Nearly Two Years Later and Barbuda Is Still Struggling to Recover from Irma

I was recently sent a video which exposed the fact that nearly two years after Barbuda was hit by Hurricane Irma, the recovery is still moving very slowly. The video explains there still has not been an independently audited report on the money and the materials that were donated to Barbuda. The video goes on to point out that most of the important buildings in Barbuda have either remained untouched or have been repaired through private funding, which raises further questions regarding what the government of Antigua and Barbuda has done with the money that was donated. This was not surprising to me since Barbudans have constantly complained about how slowly the government has been moving with repairing Barbuda. Trevor Walker, the Member of Parliament for Barbuda, complained about this very issue in December. He explained:

We had an issue because the truck to dig the hole could not have been sent to Barbuda for almost an entire year. There is no wire so people have to be sleeping in darkness and being disturbed by mosquitoes, while others have resorted to buying fuel to power their generators.

Despite the slow progress being made in repairing Barbuda, Prime Minister Gaston Browne declared:

We have repaired public institutions and the reality is that Barbuda is significantly better today than it was several months ago, so I do not know what they are complaining about.

That statement is very typical of the dismissive attitude that Browne has towards the people of Barbuda. Browne described Barbuda’s system of common land ownership — a system which dates back to the 1800s after slavery was abolished in Barbuda — as being a “glorified welfare system.” Much of Prime Minister Browne’s comments about Barbuda’s system of common land ownership has centered on Barbuda being too dependent Antigua. The prime minister even went so far as to describe Barbuda as a “giant welfare island” and castigated people who were raising concerns about a land grab taking place in Barbuda as being “dunce elements”. Browne’s tone throughout the whole situation has been both very dismissive and very disrespectful to the people of Barbuda.

When the issue of Antigua’s independence was discussed in the British Parliament, Giles Radice expressed his concerns about Antigua’s independence because of the fact that the people Barbuda opposed a union. Radice explained:

However, I cannot give Antiguan independence an unqualified welcome, because of the hostility of the overwhelming majority of inhabitants of the island of Barbuda to their association with Antigua. The hostility has expressed itself in a number of ways. In the April 1980 election, the member for Barbuda who campaigned on the basis of a separate future for the island was elected by a two-thirds majority. All six members of the Barbudan council are in favour of a separate Barbuda. The Barbudan delegation to the constitutional conference sought separation from the administrative control of Antigua. Half the time of the conference was devoted to Antigua.

Radice also explained:

Rightly or wrongly, the Barbudans deeply distrust the Antiguans. They believe that they will be exploited and badly governed by an independent Antigua. They believe that the Antiguan Government do not and will not reflect their interests. They believe that they will not get their fair share of public spending. They fear that the police force, which is wholly Antiguan, will be biased against the Barbudans. They fear that their land will be bought up and exploited by Antiguans.

I mention this because everything that is happening under Browne’s leadership is precisely what the people of Barbuda feared would happen. The particular concern that Barbudans had regarding their land is especially important to note because, as I have explained in an article that I wrote for Huffington Post, citizens in a number of Caribbean countries have struggled to protect their lands against foreign ownership. One of the Caribbean nations that has dealt with this issue is St. Lucia.

Prime Minister Allen Chastanet of Saint Lucia was among the Caribbean leaders who met with President Donald Trump recently regarding the situation in Venezuela. Prime Minister Browne was among those who criticized this meeting, prompting Chastanet to defend himself. Browne and Chastanet may disagree over CARICOM’s position regarding Venezuela, but both leaders have adopted very similar positions regarding the land issue that I mentioned. Chastanet expressed the view that denying Lucians access to their own beaches was “justified”. Browne is no different. His vision for Barbuda is one that essentially takes control of the land in Barbuda away from the Barbudan people and places it in the hands of foreigners like Robert De Niro.

Juliana Nnoko-Mewanu, who is a researcher on women and land at Human Rights Watch, warned that “ change in land ownership in Barbuda could harm Barbuda’s most vulnerable people, including women, children, and the elderly.” She also stressed that the “ government needs to consult with Barbudans before any such drastic change to make sure that their rights are protected.” Thus far the government has not even made a serious attempt to consult with Barbudans.

Dwayne is the author of several books on the history and experiences of African people, both on the continent and in the diaspora. His books are available through Amazon. You can also follow Dwayne on Facebook and Twitter.

Dwayne Wong (Omowale) is a Guyanese born Pan-Africanist, author, and law student.

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