People who lost everything in Hurricane Irma in Barbuda are now gearing up for another fight, attempting to block a governmental reform that they say will force them off their land just as they prepare to rebuild their lives.
John Mussington lost his home, and his school, when Hurricane Irma hit. Buildings were flattened, trees uprooted, and the lush tropical landscape turned into a barren wasteland.
Yet Mr Mussington, the principal of the only secondary establishment on the island, was philosophical. The 1,800 residents of Barbuda had been evacuated to neighbouring Antigua, and after the September 6 storm he expected at the time to simply return and rebuild.
Now, however, three months later, his situation has taken a dramatic turn for the worse – and he is fighting not to lose the very island itself.
“Our worst fears have been realised,” he told The Telegraph. “The powers that be want us off our land.”
Mr Mussington, 56, is ready for a fight.
On December 20 he and his fellow islanders went to the high court of Antigua and Barbuda to attempt to see off the reform.
They have enlisted the help of Leslie Thomas QC, the London-based barrister who represented 11 of the 96 families of Hillsborough Stadium victims, as well as the family of Mark Duggan.
Mr Thomas argued that the repeal of the 2007 Barbudan land reform act is being carried out without proper consultation of the islanders themselves.
Gaston Browne, prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, argues in turn that the land reform will empower the islanders.
Mr Mussington and Mr Thomas beg to differ.
The land on Barbuda, a tiny Caribbean outpost, has been communally owned for generations. The law originates from an unofficial tenure system, established following the islanders’ emancipation from slavery, whereby land acquired would be handed down to descendants and bush land would be held in commonage.
When Barbuda gained its independence from Britain in 1981, the custom survived, and was enshrined in the 2007 land act. That law prevented the purchase of land by outsiders – you needed to have had a Barbudan grandmother to be able to buy land – and thus prevented the arrival of foreign-run hotels, casinos, restaurants and bars.
As a result Barbuda, an idyllic spot loved by Diana, princess of Wales, and where she holidayed with William and Harry in April 1997, four months before her death, retained its sleepy beauty.
That all changed on the night of the storm. And yet the islanders, safe on Antigua, intended to go back and start again.
Mr Browne, however, had other plans.
On September 11 he announced that he wants to reform the law so that communal land be turned into freehold territory, to be bought and sold. He also wants to change the definition of a Barbudan, so that anyone who can claim “residency” can buy and sell land – a vague and easily exploitable loophole, the islanders argue.
Mr Browne told parliament that Barbudans – of whom only around 360 have returned so far – had been “relegated to squatters”, after indicating that they were never in possession of any documents indicating that they owned the lands where they had built homes, opened businesses and other activities.
“Barbuda can’t progress until the present land tenure is settled,” he said, adding that no country can move forward without having a proper rights system.
“This is a time to put aside the politics and look at issues based on merit.
“When you give a Barbudan freehold, first of all those who have their properties that are damaged, they can go into the bank, they can borrow money, they can repair their properties, they can get a mortgage they can build. They can get a loan for student purposes, to businesses. It is a form of empowerment.
“I want to tell you, the Barbudans I have spoken to, they are absolutely elated over it.”
But Mr Mussington is outraged. He denies there has been any consultation, saying they only learnt of the proposal when it was leaked to the press, and sees it as merely a ploy to force them off their land.
Wayde Burton, a councillor for Barbuda, lost the roof of his home, his household items, and fishing boat. But, he told The Telegraph, he is one of the few to have moved back, and is trying to rebuild.
“I can’t say why Gaston Browne is doing what he is doing,” he said.
But he added that the government had been trying for years to get their hands on Barbuda’s undeveloped land.
“What I can say is that what is happening is common when ALP is the ruling party.
“Most of Barbuda is farm and grazing lands, and then you have swamp areas.
“To the best of my knowledge, no one was consulted about the reforms to the land act being proposed.”
Mr Mussington added: “Today we are seeing the real reason for that forced evacuation.”
The island remains without water, electricity or schools, and the hospital is only partially operative. He believes it is a deliberate shutdown to keep the islanders from going home.
“Nothing is available on the ground to allow Barbudans to return,” he said.
“In the meantime, land is being cleared. It is claimed it is for some sort of airport.
“But all of that is a plot to begin selling land on Barbuda. The idea is to turn this into a private island, for people to make millions.”
Mr Burton, the councillor, added: “I oppose the land reforms strongly. Land is a very valuable resource, more so when the land you live on has so very little to offer.
“It is typical for politicians to enrich themselves at the cost of the people they should be serving. Now that virgin land is scarce in Antigua, those that are in Barbuda look ripe for the taking.”
Parliament had its first reading of The Barbuda Land Amendment Bill of 2017 on December 12. While it was heard, several members of two opposition parties protested outside of parliament.
Mr Browne, presenting the bill, attempted to assuage fears, saying: “If you want to continue to live communally without title, that is fine. They can continue to exercise that option, but we are saying here that an additional option will be given to them so that if they so desire, they will have freehold ownership of land in Barbuda.”
He added, in another bid for reassurance: “All investors who come to the country – if they want to invest in Barbuda, land will continue to be given on a lease-own basis.”
Three readings are necessary, but Mr Mussington fears it could be rushed through in a day when parliament returns from its Christmas break on December 28.
And he is hoping that Mr Thomas’s appeals to the judge, currently in deliberation, will result in an injunction, blocking the reform.
“This is a classic land grab,” he said. “Barbudans will not sit idly by to allow the government to steal our land, our heritage, our way of life.
“We are not dead. We are still here. And we will resist.”
Advertise with the mоѕt vіѕіtеd nеwѕ ѕіtе іn Antigua!
We offer fully customizable and flexible digital marketing packages.
Contact us at [email protected]
THIS BULLYING, THE PM HAVE A BLACK HEART. HE HAS NO SOUL, SATAN IS BUSY, I ALWAYS WONDER HOW PEOPLE like the PM sleep at night, how can SOMEONE LIKE your SPOUSE ETC LOOK AT YOU OR SIT NEXT TO SOMEONE LIKE THE DEVIL? YET AGAIN SHE’S A CHILD HER SELF, GOD NEITHER SLUMBER NOR SLEEP, THE SINS OF THE 1ST, 2ND & 3RD GENERATION WILL FALL ON UOUR CHILDREN, NO WEAPONS FORM AGAINST THE BARBARIANS SHALL PROSPER, WHEN ALL THIS IS OVER, THE PM & HIS COHEAARTS MIGHT BE SERVING TIME IN BRAZIL, YOU MIGHT NEED THE BARBUDANS TO RESCUE YOU, PM GOD HAS A BETTER PLAN, YOUR PLAN IS THE HAVE THE MBB & COMPANY TO GET CONTROL OF THAT LITTLE ISLAND, YOU FEEL MIGHTY & STRONG NOW, ALL IT TAKES IS ONE SICKNESS. YOU ARE A SICK INDIVIDUAL, AS IT IS RIGHT NOW, ANTIGUANS SHOULD CALL FOR A PSYCHOLOGICAL EVALUATION BECAUSE YOUR BEHAVIOR IS NOT NORMAL & SURE AS HELL UNPROFESSIONAL, your ELEVATOR doesn’t GO ALL THE WAY TO THE TOP
So they going to get a court to stop from parliament from doing what its role is? Seems some idiots think that in this nation the tail wags the dog.No respect for the laws of their own country. Wait for the law to pass, that’s the procedure. However even then they will still lose but at least they will be following the proper procedure
How can Gaston Browne expect to proceed with this Barbuda legislation and exclude and override the Barbuda Council?
During the last Council elections he spent an exorbitant amount of money and time trying to sway the people and it did not work. After that the next time the people saw Gaston Browne, it was 6 months later, in September, after the hurricane. He started fixing the roads in Barbuda, and once the election results didn’t go his way, he didn’t pass back.
Look at the way Barbudans have been treated since hurricane Irma. Up to now, basic services like electricity and water have not been restored. Is anyone surprised that Barbudans are outraged? Gaston Browne has not demonstrated that he has any genuine interest in the people of Barbuda!
But like everything else that he has tried to do, Gaston Browne will fail. He tried giving Barbudans honey during the Barbuda Council elections and it didn’t work, so now he is on to vinegar!
@stan u talk about God but sounds like u got a lot of hate in you for this individual called our PM. U barbudans are annoying the PM should just let y’all go back and fix shit on your own and keep the money to build up Antigua since y’all wanna do whatever the hell y’all want lol
How SAD, you sound LIKE AN AN ANGRY BLACK MAN, WHY DON’T YOU become more productive & build up ANTIGUA? Today is the BARBUDANS tomorrow will be ANTIGUANS, GIVE THEM THE DAM LAND & SHUT TO HELL UP !
Wow do u realize Antiguans own their own land have title which constitute wealth like every other civilize society. I am not being angry at u Juliana, but we are supposed to be one. Antigua and Barbuda. We are supposed to building up each other. Where the hell this confusion come from. When the hell will it be Antiguans turn what will the Government be selling. U Barbudians keep singing the old folklore tale about land where is it getting you. There are more Barbudans abroad living the good life leaving the others home as watchmen to safeguard something to really don’t own until u make your millions in another man’s land. Why don’t all of u repatriate and build up your island Barbuda. And stop sitting on the side line where ur comfy and just chat garbage. JUST ASKING. Barbuda don’t need this type of rhetoric. It need ur god dam help and support. And by the way u sound a bit confused about your ethnicity. Have a blessed new Year since i am not a believer of Christmas as u being a true Barbudan
I was under the impression for ALL my life this country shared the same PM with Antigua… His job is to do what is best for both Antigua and Barbuda citizens (even if both countries have gripe or distrust for each other)…
Arbitual and off the book laws CAN be overridden and replaced with solid Legislation.
I agree w giving Barbudans a shot at outright owning lands BUT should be reserved to Barbudans giving the rescent devastation.
People should try to maintain some mature decorum in spite of disagreenents…. i had to see our prime minister BEG for money at various international arenas to help rebuild barbuda and to see the same people he is trying to help cast him as Satan/souless/borberline paedophile/and ALL the other evil names they can conjure up is just small on their part.
I wonder if he didnt take action and just let barbuda try to rescue and rebuild them selves….what would they have said then.
Progess is never easy and it will come with chnge some are not comfortable with. But then again you cant please all.
I hope barbuda rebuilds and become stronger than ever but the morale and attitude of this shared federation has to change towards one another…. to get better YOU ACTUALLY HAVE TO BE BETTER. People please try to rise and engage your leader with mutual respect and civility.
thank you… @quinland they are so ungreatful.. @juliana it doesnt matter if I’m male or female Black or White I am bred and born ANTIGUAN. U barbudans always wanted it your way always wanna separate y’all selves from Antigua and act like we did something to yall. so I stick with my previous comment with your racist ass….
I have visted Barbuda on three occasions. It is not just unique but a gem. .Protect gems as there are very few authentic ones left.Just rebuild it the way it was. I want to return to experience the people and their beautiful island. Steve from California
Quinland & COMPANY, you seems to have THE ANSWERS, SO WHERE’S THE MONEY THAT THE PM GOT ON BEHSLF OF BARBUDA? ISN’T THAT MONEY HE PAID SALARIES WITH? PLEASE HELP TO UNDERSTAND YOUR LOGIC & YOUR SUMMATION
This is so sad. It’s about giving people what’s rightfully theirs. People are so afraid of hearing the truth, the monies we’re given to help rebuild Barbuda. Why is this land reform so important to the pm if he didn’t have any ulterior motives. Non so blind as those who can see m, but don’t.
Seems he is influenced by the corruption and the powers that be in the bigger picture of world economics
I’m a 61 years old Antiguan living in New York as child growing up I always hear of Codrington who left Barbuda to the Barbudans how is it after all this time Gaston Browne and his comrades want to step in and doing this to them it’s not fair
to them some of these politicians is not for the people it’s for power money and authority but remember you ate not going to be there forever and it’s just a matter of time
I just cant comprehend how we are suppose to be ONE NATION but only born Barbudans have exclusivity to their lands. Not even born Antiguans. We are only one when it suits the Barbudans and they need help from Antigua. They cant have their cake and still eat it. We are either one or none. They cant have it both ways. That in itself seems unconstitutional. Let Barbuda be a nation onto itself. I guarantee they would leave or start selling lands in short order.
Ok! so let me get this right. The real reason the Gaston Browne Administration “force the Barbudans to evacuate was because they wanted to steal the Barbudan land”? So it had nothing to do with that category 5 Hurricane? Those sneaky politicians! I bet they were the ones that made that Hurricane too. Really people? Really?
LOL!!! You’re too smart for your own good. LOL!! Barbudans are “set” in their mentality when it comes to “THEIR” land. They would rather take a bullet protecting “THEIR” land than to have anyone come and try (seemingly) to bully them for it.
Comments are closed.