Barbudans meet behind closed doors to discuss land issue

(From left) Lori Beazer, Philman George and
Tamara Huggins

A  “closed door” community meeting was held recently in Toronto to discuss the decision of the Antigua and Barbuda government to repeal the Barbuda Land Act (2007) and put forward legislation which effectively denies Barbudans ” the communal land arrangement enjoyed for over 300 years.”

At the meeting,  about 50 Barbudans in Toronto and their “allies” also discussed the current problems in Barbuda following the devastation wrought by  Hurricane Irma last year and outlined the “way forward for continuing to support their homeland,” according to a news release issued by the organizers of the meeting.

“Attendees [at the meeting] expressed significant concern over the slow pace of rebuilding led by the Government of Antigua and Barbuda, with some who spent recent months in Barbuda following the storm reporting that power and water still were not restored to homes across the island, ” said the news release.

Lori Beazer, one of the organizers of the meeting, appealed for support for Barbuda ” for the long term.”

“This is not a sprint but a marathon, she  told the meeting.

“We are family, and we must be strategic, energized and powerful in helping our family through this struggle,”  Beazer added.

Philman George,  also known as the Rhyming Chef,  told fellow Barbudans: “It is time that we learn from and connect to the efforts of our families in the United Kingdom  and in New York who have established strong chapters, providing regular support and assistance to Barbuda.

“We too must organize and regularly get together to make our contribution felt.”

Joanne Massiah, leader of the  Democratic Alliance Party  (DNA) in  Antigua and Barbuda, who addressed the meeting from Antigua via Skype, spoke of ” the impact of the changes to the Land Act on the lives and livelihoods of Barbudans, effectively taking away all decision-making power from the people who have a vested interest in sustaining Barbuda’s unique way of live, and its progressive future,” said the news release.

Following the islanders’   emancipation from  slavery, the land they acquired [in Barbuda] was handed down to their descendants and has been communally owned since then.

When Barbuda gained its independence from Britain in 1981, the custom survived, and was enshrined in the 2007 land act which  prevented the purchase of land by outsiders .

On  September 11 last,  Gaston Browne, prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, announced that he wanted to reform the law so that communal land in Barbuda be turned into freehold territory, to be bought and sold. He also wants to change the definition of a Barbudan, so that anyone who can claim “residency” can buy and sell land .

Parliament had its first reading of The Barbuda Land Amendment Bill of 2017 on December 12 last.

Barbudans in Toronto plan to hold their next meeting to discuss the land issue  and the rebuilding of Barbuda on June 2.

More than 2,000  Barbudans are believed to be residing in Canada, most of them in the Greater Toronto Area.