Hurricane-hit Barbudans protest to save communal land from developers

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Barbuda was among the islands hardest hit by Hurricane Irma, the category 5 storm that ripped through the Caribbean in September 2017.

Seven months later, Barbudan campaigners say there is little sign of relief funds reaching the ground – and accuse the government in its larger neighbour Antigua of exploiting the crisis to sell their land to developers.

At a summit of Commonwealth leaders in London, they called on prime minister Gaston Browne to account for an estimated $50 million of donations from development banks and allied countries.

The island lost 90% of its buildings in the storm. More than half of the 1,700 residents evacuated have returned, according to Barbudan MP Trevor Walker. Yet only around a quarter of homes have electricity and running water. Schools and council buildings have not been rebuilt.

“We are very disappointed because it is almost seven months after the hurricane and… we just can’t see where that money has been spent,” Walker told Climate Home News. “We are calling on those donors to ask the government to give an account.”

Campaigners to protect Barbuda’s communal land rights. Trevor Walker MP is third from the left (Pic: Megan Darby)

On an unseasonably warm April day, Walker was joined by a dozen members of the Barbudan diaspora from Leicester, UK, in a demonstration at a summit of Commonwealth leaders, which is being attended by PM Browne.

Liza Thomas, who was born in Britain and visits her father’s homeland Barbuda regularly, was among campaigners granted an audience with Browne earlier in the week.

“We were grateful that he listened to us,” said Thomas, “but we were not able to pin him down to any actions.” Browne reiterated promises to publish accounts of how relief funds were spent, without committing to a date, she said.

At the same time as demanding accountability, Barbudans are locked in an ideological battle with Browne’s administration over land ownership. Since emancipation from slavery, the islanders have operated a system of communal land rights.

Browne wants to open up the island up to foreign investment, notably the Paradise Found beachfront development backed by actor Robert De Niro. To facilitate that, his government is repealing the 2007 Barbuda Land Act.

The prime minister has dismissed the opposition as anti-development. “The deracinated Imbeciles, Ignorant elements [sic], say that by building Barbudans an airport, we are stealing their land,” he wrote in a November Facebook post, followed by three crying-with-laughter emojis. He could not be reached for comment on this article.

“Those developments are not in our interest. They haven’t even consulted us and they want to give a lease of 200 years to Robert De Niro,” said Walker. “Our communal land ownership that we have been practicing for more than 300 years, for the government to try to change that without consulting us is unacceptable.”

Walker met with two barristers in London to discuss a legal challenge to the government’s plan, he said.

A Barbudan home after Hurricane Irma hit (Pic: Mohammid Walbrook, 2017)

Tropical storms are forecast to get more intense and wet with global warming, raising the risk of destruction for small island states.

James Frank, a native Barbudan who moved to the UK when he was 10, said Barbuda needed a sea wall and better hurricane defences. “I grew up with hurricanes, they were mild compared to the last one, Irma,” he told CHN at the demonstration. “Climate change has made our hurricanes worse. Before, they were very easy to handle – shutting everything down and boarding everything up.”

(climatechangenews.com)

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6 COMMENTS

  1. Walker will have a change to make all his falls claims in parliament not on the street. Democracy is not fought on the street, but in the walls of parliament. So he better be prepared to take plenty licks.

  2. Trump used to call Ted Cruz “Lying Ted” I think that title fits Trevor. “Lying Trevor”

    • I know someone is lying ,but it is certainly not Trevor! I read the comments myself on a certain person’s Facebook page! Go check it out for yourself you will be amazed at the garbage that individual spouts about his fellow citizens! It is just inexcusable!

      • So what someone is saying on a Facebook page is more believable than what the Prime Minister or the Attorney General says in Parliament. Just wait for when the bill would be read in Parliament and go online and read it for yourself. Investors will not be allowed to buy land. Period that is what the PM has said. land will only be sold to Antigans and Barbudans for private domestic use only. The minute you want land for commercial use for investment you will have to lease it. Like it was before and still is today. The only thing is what goes for one goes for all. No first class and second class citizens.

  3. Trevor Walker ah the biggest two face hypocrite you can find. He is such a liar. He does not want any good for Barbuda. I never see people like them. They acting like for the past 7 months they have not been shelter clothed paid though the nah work their kids going to school in Antigua some have even been given the chance to attend private schools. They just lime and live a good life here. While we Antiguans have go above and beyond looking out for them and this I the thanks we get. Why dont hyprocrite Trebor tell them.how much it cost the Government to keep thee people over here in Antigua. Why don’t he tell them government have to beg them.to go home and clean up their “LAND” an they still refuse to leave the good life here in Antigua. Why dont he tell them the people form all over comkn to do their work. Good God man them sick. Please England given the what they want. Time to separate Antigua and Barbuda. Brabudans dont give a damn about Antigua. I pisses me off that we in Antigua paying our taxes to look after an ungreatful set of people to include a damn MP who is all of self.

  4. This is who the people of Barbuda vote for to REPRESENT them in Parliament? wow! The same man who said they have NOT used the land to EMPOWER themselves?? The same man who from 2004-2014 didn’t do jack shit to help develop Barbuda?? wow! He is leading you all to the edge and off the cliff. Good luck.

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