No peace, no love, no happiness

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Who would have thunked it? Who would’ve thought that our much-maligned step-sister, Barbuda, would suddenly become the Cinderella that everyone wants to take to the ball, albeit on their own selfish terms, and with Barbudans getting bupkis (nothing at all)? Who would’ve thunked that the island, whose inhabitants our political directorate has disparagingly described at ‘mendicants’ and ‘squatters’ and ‘imbeciles’ with an ‘in-breeding problem’ that had to be resolved by widening the gene pool, would suddenly become the desiderata (Latin, ‘the desired thing’)? To be sure, the above-mentioned epithets were not the only insults and indignities hurled at the Barbudans. Nay, even as they were still in Antigua, in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, heavy equipment was busy destroying forests that were habitat to wild boar, fallow deer, land turtles and other animals, to build an airport for the rich one percent of this world. Barbuda was going to be a playground for the wealthy, even as the repair of the Barbudans’ homes, the Hanna Thomas Hospital, the Holy Trinity School, the police station, the post office, and other buildings was put on the back-burner. Talk about not getting the love! Talk about screwed up priorities! In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, money was the be all, and end all, of it all!

Meanwhile, in the thirty-six months since Irma, Barbudan officials have been threatened with arrest if there is but a shadow of turning from the path of righteousness on their part. Council members have been told that “they MUST COMPLY” with theorders from the Central government, and there has been talk about abolishing the Council, never mind that the Council is enshrined in our Constitution. Seems, just a few weeks after the hugs and handshakes that accompanied the handing over of the keys to the Hanna Thomas Hospital (finally!), the bad blood between this administration and many of the people in Barbuda has returned with a vengeance. Even the minister of information, perhaps taking his cue from his high and mighty colleagues, has emphatically stated that the Barbuda people must recognise and ACCEPT their “subordinate” role in the governance of Barbuda. Manifestly, the Barbuda Council and this Gaston Browne administration are as far apart as “east is east and west is west, and n’er the twain shall meet.”

It is this impasse that prompted the Council to pen a pointed letter dated August 31, 2020, to Mr Konata Lee, the Secretary to the Cabinet. It begins by saying that “The people of Barbuda are wholly dissatisfied with the treatment meted out to us by the government of Antigua and Barbuda, led by Prime Minister Gaston Browne.” It then goes on to cite a number of grievances such as the repeal of the Barbuda Land Act of 2007, the unstatesmanlike and odious name-calling from those in high places, the numerous and varied threats from this administration to the Council and the people of Barbuda, the disregard for the RAMSAR wetlands, the wheeling and dealing of leases without the knowledge and consent of the Barbuda people, and so on and so forth. The litany of sins is exhaustive. Oh for the day when Antiguans and Barbudans will say, “Let there be peace, and all dem fightin’ cease!” [King Short Shirt, LAMENTATIONS]. Sadly, in the case of the Barbuda Council and this administration, peace is a bridge too far.

So too is the notion of happiness between the Barbuda Council and this administration. How can there be happiness for Barbudans when they have not received monies to which they are entitled, and environmental degradation is being carried out apace by a company with the word ‘happiness’ in its moniker. Seems, the only people who are happy at what is happening at Palmetto Point are the people who do not give a rat’s derriere about preserving Mother Nature. They will have their precious little golf course, Barbudans and their concerns be damned. Even our Department of the Environment was shown the middle finger by the company with the misnomer, Peace, Love and Happiness (PLH). Seems, they are only concerned about their piece of the island and their pampered lives, and their liberty to do whatever the hell they feel like in pursuit of that happiness.

Here’s what the Department of the Environment (DOE) had to say in a letter dated August 31, 2020: “The Department of the Environment performed a monitoring visit and compliance check at the PLH Palmetto Point project site on August 26th, 2020. It was observed and reported that work was not being conducted in accordance with the conditions of approval #G 18-2017, the accompanying EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) as well as all relevant scientific analysis, management plans and reports related to the project, as well as with the approval and conditions issued for #A 454-2019. The PLH/BOC has reversed the wetlands mitigation actions previously in place, and damaged the historic dune, and may have [also damaged] historic Palmetto vegetation. The work conducted on the PLH/BOC Palmetto site since the last site visit on July 16th, 2020 was not subjected to any environmental and scientific review, guidance or monitoring. This lack of monitoring reversal and absence of mitigation represents a direct violation of the conditions of approval for #A 454 2019 and the DOE recommendation for adherence to the guidelines related to the RAMSAR designation of the site. . . . The PLH/BOC project is therefore NOT IN COMPLIANCE with regulatory rules and conditions of approval. . .”

Of course, there were the obligatory words of contrition from PLH and the usual promises of more oversight, especially on future projects, blah blah, blah from this administration. Nonetheless, we submit that the disrespectful and highhanded manner in which the central government has treated the Barbuda Council and its legitimate concerns, and the desperate words by our Prime Minister, the Honourable Gaston Browne, that this PLH project is crucial to us climbing out of the Covid hole, and that he will not yield an inch on it, has perhaps given the PLH folks much aid and comfort in doing as they like in Barbuda. Arguably, they are emboldened by our Prime Minister who has said that “he’d rather resign” than back down on PLH. The PLH folks see his desperation, and they intend to exploit it to their advantage.       

Which is what the Barbuda Council has been saying. And which is why the Barbuda Council tried to undertake a tour of the project site – an engagement that descended fairly quickly after the PLH folks denied them access on grounds that an extra two persons were brought along without the prior approval of the PLH. Long story short, the Barbuda Council had to try to carry out its inspection by trudging along the beach for some two hours, trailed by PLH personnel and law enforcement. Needless to say, with the words that were exchanged that day, it was a highly volatile situation. This is untenable – the groveling at the feet of PLH by this administration against its own people. So sad!

No wonder the aforementioned letter to Cabinet ended on such a sorrowful note: “We have therefore concluded that the relationship between Antigua and Barbuda isn’t working. In addition, the fact that Barbuda is being used as a bread basket for Antigua is testament of the use and abuse of our resources without benefit to our people. It is against this backdrop that the Barbuda Council is requesting that your government initiate the necessary steps to discuss a separate future for Barbuda and its people.” Wow! It has come to this – a dysfunctional relationship, and no one seems able to summon the will so that we can arrive at a happy medium. Whatever happened to the noble ideal of peaceful co-existence in the interest of the unitary State. (See St Kitts and Nevis and Trinidad and Tobago) The point is that others have made the twin-island relationship work, why can’t we?

As Rodney King, he of a brutal police beating in Los Angeles, once declared after the city was racked by riots and looting, “Can’t we all just get along!” We here at NEWSCO are asking the self-same question, and we are convinced that this administration first needs to adjust its language and attitude towards the Barbudan people. The bullying, the arrogance and the dismissiveness will serve no useful purpose. Neither will giving carte blanche to investors. As Short Shirt so nicely puts it in ANTIGUA IS FOR ALL ANTIGUANS, “This is our country, and nobody should exploit we / No way, yuh hear what I say / And we wouldn’t stand by and suffer while foreigners take over / And de politicians should give us protection / Ah say we vote for them during the election . . .”

Hmmm! Maybe that’s why Barbudans are not getting protection. Remember, they did not vote for this administration, and our PM has said that as a result of their rejection of him and his party, he will no longer make nice and suck up to them. There will be no love, no peace, no happiness . . .

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