UKYCC stands in solidarity with the people of Barbuda in the aftermath of hurricane Irma, and supports their fight to rebuild their home and retain their historic land rights. We call on our friends, allies and supporters to join us in listening to Barbuda’s residents directly, and in calling on the UN to bring this land grab to a halt.

 

If you had landed in Barbuda a few months ago, you would have found an unspoilt island. An island of pristine beaches, rare endangered species, and the home of around 1800 people living a largely community based and low carbon way of life.

Unlike much of the Caribbean, including the neighbouring Antigua, Barbuda is free of sprawling resorts and mass tourism. It is also one of the few places in the world where the residents have direct control over what happens to their land, and these two things are not unrelated. Since gaining independence, the island has been communally owned: a parcel of land cannot be developed for any purpose without public consultation. Thanks to this system, people are free to decide what is best for them as a community.

That was until hurricane Irma struck. Four months later, and not much is different from the day after the hurricane – electricity is out, the primary school is in disrepair, and most of the residents, temporarily housed on the larger island of Antigua, have yet to return home and resume their lives. As detailed in a recent post, confusion and misinformation are still rife.

So what has the government of Antigua & Barbuda been doing for all this time?

Building an international airport and attempting to revoke Barbudans’ land rights.

Though it is claimed that this is necessary in order to get the loans needed to rebuild the island, the government wanting to end communal land ownership is not news. For years, land rights have been the subject of dispute – prime minister Gaston Browne has previously referred to Barbuda as a ‘giant welfare island’ and land rights as a ‘myth’.

We have seen this kind of opportunism, with governments quietly pushing through controversial policies in the shock of disaster, time and time again, but not usually on such a scale. Communal land ownership is an important part of the Barbudan culture. It is not just the land itself that is threatened, but local democracy and people’s way of life.

What is going on in Barbuda is maybe the ultimate case of the situation prevalent at the front lines of the climate struggle around the world – local democracy being cast aside in favour of development. In the UK, the Lancashire council’s decision to ban fracking, which is opposed by locals by a huge margin, was overturned by the national government. The Trans-Adriatic Pipeline project (TAP) is still going ahead, despite massive resistance by the communities it passes close to. And indigenous communities in Canada, the USA, Brazil, New Zealand and countless other countries are constantly being ignored in favour of development on their traditional lands. 

This is why we are calling on the climate movement around the world to come out in support of the Barbuda and the people’s fight to have a say in what happens to their land. Though it may seem distant, many of us are facing similar struggles, and we should see Barbuda’s current land ownership system as inspiration for how democracy should work. It is the responsibility of countries with high historical emissions, such as the UK, to support those facing the worst effects of climate change, many of whom contributed very little to global emissions.

As an international community, we can fundraise, spread the word, and let those in power know that we are watching. We can tell our governments, many of which have donated aid money, to pay attention to what that money is being used for.

The people of Barbuda have already had to suffer the destruction of their home by natural disaster – the least we can do is to support them in retaining their rights.

How can you help?

Spread the word:

Follow the Facebook pages ‘Barbuda’ and ‘Barbuda Silent No More’, and spread the message as far as you can. These pages are run by locals and diaspora, giving updates on the situation and ways in which you can support them.

Call on the UN:

Sign this petition calling on the UN to prevent the revoking of land rights.

Help fundraise for locals to rebuild:

Give to this fundraiser to donate directly to locals rebuilding the island.

 

Many thanks to our Barbudan friends who took the time to talk to us and explain this issue, on top of running a global campaign!