Bernard Wiltshire, right, and map of the Caribbean
Bernard Wiltshire, right, and map of the Caribbean

A political and constitutional crisis is brewing in our sister island of Antigua & Barbuda. The Antigua Government has sent its armed forces to Barbuda in an effort to break the resistance of the Barbudan people and impose its will in the ongoing conflict over the land rights of the people of Barbuda. I recently reported in a previous article that the Antigua Government of Gaston Browne had forced through all three readings of the Crown Lands (Regulations) (Amendment) Act in the Antiguan Parliament in one day, the effect of which was to end, at a stroke, the long fought for and cherished right of Barbudans to own the island as communal property.

Arguing that Antigua and Barbuda is a unitary state and that all the land in any part of this state belonged to all the people of Antigua and Barbuda and not just to Barbudans, the new law repealed the 2007 Barbudan Land Act under which all the land of the island of Barbuda was vested in the people of Barbuda in common ownership.

The Government of Antigua and Barbuda have also justified their present policy and action on the ground that they needed to drag Barbuda into the 21st century by opening it up to foreign investment with the promise of jobs and economic "development". No matter that the Barbudans had shown at the last general election and more recently in a Council by-election in April of this year that they did not want that sort of development. In particular, they do not want to lose their system of communal land ownership, rightly seeing in this the foundational glue that keeps their community together. An attack on it therefore is an attack on their very existence as a distinct community.

This is what globalization is all about: sweep away all national and community identity if they stand in the way of business and money. Nothing is sacred; nothing is sacrosanct. Everything is for sale. The market is heaven.

A couple of weeks ago, PM Gaston Browne started getting more aggressive. He threatened to make the Barbuda Council, the local government of Barbuda, redundant, if it stood in his way. He followed this up with an illegal demand that the Council hand over the keys of their fisheries complex to Antiguan officials. On the council refusing, Browne has now dispatched his army and police forces to Barbuda to enforce his will on Barbudans.

Dominicans are urged to lend support to the people of Barbuda. The Kalinago people in particular should be concerned at the willingness of a Caribbean government to end by unilateral legislation rights enjoyed for decades or even centuries, especially with regard to land, for which their ancestors fought and on which their very survival as distinct communities depend. This is precisely what the Barbudans are now facing and we Dominicans can respond by writing to our Prime Minister urging him to raise the matter with his counterpart in Antigua. We could also, as sister Caribbean people and as members of the OECS, write to Prime Minister Browne in Antigua opposing his policy towards Barbuda and urging him to speedily restore the people's rights there.

Today it is Barbuda; who will it be tomorrow?

Bernard Wiltshire

2nd July 2018