The eastern Caribbean nation of Barbados has seen tourism overtake the export of sugar as its main revenue earner.
Known for its beaches and cricket – its national sport – the former British colony has a dual heritage: English – evident in its stone-built Anglican churches and Saturday race meetings – and African reflected in its music and dance.
Barbados is one of the more populous and prosperous Caribbean islands. Political economic and social stability have given it one of the highest standards of living in the developing world.
It is a centre for financial services and has offshore reserves of oil and natural gas.
In recent years a construction boom has taken hold with new hotels and housing complexes springing up. The trend accelerated as the island prepared to host some of the key Cricket World Cup matches in 2007.
However a shortage of jobs has prompted many Barbadians – more often known as Bajans – to find work abroad. The money that they send home is an important source of income.
Most Barbadians are the descendants of African slaves who were brought to the island from the 17th century to work the sugar cane plantations.
Limestone caverns coral reefs and a warm climate tempered by trade winds are among the island’s natural assets. Barbados is relatively flat with highlands in the interior.
- Full name: Barbados
- Population: 256000 (UN 2009)
- Capital: Bridgetown
- Area: 430 sq km (166 sq miles)
- Major language: English (Bajan an English-African dialect is widely used)
- Major religion: Christianity
- Life expectancy: 74 years (men) 80 years (women) (UN)
- Monetary unit: 1 Barbadian dollar = 100 cents
- Main exports: Sugar and molasses rum other foods and beverages chemicals electrical components clothing
- GNI per capita: US$9260 (World Bank 2005)
- Internet domain: .bb
- International dialling code: +1246
Head of state: Queen Elizabeth II represented by a governor-general.
Prime minister: David Thompson
Elections in mid-January 2008 saw former junior finance minister David Thompson and his Democratic Labour Party win 20 of the 30 seats in parliament.
|David Thompson (centre) meets US President George Bush in March 2008|
Mr Thompson ousted Owen Arthur of the Barbados Labour Party who had been prime minister for three terms since 1994.
The top issues for voters were the high cost of living in Barbados and the affordability of housing. Health care and transport infrastructure also featured.
Mr Thompson has called for unity after an unusually bitter campaign.
Barbados has a two-house parliament comprising the directly-elected House of Assembly and the Senate.
Barbadians enjoy full freedom of expression. This is reflected in the media which is free of censorship and state control and often criticises the government.
All newspapers are privately-owned and there is a mix of private and public radio stations.
Although the country’s sole television station is run by the government-owned Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation it presents a wide range of political views. The CBC also operates MCTV a multi-channel and pay-TV service.