From Barbuda to the World: Love (and Peace and Happiness) in the Time of Climate Emergency

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New Barbuda Airport Runway

César Rodríguez-Garavito is the Editor-in-Chief of OpenGlobalRights. He is Professor of Clinical Law and Chair of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University School of Law.

Elizabeth Donger, MPP, is a student at NYU Law. Her non-profit work and scholarship focuses on climate justice, migration policy and child protection. You can follow her at @elizdonger.

“The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet,” the sci-fi writer William Gibson has famously said. For a peek into the future of human rights in a warming planet, there are few better places than the small Caribbean island of Barbuda. Barbuda is a microcosm of larger trends and issues – from climate-induced displacement and disaster capitalism, to greenwashing of policies that undermine climate resilience. If this future is to be avoided in Barbuda and elsewhere, the world must pay close attention to current developments in the island whose stunning calm and beauty made it Princess Diana’s favorite vacation spot and inspired Robert de Niro to call his planned luxury tourism project there, “Paradise Found.”

The first thing to note is the government’s double standard. In early December, 2020, the central government of Antigua and Barbuda, located on the island of Antigua, virtually convened a meeting of the Latin American and Caribbean states that had signed the landmark Escazú Agreement in 2018. This binding treaty guarantees public participation in significant decisions about the environment, rights to information and access to justice in environmental matters. It also offers important protections for environmental activists, who face acute risks across the continent.

The government self-identifies as “one of the front runners within the region with a progressive climate agenda,” recently receiving $39.4 million from the Green Climate Fund. When the Category-5 Hurricane Irma decimated Barbuda in 2017, a smaller island located 40 miles north of Antigua, Prime Minister Gaston Browne said “Three years from now, we’ll be having a different conversation; we’ll be looking at a Barbuda that’s climate-resilient, that’s totally green.”

Three years later, the conversation is very different. While championing the Escazú Agreement, PM Browne is simultaneously rolling out plans to transform Barbuda’s 62 square miles into a haven for luxury hotels and sprawling estates for billionaires, all the while dismissing strong opposition from locals and violating basic human rights protected by the Escazú Agreement and international law — including Barbudans’ right to have a say in decisions affecting their lives and lands.

Since the time of slavery under British colonial rule, Barbudans and Antiguans have lived very differently. While Antigua’s economy is fueled by large-scale tourism, like most of the Caribbean, all land in Barbuda is “owned in common by the people of Barbuda,” and “no land in Barbuda [can] be sold” – a centuries old system formally recognized in these words of the Barbuda Land Act of 2007. Barbudan culture and identity is intimately tied to the land. Barbudans steward their dry, limestone island in balance with its delicate ecology: harvesting lobster, hunting, implementing slash and burn farming techniques and allowing select eco-tourism projects through its local governance mechanism, the Barbuda Council.

Today, Barbuda’s past and future identity hang in the balance.

After Hurricane Irma hit in September 2017, the central government evacuated all 1,800 Barbuans to Antigua. It was necessary, they said, because a second storm was imminent. When no storm arrived, armed military personnel continued to seek out and remove those who wished to remain and rebuild. Barbudans remained on Antigua for several months, while their possessions rotted from the salt and sun.

Within days of the evacuation, developers and construction crews arrived and began round-the-clock work on an international airport a third of the size of New York’s LaGuardia, without any environmental assessment. “That’s when we realized that the government wasn’t interested in having Barbudans back,” told us John Mussington, an activist and Principal of Barbuda’s secondary school, “they wanted to redevelop the island as a private real estate venture.”

This is the second feature of Barbuda’s story that encapsulates future challenges for human rights in the climate crisis. As Naomi Klein has written, this is disaster capitalism for the twenty-first century: the use of a crisis and military force to enact economic reforms that would not have been possible under normal circumstances.

Within months of the hurricane, the government summarily repealed the communal land protections of the 2007 Barbuda Land Act. The scope of the development since then is striking, especially given pending legal challenges to this repeal and to several individual projects. Much of the development is inside Codrington Lagoon National Park, a wetland protected under the Ramsar Convention. As the below map shows, the projects cover most of the island’s Caribbean side.

  

(Figure 1: Developer’s map of planned projects / Source: Uknown; Figure 2: Map of projects currently in process and Ramsar protected areas / Source: Dr. Rebecca Boger)

One development is “Peace, Love and Happiness,” funded by American business magnates Steve Anderson and Jean Paul DeJoria. This project alone, for which construction is well underway, covers 650 acres of the National Park, nearly 2% of the island. The proposal includes around 500 homes, golf courses and a marina within the Codrington Lagoon to harbor the mega-yachts of the rich.

Meanwhile, the central government has extended little peace, love and happiness to Barbudans. “Those who may intend to become economic terrorists in this country, they would have to face the full extent of the law for any infractions whatsoever,” said PM Browne in 2015. This is how he referred to those opposing his plans for the “Disneyfication of Barbuda,” as environmental anthropologist Sophia Perdirakis called the reforms in a webinar organized by the Climate Litigation Accelerator at the New York University School of Law’s Center for Human Rights and Global Justice. This is a remarkable contradiction for a government presenting itself as a champion of a treaty (Escazú) whose original contribution to international law is the protection of environmental defenders’ rights.

The contradiction has recently sharpened. In July 2020, after Barbuda’s only member of parliament Trevor Walker attended a protest against PLH, PM Browne told the press “Anytime they do anything illegal over there I am sending the police and army … I rather fight them and resign than to turn a blind eye.” In September 2020, at another peaceful protest against PLH, two Barbudan Councilmembers were arrested and charged with trespass and breaking COVID rules for not wearing facemasks.

The third warning Barbuda offers for the future is the following: just as the climate crisis presents an existential threat to human rights, human rights violations open the door to environmental deterioration and further global warming. According to the Global Coral Reef Alliance, the projects in Barbuda “will cause significant, and probably irreversible, deterioration of water quality in Codrington Lagoon, Barbuda’s major fish nursery ground.” The golf courses, resorts and houses will consume land essential for farming, animal breeding and pasture, and protected species. The developments need vast amounts of fresh water, requiring large-scale desalinization, a process that generates a toxic sludge that can seriously damage coral and sea life. Replacing mangroves, sedges and wetlands with shore-line structures will drastically weaken Barbuda’s resilience to sea level rise and other extreme weather events that will intensify yearly, as the 2020 hurricane season laid bare.

Today, Barbuda’s past and future identity hang in the balance. If the government is to take seriously its proffered commitment to international human rights, the environment and future generations, it needs to respect “communal land rights and conserve Barbuda’s heritage, culture and environment,” as the Barbuda Silent No More movement has demanded.

The rest of the world should be paying close attention. Barbuda’s fate, for better or for worse, will be evenly distributed across the world before too long.

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12 COMMENTS

  1. Balanced, educational and not-for-profit information as laid out here will continue to be overlooked by the Government of Antigua because of its enrichment tactics. With the players cutting themselves a share of all of these large projects, the US laws re Kleptocracy are meaningless against the US pirates who do business with PEPs quoted in the article.
    Antigua seems to be exempted by the US in this instance, as it was when Allen Stanford prepared his platform of corruption on the 108 sq. ml island, and spread over 113 countries.

  2. “Since the time of slavery under British colonial rule, Barbudans and Antiguans have lived very differently. While Antigua’s economy is fueled by large-scale tourism, like most of the Caribbean, all land in Barbuda is “owned in common by the people of Barbuda,” and “no land in Barbuda [can] be sold” – a centuries old system formally recognized in these words of the Barbuda Land Act of 2007.

    Writer in the times you referenced most persons lived differently, hence what is your point? Watch you reference an act passed in 2007 as if it existed a century before. The very purpose of the claimed mostly unconstitutional act, was to try to right what the authors claimed was a past wrong. They unsuccessfully tried to vest ownership in the lands to a group labelled Barbudan’s, from the crown. Even the main person pushing this (H. Frank, now deceased) later wrote to the Governor general pointing out the 2007 act failed in what they wanted to achieve since it too continued to vest ownership in the crown. He reminded that Baldwin Spencer (BS) did not follow through with the promised constitutional reform which was needed to legitimize the 2007 act. Its just telling that someone like you would try to divide A&B. The lands in Antigua & Barbuda, belongs to Antiguans and Barbudan’s. This is not a one-sided marriage where the wife says my money is mine but yours is ours. César Rodríguez-Garavito tell whoever send you that they have failed in their mission to divide us

  3. TENMAN I see you are the first out of the block like our young sprinter Dwayne Fleming to justify the actions of Gaston Browne and the ALP in Barbuda. I guess FROM THE SIDELINE and JUST SAYING will follow. The point is the kind of development that Gaston has unilaterally envisioned for Barbuda is inimical and antithetical to Barbuda’s environmental protection and sustainability. Antigua is a signatory to the RAMSAR Convention and the PLH Project in Barbuda has seriously breached that Convention with its encroachment on the Lagoon, the major wetland in Barbuda. The environmental degradation and destruction that this will cause will forever change the ecosystem of Barbuda. Some of the consequences that will follow will be irreversible. Gaston in his myopia can only see a few dollars for today but has no vision for the situation a hundred years down the road. Barbuda could be the beacon for the rest of the world with a particular kind of development. However, Barbuda in the long run will not benefit from Gaston’s twisted and distorted development model like Jumby Bay. A few menial jobs today can never compensate for serious environmental destruction in the future.

    • I see you are hard of hearing. Boss this is something close to my heart. Check my posts before 2014 and you will understand why I support ABLP especially due to issues like this. UPP sold Antiguan’s out on this issue (2007 act). I argued against it via Caribarena. This is one of the reasons why UPP should never be re-elected. PM has more than once made clear that development in Barbuda has to be done on a sustainable basis. This is part of the reason why they are pushing full alternative energy for Barbuda. They have stated to the BPM that if they don’t like the model government plans atleast suggest a feasible alternative. All we hear from BPM is noise. Again, this was Trevor Walker when a cabinet minister (prior to 2004) re BPM

      “Member of Parliament (MP) for Barbuda Trevor Walker yesterday lashed out at Barbudans for their dependence on the Barbuda Council.
      Walker accused Barbudans of not doing enough for the sister-island while relying too heavily on subsidies from the central government in Antigua.
      “It’s so amazing to me that 1,500 people cannot get together to try and organise themselves in a way that they can help themselves, and I take blame for that too,” he said. “All that we do is to go to this broke Barbuda Council that has no money, borrow everything that we want, and the same Barbuda Council depends on the central government every week every month for transfers. It’s just not sustainable.”
      “At the end of the day, we cannot have it both ways. We cannot want to live the Antigua life and want to have the Barbuda lifestyle … and so let us wake up,” Walker said. “I mean this might cause me some political problems but at the end of the day, I want to be recorded as the person that moved the country forward in a positive way.”
      The Barbudan MP also suggested that Barbudans have FAILED TO MAKE PROPER USE OF THEIR LAND to EMPOWER themselves. see Barbuda’s Representative Chides Residents for Dependency: (May 29, 2010, Antigua Daily Observer)”

      Tabor stop being a hypocrite. ABLP is taking Barbuda out of stagnation and leading them to real development. Try and remember Barbudans voted against the UPP aligned BPM after experiencing 2004 – 2014.

    • Even Hilbourne Frank accepted that fact via his letter to the governor general after the 2007 act was passed. He argued it it was wrong to vest ownership in the crown. Watch this idiot writer argue for an act that has no real basis in law since its authors made clear a constitutional amendment was needed. The 2007 law was not an act, but a dream (nightmare). It was obvious from reading it that the authors were inebriated (look at their definition of a barbudan, how a spouse lost right to land on divorce, how a small group would be given more rights than others in a nation) . The UPP party sold out our nation via that 2007 act and its clear they have all been cursed

  4. Most Barbudans I talk with seem to be very supportive of the developments taking place in their homeland. Who are the trouble makers over there????

    • The troublemakers are Trevor Walkaway, Fabian Jones, Mussington and Teacher Pearman Jeffrey!

      Asha FRANK left the council to WORK FOR PLH!!!!

  5. And guess what? While the dogs bark, the wagon moves on. Barbuda is poised to become that economic powerhouse before Antigua.

  6. What percentage of the employable Barbudans are employed at the PLH project? What positions do they hold ? Are they in training for future managerial positions? These are the questions I want answered please.
    About the environment, I have heard our environmentalist playing politics before to the highest level. I remember the UPP Lady, head of the environment , talking negatively about the dredging of the Deep water Harbour. Even trying to put up St.kitts against her own country. Now she is bigwig traveling with minister of environment and PM to international conventions. So when people talk about the environment around here , I just take it with a spoon of salt. I do believe that Barbudans have rights to Barbuda and should be given preference. I also believe that we are a unitary state and the center government/ crown is the ultimate boss. What I think is more important is fair play, honesty and integrity, especially in the treatment of The Barbudans. I also think that it is up to the Barbudans to determine who is a Barbudan. Finally Barbudans should also respect the rights of Antiguans and should not expect to be able to own lands, and property in Antigua and Antiguans cannot own lands in Barbuda. So the second group that should be given special privileges are the Antiguans, to own , build and invest in Barbuda. A light moment but important – if you allow the straight thinking of the Barbudans, you will definitely have interbreeding LOL 😂.
    I am sure you don’t mind having a beautiful Antiguan wife or husband, a sexy Jamaican wife or a beautiful or handsome husband or wife from Guyana, Trinidad or Dominica. I even know some of your ladies were so glad to see different men that you now have a few beautiful Italian/Barbudans young ladies as a result of the K’Club construction 😂.

  7. What percentage of the employable Barbudans are employed at the PLH project? What positions do they hold ? Are they in training for future managerial positions? These are the questions I want answered please.
    About the environment, I have heard our environmentalist playing politics before to the highest level. I remember the UPP Lady, head of the environment , talking negatively about the dredging of the Deep water Harbour. Even trying to put up St.kitts against her own country. Now she is bigwig traveling with minister of environment and PM to international conventions. So when people talk about the environment around here , I just take it with a spoon of salt. I do believe that Barbudans have rights to Barbuda and should be given preference. I also believe that we are a unitary state and the center government/ crown is the ultimate boss. What I think is more important is fair play, honesty and integrity, especially in the treatment of The Barbudans. I also think that it is up to the Barbudans to determine who is a Barbudan. Finally Barbudans should also respect the rights of Antiguans and should not expect to be able to own lands, and property in Antigua and Antiguans cannot own lands in Barbuda. So the second group that should be given special privileges are the Antiguans, to own , build and invest in Barbuda. A light moment but important – if you allow the straight thinking of the Barbudans, you will definitely have interbreeding LOL 😂.
    I am sure you don’t mind having a beautiful Antiguan wife or husband, a sexy Jamaican wife or a beautiful or handsome husband or wife from Guyana, Trinidad or Dominica. I even know some of your ladies were so glad to see different men that you now have a few beautiful Italian/Barbudans young ladies as a result of the K’Club construction 😂. Antigua & Barbuda!

    • “I also think that it is up to the Barbudans to determine who is a Barbudan.”

      ARE YOU CRAZY?????? Barbuda is NOT a sovereign state!!!! It is a CONSTITUENCY in Antigua and Barbuda!

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