Barbuda land activists seek action from Commonwealth

Devastated By Irma, Barbuda's Population Took Shelter at the Stadium (file photo)

Activists are urging Commonwealth leaders meeting in Britain this week to throw their weight behind a campaign to preserve a centuries-old communal land ownership system on the Caribbean island of Barbuda.

After Britain abolished slavery in its colonies in 1834, Barbudans developed a system of communal land ownership, now threatened by government plans to introduce private land ownership to boost development and tourism.

Barbudans in Britain are calling on the Commonwealth, a 53-country body of mostly former British colonies, to put pressure on Gaston Browne, prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda.

“Selling the island as a commodity will just be the end of our utopia – what we know as paradise,” Annette Henry, manager of a social media group for the Barbudan diaspora, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, by telephone.

“We’re watching this from afar in aghast.”

Henry hopes the international meeting will rally the government of the twin-island state led by Browne, who won a snap election in March and is due to attend the summit.

Barbuda is recovering from a Category 5 storm that severely damaged or destroyed nearly half its buildings last September.

Many Barbudans fear a freehold system, as is operated in Antigua, would be a first step for increased foreign investment on the island, which receives no cruise ships and far fewer visitors than its tourism-dependent neighbor.

The bitter legal dispute gathered momentum in late December, when parliament passed an amendment to a decade-old law that enshrined communal land ownership. The amendment weakens the law’s provisions by allowing private land ownership and opening the door to foreign investment, activists said.

In March, Browne’s government announced its intention to repeal the law entirely.


Among prominent development projects on Barbuda is Paradise Found, a beachfront property in which Hollywood actor Robert De Niro has a financial stake.

A memorandum signed by Browne’s government and Paradise Found, which mentions De Niro as a stakeholder, and has been seen by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, has stirred controversy because the venture’s 198-year lease would convert to private land ownership if freehold tenure is established on Barbuda.

Barbuda’s lone parliamentarian, Trevor Walker, believes there is precedent for the Barbudans to keep their land.

“I’ve looked at aboriginals in Australia, maroons in Jamaica, Caribs in Dominica – they have ancestral rights to land within an independent country,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation via telephone from Barbuda, where power and water have yet to be fully restored.

“You cannot disregard the rights of indigenous people just for development – it’s a human rights violation.”

Browne’s office and the Antigua and Barbuda High Commission in London did not respond to requests for comments.

Browne told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview last year his plan would assist Barbuda’s recovery by facilitating mortgages to finance reconstruction and developing the island’s economy.

In Britain, human rights barrister Leslie Thomas told the Thomson Reuters Foundation the legislation had been rushed through like a “thief in the night” without adequate consultation from the Barbudan public or diaspora.

“The Barbudans maintain a completely unique way of life, they see themselves as the stewards and protectors of their pristine island, nowhere else in the Caribbean do you have this situation,” he said.

For Thomas, the case is a test for Britain and the Commonwealth – an organization encompassing a third of the world’s population – to prove its relevance and legitimacy.

“All families have weaker and vulnerable members … that doesn’t mean you’re less important. Barbuda is part of the family, what is the Commonwealth doing when it stands by and sees the Barbudan people having their rights taken away from them?,” said Thomas.

Henry and others in the Barbudan community hope to meet Browne in London this week and plan to rally British Barbudans in front of the Commonwealth headquarters on Thursday, she said.

“We will fight to the end on this.”

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  1. I commend you Barbudans! You know what it means to preserve posterity and you are doing just that! Antiguans, a word to the wise is sufficient!

  2. “…BARBUDANS developed a system of communal land ownership…”

    wow!! I wish Antiguans had the POWER TO DO SUCH A THING for themselves. I didn’t realize that people in and of themselves could develop their own system. wow! I learned something new today.

  3. Please mek them tek them percious land and go an tap mek the taxpayers of Antigua carry the burden of looking after them.

    • They will take their LAND to the GRAVE with them kicking and screaming on their death beds.

      What a one-sided “union” between Antigua and Barbuda. Barbudans can get land in Antigua, but NOT vice versa. Watta ting!!

      • We Have A Plot Of Land In Potter’s Village! It Was Passed Down To Mommy(Mother Freeland) From Her Dearly Young Departed Mommy! Within My Immediate Family(Yearwood, Marajah & Freeland)! They Are Having “Tribal Wars” For A Plot, Big Enough To Bury(6′ Under) Maybe 12 Adults! Did The Slaves From West Africa Who Was Brought In Shackles To Barbuda; “Bring Land Wid Dem, Pan Deh Slave Ships?” “Give Dem The Island, And Mek Dem Gwone Bout Dem Business!” Nothing Personal! JUST MY PERSONAL OPINION!📖📚🎓🌴

  4. “human rights injustices” and “failing democracy” in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

    These are people that have been given almost everything free after the hurricane. The Red Cross gave them ans still is giving them hard cash. Other groups have come in to give them much support. The government has cloth, fed and house them for free all these months. So tell me where in this is the human rights injustice.
    We just finish having a national election they participated in the election and chose the person they want to represent them in Parliament. So where in this is the failing democracy.
    Is it that they alone feel they have a say how their island is government and what laws and systems are put in place. Is it that they alone will decided that Antiguans should not have any rights to the lands over there. But on the other hands Antiguans are to be held responsible to ensure they have food on the table and pay all their bills.
    These are really ungrateful people. I wish they could be charge with Treason.

  5. I just find it really unfair for the Barbudans to be acting this way. The PM has not neglected them in anyway. He could have left them over there to fight their battle after Irma but he didn’t. Barbudans are allowed to come over her and make a living but we born and bread Antiguans can’t do the same over there. If they wanna keep their lands go ahead but me tired pay tax for them for sponge and leech off Antigua. To Barbudans the ‘and’ between A & B only applies when they see fit! Keep ur land and we keep our tax dollars!!

  6. Antiguans are such an ignorant set of people. Remember ignorant means ‘without knowledge’. They throw out wild statements without any facts or substance. I am Barbudan by decent, married to an Antiguan and raised in the UK so I get to see things from all sides. If you really understand, check it out, talk to Barbudans who have returned home, you would realise little the Barbudans have received and not just listen to the PM telling lies upon lies. Electricity IS NOT restored to the residents. There is no running water to all the homes. The litter from the hurricane is still not cleared. The bank isn’t open, the cash point is hardly filled. No constant supply of food. Total darkness every night. The runway has no lights but a $25mill airport is being built? Because of exposure, the school was reopened. Barbudans are actually quite clever and we in antigua should learn from them. When the MP did nothing for them, they voted him out. They fight because they know how much their heritage is important. I think Barbudans should be independent, manage their own affairs, sell their own sand, make a deal with an investor. Since inception, everyone including all the political parties, have raped Barbuda over and over. even Barbudans have sold out Barbuda for pittance. Come on people, open your eyes, see corruption for what it is no matter who is in power, red or blue – one top ranking minister said ‘corruption is in the very fabric of this governement’. That just sums it up. How sad…

    • Really so what at you saying is that it is the Antiguans responsibily to go an clean up Barbudans while they here living the good life. While the government have to spend so.much to give them shelter 3 square meal a day school their kids pay them though they not working. Given me a break. You stay ur ass in the UK an calling u Antiguans who are carrying the weight of looking after these people ignorant. Get real.lady the only thin u said thatbi can agree with is that Barbuda should be given their independance so that my hard earn tax dollar can stop looking after then ungreatful unthankful ass.

  7. seriously barbudan why are yourll so ungrateful..yourll behaving like
    gaston brown brought the hurrican on yourll

    yourll want to stay in antigua ..get 3 square meal a day still being paid
    living lavish life

    yourll do not want to go and clean up yourll country ..what the the hell yourll expect the government to clean it up for yourll

    yourll keep asking for yourll you think feeding yourll for over 6 months/ clothing /shelter is free

    in dominica / puerto rico -virgin island – most of these area do not have eletricity
    these people went and clean up the dmages

    get up yourll lazy ungrateful self and go clena yourll precious land

    thats all your talk about is land
    you cannot own something if your name is not own it
    get yourll independence/ stop depend on antigua tas payers money

    ungrateful rats

    trevor was in power for 10 years what he did for yourll

    please tell me — just name 1

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