By Sir Ronald Sanders
In this article, the commentator posits that Anguilla is too small and financially vulnerable to seek Independence from the UK, to whom it has been colonised for nearly 400 years. However, the feeling of some Anguilians seems to be that now is the right time. Should size and economic hardship be the determining factors in self determination? Please post your comments
The Chief Minister of Anguilla, Hubert Hughes, has repeated a call for his small Caribbean island of 90 sq km and 13,600 people to become independent from Britain whose colony it has been since 1650. He is doing so in the worst of economic times for Caribbean countries and during a period of great uncertainty in the world generally.
The leaders of the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM), to which Anguilla has Observer status, have put their countries economic integration arrangements on hold, deciding that it would be “best to pause” efforts to create a Single Economy and to “consolidate the gains of the Single Market” before taking any further action on specific matters “such as the movement toward a single currency”. Indeed, it is understood that the Heads of Government at a special meeting in Guyana from 21 to 22 May, agreed that a single currency “should be moved off the immediate agenda”.
Yet, if a tiny country like Anguilla is to seek independence, with all the costly requirements that come with such a bold step, it would have been better-off doing so within the framework of a Caribbean Single Market and Economy where it would benefit from economic integration, sharing in arrangements such as the Regional Security System operated by Barbados and the seven countries of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, joint regional trade negotiations as exists in CARICOM, and joint diplomatic representation with one or more CARICOM countries. Within a CARICOM framework, Anguilla’s independence from Britain would not leave it swimming alone in the ocean of international relations without even a meagre life belt.
But, CARICOM itself does not now offer an enticing prospect.
With the Single Economy off the immediate agenda and a decision to consolidate “the gains of the Single Market” which have not been significant, CARICOM is now marking time. The prospect it once held out of a Single Caribbean space in which Caribbean citizens would be able to travel, live and work is now dimmed.
The idea that, together, the countries of CARICOM could become a strong entity providing better global representation for its people than its individual states also now appears remote.
Many independent Caribbean countries, much larger and better resourced than Anguilla, are finding it very difficult to survive as sovereign states. The cost of overseas representation, even if this were to be kept to the barest minimum, will add to Anguilla’s recurrent expenditure of US$40 million. When the additional costs of defence are thrown into the mix, the island’s recurrent revenues of US$47 million will prove to be inadequate.
There is also not much elasticity in the island’s capacity to increase its revenues. Highly dependent on tourism, the small size of the country, and the absence of an international airport, cramps its capacity for much more large scale tourism development. Further, the actions of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the Financial Action Task Force and the International Monetary Fund to impose costly new rules and regulations on offshore financial centres have all but crippled Anguilla’s nascent financial services sector.
Borrowing on commercial terms will not be an easy option for a sovereign Anguilla government if it wishes to maintain existing physical infrastructure or build new capacity. Burnt by poor investment decisions that created the global financial crisis that began in 2008, financial institutions are now far more cautious than they were even in lending to governments. And, an independent Anguilla will not have the back-stop support of the British government that, in the past, gave comfort to institutions that lent money to governments of British colonies.
Anguilla will also continue to be exposed to problems of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, drug trafficking and small arms smuggling, crime, security, global warming and sea level rise that now severely challenge all Caribbean countries. These are problems that no one CARICOM country can cope with alone.
As a British Overseas Territory, Anguilla has a right to expect British assistance on all these issues. But an independent Anguilla will find that such assistance is not automatic, not even at times of natural disasters created by hurricanes.
Additionally, citizens of Anguilla will lose their British citizenship which gives them full rights in the United Kingdom and in European Union countries with which Britain has reciprocal arrangements, to live, study and work. This is bound to add pressure to the unemployment rate in Anguilla and to the expansion of the areas of poverty that exist within the island. Its present per capita income of US$9,700 may very well decline as well as the double digit growth rates that its economy has experienced in recent years.
Independence for Anguilla is, therefore, a tough call. It is one that the majority of the people of Anguilla must be free to determine once all the advantages and disadvantages are placed before them and they fully understand the choice they will have to make.
Chief Minister Hughes cannot be unaware of these challenges. However, from statements he has made, it is clear that he believes facing-up to these challenges, however overwhelming, is better than continuing to live as a British Overseas Territory where the British governor exercises certain powers that the Chief Minister finds unpalatable.
For instance, Mr Hughes has declared: “Will we be a people with a culture and identity that distinguishes us as an entity in this place we call our world, or will we let the erosion of all that we hold dear to us as a people continue, leaving us being simply absorbed culturally, religiously and socially by a greater administrative power?”
The desire for self-determination is perfectly understandable. But, does the choice have to be independence with all its almost insurmountable challenges and costs, or could improved structures of governance suffice?
If CARICOM had continued to move to the realisation of a Single Caribbean space where each country pools its individual sovereignty for the greater good of all, it would have offered Anguilla – and other territories like it – a viable option for independence.
Since this option is now to be delayed, the Anguillan government should engage the British to improve the system of governance giving the local government a bigger say on those international issues that affect their economy and their culture. Representation in the British parliament and a permanent Council of ministerial representatives of the British government and the governments of their overseas territories, such as Anguilla, might be a good start.
(The writer is a Consultant and former Caribbean diplomat)
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