The government claims its aim is to speed recovery on the hurricane-devastated smaller island but Barbudans accuse it of a ‘land grab.’ The announcement of snap elections in Antigua and Barbuda has exacerbated controversy over moves to abolish a centuries-old system of communal land ownership on Barbuda, which was devastated by Hurricane Irma. The Guardian reports:
Voters in the twin-island nation will head to the polls on 21 March, a year before general elections are constitutionally due.
The prime minister, Gaston Browne, says the government wants to provide stability for investors – and protect half a billion dollars’ worth of developments currently under construction in the tourism-dependent nation.
But critics say the government is trying to solidify plans for a “land grab”, amid fears that wealthy investors stand to benefit from Barbudans’ displacement.
One of the most prominent projects is a $250m mega resort called Paradise Found, being built by movie star Robert De Niro and Australian billionaire James Packer.
Browne announced the election date on 24 February – five days after the government lost a high court attempt to reject a case brought by two Barbudans protesting against legislation brought in to facilitate the 391-acre scheme in 2015.
Applicants Mackenzie Frank and Trevor Walker will now get the chance to legally challenge the legislation which they say sets a precedent for major developments to get the green light without the consensus of the people.
They claim the act is unconstitutional because all land on Barbuda is owned in common under a 19th-century practice, which was codified into law in 2007. Since emancipation from slavery in 1834, Barbudans have governed their land communally, without private ownership. Barbuda’s quirky system has long included public town hall-style meetings to gauge consensus.
But fury erupted when a separate law revoking communal land ownership – which islanders describe as their birthright – outright was introduced shortly after Hurricane Irma obliterated homes and infrastructure in September. [. . .]