

Caribbean independence supporters in St Vincent in 2022
Protesters in St Vincent during the royal visit by the earl and countess of Wessex in 2022 showed that calls for independence were not going away

2019 - 2023

Cornelius A Smith

Governor-general.

2022

At least two painful exchanges take place between island governments in the Caribbean and the earl and countess of Wessex during their week-long tour of the British-linked Caribbean islands. Comments during a meeting on Antigua & Barbuda makes likely a future pursuit of full independence.

St Kitts & Nevis also reveals its plan to cut ties with the United Kingdom, with a growing sense of injustice around the former slave trade being used as a key point. Earlier in the year the same sentiment has already been echoed by the Bahamas, Belize, Grenada, and Jamaica.

2023

A new book by Christina Gerhardt explains why the islands of the Bahamas face a bleak future due to increasing climate breakdown. The Bahamas face the highest regional risk level due to rising sea levels due to their low elevation, with Mount Alvernia being the highest point in the islands. Most of the islands rest just a few feet above sea level.

Hurricane Dorian damage in the Bahamas in 2019
Damage caused by 2019's Hurricane Dorian to Marsh Harbour, Great Abaco, Bahamas, was a sign of increasingly worse storms to come, along with rising sea levels

The islands are largely limestone-based, the 'Swiss cheese' of geology, which is extremely permeable and porous. It allows saltwater to intrude, and can even soak it up like a sponge. When sea levels rise, the islands will be inundated not only along the shoreline but also from underground as water can percolate up through the porous material.

2023 - On

Cynthia Pratt

Governor-general (from 1 Sep).

 
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