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Burning Spear News

Africans in Antigua and Barbuda fight for land, demand reparations

Mar 15, 2021
Matsemela Odom, International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement Vice President


"Hurricane Irma Barbuda 2017" by Bennylin is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

 

In September 2017, Hurricane Irma ripped through the small Caribbean island of Barbuda. Irma killed three people, caused over $150 million in damage and displaced almost 2,000 residents. For all given purposes, the 185 mph winds of Hurricane Irma flattened Barbuda. 

Barbuda island is a part of the Caribbean country of Antigua and Barbuda in the Lesser Antilles. Antigua and Barbuda consists of the largest island of Antigua which is about 108 square miles and has about 96,000 residents, the smaller island of Barbuda which is about 62 square miles and many smaller islands. 

Hurricane Irma was devastating for the people of Antigua and Barbuda. Whether it is hurricanes in the Caribbean or Gulf Coast of the United States, wildfires in California, mudslides in West Africa or earthquakes in Haiti, these disasters are never simply “natural disasters” as they are described. 

What The Burning Spear reported of Hurricane Harvey in Houston in August 2017 was true of Hurricane Irma a month later in the Lesser Antilles.

The Spear said, “This is so because this is what happens under the system of colonialism where African people have no economic or political power, are not self-determining and are at the mercy of our oppressors. The oppressor has the power to decide our fate, when to help us or when to leave us for dead.”

Hurricane Irma washed ashore a struggle against neocolonialism in Antigua and Barbuda that has important political significance for the struggle for reparations and African liberation throughout the Caribbean. 

Antigua and Barbuda, oppressed tourist economy

The colonial underdevelopment of Antigua and Barbuda has made its people prey to colonial and neocolonial powers.

Trading Economics reports that, since 1977, the average gross domestic product (GDP) of Antigua and Barbuda has been $760 million, the GDP for 2017 was $1.34 billion, and the Antigua and Barbuda GDP represents less than 0.01 percent of the global economy. The gross domestic product is an assessment of goods and services produced by a country or region. 

An even stronger assessment of life in Antigua and Barbuda is its total revenues. Revenues measure the resources brought in to the State through taxation—a useful measure of the individual wealth of the people of the country. 

The internal revenue of Antigua and Barbuda ranges around $250 million annually. So, despite what some describe as a robust Caribbean economy due to its oil exports, Statista reports that Antigua and Barbuda has an annual debt that exceeds its revenues and that the country, overall, holds $1.44 billion in public debt. 

In fact, the labor force in Antigua and Barbuda is overwhelmingly dominated by a service-based tourist economy. Eighty-two percent of workers in Antigua and Barbuda are service workers. Boosters promote the main island of Antigua as “The Land of 365 Beaches—One for Each Day.” 

The tourist economy of Antigua and Barbuda underscores the continued colonial relationships between the African working class in Antigua and Barbuda and white North American and European society. 

The novelist Jamaica Kincaid was born and raised in Antigua. In her novel “A Small Place,” Kincaid captures the colonial contradictions of the tourism industry for Africans in Antigua and throughout the Caribbean. 

“An ugly thing, that is what you are when you become a tourist ... a piece of rubbish pausing here and there to gaze at this and taste that, and it will never occur to you that the people who inhabit the place in which you have just paused cannot stand you, that behind their closed doors they laugh at your strangeness,” Kincaid writes. 

Antigua and Barbuda is an absolutely beautiful place. Its colorful architecture and landscapes, the cuisine, its vernacular and literary cultures all display its Africanness.

Neocolonial misleaders attempt to sell Barbuda to rich white North Americans

Chairman Omali Yeshitela defines neocolonialism as white power in black face. In November 2017, Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Brown and other neocolonial leaders of Antigua and Barbuda rapidly took advantage of the removal of Barbuda’s population. 

They began development of a resort and airfield on Barbuda. Promising hundreds of millions of dollars in profits with financial backers like Robert De Niro and James Packer, Brown and others okayed the construction of the Paradise Found resort.

Kendra Beazer, a young activist with the Barbuda People’s Movement, is quoted by The Guardian as saying, “When you hear that they’re already clearing land to build the new airport, yet you haven’t put up the fence at the old airport to allow for regular travel, it makes you question.” 

Barbuda has a history of African resistance. Since the end of chattel slavery, Barbuda has not been controlled by private ownership of the land nor the resort economy that it brings. 

In 1685, the British Crown leased the entire island to two brothers: John and Christopher Codrington. The Codringtons were a brutal slaveholding family who also owned sugar plantations on Antigua. 

The Codringtons used Barbuda to produce food for their plantations. Barbuda plantations were also a human stock farm, a slave breeding factory. Most of the enslaved Africans produced on Barbuda were taken to Antigua and other Leeward and Windward islands.

The brutal conditions on Barbuda led to a history of resistance. From 1741 to 1835, Africans waged a series of rebellions. According to the website, Barbudaful, the first recorded rebellion took place on the Codrington plantation in 1741 in response to the “cruel and tyrannical behavior” of the white ruling class. This liberation movement continued until 1834.

The British Parliament passed the Slavery Emancipation Act in 1834. Liberal historians attempt to suggest this brought an end to slavery in Antigua and Barbuda, as well as the other parts of the West Indies. 

This is completely false. In fact, when the British refused to extend the orders to Barbuda, and instead tried to transport the enslaved Africans from Barbuda to Antiguan plantations, the Africans rose up and “freed themselves from slavery,” as the author of Barbudaful states.

Following chattel slavery, Africans in Barbuda took control of the land and decided to own the land communally. The Barbuda Land Act of 2007 reinforced the communal ownership of land in Barbuda. 

Despite the revolutionary tradition, or maybe because of it, The Guardian noted an increasing antagonistic relationship between the communities on Barbuda and Antigua. Kate Lyons of The Guardian writes: “Barbudans say Antiguans look down on them and want to control their island; Antiguans say Barbudans sponge off their tax dollars and use the complicated land system to deny access to Antiguans wanting to start businesses there.”

But these are the natural side effects of the severe colonial and neocolonial conditions Africans endure in Antigua and Barbuda.

Africans in Antigua and Barbuda demand reparations

Africans in Antigua and Barbuda have joined the leagues of Africans in other Caribbean countries in demanding reparations for the history of slavery. 

The current stage of the reparations struggle in Antigua and Barbuda is weighted with the similar contradictions that Africans in other Caribbean countries face. It is still a legal and legislative measure often headed by middle class or petty bourgeois leadership. 

In 2019, it was reported that the Harvard Law School is indebted to the stolen wealth of the Royall family. The Royalls, like the Codringtons, were a genocidal conglomerate of slave traders who made their money through an international ring of theft of Indigenous land and African labor. 

Their slave empire ranged from the Lesser Antilles to Massachusetts. Harvard received hundreds of acres of land from the Royall slave traders. In 1815, Isaac Royall, Jr. donated the land for the endowment of a Harvard Law School professorship. 

That professorship that was first held by the chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court, Isaac Parker. The Royall family crest became the official crest of the Harvard Law School. 

In 2015, students at Harvard joined a wave of international protests against symbols of colonial white power and slavery by demanding the Harvard Law School seal come down. In 2016, Harvard Law School removed the seal.

In October 2019, Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne presented a letter to Harvard demanding that reparations be paid to Antigua and Barbuda. The same Gaston Browne that has sold the land of Antigua and Barbuda to foreign investors is now attempting to represent the Antigua and Barbuda struggle for reparations. 

The reparations struggle in Antigua and Barbuda must be led by the African working class. The reparations struggle must address the history of colonialism and imperialism. This includes, but is not limited to, the period of chattel slavery. 

Reparations must address the parasitic tourist economy that keeps Africans bound, in a different way, to international sea travel. As Sekou Luke of the Antigua and Barbuda Reparations Support Commission states, “Instead of black people coming off the ships, now it’s white people.’’ 

Build the Uhuru Movement in Antigua and Barbuda

Antigua and Barbuda is a small country with a small economy. The liberation of Africans in Antigua and Barbuda is attached to the liberation of Africans everywhere. That struggle must be led by the African working class.

The African People’s Socialist Party convened the Caribbean Black Power Summit on January 17. The Caribbean Black Power Summit was headed by Chairman Alex Morley, the head of the APSP Bahamas as well as the African Socialist International Caribbean and South American Region. 

In his opening presentation, Chairman Alex outlined the struggle against neocolonialism in the Caribbean. Chairman Alex called upon the African working class to take power from the neocolonial petty bourgeois class and overturn an economy that keeps them dependent on foreign powers so that the people of the Caribbean can live their best lives.

Chairman Alex Morley was followed by Comrade Henoch Morgan of Bermuda. Comrade Henoch presented on reparations. Henoch implored the creation of an African Internationalist reparations movement in the Caribbean. 

The bulk of his presentation revisited The First World Tribunal on Reparation to African People held by the African People’s Socialist Party in Brooklyn, New York in 1982. As Henoch stated, the First Tribunal, and subsequent tribunals held by the African National Reparations Organization, did not only address chattel slavery. 

The African People’s Socialist Party, under the leadership of Chairman Omali Yeshitela, addressed the continued oppression of African people.

Point 11 of the African People’s Socialist Party’s 14 Point Platform states, “We want the U.S. and the international European ruling class and States to pay Africa and African people for the centuries of genocide, oppression, and enslavement of our people.” 

The Uhuru Movement is the leader of the global reparations movement, but the African People’s Socialist Party is not a reparations organization. It is a revolutionary organization whose aims are the end of colonial oppression of African people and the creation of a united socialist Africa under the leadership of the African working class. 

The 80 percent of Africans who work in the oppressive tourist economy of Antigua should be in power. The thousands who had their custodianship of Barbuda snatched from them should be in power. 

Build Black Power in Antigua and Barbuda by joining the African Socialist International. Organize the African People’s Socialist Party in Antigua and Barbuda as well as its many mass organizations such as the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement.

 

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