What is it about Antigua and guns? Note, we have respectfully left out Barbuda because, as far as we know, they have not been part of any international gun scandals. The reality is that Antigua has already seen its involvement in two major “gun” scandals.
Although there is a lot to digest and questions to be asked surrounding the latest ‘gun factory’ news, it is worth taking a brief trip through time to understand why Antigua and guns do not mix.
Our first brush with guns occurred in the 1970s and involved a man by the name of Gerald Bull and his company, Space Research Corporation. Bull was a Canadian aerospace engineer who had developed technology to launch satellites into space using a giant super gun. That technology was ultimately employed for military purposes and with our help, in support of the apartheid South African regime. Yup! Antigua found itself dab-smack in the middle of international scandal.
According to The Vermont Encyclopedia, “The shells were shipped from New Brunswick to Antigua, and were then transshipped to South Africa in 1977 to be used against Angola and Namibia in their war against South Africa, in violation of a United Nations embargo. Using Bull’s long range 155-milimetre G-5 gun, and his aeroballistic projectiles, the South African army destroyed efforts to establish independence for Namibia and crushed Cuban and Russian military support for Angola.”
Although Bull was fined and spent time in prison, he continued to produce super guns for bad people. He was eventually killed by an unknown assailant in 1990, who lodged two bullets into the back of his head, leaving his body and the $20,000 cash he carried for the authorities to find.
Like Gerald Bull, we seemed to have learnt little from our despicable South African super gun experience, so later, we ventured into the area of small arms dealing. Since we are trying to give the international perspective, we turn it over to the Los Angeles Times, which began their 1990 report like this: “A festering scandal over illicit arms sent from Israel to Antigua last year and then mysteriously transshipped to the Colombian drug cartel has embarrassed Washington and Jerusalem and may bring down the corruption-ridden, family-ruled government of this Caribbean microstate.”
It continued, “In the still-shadowy transaction, an illegal shipment of 100 Uzi submachine guns, 400 Galil assault rifles and 250,000 rounds of ammunition, ostensibly ordered for Antigua’s 70-man Defense Force, went instead to Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha, one of the top three barons of the Medellin drug cartel.” Those were some dark days for Antigua. A Colombian presidential candidate and others were killed by those guns and in the middle of it all was the Father of the Nation’s namesake, Vere Bird Jr. who had ordered the guns under the guise of being the Minister of National Security (which did not exist at the time). This ultimately led to the infamous Louis Bloom-Cooper Commission of Inquiry. The rest, as they say, is history – and well worth reading.
With that type of history with guns, you would think that we would stay far away from them, but noooo!!! In what can only be described as a bone-headed, collective decision by the politicians that ‘lead’ this country, we apparently gave serious consideration to setting up a gun factory in our bit of paradise. It is almost impossible for us to understand how our politicians could be so out of touch with the will of the people?
And we are not buying the whole “no need for hysteria”, “offshore” thing because this is a bad decision that is obviously far along. So much so that the politician’s “friend” Zhang Yida wrote to an unnamed minister, who was later identified as Minister Stedroy “Cutie” Benjamin by the PM, stating, “Please find the following for your support and assistance. Thank you … Legislation for the handgun assembly plant in the Special Economic Zone …”
Vere Bird Jr may not have been the Minister of National Security when he ordered the guns for Colombia but Minister Benjamin is. He is also the Attorney General and apparently “friend” to Zhang Yida. None of this is right and none of this makes sense. Are we so bereft of investors that we are willing to take anything that passes our door? Do we not have, at a minimum, a low bar that takes the general cultural morality of the people of this nation into account when vetting investments?
And how is the Prime Minster so conflicting in his responses to this issue? His responses went from chiding people for being hysterical, then to comforting them that there would be no local sales, and eventually to washing his hands on the matter by saying that the decision was taken while he was overseas. This got us to thinking that a lot seems to happen when the PM is overseas. When the rice and sugar monopoly decision was taken, we are told that the PM was overseas. When the Sembcorp contract was agreed and signed, the PM was apparently overseas. What is going on?
In the end, we were happy to hear that the plans for a gun factory were scrapped. In response to the public uproar, the PM said, “Having heard the response from the people, I called the attorney general and several of my other colleagues and I’ve said to them that in the interest of the public, in the interest of the nation, rather than having a situation where you bring in this factory and we divide over it, let us scuttle that decision.”
Be that as it may, we still have many questions. We do not feel comfortable that issues of such national importance are not brought to the people for consultation but rather, they are handled in the dark between friends. How many more deals have been struck that the people know nothing about? How many other secret deals are not in the people’s best interest? If the PM got one thing right, it was his acknowledgement that “the voice of the people is the voice of God”. It would do well for the administration to respect the people and do well by them.
We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.