By Shermain Bique-Charles
If Barbuda’s MP Trevor Walker was expecting an apology from Prime Minister Gaston Browne for his controversial comments about blood relations on the sister isle, then he clearly underestimated the man known for his tendency to speak brazenly.
In fact, Walker’s demands for the PM to apologise to Barbudans only added fuel to the flames of a heated debate that shows little sign of abating just yet.
Browne clearly will not say “I’m sorry” or even retract the damning statements he made in Parliament alleging Barbudans were having “consanguineal relations”, aka inbreeding.
Instead, an unrepentant Browne even accused Walker of knowing the risks of such relations – and doing nothing about it.
“It is the primarily [sic] reason why Barbudans are significantly shorter than they were decades ago, and is the cause of the health problems among some,” Browne told OBSERVER.
He said with Barbuda’s current reduced population of 1,100, the prevalence and risks of consanguineal relations could increase.
“Armed with this information and awareness, Barbudans would be better equipped to manage the risks,” he said.
PM Browne strongly believes that, despite the sensitivity, avoiding the subject is not the answer, further accusing Walker of “exploiting the emotions and ignorance” of the Barbudan people for partisan gain.
“He [Walker] is seeking votes; I am concerned about the quality of life of the Barbudans. Barbudans should see this as a proactive and caring concern, to protect them and their offspring from a potential health threat,” the prime minister insisted.
Theories that Barbuda was used to breed stronger and bigger slaves have long abounded in local lore but historian Dr Reginald Murphy said he has never seen documentation to support such claims.
Dr Murphy, who is also co-director of the Human Eco-dynamics Research Group, told OBSERVER media there was no solid evidence either for or against the notion.
But he said the practice did take place elsewhere in the world so it could well be true. “Slaves, like livestock which were also bred on Barbuda, were a commodity,” he added.
General scientific research into inbreeding alludes to conditions including blindness, hearing loss, neonatal diabetes, limb malformations, disorders of sex development, schizophrenia and others. There is nothing to suggest any of these are present in Barbudans as a result of such relations.
Environmentalist Principal of the Sir McChesney George Secondary School, John Mussington – who was born and bred in Barbuda – claimed Barbudans are in fact healthier than their Antiguan counterparts.
“Barbudans, the children in particular, are healthier than Antiguans. Obesity because of non-finesses is a general ailment. Where else in the world could people survive so well without health services for two and a-half years,” he said.
Mussington continued that the Barbuda community is “small and closely knit”, explaining further that there are various social mores that protect against inbreeding.
“Barbudans are socialised with such mores and the PM would not know that about our community or unfortunately he doesn’t care to find out,” Mussington insisted.
Furthermore, he said, when you compare the secondary school’s population in Barbuda with what exists in Antigua, the difference in health and fitness levels among these students is “striking”.
When the issue of consanguineal relations resurfaced in Parliament last week, Barbudans took offence, with some using social media to lash out at the PM. They said they felt insulted and belittled by the statements.
Walker called out the public for not chiding Browne – and threatened the PM would face fierce action if he refused to retract the statements.