Barbudans have always protected their right to use the extensive lands of Barbuda freely and in common, and this right was enshrined in law under a UPP government led by Baldwin Spencer, through the Barbuda Land Act 2007. This law holds all land on Barbuda in common for Barbudans and their descendants, wherever they may live in the world. It means in practice that today anyone of Barbudan descent can take up to three areas of land on Barbuda to build themselves a house, for agriculture or for business, according to the land regulations which have areas designated by the Barbuda Council - without having to pay anything for it. This right to use the land and to self-determination for Barbudans has been established since the end of slavery when the Barbudan slaves refused to be moved off Barbuda to Antigua, and more recently in 1981 this unique history was central to the establishment of a separate and independent Barbuda Council at the Antigua and Barbuda Independence talks in the UK. The freedom to use the whole island for fishing, hunting and agriculture has sustained the small population through difficult times but there has been limited economic development when it is not in the interest of central government in Antigua. This might be because this legislation applies to Barbuda only and not Antigua - Antiguans are not entitled to free land here or on Antigua, and as such should not make decisions about Barbuda land. Most Antiguans when asked say they have never been here, although we regularly need to make the costly journey to Antigua from Barbuda for essential goods and services.
Since the change of government in Antigua attempts are now being made to return to the bad old days of the control of Barbuda by Antigua Labour Party ministers for their own financial benefit. The Land Act is being challenged. The intention now is to force unwanted development on Barbuda, to remove the powers of the Barbuda Council and to monopolise all the potential economic benefits from the acres of Caribbean 'real estate' (we call it 'nature') that exists over here. Prime Minister Gaston Brownes Paradise Found Act is an example of this - this Act was designed specifically to allow his new economic envoy De Niro, and partner James Packer to take up huge areas of land on Barbuda in addition to their acquisition of the K Club lease, without reference to the Land Act. Since this was passed, the law has been further amended to facilitate large projects with long, cheap leases proceeding without local consultation, aiming eventually to give freehold to these so-called investors as a reward.
But we have been there before! The Barbuda Land Act was a response to historical attempts to undermine the long term security and identity of the people of Barbuda, and there have been endless attempts in the past to mislead or bribe people to give the land away. Robert Vesco and the Knights of New Aragon, Ed Joiner, Dave Strickland and the Llamas, Bruce Rappaport and Allen Stanford in Antigua... corrupt leaders and failed projects have kept Antigua in the list of incompetent administrations and left Barbuda an economic backwater, dividing us politically and continuing to prohibit genuine positive development on both Barbuda and Antigua.
Extensive litigation over many years eventually prevented the Antiguan Labour Party Government under Lester Bird's leadership from continuing to mine sand on Barbuda. John McDonald QC worked with Sir Hilbourne Frank to represent Barbudans in their struggle for land rights throughout this time, and with Mackenzie Frank drafted the Land Act under a campaign entitled Barbuda International Land Rights, which currently has supporters, friends and visitors from around the world. This new attack on the Land Act is currently being challenged in a Class Action in court and will if necessary be taken to the United Nations.
In spite of this many people of different nationalities live and work happily and have families here on Barbuda; Syrian, French, Italian, English, American, and Caribbean nationals from Dominica, Guyana, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Cuba and more. Non- Barbudans can easily and cheaply lease land from a Barbudan resident or from the Council, according to the procedures listed in the Land Act, and many do. As a result Barbudans have a unique opportunity to enrich their lives through leasing or renting out a house or a business as is common in other parts of the world. The promotion of leases as a constructive way forward to develop Barbuda land without losing it forever has been continually and systematically overlooked or ignored by Council leaders over the years, coupled with missed opportunities to establish a port of entry, find small scale sustainable tourism projects that employ local people and pressurise the Antiguan banking system to recognise Barbudan land rights and assist us with loans to facilitate development.
So foreign developers/investors - whatever you want to call them - still consistently target the more compliant Council leaders with little to offer. A helicopter ride or a Christmas present for a couple of local children is often enough. So the Antiguan Government in partnership with these 'leaders' are handing out long leases for projects with no due diligence; requiring vast areas of land in pristine conservation areas that are not suitable for development because of the illegal removal of mangroves, salt ponds or in other protected areas. History has shown us these do not come to fruition for many reasons - they are often fraudulent (some have easily searchable criminal records!) many have no money but plan to go to the bank with their cheap or free lease later, or they deliberately begin work in an unsuitable place until they have to be stopped. Evidence of this is everywhere on Barbuda and the Barbuda Land Act is there to protect the people of Barbuda from this type of cynical and greed-driven exploitation.
The Dulcina hotel at River has been given by Council to Prime Minister Gaston Browne's wife and the old buildings demolished - pictured left. The Beach House at Palmetto is still derelict and supposedly under the control of easily searchable Mr Derek Barrett. Sunset Hotel is still used as a car wash. K Club - once leased by Krizia fashion designer Mme Mandelli and the thriving hotel visited by Princess Diana - is said to have been sold as a lease with 72 years remaining to Robert De Niro and James Packer, but they still want a further 1000+ acres for a 'buffer zone', a casino, and a 'Barbuda Master Plan' whatever that is. It is projects like these that could so easily be an asset to Barbuda under the terms of the Barbuda Land Act. We are a beautiful twin island state, there is no need for conflict. But all of these leases have been given without the consent of the people of Barbuda, and all the income will go to Antigua.
As a result there has been very little genuine long term development on Barbuda which is a concern to all on Barbuda who visit, or who live here or overseas, and much damage is caused by these people. We need much more sustainable development and need a thriving local economy to compliment what Barbudans have already established themselves. So honest, environmentally-friendly, small scale tourism ventures with the appropriate level of funding behind them would be most welcome. Projects must put in a written proposal to Council, hold a series of prepared and public village meetings for the villagers to attend giving full details of their plans, and thereafter any major projects must be endorsed by Cabinet; this is all clearly stated in the Land Act.
In the future Barbudans at home and abroad will continue to use their skills to sustain their island and the future will be bright in spite of the struggle. The benefits of the small population on Barbuda are evident in the nature of the island, and these very special destinations are becoming increasingly desirable in an over-crowded world. We know why people want land here so badly - our community has successfully maintained much of what other Caribbean islands have lost - including a variety of wildlife only threatened by insensitive development and major hurricanes. Barbuda has many hundreds of acres of pristine mangrove surrounding the largest natural lagoon in the Eastern Caribbean, the only Ramsar site in Antigua and Barbuda. The acres of salt ponds here support sea birds and sea salt, and miles of scrub protect deer and land turtles, leaving them undisturbed - and at barbudaful we hope it stays this way. More and more visitors to the Caribbean are coming to stay on Barbuda as their favourite island becomes too developed, and when they look for something better they find it here - but it must be Barbudans first who benefit from this.