Islands apart: Why does Barbuda want to split from Antigua?

One of the world’s favorite holiday destinations, the twin-island country of Antigua and Barbuda may no longer be one nation if Barbudans have their way in an upcoming parliamentary resolution on Thursday, September 17. Prime Minister Gaston Browne has already described the calls by the Barbuda Council, the local administration in the other half of the country, as “treasonous threats” that will fail. Browne remains sure that although the clamor for separation has been ongoing since the 1980s, the country “shall remain a sovereign unitary democratic state.”Browne will aim to keep together what he has headed since 2014. But the members of the Barbuda Council have him down as one of the reasons they feel unwelcomed in this union. The prime minister was accused of calling Barbudans “squatters” as well as threatening to repeal the right of the Barbuda Council to exist. Apart from the alleged general lack of respect for Barbudans, Browne and his government are also the targets of insinuated activities of corruption with regards to how funds for Hurricane Irma has been managed since 2017. The Barbuda Council argued in its statement on August 31 that Barbudans tend to feel the pinch of Browne’s inefficiencies way more than its bigger twin isle. While the country is just about 100,000 people, Barbuda is one-third of the landmass of the union. Although it would seem Irma was the trigger for current separation rhetoric, the repeal of the Barbuda Land Act of 2007 left an unforgettably sour taste in the mouths of Barbudans. The act was passed to guarantee that land was communally owned by Barbudans and that their consent was a prerequisite for purchase and development. However, in 2016, Browne and the
Labor Party changed the law, allowing for privatization without communal consent.
How realistic is a separation?
The country’s Minister of Information, Melford Nicholas, believes the topic of separation is a “debate that must be had”. But Nicholas is also of the view that “[F]or Antigua to consider at this stage the giveaway of a third of its resources and to let it walk away, [is] incomprehensible.” The chances of the Barbuda Council in the legislature are also rather slim as an overwhelming Labor Party majority is unlikely to grant Barbudan autonomy. The party holds 15 of the 17 representatives in the lower chamber of parliament. Even a few leading members of the opposition United Progressive Party (UPP) are adamant that it is not in Barbuda’s ultimate interest to go alone. But the critics among the ruling class who live mostly in Antigua, only serve to embolden the dissent in Barbuda. And even if the Barbuda Council fails in its bid on Thursday, one cannot say that will be the end of the debate.