Another option for Barbuda

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It was interesting to note that within all the festivities of the season and the new year celebrations, Barbuda was a hot topic of conversation. It would appear that Barbuda is a much bigger deal for Antiguans than most people think. While pre-election fever began to take hold of the nation, with the ample supply of liquor and food, Barbuda and the fate of Barbudans maintained a high level of prominence in the year-end and new-year discussions.
There is no doubt that this is a divisive topic, and it is interesting to see how the clash of opinions transcends political colour. It is one of the few topics that seems immune to the effects of the political kool-aid. There are red drinkers who disagree with the move to freehold, in the same way there are blue drinkers who support the freehold model as presented by the current administration. One thing that is certain, there are few that are on the fence on the matter.
As far as ownership goes, the facts of the situation, we believe, are clear, and we have made our investigations known. There is no need to rehash the findings, other than to say that we found no evidence that the Barbuda lands are anything other than Crown lands. All research indicated that Codrington and his family had a lease that was eventually relinquished to the Crown. Meaning, there was never any ownership or title for him to bequeath to the people of Barbuda. And since there is no prescriptive title against the Crown, Barbuda appears to be Crown land.
Be that as it may, the real question is what happens next for Barbuda? On the current track, freehold for Barbudans will be introduced in the near future and eventually the land in Barbuda will be treated no differently than the lands in Antigua. The Barbudan tradition of communal land ownership will soon be no more, and as the land becomes developed and owned by anyone, it is very likely that Barbudans will become a minority in their own land.
It is difficult to imagine how Barbuda will change, but we know that it will. The current administration is committed to their plan to increase the room stock on the island and expand brand “Antigua” as a destination, to include the sister island. It is time, they say, to “empower” Barbudans, make them more self-sufficient and bring them into the fold.
With a majority in Parliament, we know that the plan will happen, but we would like to offer an alternative that may suit both sides of the argument. Why don’t we simply declare all of Barbuda as a national park and develop “native” rights for the Barbudans. It is not a perfect solution but it does have a lot of benefits. First, it has the greatest chance of preserving the natural beauty of Barbuda. Let’s face it. You can go to a five star resort almost anywhere in the world, so the future of tourism for small markets like ours is to find a niche. What unique aspects does Barbuda have to offer that other places do not have? The obvious answer is “natural beauty.” The very lack of development that is complained about today is Barbuda’s uniqueness and its greatest asset. We predict that accessible natural       environments around the world will become the new six star resort.
By declaring Barbuda as a national park, development  would  be   carefully administered . Environmental impact studies will be even more critical, and Barbuda and Barbudans could retain some of the cultural and other norms that have made Barbuda, Barbuda.
Lending support to this concept is a paper written by Nicholas R. Goldstein, entitled Indigenous Rights in National Parks. In his opening paragraph, Mr. Goldstein states, “National Park systems across the globe enjoy broad public support as custodians of nature’s majesty and protectors of our most popular public pleasure grounds. Nevertheless, one vital group of stakeholders – the native inhabitants of these federally protected lands – is seldom so enamoured with the concept. This is because preserving these iconic landscapes for the enjoyment of all has conventionally entailed the outright expulsion of an original few. In many cases indigenous people who cherished deep spiritual connections to these lands for generations were suddenly prohibited from utilising their traditional homesteads, hunting grounds, and ceremonial sites.
Gradually, the dominant governments of  many nations have come to realise that restoring customary resource use regimes, management rights, and even outright traditional ownership of these lands is not only just, but can help advance common interests.” While this is not an apples to apples comparison, there are enough mutual concepts that resonate to make it something that we should look at. The last thing that we want is to turn Barbuda into just another tourism destination while displacing its people. By creating a national park with “native” rights, we might just be able to get closer to a solution that suits both sides.    Food for thought, don’t you think?

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