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posted 11 Jan 2018, 09:25 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 11 Jan 2018, 10:04 ]
Dorbrene O'Marde
Chair, Antigua and Barbuda Reparations Support Commission
The concepts of nationhood and citizenship have been missing from the public debate about the
Image result for barbuda map trauma of Hurricane Irma. The debate has become vitriolic. Overtures are being made to the legal entanglement of the British Privy Council. The long wait for final decisions will give space for the acrimony to fester in perversion of the needed healing of the nation, Antigua and Barbuda. The main contention is about land - the lands of Barbuda island. (See here and here)

Between 1671 and 1901 Barbuda was British Crown territory leased to various members of the Codrington family and others. Persons living on Barbuda were considered tenants of the Crown – first living on leased lands as ‘enslaved persons’ and since 1834, doing so as ‘freed’ persons.

The British Emancipation Act of 1833 which mandated the abolition of slavery did not mention ‘Barbuda’, either because Barbuda was recognized as a part of Antigua and/or that Barbuda conceptualized as a leased estate, not an island.

The non-imposition in Antigua (to include Barbuda) of a mandatory apprenticeship system that resulted in immediate emancipation, created a unique problem for the estate lease owning Codringtons, whose new reality – since August 1st 1834 – was that over five hundred free persons were living on the ‘their’ island/estate, over whom they no longer had chattel control.

The pro-slavery Bethel Codrington lamented ..."Negro emancipation seems to have made the Proprietor the slave. The former will reside in my property and have daily wages whether I have work for them or not."

Codrington could not have sold to the free persons the lands they lived on - those lands were not his. He could not get them off his leased property – they resisted strongly in 1834/35. To the majority, Barbuda was home – the only land they knew. Colonial correspondence in 1871 describes the situation as follows: "The inhabitants of the island have always been the subjects of the Queen...the island belongs to the Queen, by whom it is leased to the worthy Codrington family under which the inhabitants enjoy their lands”. The lands referenced here which the inhabitants ‘enjoyed’ were all Crown lands..

The lease to the ‘worthy’ Codringtons ended in or before 1885, for that year, the Crown granted a lease to Robert Dougall. This lease was terminated in 1898 when the Crown repossessed the island and placed it under the laws of Antigua.

The Codringtons since 1885 therefore would have had no authority over Barbuda or its lands. The idea that they transferred the Queen’s lands to Barbudans as reparations for enslavement is preposterous. They had openly campaigned against abolition and pocketed £6286 18S 11d (of the British £20 million reparations to planters and enslavers) on the 2ndNov 1835 for ‘freeing’ four hundred and ninety two enslaved persons on Barbuda.

We find no evidence that the Queen/the Crown at any time since 1671 agreed to any transfer of British property to the inhabitants of Barbuda. The Codringtons could have willed the cash value of their estate and their property – to include enslaved Africans, animals and crops - but never the land. It is therefore difficult to conclude that persons born in Barbuda and their descendants owned the lands of Barbuda before the passage of the Barbuda Land Act of 2007 so proclaimed.
The Codrington family leased the island of Barbuda from the English crown for the nominal price of "one fat pig per year if asked".

There is no doubt however that since 1671 Barbudans have been virtually ‘left alone’ on Queen/Crown property exerting a nationalism and developing cultural traits based on their interpretation/assumption that they ‘owned’ the lands in common, a position they have steadfastly held even in the face of the rejection of higher courts and police and political aggression.

The Independence Act of 1981 transferred all British Crown lands to the Government of Antigua and Barbuda – a fact that never altered the relationship Barbudans had with the lands of Barbuda. Barbudans remained ‘left alone,’ this time on what are legally national lands.

The inference that Barbudans owned the lands of Barbuda was reinforced in 2007 when the Barbuda Land Act made legal the then existing system of land tenure in Barbuda, confirmed that all lands in Barbuda is vested in the Crown [Governor General] on behalf of the people of Barbuda, who own it in common!

The Act transferred approximately 36% of the lands of the nation to a select group of Antiguans and Barbudans, established a second land tenure system in the nation and delegated land control to a Barbuda Council, a rather unique local government institution that exists only in the north of Antigua and Barbuda.

The constitutionality of this Act must be questioned as must the amendments made under it in 2016 that gave the Barbuda Council power – for whatever reason or reason(s) - to grant leases of up to ninety nine years. I contend however that even if the Act and its enforcements that define our present position are repealed or found unconstitutional – as we think they are - this should not shape our final actions.

Barbudans have had their present relationship with land since Emancipation. It is a relationship that existed through all forms of colonial government, made legal in national government since 1981, and reconfirmed in 2007.

Barbudans therefore do hold some legitimate expectation that their ownership – in common - of the lands of Barbuda remains now and into the future - the destruction of Hurricane Irma notwithstanding. This expectation seems reasonable and valid and, although not a legal right, simply asks for constructive consultation and fairness in reviewing established 184+ year old practice.

There are two main proposals on the table. One – that we leave the status quo and allow it to govern our way forward, and two – that Crown lands in Barbuda be sold to resident Barbudans and their offspring for a commitment of a single dollar, allowing inhabitants a negotiable freehold title. 

This proposal eliminates the Barbudan legitimate expectation to own their lands in common into the future. The confusion that is sure to follow has not been properly assessed – and if so, it has not been properly communicated.

Does this dollar for a plot of Crown land apply to Barbudan descendants who have never seen/contributed to/cared about Barbuda? Does the same price apply to lands for business, for grazing, for cultivation? Are there performance clauses attached or I can simply find my four dollars and own acres of Crown land? 

Can the freehold be transferred, bartered, sold, willed? To whom? Barbudans only? Is this offer available to ‘foreigners’ or other citizens who have investment or retirement ideas? Can these decisions be fairly made in the prevailing political climate? Will it hasten and engender the will of Barbudans to return and participate fully in the rebuilding of Barbuda?

We propose a third alternative, one which has potential to produce a win-win situation, one that buries loose talk, unreasonable demands and importantly appreciates the reality of the psychological trauma of evacuation and material losses experienced by citizens on the island of Barbuda:

1) That based on the projected population growth and residential housing needs over the next fifty years, and taking into account the perceived impact of climate change, that an adequate portion of Barbuda lands be allocated to common ownership, the management of which continues as it exists today. This decision should at least satisfy the legitimate expectations of most Barbudans.

There are dangers here that we end up with an undesirable ‘Barbuda’ enclave, surrounded by lands owned or leased to both local and foreign interests – as the situation with the original peoples (Caribs/Kalinago) in Dominica. Further thought and discussion on this proposal is merited. In addition, who supports the development and infrastructural needs? What revenue will this common owned land generate? Will public services like education and health be established solely for common land residents or for every one? On and on...

2) The remaining lands in Barbuda – all Crown lands - be managed as all lands of Antigua and Barbuda are presently managed. Full stop. This promotes the constitutional right that citizens of Antigua and Barbuda should enjoy the same rights and ‘be one people.’

This proposal needs further deep thought and examination. It does not address the challenge of rebuilding Barbuda nor does it address a number of other issues. Do we continue to shape administrative and legal instruments that promote Barbuda as a state within the nation? Do we continue to support two systems of decision making in the nation – one by popular referendum in Barbuda and one by Cabinet rule in Antigua and Barbuda? Do we need an eleven man Council to run the affairs of a population of less than eighteen hundred people – a Council that employs over five hundred persons? Do we retain parallel systems of taxation and tax collection, of public utilities pricing?

The proposal is offered as the entry point to honest negotiations. It calls for constructive consultation. It recognizes the imperative of bringing the people of the nation together, engaged in a process to further a collective agenda. It moves to make citizenship more whole and the union more perfect.