Editorial: To tone down the rhetoric

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It got testy at times in Parliament yesterday. Especially when the Prime Minister, Gaston Browne, took to the floor to chide and chastise the member from Barbuda, Trevor Walker, for being an obstructionist and for misleading the people of Barbuda. He addressed the gallery of Barbudans in a rather pointed manner, and many times declared words to the effect that he will never be afraid to ‘speak truth to power,’ and neither will he speak in this country with ‘fear or favour.’ He derided the member from Barbuda for entering parliament to shed crocodile tears, and he challenged him to be a man and stand up and cease whining like a “cry-cry-baby.” He even went so far as to question the good MP’s christianity.
And he was not done! He looked the Barbudan gallery in the eye, called the Barbudans ‘mendicants’ (given to begging), and adamantly refused to apologise or back down from any of his previous less-than-flattering descriptions of the Barbudan people. In fact, he all but admitted that anything that he has said about Barbuda and the Barbudans, is exactly what he means to say, because he is not one for speaking without thinking. Even Barbudans in the diaspora and other ‘mischief-makers here and abroad’ did not escape his caustic tongue. He basically dismissed their agitation and said that many of them are merely trying to make a name for themselves.
 Of course, several times when he wagged his finger and straightened his shoulder and clenched his jaw to boldly declare this and that, there was much applause from his fellow parliamentarians and supporters in the gallery. And yes, there were more than a few chuckles when he uttered the epitaphs of the previous Barbuda Land Act and amendments and declared that they will be discarded on the Cook’s Dump. Then on second thought, he grinned from ear to ear when he made the aforementioned declaration.
And yes, we almost forgot! The PM also claimed that the whisperings about his personal interest in Barbuda’s lands is nonsense because he is already the owner of several acres of prime real estate in Antigua.  Of course, when there arose some murmurings from the gallery in response to that last, the PM looked everyone straight in the eye and said words to the effect that he was not into this poverty pretense thing.
To say that the performance was not helpful to the cause of healing raw wounds and building bridges is putting it mildly. Especially in light of the PM’s recent admissions that he had theretofore been ‘pampering’ and pandering to the Barbudans in order to extract concessions from them. He further admitted that in the light of his electoral defeat in the Barbuda constituency, he would no longer be playing Mr. Nice Guy. Needless to say, we believe that threats, intransigence and non-compromise can only alienate and further disillusion a people. We agree with the PM, who vociferously challenged the MP to show where or how Barbudans ever became the owners of Barbuda’s lands, that the lands of Barbuda are crown lands that were transferred from Her Majesty the Queen to the government of Antigua and Barbuda on November 1, 1981. We agree that Barbudans are tenants of the crown, and they are now living communally on those lands, basically at the pleasure of the central government. We also agree that Barbuda has to be developed in some way, because the current situation is untenable.
Where we part ways with the PM is in the approach. We subscribe to the notion that much more can be accomplished if, instead of confrontation and obduracy, there is a meeting of the minds and the stakeholders become a part of the process in determining their destiny. In fact, with tears in his eyes, the Honourable member from Barbuda said as much when he beseeched
the Honourable PM to pull back from a repeal of the Bill and enter into consultations and dialogue with the Barbudan people. The hurling of invective and accusations on both sides is a very unserious way to conduct the affairs of state, and we urge both
sides to “Stop in the name of comity and goodwill!” The citizenry of our fair country deserve better!
Interestingly, while we also agree with the PM and other members of the administration that Antigua and Barbuda are part of a unitary state – a fact that the administration seems to take great delight in waving about like a flag, and deriding any special arrangements for any group as discriminatory and in conflict with the notion of one state, we disagree that there cannot still be special dispensations for a small group of people within that unitary state. We have seen similar protections and ‘carve-outs,’ if we could use that term, for the American Indians on their reservations in the United States, the Kalinago in Dominica, the Rohingya in Myanmar and the Amerindians in Guyana. And these special dispensations are afforded these people by virtue of centuries of their particular way of life. We believe that centuries of a particular way of life in Barbuda should count for something.
Again, we are urging that there be a toning down of the rhetoric and the suspicions and accusations on both sides. With the beginning of the repeal process, we are hoping that there is still time to negotiate and talk amicably on the future of the sister isle. As the great Sir Winston Churchill once declared, “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war!”

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