COMMENTARY: Barbudan Status-Tenants of Squatters



Known for its traditional land communal practice, Barbuda’s population of 1, 500 and combined national population of ‘…84, 316 people are mostly of African descent’ [Census: 2011]. The social life of residents not only speaks to a communal tradition of longevity, but also a political climate that in recent times, speaks to feuds, frictions and deception.’ Culturally, the island is unique, with a shared land tenure that exists for 114 years [1904-2018]. The residents are ‘…hospitable; …obliging and accommodating.’ The nation boasts 365 sun-drenched and easily accessible beaches. It has one of the world’s most alluring beaches- Coco Point [Barbuda]. The shoreline is adorned with white sand and tiny pink shells. The residents have not only spoken with passion and conviction, but have also acted in preserving that which they have always contended, a ‘…Patrimonial Asset’- the 62 square mile island. This commentary seeks only to inform and enlighten.


Emerging from the dreadful periods of ‘…Slavery and Colonialism,’ residents of Barbuda were not only left in a state of indigence, but also faced with a ‘…grim economic future.’ Short on natural resources, they have shown a spirit of resilience and determination, and an extraordinary sense of resourcefulness.’ They have sustained life from the land. This was supplemented with exploitable marine resources. While residents appeared to have been trapped in the belief that the island was under bequeathment, they continue to enjoy such occupational status. Many generations have enjoyed this status, that over the last century, saw the development of  a unique culture and customs and practices,’ lived only to those who have experienced them For such extended period a communal practice and land utilization constitutes an inseparable bond not necessarily between residents and government, but between land and residents. They have never concealed their feelings or hesitated to protest when land tenure or use became issues.


Those who had experienced life on the island know that Barbuda’s social and political history is as fascinating, as it is unique and mindboggling. Tortured by bitter memories, with every passing moment, the residents had complained of official neglect of the island. There were more people advocating secession, than those opposing it. Whether, real or imaginary, residents had harbored fears that they may be unfairly and/or unequally treated as a people in a unitary nation. Interestingly, among the delegates to the ‘…Lancaster House Independence Talks, was ‘…Advocate for Secession,’ Arthur Nibbs [1978-1980]. He may have been guided by a principle contained in the ‘…United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.’ It states ‘Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebel against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law.’


Mere months before independence, this appeared troubling to the ‘…Vere Cornwall Bird administration.’ National Security intelligence suggested ‘…Discontent and Dissatisfaction’ among an overwhelming majority of residents. They had signed and dispatched a petition to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, through then Governor Sir Wilfred Jacob [1978-1980]. With increased political rhetoric, forefront leaders ‘…Sir Eric Burton; …Mc Chesney George; …Sir Hilbourne Frank’ and Arthur Nibbs had all demanded separation from the mainland. They ensured that residents lost no interest in that which may descend, should independence be foisted upon them. Agitated as they may have been, they were respectful and law abiding,’ showing civility, restraint and tolerance. It was obvious that Her Majesty heeded the advice of eminent Counselors and acceded to the wishes of the Sir Vere C. Bird-led delegation. Accordingly Her Majesty allowed annexation and styled the nation ‘…Antigua and Barbuda.’ A new nation was born [CO: Explanatory Note: 1981].


This appeared to have been a myth inculcated and embedded in the minds of residents that ‘…Barbuda belongs to Barbudans.’ This was poised for legislative extraction. The administration on mainland Antigua had expressed concerns over the ‘…time immemorial land tenure.’ Determined to regularize the communal tenure of land to freehold ownership, residents will have seen the legislative machinery at work in the House of Representatives. Supported protestations and a show of intense emotions, a troubled and teary-eyed Parliamentary representative Trevor Walker had failed to dissuade the Gaston Browne administration from following through with the initiative. Even as the legislative initiative had provoked angst and confusion, sparked intense public debates, investing parties, particularly, those with leaseholds, have welcomed the policy-decision.


Before and after independence, residents have contended that the island should go into perpetuity and preserve for posterity. Despaired over economic inactivity and unemployment, residents on Barbuda had shown ‘…purposiveness; …resourcefulness and resilience.’ Subscribing to such view, then Senator Arthur Nibbs posited that ‘…Such is the character of the people’ [February 8, 2014]. Residents are now left with shattered lives, having been displaced by the intense 185mph hurricane Irma that struck the island with devastating fury. The population had escaped the unprecedented fury of nature. Miraculously, the only recorded fatality was that of an infant [September 6, 2017]. The island was left in almost total ruin and in conditions that had been deemed unlivable. The storm’s devastating effect saw an estimated population of 1,500 people being evacuated to mainland Antigua.’ Then amid nature’s wrath, a suspected ‘…Cardinal Political Sin’ may have provoked angst in the people against their former parliamentary representative Arthur Nibbs. This reflected an electoral punishment for a possible unforgiveable ‘…cardinal political sin’ [March 23, 2018].


The residents had been long favored by the ‘…Will of the Crown.’ There was the declarations that the land had been vested in the Crown and that they are tenants [Section 5: Barbuda Act: 1904: Chapter 42]. Showing gross contempt, people continue in disparaging mode to liken them to ‘…Squatters.’ Recognizing the value placed in the land by residents and seeking to avoid confrontation, the Baldwin Spencer administration enacted the ‘…Barbuda Land Act’ [No. 23 of 2007]. That administration may have been guided into removing ‘…provisions of any other law that may have been ‘…repugnant to provisions contained in the Barbuda Act’ [Section 2: 1904]. Consequently, by an Act of Parliament, it vested power in the residents to make land-use determination with administrative control in the Barbuda Council [No 23 of 2007]. This would have been fortified by the existing ‘…Barbuda Local Government Act’ [No. 15 of 1976/Chapter 44: CO: Section 123].


What in actuality had transpired on Barbudan soil before and after independence was to the knowledge of all its residents. The Explanatory Note contained in the Constitution states ‘…This Order which is made at the request and Associated State of Antigua and under Section 5 (4) of the West Indies Act 1967, provides a new Constitution for Antigua (which is to be styled Antigua and Barbuda) upon its attainment of fully responsible government within the Commonwealth at the termination of the status of Antigua with the United Kingdom under the Act on 1st November 1981’ [CO: 1106: 1981: P 83]. Instructively, among the ‘…Lancaster House Delegation’ was the former Barbuda parliamentary representative Arthur Nibbs [1978-1980]. The discussions made public informs that the delegation had strenuously argued to remain under colonial rule, as has been the case for Anguilla. Instead, they reportedly secured Britain’s assurances that the people’s concerns would have been satisfactorily and adequately addressed by the Central government.


Barbuda has been described as a ‘…paradise, beautiful and un-spoilt.’ For those who have experienced life on the island, few would dispute such sentiments. Incidentally, ensuing fights were always about its 62 square miles area of land. Today, it is not about population growth or decrease; it is all about ‘…land and sand and tourism development.’ In the face of the wrath of nature and man, the residents had shown great resilience. Under the dominion of His Majesty, King Charles II of England, he reportedly leased the island to a British family of two brothers ‘…Christopher and John Codrington’ for a period of 50 years [Wikipedia: January 9, 1685-1705]. This allowed for exploitation of slave labor and family enrichment. The leasehold to the Codrington family had placed them under Sovereign obligation to pay to His Majesty ‘…One fat sheep, if demanded.’ Research has shown that at the end of the first lease, the King had further extended the leasehold to ‘…Christopher Codrington III for another 99 years’ [Wikipedia: June 5, 1705]. For some four hundred years before the attainment of political independence, the islands and inhabitants had been subjected to British colonialism.


From time immemorial, through migration, the population was said to have been constantly dwindling. Stringency at some international borders may now halt the decrease. Fewer countries allow for Visa-free travel. In 1991, Barbuda’s recorded population was ‘…1, 252’ [Wikipedia]. The great majority of native Barbudans were said to have migrated to the ‘…United Kingdom; …Canada; and the …United States.’ A high concentration of migrated residents was said to be in the Leicester County. Research has shown that during the wretched days of slavery, animals had out-numbered the residents. The island’s population was recorded as 87 people. It comprised ‘…35 men; …34 women; ….15 boys and 3 girls’ [Barbudaful: 1719]. Both people and animals were considered property. In early times, a ‘…stock of slaves and animals was said to have been valued at £50, 000 pounds sterling’ [1792]. These represented substantial wealth to the Codrington family.  A subsequent population estimate was recorded as ‘…700 people’ [1904].


Leaving the challenging Grays/Green community, short of turmoil, Barbuda was in a state of ‘…political limbo.’ This was evident by the frequently expressed threats of secession. Then an activist, former Senator Arthur Nibbs had always reminded residents of the United Nations’ Charter that ‘…reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights; …and in the equal human rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standard of life in larger freedom’ [Preamble: December 10, 1948]. Residents had always advocated ‘…Self-determination.’ Not only have they shown an inseparable communal bond, but also a resolve and gritty determination to be free from the shackles of mainland Antigua. While the Sir Vere Cornwall Bird administration had focused on preparations for the nation’s sovereignty, calls for secession among residents grew louder and louder. Expressed sentiments and political rhetoric suggested that they wanted ‘…No union with Antigua.’


The political climate was unstable and rife with ‘…Tension and Trouble.’ Foremost may have been the island’s unstable relationship in the Associated Statehood arrangements with Antigua and Britain. There existed a state of uneasy calm. A thoughtless act was all it needed to trigger public disorder. The personnel needed no reminder that tolerance and restraint were necessary elements in maintaining an aura of peace and stability. Even so, the island was virtually crime-free. This may have been evident by the quarterly visits by non-resident Magistrates. Theirs was the trial of mundane summary cases. These were primarily concerned with the inappropriate use of language, as well as conduct that had been induced by over-indulgence in that which often makes human wit disappears, and people stagger or stumble and fall into gutters.


Then Premier Sir Vere Cornwall Bird had demonstrated fox-like cunningness in avoiding confrontation with the residents. Even with growing hostility and political rhetoric of secession, he showed that he was the defacto leader of the twin-island nation.  He ensured that Law enforcement was charged with maintaining some semblance of stability and normalcy. To all intents and purposes, former Commissioner of Police, Sir Wright Fitzhenly George KCN, QPM, CPM, dispatched a contingent of seven Police Constables to the island headed by Rawlston Pompey, then a Sergeant of Police. He was not only charged with responsibility for command and control of the lone Police Station, but also for matters that had potential challenges for national security and public safety.


The residents had not welcomed the ‘…Increased Presence’ of law enforcement personnel. They saw law enforcement as both a garrison and obstacle to their secessionist desires. Conventional wisdom dictated that the situation shall be handled in a civil manner. The pro-independence residents were easily identifiable. Among them were ‘…Senators Wilfred Wallbrook; …Michael Harris; …George James and Luscome James.’ Those with the propensity to stir up trouble were quickly identified and discretely kept under surveillance. There were the ‘…Arthur Nibbs’; …James Bailey’s; …George Jeffrey’s; …Tyrone Beazer’s; …Clark and Lincoln Burton’s; …Ordrick Samuel’s; …Vernon Glass and Vernon Joseph’s. Though youthful, they had been very influential. With less visibility were educators ‘…Ramadhin Bailey, Principal of the Holy Trinity Primary School and Wendell Nicholas.’ Likened to the unsuspecting undercurrent beneath the sea, their feelings ran deep.


The contingent’s ‘…Order of Business’ was to reflect the symbol of authority.’ Personnel had to adjust to the social, political and communal environment. Foremost was (i) …allay fears of subordinates and residents with behavior consistent with civility; (ii) …maintain law and public order; (iii) …act swiftly, fearlessly and decisively, yet discretely, impartially, fairly and professionally. Constantly faced with provocative rhetoric, they had shown ‘…restraint, sensitivity, while obligingly being helpful to the residents. Frequent games of dominoes at the Police Station not only helped in providing understanding, culturally and their way of life, and to avoid confrontation with the agitated, hostile and provocative.


Fundamental to their well-being are the ‘…Founding Constitutional Principles, one of which states ‘…The People assert their conviction that their ‘…Happiness and Prosperity’ can best be pursued in a democratic society in which all persons may, to the extent of their capacity, play some part in the national life’ [CO: Principle C]. Fourteen years after ‘…Associated Statehood’ [1967], the colonial powers had relinquished dominion over Antigua and Barbuda. This allows for the people to (i) …determine their destiny; (ii) …manage their economic system; and (iii) …provide for its external affairs [November 1, 1981]. After 35 years of political independence, Barbuda remains largely ‘…under- populated and under developed.’ Such were said to have been the result of (i) ‘…a dwindling population; (ii) …negligible economic activity; and (iii) …a communal land tenure that spanned over 114 years [1904-2018].


Among the expressed concerns of the residents was securing protection of the ‘…Land and Tenancy.’ This may have been secured by an Act of Parliament, that provides for ‘…Local Government.’ It allows for the ‘…Barbuda Council to administer the internal affairs of the island’ [1976: Chapter 44]. Four years after its passage, constitutional talks began at the London Lancaster House that would enable the nation gained its independence from Britain [November 1, 1981]. Residents were circumspect that their welfare may have been jeopardized. Many had fenced large acreage of land for (i) …those who resided on the island; (ii) …family members in the Diaspora; and (iii) …members not yet born.’ Residents had expressed fears that affluent non-Barbudans would have been better positioned to acquire more land than native Barbudans. Fearing the worst, they embarked upon a land grabbing exercise, fencing huge tracts with one strand of barbed-wire.


Before independence, the residents and their leaders spoke almost with one voice and had one accord. In spite of family ties on the island,’ the approximately 1, 500 residents had developed distrust in the leadership of the Sir Vere Cornwall Bird [November 1, 1981-March 9, 1994 and Lester Bryant Bird administrations [March 9, 1994-March 13, 2004]. They had, and still have grave concerns over the land and had entertained thoughts of being dispossessed. They entered the union with mainland Antigua with ‘…Petrification.’ Most had been influenced by developments on Anguilla. Yet they were neither militant nor combative. Research has shown that after Britain had foisted Federation upon the triple-island nation, Anguillans rebelled against the ‘…oppressive and tyrannical Robert Bradshaw’s administration’ [February 7, 1969].


Through the years residents of Barbuda have developed a strong ‘…Connection to the Land.’ For this reason, when attempts were made to woo investors, it had often been proved problematic with allocated acreage for investments. They have placed into perspective that which they perceived to have been of grave concerns. These were identified as (i) ‘…sand mining; and (ii) …over-lease of land to developers’ [Website: Barbudaful]. Wary of these, the bones of contention have been land utilization. Then there was the vexing issue of approval of the residents and Council for major development. Those who were unable to convince residents that their way of communal habitation was not under threat had often encountered difficulties. They had seen shady characters posing as investors. For instance, many will have heard of the notorious fraudster Robert Lee Vesco and many will have actually seen and interacted with another fraudster, Edward Joiner.


That which seemed to be well known to rationally-thinking global citizens, has been people with an unquenchable thirst for power and an irrestible desire in acquiring wealth. Not infrequently these have caused ‘…human grief; …displacement; …despair and misery.’ To a significant number of Barbudan residents, there is something more fundamental to their happiness than the devastation caused by hurricane Irma and grim economic climate. It has always been troubling to residents when huge acreage had been leased to investors for tourism development. This was known to have ‘…precipitated quarrels; …provoked strained relations over irreconcilable policy-making decisions by the Central Government. History has recorded innumerable wars fought over land. In small-island States, litigious proceedings in seeking to protect that which Dr. Radcliffe Robins had often described as ‘…Patrimony,’ have become order of the day.


Seemingly, any union between dependencies that was to be hinged upon the words ‘…federation or integration,’ have always triggered antagonism and hostilities. In the case of Barbuda, even with foreseeable consequences, residents had taken courses of action that reflected community disapproval. They have always forged a united front, fighting that which they had seen as working against their best, collective and communal interest. After 34 years of political independence and a union that seemingly evolved from political expediency, relations between ‘…mainland Antigua; …Sister island Barbuda; …a governing Council; …residents and their leaders,’ appeared to have hit a serious snag. Respecting land utilization, the residents have always been circumspect of major investment projects. Though vested in the Crown, it was said to have been allowed unfettered ‘…Communal Occupation’ by native Barbudans.’ Likened to islanders across the globe, the residents of Barbuda have considered land as the most priceless and enviable asset.


While the Baldwin Spencer administration embraced and sought to preserve the ‘…Traditional Way of Life,’ thereby reflected the government’s position and residents expectations in the ‘…Barbuda Land Act: No.23 of 2007]. A decade later, with a drastically reduced majority, two opposition parliamentarians ‘…Trevor Walker and Jamale Pringle are battling with the ‘…Gaston Browne administration’ in a hopeless attempt in dissuading it from repealing the Act. It has been the administration’s contention that the Act is ‘…unconstitutional.’ [Observer Media: October 23, 2015]. The administration took the view that sections allow for discriminatory practices and restrictive to national economic development. Intent on making revolutionary changes, a ‘Bill’ to repeal the Act in its entirety is now pending its ‘…second and third parliamentary readings.’


It is for reasons of the ‘…Common and Economic Good’ that initial amendments to the Act [No. 41 of 2017], necessitated repeal of the original Act [No.23 of 2007]. Given the mischief aimed, the advantages are expected to result in significant improvement in the economic climate on the island with improvement in the social services and infrastructural development. Such improvement was said to have the potential to affect the existed state of unemployment and to provide empowerment to residents. In repealing the Act, it is also intended to provide for (i) …freehold land acquisition; and (ii) …greater economic activity with more disposable income to the residents. This necessarily means marked improvement in the quality of life for residents and prosperity to the population as a whole.


More than thirty nine years ago, a group posing as ‘Knights’ intended to establish a ‘…sanctuary on Barbuda.’ It was to be called the ‘…Knights of New Aragon’ [1978]. Likened to proposals reportedly submitted by ‘Asian Tiger Dato Tan,’ they wanted full sovereignty. Suspectedly seeking haven for ‘…international fraudsters; …crooks; …con-artists and tax dodgers,’ the group wanted acquisition of about ‘…30 square miles of the 62-square mile island.’ This they claimed was intended for the establishment of an elite residential community on the eastern side of the island. It was subsequently revealed that the person behind the ambitious venture was a notorious fraudster Robert Lee Vesco. He was pushing for ‘…an autonomous State within a non-independent State.’ Neither residents, nor law enforcement had seen him.


It was revealed that he was introduced to certain public officials on mainland Antigua. He was on the run from United States justice. He was of interest to Federal Securities Exchange Commission (SEC), on fraud-related charges, involving some ‘…US$200M.’ Law enforcement had described him as the ‘…undisputed king of the fugitive financier’ [Wikipedia]. Harboring suspicions and with commonality of understanding, community leaders headed by ‘…Sir Mc Chesney George; …Sir Eric Burton; …Sir Hilbourne Frank; an exuberant young activist and Councilor Arthur Nibbs and the Barbuda Council, had spurred residents into disapproval. They were against any venture touted as a ‘…Sovereign State.’ Fearing that the proposed plan was likely to have adverse effect upon their freedom and livelihood rejected the plan in its entirety.


The years leading up to Antigua and Barbuda’s independence were not without agitation and anxieties. As these intensified among the Barbudans at home and in the Diaspora, anxieties grew in the Sir Vere Cornwall Bird administration. Apart from other considerations, foremost in the thoughts of the residents, has been the preservation of the land. They have advanced arguments that the land shall not only go into perpetuity, but also for posterity and future economic prosperity. Recent amendments to the Act saw that which residents have viewed as ‘…peculiar changes.’ One of which states ‘…Where a Barbudan has become the owner of the freehold interest in a parcel of land under this Act, no further land may be conveyed to such person, except with the approval of the Council after consultation with the Cabinet’ [No.41 of 2017].


Many had found the island of Barbuda, either a ‘…Haven or a Paradise.’ The island was widely known for its ‘…marine resource; …wildlife hunting and home to the frigate birds.’ Numerically negligible, it boasted three resorts. These include the family-like ‘…Coco Point Lodge; …Sunset View hotel and the luxurious K-Club.’ The latter resort had attracted visitations, not only by ‘…Royalty, but also the rich and the famous.’ These included Princess Diana and former actor Sylvester Stallone, who on several occasions had sojourned in ‘…Peaceful Solitude.’ Recently, from ‘…a declaration of intent,’ the island attracted visitations by actor Robert De Niro. He had found paradise. He reportedly advanced proposals for ‘…a multi-million dollar investment project on the island.’ Finding paradise and fighting litigation to acquire it, seemed daunting.


As uncertainties gripped the mind and fear and anxieties saturate the hearts of displaced residents, controversy reigns over their ‘…legal status and land utilization.’ Fuelling controversy is a ‘…US$250M tourism development project.’ Even with bright economic prospects, ‘…disagreements’ over requested acreage of land’ have placed residents at variance with the Gaston Browne administration. Though they had not totally rejected the ‘…Proposed Investment,’ they have expressed concerns over that which they see as the chipping away of a ‘…huge chunk of land.’ Residents had looked at the proposed development as having the potential to, inter alia, ‘…impact negatively on their lives, particularly, their freedom in ‘…making alternate use of farm land; …hunting wildlife (fallow deer; boars; land turtles; crabs; guinea fowls and ducks, and even for weekend camping in the hinterland.’ The legislative initiative seeks to eliminate ‘…obstructive and/or retrogressive caveats of approval by residents and a Council’ subordinate to the Central Government.


As much as the status of residents on Barbuda and land utilization are important, so too is economic development and prosperity. Nationals on both ‘…Antigua and Barbuda’ shared the view that the time has come for reform of that which continue to ‘…stymie economic development, growth and prosperity.’ These were said to have been further stymied by a cultural mindset and political intrigues and divisiveness. Seen from an economic development, due to the island’s uniqueness, Daily Mail staff reporter Charlotte Methven wrote, ‘…Barbuda is the less known sibling of popular Caribbean sun-pot Antigua; …The island was a regular (and discrete) escape zone for Princess Diana’ [January 7, 2015]. Today, the island’s once ‘…luxurious Italian K-Club Resort; …Beach House and Sunset View Hotel,’ all lay in inoperable ruins. Now therefore, given the currency of the situation, if progress ought to be made; …if prosperity is to be enjoyed, these necessitate a change of an apparent litigious mentality. Such could see fundamental changes that may not only encourage foreign direct investments, but also that allow for infrastructural development of resorts to replace those either ruined by nature’s fury or human neglect.’ ***


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