Barbudans ‘fight for survival’…

The full title of this article by Gemma Handy (The Guardian) is “Barbudans ‘fight for survival’ as resort project threatens islanders’ way of life.” Handy explains that there is a bitter dispute in Barbuda as supporters argue a US $2bn luxury resort project is a vital economic stimulus while critics say it will destroy natural habitat as well as traditions and cultures. Here are excerpts:

From the air, the peninsula of Palmetto Point – fringed by aquamarine water and pink-hued sand – looks like a developer’s dream.

To local residents it’s the scene of childhood memories and balmy afternoons spent picking seagrapes and ambling among the sand dunes – a landscape many fear could soon be lost to them forever.

Three years after Barbuda was devastated by Hurricane Irma, the tiny Caribbean isle is the scene of a bitter dispute that has pitted islanders against foreign developers who plan to build a US $2bn luxury resort project.

A group of investors, including John Paul Dejoria, the billionaire entrepreneur behind Paul Mitchell hair products, have been given a 99-year lease to create hundreds of deluxe private homes and a golf course for the scheme named Peace, Love and Happiness (PLH).

Supporters see the development as a vital economic stimulus that has already created dozens of jobs for an island still recovering from the September 2017 hurricane. Critics say it will encroach on a national park, damaging one of the world’s largest nesting sites for the magnificent frigate bird and endangered wildlife.

Developers say their concept was devised following a public vote of approval from the community in 2016. Opponents say that they were not told where exactly the development would be and that the detailed masterplan was drafted shortly after Irma when Barbuda’s entire 1,600 population was forcibly evacuated to Antigua – a claim both central government and PLH deny.

Work is already well underway at the site, where mangroves and other indigenous plants have been removed for replanting elsewhere. Around 40 of the 395 residences advertised on the firm’s website have already been sold, and construction has begun on an international runway to facilitate private jets.

Gesturing towards mangroves and palms which islanders traditionally used to make fish pots and thatch roofs, local marine biologist John Mussington said the area’s wetlands are safeguarded by a global treaty.

“Everything you see here is critical wetland and natural beach vegetation which are protected by the Ramsar Convention,” he said.

“The West Indian whistling duck – which is critically endangered – is dependent on areas like this to reproduce. Five thousand magnificent frigate birds come to our lagoon each nesting season. And for the endemic Barbuda warbler, this place is critical to its survival. These wetlands are crucial to our coral reef health and our marine resources.”

On Wednesday, the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) called for an international investigation into the destruction of Ramsar-listed habitat. GLAN said it had sent evidence including expert scientific reports to the Ramsar Secretariat demanding urgent intervention.

GLAN spokesman Dr Tomaso Ferrando told the Guardian: “Such is the scale of alteration to this habitat we believe an international advisory mission is needed to make an urgent assessment on the changes already underway and avoid further degradation.”

The project is unfolding against the backdrop of a bitter ongoing row between Barbuda and big sister Antigua over the central government’s reversal of a centuries-old system of communal land ownership.

Historically, all land on Barbuda was owned communally, and land parcels could not be bought and sold. The practice was codified into law in 2007. New legislation in 2017 introduced the freehold sale of land but remains the subject of a court battle. In September, the Eastern Caribbean court of appeal granted campaigners the right to take the case to London’s Privy Council, the country’s court of last resort.

Many Barbudans are still furious over what they view as the theft of their birthright, and the row has even triggered calls for secession from Antigua. [. . .]

For full article, see https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/14/barbuda-luxury-resort-project-dispute

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