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Commentary: It's all about land
Published on January 17, 2017Email To Friend    Print Version

By Tyrone Hodge

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” ~ Edmund Burke

As 2016 breathed its last gasps of breath one might have expected that the New Year would be the one shining light at the end of the tunnel. That hope was soon dashed by what looms over the horizon for us in Anguilla. Already strapped by the results of a nonexistent economy, a government that is non-responsive to the needs of the people, and a Foreign and Commonwealth Office who seems oblivious to our concerns and needs right now, what else could we truly expect?

Tyrone Hodge is an Anguillan currently living in California and an educator, who values education and one’s heritage. He has written extensively for the Anguillan newspaper and is a panelist of the Mayor Show, which originates in Anguilla every Saturday, in which we focus on identifying problems and offering solutions. His father was Walter G. Hodge, one of the original stalwarts of the Anguilla revolution of 1967.
One would have to suspend disbelief to actually buy in to what’s happening to us. When everyone else is fighting to stay afloat, we are going down with the ship.

Given that we have always had to fend for ourselves, makes it that much more difficult to accept what has been happening. We are a people, who, by no stretch of the imagination can be called stupid or dumb for that matter. We have produced some of the most erudite people on the face of the earth and it behooves me that we are content to accept as a fait accompli, the really bad hand that we’ve been dealt.

Our history is a storied one, and, as I’ve alluded to earlier, one has to suspend disbelief to believe it. We fought to get away from the harsh treatment by Robert Bradshaw only to turn back the clock and opt for dependent status under Great Britain.

It does not do any good to second guess our leaders now, but we missed a great opportunity to bring Anguilla into the 20th century at that time. You’ll recall Don Mitchell’s presentation on “The Role of Cultural Identity in Anguilla’s National Development,” in which he asserted that “Anguilla was catapulted from the 19th century into the 21st century, hardly stopping for the 20th century. The result was that Anguilla’s modern socio-political culture is new and unsettled.”

He goes on to say that “There has not been enough time for binding conventions and new social structures to develop. Anguillan culture may be said to be essentially that of a frontier society – unsettled, shifting, brash and unruly.”

As we get ready to celebrate our semi-centennial, you will no doubt see just about everyone taking credit for Anguilla’s success, but how did we get here? Anguilla will inter its first chief minister, Mr Ronald Webster this month. And while he has been credited with leading the nation, it must be pointed out that he did not do this alone. There are those whose names have been long forgotten who did their share not for what they would get out of it, but because they believed strongly in what they were doing for country above self.

When one sees what’s happening on the ground, it is difficult to accept it. The exorbitant salaries being paid to non belongers, when we have qualified locals for those same posts is something that should not happen especially when jobs are hard to come by. We have always preferred to pin our hopes on that which is foreign to us. We are still stuck in that crab in the barrel mentality, where we’d rather see someone other than our own move ahead.

We have seen the loss of our wealth, the possible loss of our properties, the destruction of our landmark accomplishments, the symbols of Anguillan ingenuity, the lack of accountability, the flaunting of this government’s indifference to us, and a host of other wrongs, too numerous to mention. We have to stop and take stock and ask ourselves, is this what our forefathers envisioned for us?

I have never seen anything remotely close to what has happened to us here in Anguilla. The illegal takeover of two private banks, banks owned by the people of Anguilla, the alleged stealing of monies from the offshore branches of both indigenous banks, (now the subject of a massive lawsuit by the offshore depositors) the taxation of a people who have remained unemployed since the crash of 2008, the endangering of the Social Security Fund, the loss of pensions, the list goes on and on.

Anguilla is at a time and place where anything could happen. We have been misled and we have swallowed the bait, hook line and sinker. The line is being slowly tapped, a trick that we learned from our forebears, when you wanted to slowly drown the massive fish that you’d hooked. Do we allow ourselves to be slowly drowned or do we mount one hell of a fight? What have we got to lose? Apparently everything.

Our government without much debate, signed into law a Banking Act that basically returned us to colonial status. Our government has relinquished the duties of the minister of finance to the Central Bank. And as part of this Banking Act, is the formation of a Caribbean Asset Management company that will in effect control about 50% of Anguilla’s land, those properties that are in foreclosure, which will be auctioned off to the highest bidder, the proceeds of which will then be divided among the 8 members of the ECCU, Anguilla included.

That our government headed by Victor Banks could have passed such an act without debate tells us all that we need to know. What’s he thinking? How could he in all honesty sign off on something so egregious?

A 60 Minutes report the other night on CBS highlighted the inherent problems that we in Anguilla will be exposed to. I’m speaking of course of the citizenship by investment (CBI) programs that several of the member nations use as a method of enhancing their treasuries. With these deep pocketed investors now aware of Anguilla’s assets on the chopping block and the further relaxation of the Alien Landholding License fees again passed by Victor, our properties can be acquired for a song.

And while everyone has seen it fit to criticize CBS as being biased, and call out Mr Lennox Linton as having an axe to grind, I will not take sides. What I will point out is that as an Anguillan, I fear for what could possibly happen to those foreclosed properties that the so-called Asset Management Company based in Antigua will have access to.

While Dominica seemed to have gotten the brunt of the criticism, everyone seems to have forgotten that Canada in 2014 required citizens from St Kitts and Nevis to obtain a visa due to their CBI program. The action by the Canadians forced St Kitts to rethink its CBI program and recall passports issued between 2012 -2014, which were then replaced with new ones. Those that weren’t returned by January 31, 2015, were then cancelled by the St Kitts government.

We have people running governments who really couldn’t even run their own household. A perusal of any of the local papers on any given day will give one an idea of what’s been going on there. The corruption, the vindictiveness, with which these governments operate, is unfathomable. V.S. Naipaul described Caribbean leaders as Mimic Men, who mimic despots like Mugabe and Chavez rather than Mandela.

While everyone seems to think that this CBI is a good thing, we in Anguilla beg to disagree, for because of the way the ECCU is set up, these people will have access to our properties, that have been devalued by the Asset Management Company, and once they start to sell off our land, we become persona non grata. Our government has mortgaged the future of this and future generations to come, and all with the blessings of our governor and the British. This is unconscionable and downright unheard of. This makes one want to cry and I am not ashamed to say so. My father Walter Hodge fought for this country and to see it come to such an end is not acceptable.

How can we as a people tolerate such actions of this government? Anywhere else in the world, they would have shut the place down. When we as a people have tried to protest the illegal actions of our government, we are confronted with the Royal Police dressed down in riot gear. Royal Police I might add who are not of Anguillan ancestry, who therefore have no skin in the game.

A recent episode that occurred in Bermuda of all places back on December 2, 2016, highlights the fact that when a people feel that they have been wronged, they have no choice but to stand up for their rights, regardless of the storm trooper tactics that were employed by the police.

We in Anguilla are not fools. We can see what is going on and we don’t like it. What we also don’t like is the fact that, because of divisions, we stand a very good chance of losing it all. As West Indians, we have had to do things the hard way. For who will ever forget the horrendous living and working conditions of the early years, conditions which resulted in riots across the region, riots that resulted in the deaths of many. Actions that were considered so egregious, the powers that be were forced to dispatch Lord Oliver to investigate, which resulted in “The Report of Lord Oliver’s Commission”, which W.M. Macmillan in his Warning From the West Indies asserted that the discontent with unsatisfactory labour conditions, standard of living, poor wages, under-employment, poverty, in other words a myriad of reasons forced the Brits to act. West Indians have always fought for what they believed in, whether it was the living and working conditions in St Kitts or the unfair treatment of cricketers in the motherland.

C.L.R. James in his “Beyond a Boundary”, recalls a few incidents back in 1958 when an expat arrived in Trinidad to take up an important post which the people thought should be filled by a local candidate. Such a storm ensued that the expat had to flee. A similar incident occurred in British Guiana in 1959, which caused much turmoil and strikes that forced the governor to retreat.

We may have been shipwrecked according to V.S. Naipaul, but we are no fools. Our Caribbean brothers and sisters have fought for justice when the conditions on the ground warranted it. It’s in our DNA to stand up to whomever, with every last breath, for that which is rightfully ours.

We are quickly running out of time, for once the land is transferred to the Asset Management Company, there is nothing that we can do to reverse the process. And any such action will change the face of Anguilla. We will have lost our individuality, our independence and in the process, our identity. That’s quite a price to pay to avoid collateral damage.

As Anguillans, we seem to be flummoxed like a deer in the headlights, not knowing which way to turn. That’s not who we are. We took the fight to Robert Bradshaw on his home turf which in turn made him rethink his game plan. We stood up to the British without batting an eyelash. We have always figured out what to do. We are a trusting people so much so, that we’ve placed too much trust in those who should have been looking out for our best interests.

We saw the Central Bank, under the governance of the late Sir Dwight Venner, come in like a thief in the night with the blessings of Hubert Hughes, and allegedly gut our banks to replenish those in worse trouble than we were. It was known that we possessed 60% of all foreign currency in the region while the banks in St Lucia and St Vincent for example were struggling. Anguilla’s banks were fine, but the Central Bank did not see it that way. They used the failing economy to come in under the guise of protecting the depositors to allegedly siphon off large sums to replenish the other bankrupt banks in the ECCU.

My fellow Anguillans, we can’t afford to go around like a headless body. We have to organize ourselves and be able to react to every conceivable situation. Let us look at what our black brothers and sisters did back in the 60s in the USA. Let’s use their playbooks and get our act together. In the meantime, let us begin writing letters to the powers that be; make them aware of our plight. Let us start a fund to get the lawyers if necessary. We can’t continue to be reactive; we have to be proactive, to anticipate what will happen. We can’t go to the bank after the fact. That serves no purpose.

It is one thing to see our incompetent politicians do stupid things, but under the watchful eye of the British who are supposed to see that our government adhere to the tenets of good governance. They have stood idly by and watched as the Osborne Fleming administration allowed thousands of foreign nationals from India and China to work for slave wages under less than humane conditions. This was especially shameful given that we are a people who less than 100 years ago were emancipated from slavery. Winston Churchill said, “He who fails to learn from mistakes of the past is doomed to repeat them in the future.”

The British, embarrassed by what they found in Anguilla when they invaded us in 1969, did their best to make up for the benign neglect of the Bradshaw regime, by trying to bring us into the 20th century, but did a half hearted job of it. They introduced the conventions but did not stay around long enough to guarantee that we became proficient in said conventions, thereby leaving us at the mercy of incompetent and greedy politicians.

There is much blame to go around, but the lion’s share goes to the Brits, for they have allowed us to be at the mercy of just about everyone. They have allowed government after government to operate in ways that anywhere else would have brought the ire of any governing body. One has to ask the question, would this sort of thing be allowed to happen to say Bermuda or even the BVI? We see things that are allowed to happen that just scream illegal, but is still allowed to go through. Does anyone, including the governor, know what the devil they’re doing?

We allowed them to steal our banks; will we also allow them to steal our land? I don’t think so. It’s always darkest before the storm. It appears to be very bleak now, but in time to come, it will be bright. We will once again get those bright days of which former Chief Minister Fleming once bragged about.

We have stood idly by and allowed our government to steal our banks. Must we allow them to do the same with our land? Again: “The only thing necessary for evil to happen is for good men to do nothing.” I’m calling out the good men of Anguilla to combat the evil that is being perpetrated upon us, and with God on our side, we will prevail. As someone said on the radio the other night, God has a special place in his heart for Anguilla. So till next time, may He continue to bless us all and may He bless Anguilla.
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Vinci Vin:

Mr. Hodge Anguilla's story is being played out in the entire English-speaking Caribbean, especially in my homeland of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Two big differences are that SVG is an "independent" nation while Anguilla continues to be a colony of Great Britain; and although Anguilla has much less land space, little or no year-round rivers of fresh water, a paucity of arable land for agricultural production and a small population, your country is much wealthier than SVG when measured by per capita income and personal wealth.

Yet, the ills highlighted in your essay are multiplied in SVG. Perhaps that is why I could not stop reading until the end.

Good luck to you in your quest to motivate Anguillans to take positive actions for safeguarding Anguillan wealth, especially its real properties in the best interest of Anguillans.

Best regards,

Vinci Vin


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