Response to the Guardian article Of Monday 4 December 2020 By Gemma Handy
The Gemma Handy article, appearing in the Guardian Newspaper of this date, is captioned: “Barbudans ‘Fight for Survival’ as resort project threatens islanders’ way of life.”
First, there is no “fight for survival” by Barbudans. The political party which has controlled the ten-member Barbuda Council since its inception, forty-four years ago—except for one five-year period—may be seeing the end of its dominance. The Barbuda Council now employs more than 90% of workers on the island, paying amounts that are below the minimum wage; and, the Council is fighting to keep alternative employment sources from arising. A resort project which employs hundreds of Barbudans and pays far more than the Council could, threatens the Council’s grip on Barbudans’ lives and livelihoods. That must be the threat to the islanders’ way of life of which Handy writes.
The resources to pay the Council’s employees come each month entirely from the Treasury of the Government of Antigua and Barbuda. When there was sand mining, the Council attracted additional income to compensate workers; all the sand that can safely be mined has been exhausted and so too the recompense earned from its sale. The hotels that paid the sales tax which the Council collected, have been destroyed and are no more. The sums of money which the Council pays its workers come from the Treasury and those amounts are never enough. When the leaders of the Barbuda Council weigh the employment potential of the planned projects, against the state’s resource flow to the Council, the leaders choose to keep reliance upon government’s monthly subventions and to oppose the projects that may likely end their grip on employment opportunities.
Today, the population of Barbuda has precipitously declined as 600 of 1,800 Barbudans choose to remain in Antigua following the September 2017 hurricane. Many of those remaining in Antigua were tenants in homes, rented from Barbudans who live abroad; the diaspora members have built rental homes for additional income which left many residents of Codrington, Barbuda, as tenants. The Barbudan tenants had no home to return to, in the wake of the devastation, and rental homes are not being repaired by use of the scarce resources available. The landlords are reasonably expected to rebuild their houses from the income earned over the years from their tenants. If there is a fight in Barbuda, it is not for “survival” of the Barbuda people and way of life, but survival of a system of control over the lives of impoverished workers and residents of Codrington. Gemma Handy has it wrong!
There has never been a time when land in Barbuda was “communally-owned.” The record is clear; Barbuda’s slaves were treated the same way that Antigua’s slaves were treated: Niggardly. The owners were paid a sum of money in compensation for the slaves’ liberty; and, the men, women and children who were emancipated had to find ways to support themselves. The Barbudans roamed almost freely on the sparsely populated island, and fished in the waters surrounding the island. They never owned either land or sea. The Courts of Antigua and Barbuda have ruled that all land that is not privately-owned is the Crown’s (the state’s). Barbuda was never privately owned; unlike estates in Antigua, it was leased by the Crown. Handy misleads again with her false claim of communal ownership.
It is also the case that the evolving Barbuda project which has been employing scores of eager young men and women from the village of Codrington, Barbuda, is doing what the majority of Barbudans want. Like all people everywhere, the youth wish to be productive, to earn meaningful incomes, and to experience the standard of living which Antiguans enjoy. They voted 82 “yes” to 2 “no” to approve the project.
The Barbudan politicians have now become environmentalists—conveniently. The opposition press in Antigua, an employer of the writer of the article, has lent full support to the Barbudans in the hope of generating negative press at home and abroad. Imagine, at a time when attracting foreign direct investment (FDI)—the source of economic growth everywhere in our region—is near impossible, the very largest project in our Eastern Caribbean region is under threat from those who wish the Antiguan and Barbudan people more misery. They are unkind and uncaring, interested only in keeping their positions of authority by any means they deem necessary.
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