Dear Prime Minister Gaston Browne:
Many Barbudans have expressed concern that the rebuilding process will be used as an opportunity to alter their long-held tradition of communal land ownership and put their lands in the hands of foreign owners. You have dismissed this long-held cultural tradition of the Barbudan people as a myth, but it clearly is not a myth to the people of Barbuda. This “myth” that you speak of was also written into law with the Barbuda Land Act in 2007. You described this act as an unconstitutional one, but that does not change the fact that this land act is still a law. More importantly, however, the principle of communal land ownership is something that the Barbudan people believe in and they are willing to fight to continue that tradition which has been in existence since 1834, when slavery was first abolished in Barbuda. You may not see any worth in this long-held tradition, but the people of Barbuda do.
The land issue was a sensitive one even before Irma devastated the island. This was why so many of the people of Barbuda were opposed to the plans to allow Robert De Niro and James Packer to build a resort on the island. Apart from Barbuda, in the Caribbean there has been a long history of having to resist against attempts to establish foreign ownership over land, especially as it relates to tourism. The interests of foreign investors and tourists should never take precedence over the interests of the people who live in the Caribbean. Unfortunately, this has been done in the past and it is my hope that this will not be done again to the people of Barbuda, who have already suffered enough.
Prime Minister Browne, you have been completely dismissive towards the legitimate concerns that your people in Barbuda have expressed about the future of their land ownership. Even if the concerns of the people of Barbuda are unfounded, it is your responsibility as an elected leader and servant of the people to engage with them and to take their concerns seriously. Instead you laugh at these people who are concerned about the theft of their land and you refer to them as “dunce elements.” Is this the image that you wish to project to the world about the type of leadership that we have in the Caribbean? You have defended your position by saying that you are trying to empower the people of Barbuda, but how can you empower a people by insulting them in the manner that you have? As I said, even if these expressed concerns are unfounded this is not the manner in which an elected official, especially the prime minister, should address his concerned citizens.
You have certainly seen fit to take care of yourself since you have been in office given that last year you proposed a pay raise for yourself and other ministers in the government. You do not need a pay raise. As you have admitted yourself, your declared assets were $30 million before you were elected as prime minister. Prime Minister Browne, you once said at a Town Hall meeting in New York that Black people are “stronger than other races and more skilled than other races too.” That strength and skill that you are speaking about should be demonstrated in everything that we do, not least of all in our political leadership. Unfortunately when the world sees what is happening in Barbuda they are not seeing a shinning example of skilled Black leadership. They are seeing a very concerned and apprehensive population that is being dismissed and ridiculed by their prime minister. As Black people, West Indians especially, we have been plagued by corrupt leadership that seeks to serve itself and expresses indifference and disregard to the suffering masses. For this reason I ask you to do right by the people of Barbuda. Please demonstrate to the people of Barbuda, and to the rest of the world, that Black people are indeed as skilled as you say that we are.
A fellow Black man and a fellow West Indian