GLAN deepens support for Barbuda Land Defenders after visit to listen to locals
GLAN visited the island of Barbuda to connect with the Barbudan land defenders we are supporting in a legal battle to protect their island from an ecologically destructive luxury development being built for the interests of wealthy foreign tourists.
During this six-day period, GLAN engaged in a listening exercise with community members to understand how the ongoing construction is affecting their daily lives, traditional land rights and natural environment. The goal was to understand their shared objectives and to find out how GLAN can best support with legal intervention. We had an opportunity to discuss our findings with the Barbuda Council and with villagers during a specially called Village Meeting. We also inspected various development sites to document the extent of destruction and their encroachment on public access roads and space.
Inspection of development sites
With local land defenders, we investigated the major construction sites on the island: Coco Point (Barbuda Ocean Club), Palmetto Point, Cedar Tree Point and the central forest area where a massive airstrip is being built for private jets. Between each of these sites the roads are congested with large transport vehicles moving marl, earth and sand. The result is a dramatic decrease in air quality along the island’s key roads and the deterioration of this transport infrastructure. At these various sites, we were repeatedly accosted by private security personnel, followed, filmed and accused of trespassing. On two occasions the police were called and arrived on site in a matter of minutes. On both occasions the head of security for each development harassed and intimidated our team. At Coco Point, “private property” signs have been installed on the shorefront despite the recognised public nature of beaches in both Antigua and Barbuda.
What we witnessed was the effective barricading of stretches of shorefront. Security gates – complete with guard dogs and barriers – now block traditional access roads to the beaches of Palmetto Point, despite such access being legally protected. Security cameras have also been installed along the beachfront. We recorded the installation of large geo-bags along the shorefront and large volumes of gravel and concrete which are being poured into this ecologically sensitive site. Access to public spaces is being steadily eroded and we witnessed extensive fencing through wetland areas, which appear to extend beyond the boundaries of leased areas.
Village Community Meeting
During our visit, we were invited to attend a village meeting in Codrington, called by the Barbuda Council, to meet local community members and hear their concerns, as well as let them know about our visit. We heard that access to information and environmental records has proven extremely difficult for both the Barbuda Council and the people of Barbuda, despite freedom of information regulations aimed at preventing this. Developers have misled the public and the council on many fronts.
Citizens at the meeting spoke of how their traditional land rights are affected by the ongoing land grab, the extent of which was greater than they could ever have imagined. The traditional land tenure system had ensured the protection of the natural environment across Barbuda and reflected the islanders’ deep respect for, and strong relationship with, the land. This has come under attack with the arrival of foreign developers and is driven by central government on Antigua.
Displacement after Hurricane Irma
We heard that in the wake of Hurricane Irma most residents were prevented from returning to their home for months, with occasional visits limited to a couple of hours at a time. Islanders told us of the powerlessness they felt to recover, restore and rebuild their homes. At the same time, construction on an international airstrip in the middle of the island was started, and obscure deals were struck for the development of a multi-million-dollar luxury tourism resort and golf course on the island’s internationally protected national park.
More than five years on, islanders report they feel insult has been added to injury as construction advances at lightning speed at locations which they commonly used for recreation, foraging, hunting and other traditional purposes, blocking them from continuing these activities and providing no community benefit. While luxury developments for overseas millionaires quickly continue, some Barbudans still have not been able to fully rebuild their homes or even have access to vital maternal healthcare to give birth on the island.
Fishermen reported their business is impacted as they are excluded from traditional fishing sites and witness the destruction of the island’s lagoon, a critical nursery for fish stocks and a tourism site. Families detailed how they are excluded from previously accessible beaches or camp sites, which are now either off-limits or to which access is blocked. Islanders described how their practice of certain traditions are severely impaired: their ability to make brooms, fishing pots and umbrellas from palm leaves and straw found only at Palmetto Point (locally known as “the Cops”); the success of conch, lobster and crab fishing around the island; the freedom to engage in sea grape picking, swamp fishing and other beach activities; amongst other concerns.
We witnessed first-hand the privatisation of the island, which is strictly enforced by private security and police. Locals who speak up about their rights or previous land titles are intimidated, harassed, pressured to sell land and finally silenced in court. They report a need for increased legal support to counter the increasing speed of construction and exclusion from their lands.
In November GLAN will be supporting two Barbudans as they bring a legal challenge to the London-based Privy Council and continue fighting against the construction of a new airport built on top of previously untouched forest – an integral part of the developers’ plan to further exploit the island. The Privy Council will decide whether Barbudans affected by projects such as the airport have the right to legally challenge the government in court. A previous Court of Appeal decision ruled they had no legal standing to challenge such developments.
The case is integral to the fight against ongoing destruction of Barbuda by foreign developers and will have repercussions across the Caribbean.
GLAN is currently building our wider case and will continue to support the Barbudan Land Defenders against these devastating violations of their rights and we need your support; if you are able to please consider donating to support Barbudans as they fight foreign developers.