Antiguans and Barbudans - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The contemporary social structure consists of a small socioeconomic elite and two broad classes, middle and lower. The elite includes high-ranking political officials, local businessmen, major landholders, senior attorneys, and a few foreign entrepreneurs and expatriates who play important roles in the economy but who are noticeably absent from the official political process. The homes, cars, leisure activities, and family life of the elite are virtually indistinguishable from those of people in Antigua's middle class. The middle class includes young lawyers, landowners, teachers, clergymen, retailers, members of the civil service, and the few industrialists. The upper strata of the lower class consists of a petite bourgeoisie who own some productive resources and who may be self-employed. The large working class includes agricultural workers, fishermen, domestics, hotel workers, and common laborers. Barbudans are relatively homogeneous in terms of their homes and life-style; most are working class.

Political Organization. Few Antiguans could meet the property qualifications for voting, much less running for office, until well into the twentieth century. Planters controlled local politics until labor unrest heralded a movement for political reform. Adult suffrage was granted in 1951. Shortly thereafter, election rules were changed to allow greater participation among the working people. Independence occurred through a series of stages that Henry (1985) refers to as "constitutional decolonization." In 1969 the islands became associated states, gaining control of their internal affairs. Since 1981, Antigua and Barbuda has become a parliamentary democracy with a bicameral legislature and an elected prime ministen The governor-general is the representative of the British Crown. The government has proclaimed a nonaligned foreign policy but maintains its strongest political and economic ties with Britain, Canada, and the United States. There are two major political parties, the Antigua Labour party and the United Progressive party. The former, led by V. C. Bird, Sr., has been politically dominant since 1946.

Social Control. Antiguans and Barbudans pride themselves on being a law-abiding people; the crime rate remains low. A police force and a four-tiered court system presently serve the islands. The first tier consists of the magistrates' courts, which decide some family cases, disputes between persons over small property claims, personal grievances, traffic matters, and minor assaults. The High Court settles major civil and criminal cases. The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of the Eastern Caribbean meets intermittently. Because Antigua and Barbuda is a member of the Commonwealth, cases decided by the Supreme Court may be appealed to the Privy Council in England.

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