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BARBUDA: HISTORY OF COMMON OWNERSHIP By Alvette Ellorton Jeffers

posted 24 Jan 2018, 01:36 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 24 Jan 2018, 02:10 ]
Let us not valorize the Crown now. The Crown’s conduct in the Caribbean was rapacious. Its seizure of islands was neither moral, legal
nor founded on the concept of natural right. If anything, its agents established a principle that might was right; and the subjugation and near extermination of indigenous populations was justifiable in the pursuit of resources and wealth.

Those who insist on using the terminology “Crown” lands should first establish the fact that the Crown never existed in the Caribbean before conquest. Therefore, it is mandatory that we seek an understanding of how the Europeans got control of the lands. By ignoring this history of conquest, slavery and colonialism, we appear to be normalizing imperialism and its attendant politics in the consciousness of Antiguans and Barbudans.

The Crown came with guns
When the Crown extended its rule to Antigua and Barbuda, it required no legal claim to the islands or asserted any. It came with guns instead and after defeating the French and the Caribs, the two islands came under the domination of the British Monarchy in the 17th century. The law followed conquest and the victor declared his possession lawful. The Crown held on to its possession for a long time, but it would be a spurious claim that “Crown” land became legal because of the passage of time.

Marcus Tullius Cicero, who was a Roman politician, lawyer and a member of the Council in 65 BC, wrote “…there is no such thing as private ownership established in nature, but property becomes private either through long occupancy…or through conquest (as in the case of those who took it in war) …or by due process of law.”

The Empires of Rome, Britain and America did not, in practice, subscribe to Cicero’s principle that land long occupied by its occupants should belong to them. From 27 BC until it ended, the Roman Empire extended into Africa and Asia. Between 1846-1848, The United States of America (USA) fought Mexico and seized from it Texas, New Mexico and California. The USA seized these territories because it could militarily defend its conquest.

The British Crown and other Europeans, like the USA in Mexico, disregarded the principle that the Africans had an uncontestable right to their lands on which they started their evolutionary process. By 1884, the conquest of Africa by Europe was completed. The mantra at the time as articulated by a British governor was: “Seize African territory and then as much as possible rule the country as if there were no inhabitants.” And they did.

King Leopold 11 of Belgium declared: “I am determined to have a share of this magnificent African cake. Any power that could occupy
African soil could effectively claim it.”
Leopold was ruthless in the Congo and so was every occupying European power. They violently pushed Africans off their lands. The settlers that followed forced the Africans to work the lands and mines for the purpose of increasing the wealth of European capitalists.

The British Crown and other European powers had no legal claim to Africa. They did not think they needed one either. They had military superiority. To justify this theft of Africa and the Caribbean, Europeans created the concept of racial superiority that declared the African inferior in all spheres of human endeavor as evidence that black people could not rule themselves. Like children, they had to be guided. It was false then and even more so now.

All that can be said about the “Crown” and European conquest as legal, political and economic doctrine and practice is that it was rationalized in the act of dispossession and the enslavement of our ancestors from Africa. As such, a free people must transcend any concept or practice that has its beginning in their own enslavement. Legal precedence that exists to corroborate theft of property, the brutalization of black bodies and the long denial of emancipation should not be used to justify dispossession in the 21st Century. A free people define and express themselves and their socio-economic purpose through their own jurisprudence.

Unlike the Americans who overthrew the British in 1776 and the Haitians who finally overthrew the French in 1804, Antiguans and Barbudans attempted but failed in their attempt to overthrow the British planters and their legal superstructure that sanctioned their rule. But the enslaved in Antigua and Barbuda, from the moment they were brought to the islands until emancipation in 1834, always contested the legal doctrine that gave the Crown control over their bodies and the land by conspiring to make instead “themselves 
master of the Country.”

The e
nslaved in Antigua and Barbuda had no regard for the Crown’s concepts of right. Those rights when they were put into practice denied the humanity of the enslaved and justified the use of the slaves’ bodies as units of production out of which value was extracted to deepen further the system of control and economic exploitation.

Like my rebellious ancestors, I too have no regard for rights derived from colonial conquest. I, like my ancestors, hold that the Crown did not have legal rights in lands that were conquered. Conquest was wrong in the 17th century. It is wrong now.
As a consequence, Barbudans do not need laws of oppression to justify their claim to the lands they have occupied for centuries. They should not have to rely on a judicial process that asserts, as a fait accompli, that rights established at the time of conquest is still, today, operational. Justice, from the very beginning, is undermined because the law compels the adjudicator to follow the dictates of laws not concerned with reparative justice.

Barbudans’ history cannot be negated. Their long occupancy of the land is not in contention. What is in contention is whether or not it entitled them to ownership? Unlike the European slave masters and colonizers, Barbudans were not conquerors but captives. While the Europeans could not make a claim for themselves that they denied to others, Barbudans’ long occupancy of the land justifies their claim. For me, it is ethically and morally justifiable. It is as simple as that. No ifs or buts!

What makes this even more compelling is that Barbuda is a place distinct in its concept of land ownership which reinforces their view that certain natural resources should be reserved and protected for common ownership.

Regrettably, unlike the Maroons in Jamaica, the Barbudans have not yet acquired the power to enforce this noble principle; and if some have their way, the best that can be imagined for Barbudans is to have them situated in Reservations like the Aborigines in Australia or the Native Americans in the USA. The bigger share of the land they would leave to be possessed by foreign investors. History repeats
itself, someone said. The first time as farce the second time as tragedy.

If Antiguans are perceptive they should understand that Barbudans do not want what is happening to Antigua to be commenced in Barbuda. Dr. Ermina Oshoba wrote an article for Outlet on October 26, 1999 which was reprinted in The Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books, in the Fall of 2016. She posed these questions to Antiguans which could be interpreted as a forewarning to Barbudans.

“What of our heritage are we leaving for our future generations? Must we continue to expand our hotel rooms when so many of the present ones are not being fully occupied? Do we need wall to wall condominiums and villas on every available beach? Do we want to be outnumbered in our own country or exist just to serve an expatriate population? Is there no where that we will be able to feel at home, to feel we are in charge, that we control our destinies?” Barbudans are forcing us now to think as they contemplate Dr. Oshoba’s musings.
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