Before Christopher Columbus entered an island in what is now the Bahamas at the end of the 15th century, Aruak Indians lived there, who called the islands “Guanahani” and themselves “Lukku-Cairi” (islanders). They were called Indios by Columbus, who thought he was on a West Indian island. Later the islands were called “baja mar” (low water) by the Spaniards, from which the name Bahamas developed. The Spaniards dragged the local Indians to the mines on the Hispaniola island (today partly Haiti, partly Dominican Republic), where they quickly died from the consequences of forced labor and diseases brought in by the colonialists.
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In the mid-17th century, branches of British settlers were founded on the island of Cigatoo, which they renamed Eleuthera (Greek for freedom). The island of New Providence was populated a little later. In 1656 the town of Charles Town was founded, which was called Nassau from 1697 (in honor of the British King William III of the House of Orange-Nassau). The British drafted a first constitution and elected their first governor (1671). At the same time they started growing cotton, and the first black slaves were brought in from West Africa to work on the plantations. In 1718, the Bahamas became the British crown colony and received a constitution that was largely preserved until the 20th century. Against the constant attacks by pirates who had bases on some of the islands,
From the middle of the 18th century to the 20th century
During the North American War of Independence (1775-83) the Bahamas were temporarily occupied by the Americans under John Paul Jones, for a short time by the Spaniards in 1782. After the North Americans’ victory over Britain, many American loyalists, adherents of the British crown, settled in the Bahamas (after 1783) who continued to build a plantation economy. After the abolition of slavery in 1834, a large part of the plantations had to be given up due to the lack of (unpaid) labor, mainly small agricultural companies. Around 12,000 of the total population of around 17,000 people at that time were black.
According to AbbreviationFinder, Bahamas experienced an economic boom during the American Civil War (1861-65) as the center for arms smuggling.
The 20th century
During the prohibition period in America from 1920 to 1930, alcohol was smuggled on the islands on a large scale, which turned out to be very lucrative and attracted numerous visitors to the islands. After the end of the Second World War, tourism became the main source of foreign currency alongside fishing, timber and salt trade (one of the largest salt extraction plants in the world is located on the island of Inagua).
In 1964, Great Britain granted the Bahamas internal autonomy. The electoral system was fundamentally changed to the disadvantage of the white minority, which previously held key political positions. The first general and free elections in 1967 won Lyndon Pindling with the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) clearly ahead of the United Party (party of the white population), Pindling became the first black Prime Minister of the Bahamas.
The Bahamas gained state independence on July 10, 1973, but remained in the British Commonwealth. Queen Elizabeth II thus remained head of state and was represented on the islands by a local governor-general.
It was not until 1992 that the Progressive Liberal Party, which had ruled since 1967, was replaced by the conservative Free National Movement (FNM) party under Hubert Alexander Ingraham. The reason for the political change was the involvement of high-ranking politicians in drug dealing (the Bahamas served as a stopover for numerous drug transports to the USA) and corruption allegations, which had repeatedly led to the resignation of individual ministers. A year later, the new government under Prime Minister Ingraham passed a deportation law after the island was flooded by a wave of refugees from Haiti and Cuba. In the following years, the country suffered from the poor economic situation in the United States, which had a negative impact on tourism – the main source of income for the Bahamas.
The granting of tax advantages already introduced under Pindling and the consistent protection of banking secrecy made the Bahamas an international financial center and one of the so-called “tax havens” in the world. In its report at the end of 2000, the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) accused the Bahamas (as well as some other tax havens) of a lack of cooperation in combating money laundering or an unfair tax policy.
In 2002, the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) under Perry Christie won the parliamentary elections by an absolute majority. The parliamentary elections in May 2007 brought a change of government: The winner was the Free National Movement (FNM) under Hubert Ingraham. He was head of government from 1992 to 2002. The defeat of the PLP is attributed to a number of scandals in which the Christie government has been involved in previous months.
The Bahamas belong to the group of 15 CARIFORUM countries with which the EU signed so-called economic partnerships at the end of 2007. The signing of the agreements and their entry into force was postponed until mid-2008. The island nation has been increasingly struggling with the problem of Haitian boat refugees. It is estimated that there are 60,000 Haitians in the Bahamas, about half of whom are illegal.