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.
Head of state: Queen Elizabeth II, represented by a governor-general.
Prime minister: Freundel Stuart
Freundel Stuart was sworn in as prime minister when his predecessor, David Thompson, died in office in October 2010.
The late Prime Minister David Thompson
Mr Stuart, who had been deputy prime minister and attorney general was appointed by Governor General Sir Clifford Husbands to head the government until elections in 2012.
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.
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 called for unity after an unusually bitter campaign.
In September 2010, Mr Thompson was confirmed to have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer following repeated trips to the United States for medical treatment. He died shortly afterwards.
Barbados has a two-house parliament comprising the directly-elected House of Assembly and the Senate.
The media are free of censorship and state control and often criticise the government.
All newspapers are privately-owned, and there is a mix of private and public radio stations.
Although the sole TV 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.
There were 188,000 internet users by March 2011 (Internetworldstats).
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