Antigua and Barbuda: Caribbean Time Bomb: The United States´ Complicity In The Corruption Of Antigua 01 May 2008
Article by Ian Moncrief-Scott for Mondaq.com Robert Coram wrote Caribbean Time Bomb: The United States’ Complicity in the Corruption of Antigua in 1993. His book, published by William Morrow & Co, part of Harper Collins, was immediately banned in Antigua. Since then little has changed except the players’ names. In 2007, Arif Ali of Hansib Publications Limited, a niche UK publisher, asked Robert Coram, who has twice been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, to release a second edition. As is customary, the talented, investigative author was requested to produce a new foreword to introduce the new edition. Hansib Publications Limited rejected his words.
However, Information Management Solutions has obtained the genuine foreword, which is now reproduced below with the author's kind permission. “THE SAME OLD SONG? Caribbean Time Bomb remains a cautionary tale relevant to the Antigua of today. While the book chronicles a long litany of malfeasance, corruption, and avarice unequaled anywhere in the Caribbean, the fundamental problem in Antigua has long been a simple lack of morality at the highest levels of government. That was true with V.C. Bird, with his sons Lester and Vere Jr., and with the scandal-plagued administration they led.
The people of Antigua are deeply religious. The chasm between the profession of those beliefs and the practice of those beliefs troubled me for a long time. But eventually I came to the sad conclusion that years of corruption by the Bird family have done what may be irreparable harm to the culture of Antigua. Abuse of power, venality and lack of integrity have become part of the Island’s DNA. V.C. Bird is, in every sense of the word, “father of the country.” Just as two generations of the Duvalier family led Haiti into a death spiral, so the Birds have led Antigua to the brink. Some 40 years of scandals and felonious behavior have created an ecosystem of entangling corruption that current leaders find difficult to shake. Those who replaced the Birds now find themselves facing charges of corruption and abuse of power, leading many Antiguans to wonder if they simply traded red Birds for blue Birds. Today, Antigua stands at the crossroads. The new leader, Baldwin Spencer, is generally regarded as a good man. A man of principle. As leader of the opposition, he promised to right old wrongs and to have a government accountable for its actions.Because he was a voice of hope and promise, the people of Antigua voted the Birds out of office. Now Spencer must show he has done more than simply move across the isle. He must demonstrate that he is a leader. He must transform an entire political culture or find himself covered with the slippery droppings of the Birds. Initial developments are troubling. Exhibit Number One: Spencer not only supported but has reinforced and continued with one of Lester Bird’s most flagrant instances of cronyism and extortion. When Lester Bird expropriated the Half Moon Bay Hotel in 2002, he not only abrogated international treaties, he kicked over a cornerstone of democracy: the government’s legal duty to protect the individual’s right to own property.And he began a series of events that gained their own malignant momentum. Government can do few things more abusive and more repugnant than taking private property and not paying the owner prompt and adequate compensation. Spencer, as leader of the Opposition, marched out of Parliament when Bird’s henchmen voted to expropriate this American-owned property. He later signed an affidavit saying Lester Bird’s actions at Half Moon Bay were improper and detrimental to Antigua. Further, that upon election, he would abandon this ill-advised plot and return the stolen property to its rightful owners. He went back on his word. His Government continued with this raw abuse of power. With his attorney general pulling him around by his nose, Baldwin Spencer validated Lester Bird’s skullduggery. And he continued on a course that, unless reversed, will haunt Antigua for years. So 14 years after it was first published, I again offer Caribbean Time Bomb. It is my hope that the lessons and insights of this book will be a guide for those who govern Antigua during what is hopefully its transition from tyranny to a dignified and respected member of the community of nations”. ROBERT CORAM’S Op-Ed
To support the launch of the new edition Robert Coram wrote the following Op-Ed. It is as explosive as his original work and raises many questions: “The Government of Antigua is expropriating American-owned property and not paying the owners.
Beyond the fact such an expropriation is a cardinal sin of democracy, it is significant for other reasons. First, it is the new government of Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer that is conducting this land grab. As Opposition leader, Spencer campaigned and was elected on a promise that all wrongs would be made right. The expropriation of Half Moon Bay Resort was a wrong initiated by the previous government of Lester Bird. That Spencer is continuing Bird’s practices not only nullifies his promise of change, it solidifies Antigua’s reputation as a place where the outrageous is normal. And it means that any future American investors, should they do due diligence, are unlikely to invest in this Caribbean island.
Second, the forced acquisition of property under the powers of eminent domain should have as its goal the public good. That is, the property acquired should be schools, hospitals or infrastructure. (In America the recent Supreme Court decision allowing the use of eminent domain for economic development is meeting stiff opposition from an ever-growing number of states and municipalities.) When the Privy Council, the highest court of appeal for the legal system in Antigua, ruled that the Antiguan government could forcibly acquire Half Moon Bay, it was with the proviso that the owners be paid adequately and within a reasonable time.
Five months after the Privy Council ruling, Spencer’s government has not discussed payment with the property owners. The third reason all this is significant is that the Antiguan government is breaking the law and abrogating international agreements regarding property owned by foreign nationals. Fourth, the Attorney General of Antigua has called upon other Caribbean nations to follow his example of expropriating foreign-owned property and to disallow future purchase or ownership of property by foreign nationals. Mature and responsible Caribbean nations such as Jamaica or the Bahamas are unlikely to follow Antigua’s example in anything. But on smaller island nations, Antigua’s actions are being watched. And finally, when Lester Bird was prime minister and first cast his eye on HalfMoonBay, he called the American embassy on Barbados and asked what would be America’s response if he proceeded. He was told the American government would do or say nothing. For decades, America and Antigua have had a shadowy, sometimes even illicit relationship. The U.S. Navy on at least three occasions violated a United Nations embargo, by smuggling 155-millimeter howitzers into Antigua for transshipment to South Africa. Any U.S. military aircraft, or aircraft owned by the CIA, DEA, or other agencies, can land on Antigua without prior notice, without prior approval, without the crew having to go through Antiguan Customs, and without any record being kept of the landing. This unusual arrangement is invaluable for all sorts of mischievous operations in the Caribbean and Central or South America. U.S. special operations troops have exercises in Antiguan waters and are given considerable latitude in large parachute drops and in storming beaches. Until a few years ago, they were allowed to blow up reefs as part of their training. The price to play in this little sandbox appears to be that Uncle Sam will ignore all shenanigans of the Antigua government, including abuse of its own citizens. When Lester Bird moved on Half Moon Bay, the property owners appealed to Congress for relief. Some 20 senators and congressmen asked the State Department to intervene. The only response was that Antigua’s Ambassador to America called Natalia Querard, Managing Director and an owner of the property, “The Enemy of the State.”
His thinking was that since 90% of Antigua’s GDP is from tourism, and half of those tourists are Americans, Mrs. Querard’s appeal to her Government imperiled Antigua’s tourism industry. He need not have worried. Not a peep was heard from the State Department. Fourteen years ago I wrote a book about Antigua titled “Caribbean Time Bomb,” the subtitle for which was “The United States’ Complicity in the Corruption of Antigua.”The book was a listing of the sometimes comical, usually illegal, and almost always ill-considered acts of the Bird family which – father and son – had ruled Antigua since the founding days of the trade union movement in 1939. Among those acts were gun-running to drug cartels in Colombia, opening up Antigua as a haven for trans-national criminals, ministers of government openly demanding a substantial “finder’s fee” from entities wanting to do business there; the disappearance of millions of dollars from social security, medical benefits and school funds; and gross mismanagement of utilities and development projects. The list is endless and continues today, causing the government of Antigua to have one of the highest per-capita shortfalls of any country in the world.
The change of government in 2004 came because many Antiguans believed Baldwin Spencer would restore probity and good government to their nation.But Spencer’s government is cozy with the governments of Cuba and Venezuela, sells Antiguan votes in the UN to China, and courts the attention of governments inimical to US interests: Zimbabwe, Syria, and Iran.
By continuing the expropriation of Half Moon Bay Resort, Spencer has again demonstrated that on Antigua, malfeasance is an integral part of governance. Corruption in Antigua, as it was in Haiti under the Duvaliers, is part of the government DNA. Until a fundamental change occurs – or is forced to occur by a change in international relations with that island nation – Antigua is a lost cause. And the U.S. government would do well to stiffen its spine and reconsider its relation to this close neighbor that breaks treaties and mistreats American citizens”.
Robert Coram is writing his thirteenth book - November 2007