CARIBBEAN REGIONAL SEMINAR HEARS VIEWS OF EXPERTS ON DECOLONIZATION PROCESS,
CONCLUDES ASSESSMENT OF INDIVIDUALTERRITORIES’ ECONOMIC, SOCIAL PROGRESS
(Received from a UN Information Officer.)
CANOUAN ISLAND, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, 18 May -- In its second day, the Caribbean Regional Seminar today heard the views of experts on the decolonization process in the region. It also concluded its assessment of the progress of individual Non-Self-Governing Territories in achieving sustainable political and economic development.
Walton Brown, an expert from Bermuda, drew attention to a disturbing “eurofication” of the OverseasTerritories that was reshaping the very nature of their relationship with the United Kingdom/European Union. In practice, it represented integration by stealth and contained two key elements. First, it reclassified all OverseasTerritories’ nationals as British citizens. While all colonial subjects had been British subjects along with residents of the United Kingdom, the year 1983 had seen the creation of three classes of citizens -- British Citizen, British Dependent Territories Citizen and British Overseas Citizen -- in order to prevent Hong Kong’s Chinese British subjects from potentially claiming their right to live in the United Kingdom after 1997. Two years ago the British Government had made all British Dependent Territory Citizens full citizens, once again. However, that was fundamentally a right granted to individuals and did not, in any way, alter the constitutional relationship between the United Kingdom and the OverseasTerritories.
He said the second element of eurofication was that, while the European Constitution recognized the OverseasTerritories as part of its jurisdiction, more revealingly, a set of parameters laid out in that document referred to the levels of tax/duty that an OverseasTerritory could impose on imports from a European Union member country. While offering flexibility in terms of not restricting the ability of the OverseasTerritory to raise revenue for the public purse, it nevertheless granted constitutional authority to the European Union over matters that had hitherto been the exclusive preserve of the OverseasTerritories themselves. That was a serious precedent that tied the OverseasTerritories more fully to the European Union than any grant of citizenship and it had taken place without consultation with those Territories or input from their peoples. In one deft move, the precedent had now been set for the European Union to assume tremendous control over the OverseasTerritories, which represented a much closer integration with the administering Power yet did not accord greater political rights.
Phyllis Fleming-Banks, an expert from Anguilla, addressed the question of dissemination of decolonization information and political education programmes on the legitimate self-determination political options available to non-self-governing peoples, pointing out that they remained largely unaware of the work of the Special Committee on Decolonization and of the legitimate options of free association, integration with another State or independence. Political education on decolonization must begin with the deliberate de-shrouding of concepts and definitions. In recent decades, the language used to describe the colonial reality had been mystified, so that being referred to as OverseasTerritories instead of colonies or dependent Territories removed the colonial reality from the minds of the colonized. Similarly, calling the colonizers administering Powers allowed them to maintain their respectability in the community of nations. The education process must, therefore, concentrate on ensuring the understanding that self-determination was not something that the administering Power may or may not entertain; it must focus on the fact that it was a fundamental human right.
Expressing the hope that the growing involvement of Anguilla’s administering Power with the Special Committee would provide the avenues for including all three options, she noted, however that the administering Power claimed to be committed to the “clearly and constitutionally expressed wish of the people”, while there had been no preparation of the people for full independence. In addition to its silence or refusal to entertain all three options, greater clarity about the meaning of being colonies of a European Union State was vital in making choices from an informed and critically appraised position.
Howard Fergus, an expert from Montserrat, cited the experiences of his own Territory, also offering an analysis of the situation in Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Turks and Caicos Islands and others. The deck had been stacked against the Territories in that the parameters of the 1999 White Paper by the United Kingdom had been set unilaterally. However, one laudable thing about the constitutional review process initiated by the British was that it was consultative in methodology and not issued by Foreign Office fiat.
Referring to Montserrat, he said it was the only Territory, so far, to have called for a dialogue on free association. It might not be realized, but the people, nevertheless, had the right to propose it. Anguilla was progressive and could be expected to push the decolonization envelope to the limit. The jury was still out on what the British Virgin Islands would achieve, as the report of its constitutional review commission had not yet been published. When finally released, it would most likely call for a Bermuda-style cabinet with minimal Government powers. As for the Caymans, their residual conservatism was still strong, but it was entering the twenty-first century. The Turks and Caicos Islands had embraced independence as its ultimate goal and saw only a minimalist role for the governor.
As the Seminar heard the views of non-governmental and other organizations, Judith Bourne of the United Nations Association of the United States Virgin Islands, also addressed the urgent need for political education, saying that misperceptions and misunderstandings of the international standing of Non-Self-Governing Territories and of the available self-determination options came as no surprise to those who dealt with those issues as inhabitants of the Territories. Over the past several years, the political status of the United States Virgin Islands had, once again, become a matter of public discussion. Unfortunately, that resurgence had been accompanied by the resurgence of much of the confusion.
She said the Territory had only a non-voting delegate to the United States Congress, and, therefore, did not participate in the presidential election. However, because they did not participate in national elections, residents also did not pay taxes to the United States Government. Income taxes and the net customs duties collected in the Territory formed the bulk of the funds available to the local government. The Governor, the Delegate to Congress, most members of the local legislature and other politically active people ignored those basic realities, while complaining that changes to the United States tax code was adversely affecting the Territory’s revenue stream. Speaking of the inability of United States citizens domiciled in the United States Virgin Islands, including those born there, to participate in national elections as disenfranchisement obscured the fact that inclusion in such elections would constitute integration into an independent State.
Michael Winfield of the Bermuda Independence Commission said that independence was not a burning issue in that BritishOverseasTerritory, which enjoyed one of the world’s highest standards of living. Bermudians were more concerned with issues that affected their daily lives, such as schools and housing. Some felt that those issues should be resolved before the independence was broached, while others felt that independence would be a means towards resolving them.
Noting that racial segregation was much reduced in the Territory, he said that Bermudians of African descent, who made up 70 per cent of the population, would probably tend to associate the idea of independence with the abolishment of slavery and the notion of “free at last”, while those of European descent tended to doubt the Bermudian capability to govern and to nurture the inaccurate idea that if things went wrong they could always call on “Mother England” for help.
Other speakers representing non-governmental organizations were Chedmond Brown of the Free Montserrat United Movement; Al Ebanks of the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce; Julio Fontanet of the Colegio de Abogados de Puerto Rico; and Lolita Davis Richardson of the Electoral Committee of Anguilla/Civil Society Organizations of Anguilla.
Paula Mohamed, representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Barbados, addressed the Seminar on the question of promoting participation by the Non-Self-Governing Territories in organizations, projects and programmes of the United Nations system within the scope of the respective charters.
She said that the Programme had, corporately and through its field offices, been consistent in its support of the decolonization mandate and resolutions, providing technical assistance inputs and expertise. In the recent past, that support and assistance had been intensified even though it was a challenge for the Caribbean offices to access the requisite funding for programmes, due to the middle-income and consequent net-contributing country status of the non-independent Member countries.
Since many OverseasTerritories had full or associate membership in regional organizations, such as the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), she said, United Nations Development Programme financin over the past three years had been largely through its regional funding windows and programmes. However, non-independent countries were no less disadvantaged in accessing UNDP assistance than Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts, and Nevis and Trinidad and Tobago, which enjoyed net-contributing country status with the support of the UNDP Caribbean programming network.
During the last five years, UNDP Barbados had served the Eastern Caribbean through two primary programming modalities -- subregional assistance through the Saint Lucia-based OECS and direct capacity-building support at the country level. That programme had increasingly included support for governance issues within the context and parameters of the UNDP governance policy. For UNDP Barbados it had become increasingly clear that, within the development agendas of the Caribbean region, governance support was an overarching priority as it impacted on the pace of achieving sustainable human development for Caribbeansmall island developing States.
Concluding the previous day’s discussion on the progress of individual Territories in achieving sustainable political, social and economic development, Carlyle Corbin, Representative of the Governor, United States Virgin Islands, said that beginning in 1992 with the Rio Earth Summit, there had been efforts to advance Territories’ participation in major world summits and conferences as associate members of United Nations regional commissions. The United States Virgin Islands had participated in that Summit and its five-year review, as well as the Mauritius review of the Barbados Programme of Action earlier this year. However, participation had varied according to the availability of resources to enable territorial delegations to travel to the conferences.
Kendrick Pickering, Representative of the Chief Minister, British Virgin Islands, said the present political system had been in place since 1995 and three elections had been successfully tested under it. The economy, which was based on financial services and tourism, was doing extremely well and boasted one of the largest international business registries anywhere in the world, with more than 600,000 companies registered. The Territory did not need any foreign assistance and had continually been able to balance its budget and enjoy a surplus for the last several years. Per capita income stood at about $37,000, which was second only to Bermuda and Cayman.
Concluding today's session, the Seminar heard statements by representatives of the Organization of American States and the African Union, hearing also from the representatives of Argentina, Morocco and Congo.
As the meeting concluded, Joseph Bossano, Leader of the Opposition in Gibraltar, made a statement as an observer.
The Seminar will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 19 May, its final day.
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