Barbuda is one of the most unique places in the world! Pick almost any topic and you will find some uniqueness to the approaches taken on our sister isle. Not necessarily a bad thing, but when it comes to politics, unique does not quite describe the situation in Barbuda. Both Antiguans and Barbudans have built up a tolerance to the fallout from the usual Barbuda Council versus central government drama but the world hasn’t, and after Hurricane Irma stomped across the island, the world is watching.
In a recent conversation, it was difficult to explain to an inquiring journalist that the restoration of Barbuda was slow going and in some ways stalled while the construction of the new airport runway was progressing at full speed. We found ourselves trying to weave politics, sources of financing and future planning into a convoluted defense of our bit of paradise that we knew was not satisfying our colleague’s query. Now we have a situation where the police are seeking to secure the fisheries complex because they have no other accommodation on the island.
It is near impossible for people to understand that 10 months after Hurricane Irma passed, the bare necessities are not restored, safety and security being one of them. Comparisons to Puerto Rico and the immense resources of the United States do little to cast poor Barbuda (and Antigua) in a better light, and we understand. When you look at the facts, how can you explain that such a small community cannot be restored to some semblance of normalcy in almost a year? Hearing the rhetorical question, “You guys realise that it is hurricane season again, right?” only emphasises the point that the world sees our efforts differently than we do.
We field this sort of incredulous wonder quite frequently, and it always brings up the same question: what is the plan for Barbuda? Like the rest of the world, it is difficult for us to understand how we cannot all sit around a table and get to the bottom of this? There are conflicting visions of the future and versions of the past, but we can all agree that the present is not where Barbuda should be in 2018. Unless we can find common ground, this situation will persist.
Throwing the disagreements regarding land ownership aside, there must be some acknowledgement that Barbuda needs an economic plan in order to survive. If that basic and obvious necessity cannot be agreed upon then how can we progress? The Prime Minister and the current administration have made their intentions known. They believe that the future lies in tourism and have courted possible developers to execute their strategy. Obviously, many Barbudans disagree, but the missing piece is the alternative. What different strategy is being proposed by those who oppose? It cannot be to continue as ‘normal.’
This is not an endorsement of the current plan by the administration because we believe that the future of tourism around the world is toward nature and natural beauty. Five-star resorts will be plentiful but nature will be scarce, so the smart money seems to be on preserving what is there and creating a business plan to take advantage of it. At the same time, if Barbudans are rejecting the current plan for development, there must be an alternative offered for economic self-sustainability.
We have lamented the lack of diplomacy, but it is very evident that the divisiveness of politics and the failure to pursue common ground has, and will continue, to keep the drama alive in Barbuda. What makes the situation even more frustrating is the fact that options are limited. The population is small and the infrastructure is minimal, so it is not like we are going to see manufacturing or service centres pop-up as new industries and employment opportunities. With that in mind, what are the options?
This is a question for the Barbudans, first and foremost. If the administration’s current plan is unacceptable then what options are being contemplated and/or proposed? We can all live in the past and point fingers at each other, but that does not help us progress toward the future, and the future is the one thing over which we have some kind of control. We can also ignore each other and hope that time yields the judgment, but that could be a very lengthy process that will likely see Barbuda retreat rather than advance. Or, we could just sit around a table and solve the Barbuda puzzle. Acknowledge and put aside the differences, if even temporarily, and try to find common ground to use as a foundation for a resolution. All it takes is a little bit of maturity and diplomacy. We have to assume that the desire for a better Barbuda is already there.
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