The twin-island state of Antigua and Barbuda is the latest Commonwealth country to be considering ousting the Queen as head of state and becoming a republic, following the lead of Barbados, which gained republic status on 30 November 2021.
Tourism accounts for 80% of GDP, but the islands are vulnerable to the effects of climate change, especially hurricanes and sea level rise, which causes coastal erosion. When it struck Barbuda on 6 September 2017, Hurricane Irma damaged 95% of the structures there, led to water shortages and forced the evacuation of Barbuda’s entire population.
Prime Minister Gaston Browne has said he wants to free the country from a history of colonialism and bondage. However, according to a hard-hitting article in the investigative magazine Private Eye, there are concerns that property developers and resort owners will become “a new set of slave masters”. Critics point to the recent ‘temporary’ suspension of the post-Emancipation Barbuda Land Act of 1834 – which gave the island to Barbudans “in perpetuity” – in order to allow large-scale development on the previously unspoilt island.
Environmentalists have expressed alarm about the consequences of building a yacht marina in fragile wetlands, a golf course in an area known for water shortages and hundreds private residences for sale to wealthy foreign citizens with ‘golden passports’. After a recent visit, UN special rapporteurs warned that “due to the construction of the Barbuda Ocean Club resort there are serious human rights implications”. Some of the legal cases against the developments will be heard in the UK Privy Council later this year.
Researchers at the Barbuda Research Complex also fear that this type of opportunistic development – known as ‘disaster capitalism’ – will cause “irreparable and ongoing damage” to the island’s historic buildings and artefacts and to its intangible cultural heritage, such as traditional artistry, music, festivals and religious rituals.