28 December 2009

Court Clears Way for US Review of Draft Virgin Islands Constitution

A long-awaited judicial ruling by US Virgin Islands Superior Court Judge Darryl Donohue has opened the way for the resumption of a political process which could lead to the adoption of the first constitution for the US Virgin Islands, one of two US administered dependencies in the Caribbean. The territory is governed pursuant to the Revised Organic Act of 1954 written by the US Congress, rather than a constitution written by the people of the dependency, and is one of sixteen remaining territories worldwide recognised by the United Nations as non self-governing.

This is the fifth attempt by the US Virgin Islands to complete the process of drafting and ratifying a territorial constitution based on the present status. In retrospect, the many attempts at constitutional advancement may have more to say about the efficacy of the present dependency status rather than the commitment of the people to have a constitution, since any enhancements of the status quo must fit within limitations of colonial dependency which vary from territory to territory.

Legal Issues

The legal case on this phase of the constitutional process was filed in the Superior Court of the territory in June, 2009 by Fifth Constitutional Convention President Luz James and Convention Secretary Mary Moorhead questioning whether elected Governor John de Jongh had the authority to hold back the draft constitution from transmission to US President Barak Obama for consideration, as required by the US and territorial laws governing the constitutional process (an earlier ruling of the court had required the two Convention officials to file the case in their personal capacities rather than as Convention officials).

The Governor had decided last June not to submit the draft document to Washington after a legal analysis by territorial Attorney General Vincent Frazer contending that elements of the draft violated certain provisions of the US Constitution, including the equal protection of US citizens (there is no Virgin Islands citizenship to be protected, as no such citizenship exists in the Revised Organic Act). A number of members of the Convention have countered that the provisions in question were consistent with those in constitutions of other US-administered territories in the Caribbean and Pacific where the people of the territories do not have full political rights as other US citizens, and thus have unique provisions in their constitutions to compensate for the democratic deficiencies. The court case was not based on the constitutionality of any provisions, but rather was restricted to the procedural question of whether the law provided a role for the governor other than to submit the document to Washington. The ruling made it clear that no such authority existed, as reflected in the conclusion of the court ruling:


The Court finds that Respondent (Governor) has a specific non-discretionary duty required by both (US) Pub.L. No. 94-584 and (Virgin Islands) Act No. 6688 to forward the proposed Constitution to the President of the United States. Respondent's failure to forward the proposed Constitution constitutes a violation of Pub. L. No. 94-584 and Act No. 6688. Within the confines of the language of both statutes, Respondent's duty entails only submitting the proposed Constitution to the President of the United States. The statutes authorize nothing more and nothing less. There is no authority for Respondent to amend, modify, revise, withhold, or take any other action regarding the proposed Constitution beyond his enumerated duty. Consequently, it was not within Respondent's power to take contrary action by not forwarding the proposed Constitution to the President of the United States. Accordingly, mandamus relief is appropriate and Respondent shall be ordered to proceed with his duty pursuant to Pub. L. No. 94-584 and Act No. 6688 and forward the proposed Constitution to the President of the United States within ten (10) business days.”

Budgetary Shortfall

The 30 – member Fifth Constitutional Convention had begun its work in 2007 but suffered from the start because of insufficient resources. The budget of the Convention was never fully funded, and it had to rely on ad hoc appropriations resulting in operational delays and periods of dormancy when there were insufficient funds to convene its public meetings. Several requests to the US Government for financial assistance to the Convention to fill the budgetary gap were denied, leaving the Convention with a significant budgetary shortfall to fully carry out its work. In apparent anticipation of a favourable court decision, the President of the Convention, in testimony before the Fourth Committee of the United Nations (UN) last October, reported on the financial condition of the constitutional process, and requested UN assistance for the upcoming educational programme on the constitution after the document is returned to the people from Washington. The UN has routinely provided such assistance to non self-governing territories in their constitutional advancement process, and it is too early to determine whether the world body would assist the US Virgin Islands in this manner.

The Next Stages

With the court ruling, an in-depth substantive analysis of the draft document will now be undertaken by the US administration, as originally intended, rather than short-circuited at the territorial level. If the territorial government appeals the decision to the Virgin Islands Supreme Court, further delays could be expected. The longer the delays, however, the more likely the constitutional discussions in the territory could take place in the middle of the electoral campaign in 2010 – not an unfavourable outcome for those who seek more substance in the campaign debates, but perhaps an unintended consequence for those who prefer that these issues remain outside of the campaign debate. In any case, the timing could invariably result in the rare opportunity for substantive constitutional and political status issues to be injected into the political campaign.

A number of experts have argued that the constitutionality of the draft Virgin Islands constitution is best examined by the US, rather than by the territory – since it is the US constitution which governs the process, rather than a territorial law, and it is the US Government which is in the best position to determine whether something is consistent or not with its constitution. Any territorial interruption of how US law applies could be well off the mark since the US has the power under the present political status to unilaterally decide which parts of the US Constitution – as well as US laws - apply to the territories, and which do not. Thus, who best to explain this peculiarly inconsistent dependency status than the government which created it, and which has administers it in the case of the US Virgin Islands for over 90 years, and in the case of Puerto Rico and Guam for over one hundred years?

Legal and political scholars are awaiting the contemporary US analysis of the draft Virgin Islands constitution which should be undertaken at some point in 2010. Among the US government agencies which would provide views on the proposed constitutional provisions, the US Justice Department should be the most intriguing I its analysis, as it would provide an assessment on levels of autonomy possible – and not possible - under the unincorporated territory status as it is defined in 2010. The Justice Department assessment of the present commonwealth/territorial status of Puerto Rico essentially served to redefine the limitations of the prevailing dependency status, and an assessment of that department of the draft constitution of the Virgin Islands could also shed similar light on what is deemed possible under the present territorial status. The last time such an analysis was undertaken by the US government was in conjunction with the draft constitution adopted by the Fourth Constitutional Convention in 1980, so a new assessment after thirty years would be useful at the very least.


The clarity which could be brought by a US analysis of the draft constitution could be most revealing, specifically as it relates to the parametres of the territorial status ten years into the 21st century, and at the end of the decade when such colonial arrangements – even as sophisticated as they have become - were supposed to be a thing of the past. Have the parametres of territorial status been expanded sufficiently to accommodate some of the provisions in the draft as adopted by the Fifth Constitutional Convention, as some are hoping? Or do the continual constraints of the dependency political status provide insufficient political space to accommodate what the delegates to the Convention have agreed are necessary adjustments in the political development of the territory?

The anticipated US Congressional hearings on the draft constitution for the US Virgin Islands sometime in 2010 should be most interesting since these questions should be answered. If certain provisions contained in the constitutional draft are outside the parametres of the present territorial status, then the option of choosing a new status which would accommodate new powers and autonomy would have to be seriously considered, sooner rather than later. In any case, the unincorporated territorial status was never meant to be permanent and is an anachronistic relic of an era long past. It was always meant to be an interim stage to a status of political equality, and should have been long relegated to the annals of history, to be replaced by a status of full political equality consistent with international law. The ruling of the Virgin Islands Superior Court permits the process of assessment, public education and political advancement to move ahead, if by only a step.

21 December 2009

Turks and Caicos Call for UK Withdrawal

From: TCIwatch.com
14th December 2009

As the matter of Gibraltar is sorted out as a territory of the UK, so must the matter of Turks and Caicos. The distinguishing factor is that Turks and Caicos is not a territory, rather a colony since UK invaded the Caribbean islands in August 2009.

As the UN acknowledges, based on its adoption of numerous declarations, colonialism is wrong. Furthermore, most experts agree that Colonialism has no place in world societies and it has never worked. The act of one government entity forcing its values on a weaker population cannot be justified in any way, especially from a different culture. As The UK Activist Stuart Yates pointed out in his writings, the UK's presence in Turks and Caicos is shrouded in secrecy and cannot be described as anything less than a coup. The UK took over governance of these Caribbean islands without any election or consensus from the people living in the islands.

Granted, the former Turks and Caicos government, under the Michael Misick administration, made mistakes; no arguing the point. However, Michael Misick achieved success by converting Turks and Caicos into a high-end celebrity holiday hideaway. Misick said on many occasions that his goal was to turn Turks and Caicos into the "Monte Carlo of the Caribbean". Misick argued that he had to "look the part" in order to woo high-end resort developers to invest in the islands. Certainly,"looking the part" came at cost, a cost that the islands absorbed from the revenue generated by his tourism and business plan, but improper nonetheless said the UK. At the end of the day, Misick was accused of taking for himself and forming improper relationships with foreign businessmen to achieve his personal and business goals. This coming from the UK's Commission of Inquiry Report by Sir Robin Auld of the UK. Misick was forced to resign in March 2009.

With the lessons very fresh in the minds of local officials and citizens of the islands, a new leader was elected and installed in the Turks and Caicos government immediately after Misick, the cabinet of Galmo Williams. In August, nearly six months after Premier Williams was installed, the UK unilaterally took the government of Turks and Caicos and installed a one-man ruler from the UK to conduct all of the islands' business. The governor from UK HE Gordon Wetherell took upon a dictatorship, electing his own judiciary and making sole decisions for the islands. This was the proposed plan for a period of at least two years with new elections in 2011. However, the UK has since announced that it will be installed in the islands indefinitely and certainly past 2011.

The UN has made numerous resolutions declaring the UK's invasion of Turks and Caicos to be improper and it cites authority from the Fourth Committee's resolution for self determination of Turks and Caicos. However, the UN cannot "act" on behalf of the people of Turks and Caicos and can only impose warnings and perhaps sanctions and yes, more resolutions.

The UK claims that it is helping Turks and Caicos. After all, the people of Turks and Caicos have been subjected to a corrupt governmental body dating back 6 years with Michael Misick. Never mind that officials from the UK never reported any financial abuse and warnings were never provided. The UK took drastic measures to clean up government corruption by installing their own government. "Maybe this is a good thing," said some islanders giving the UK a chance to help.

Before the islanders could even welcome the new UK government, major resorts were closing amid charges that these developers had improper relationships with the former premier. Furthermore, the resort developers were kicked off their land as the UK reclaimed it as Crown land. The UK did not make these resort developers whole under Eminent Domain Laws. Rather, the UK told the developers that they relinquished their lands and developments worth millions due to improper behavior. Sure, the resort developers left the islands and good riddens (sic) to them anyway, right? Not quite. These resorts were responsible for employment of thousands of people, they were bringing in revenue, building investor confidence in the islands, attracting more economic growth and encouraging tourism spending. Now these resorts are abandoned on Crown land which now belongs to the Crown entirely. No word on when or if these developers will sue the UK for economic damages.

The next breakdown, which happened quite rapidly upon UK's arrival in the islands, was the firing of islanders within the government replaced by new UK faces. This had islanders feeling uneasy about the leadership and created additional job losses. New hires' salaries from the UK are not disclosed, yet the UK claims that it cannot meet payroll for islanders timely because of the national debt of $135 million. The UK has failed to bring financial aid for this so-called deficit.

Though the islands bring in $600 million per year in tourism revenue and off-shore banking, the UK refuses to infuse any money into the territory and instead it raised taxes, cut benefits and suspended salaries for the locals. There has been no disclosure by the UK as to where the revenue is funneled.

As Adrian Holman reported, the Caribbean slave trade by England in the 1700s are haunting the islands once again. Their right to self determination has been revoked and as such, there is nothing that people can do in the grasp of the strong arm of the UK. A man by the name of Alvin Hegner, a former resident of North Caicos, visited the islands and spoke intimately and openly with islanders on December 10, 11 and 12. Of the hundreds of citizens that he interviewed, not one person was in favor of UK's direct rule and almost all reported financial suffering. Though some claimed to have kept an open mind when the UK first arrived in August, the people are more than convinced now that this was a very bad idea.

17 December 2009

BVI Premier to UK - "Don´t Treat Us Like Minions"

On December 9, the Overseas Territories Minister at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the United Kingdom Chris Bryant hosted the eleventh meeting of the Overseas Territories Consultative Council (OTCC) in London. The meeting was attended by Premiers, Chief Ministers and other representatives of the UK Overseas Territories - Anguilla, Ascension, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Montserrat, Pitcairn, St Helena, Tristan da Cunha, Turks and Caicos Islands. . This was the first OTCC meeting hosted by Mr. Bryant, who followed Gillian Merron in the post of Foreign Office Minister. The meeting was preceded  on 8th December  by a ten-year review of the 1999 Government White Paper “Partnership for Progress and Prosperity - Britain and the Overseas Territories.” No formal statement on the review or Council Meeting was made available. The British Virgin Islands delegation to both sessions was led by Premier Hon. Ralph O'Neal whose interview with the BBC about the meeting was reported by BVI Platinum:

"At times we disagree and I (Premier O'Neal) have disagreed with one action the Governor took and I still disagree with it and I will continue to disagree. So maybe I might be the next one to get the axe, but to treat us like minions...or like children begging their father to give them a piece of bread...I cannot understand that mentality and it makes me think there is the warship diplomacy still in progress."

Those were the words of Premier Hon. Ralph T´ O Neal as he responded to a question posed by Mike Jarvis of BBC Caribbean, on if local Governments do not expect that they will have to accept certain dictate tactics from the administering powers if they remain Overseas Territories.

During the interview which was aired on Monday, the Premier was at the time also speaking on his position on Cabinet´s involvement in determining the awarding of British citizenship in the Territory. Premier O'Neal said it is wrong for the British-appointed Governor alone to naturalise people to stay in the BVI.

"...They can apply for naturalization after they have been there (BVI) for a certain number of years. That is granted under the British Nationality Act which I think is time to get that amended. The Governor deals with that, he doesn´t even inform Cabinet, but I must say he invites me to the ceremony to speak and I go. But I think it´s improper of a Governor to grant nationality without even referring it to the Cabinet or the Premier, even for information."

The Premier was questioned on why the latter was not dealt with during the period of Constitutional Reform and how close are Overseas Territories such as the BVI on the issue of independence.

"The question of the granting of nationality was not a matter discussed at the conference. Independence comes with price. We set up a committee to consider the cost, implications and liabilities of independence," Premier O´ Neal told BBC Caribbean.

BVI Platinum
15th December 2009

15 December 2009

The Constitutional Tragedy of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba in the Caribbean

Summary of a Presentation by Mr. Eugene R. Abdul, LLM
former Governor of St.Eustatius and former Lt.Governor of Bonaire

Seminar on Independence held in Curacao, Netherlands Antilles
27th November 2009

After an analysis of the concepts ‘self-determination’ and ‘people’ in international law, Mr.Abdul briefly describes the constitutional process on the islands of Bonaire, St.Eustatius and Saba (the so-called BES-islands),starting with the constitutional referendums held in 2004/2005. He states that in accordance with international law the right of self-determination is a human right and that only peoples – and not their elected representatives - are holders of the right of self-determination.

He is of the opinion that if the present constitutional process continues unchanged none of the 3 BES-islands will eventually obtain the constitutional status their peoples really opted for in referendums held in 2004 and 2005. He states that during those referendums Bonaire opted for direct links with Holland, St.Eustatius for maintaining the Netherlands Antilles and Saba for becoming a ‘Crown Island’, a constitutional status comparable to Anguilla.In the Final Declaration of October 2006 elected representatives (!) of the 3 Dutch-Antillean islands in an agreement with the Netherlands decided that Bonaire, St.Eustatius and Saba would become ‘public entities’ based on article 134 of the Dutch Constitution, resulting in integration,one of the 3 internationally recognized forms of reaching a ‘full measure of self-government’ described in U.N. Resolution 1541.

Mr.Abdul purports that in the 2004 and 2005 referendums none of the peoples of the 3 islands opted for integration.He is of the opinion that the peoples of the 3 islands should decide explicitly in new referendums whether they want integration with the Netherlands or not. That would be the only way to comply with Principle IX of U.N. Resolution 1541 stating inter alia that ‘the integration should be the result of the freely expressed wishes of the territory’s peoples acting with full knowledge of the changes in their status, their wishes having been expressed through informed and democratic processes, impartially conducted and based on adult suffrage….’.

He argues that ratification of the Final Declaration of October 2006 in the respective Island Councils of the 3 BES-islands based on international law is not sufficient to legitimize integration. Mr.Abdul concludes that dismantling of the Netherlands Antilles should be postponed until the islands Bonaire, St.Eustatius and Saba in a (new) referendum explicitly opt for integration into the Netherlands. He states that the Federal Government of the Netherlands Antilles based on article 43 paragraph 1 of the Charter of the Kingdom of the Netherlands must take care of realization of fundamental rights and liberties, legal security and good governance and that the Federal Government cannot allow the ‘annexation’ of the 3 islands by the Netherlands without complying with international law.

According to Mr.Abdul also the Kingdom Government has an obligation under article 43 paragraph 2 of the same Charter to guarantee due compliance with international law in this matter.

13 December 2009

Self-Determination Legislation - Opportunity for US Administered Territories?

An OTR Editorial

Now that legislation authorizing United States (US) assistance to three territories under its administration has been adopted by the full US House of Representatives (H.R. 3940), the next phase of the process is crucial. The measure, originally introduced by Guam Delegate to Congress Madeleine Z. Bordallo, has now been forwarded to the US Senate for consideration. Delegate Bordallo should be commended for having done her job well in guiding the legislation through the US House.

The original legislation was amended during the House vetting process to include the territories of American Samoa and the US Virgin Islands, as the original bill was specific to Guam. The revised text has also been strategically re-casted to amend a decades-old 1980 US law (P.L. 96-597) meant to "authorize appropriations for certain insular areas of the United States, and for other purposes." This would appear to heighten the opportunity that some dedicated resources would be attached to the measure, although the Congressional Budget Office estimate of $2 million over the period 2010 - 2014 appears rather paltry for one territory, let alone three such jurisdictions. The resources provided must be commensurate with the importance of the initiative as a significant contribution to the long-delayed process of self-determination. Otherwise, it would be mere window-dressing.

In the 7th December 2009 House of Representatives report interpreting the legislation (H.R. Report 111-357), it was emphasised that the political education programme envisaged in the bill would be based on political status alternatives "including, but not limited to" the internationally-recognised options of (US) "statehood, free association (and) independence," along with "maintaining the status quo." The first three alternatives were confirmed by the White House in two White House Reports in 2005 and 2007, respectively, as the “permanent” political status for options for Puerto Rico, and by extension for the other four US-administered territories.

The “not limited to” reference in the House report, however, is problematic as it implies the legitimacy of other options not providing for political equality, and inconsistent with democratic governance. The 1993 political status referendum in the US Virgin Islands is an example where an excessive total of seven options was put before the voters in referendum. These included no less than three different versions of the status quo, in addition to the three permanent options and one autonomous model. Not surprisingly, there was no conclusive referendum result as confusion reigned during the public education process over minute details between virtually indistinguishable dependency options. The options of political equality got “lost in the wash.” Political status for that territory has been considered only intermittently since then, and mostly in unofficial circles. This present Congressional legislation may force the issue to be revisited in earnest.

Such a proliferation of political status choices should be assiduously avoided through the provision of a less complicated process with a clearer and less complicated array of political alternatives. In this regard, the three permanent political status options identified by the White House, with an option for the temporary continuation of the status quo, would be the best approach. This should be done by informing the people of the territory concerned what they should have been advised of all along - that the status quo is not a permanent form of democratic government, nor was it ever meant to be so. Thus, if the people choose to remain as a dependent territory, they should have to be consulted again - sooner or later until they arrive at a permanent solution.

There is a precedent for this enlightened approach – it is the 2009 legislation on the self-determination of Puerto Rico which recognises the primacy of the three options consistent with international law. The legislative measure for Puerto Rico was approved by the US House of Representatives last June, and is also under consideration by the Senate. The Puerto Rico bill provides that the electorate be consulted again (as many times as it takes) if the dependent status of commonwealth is chosen in a referendum, since a permanent status would not have been achieved. The legislation for the other three territories presently has no such requirement. It is clearly understood in most political circles in Puerto Rico – even amongst those who support the status quo - that there are inherent democratic deficiencies in the territorial status which need to be corrected through “enhancements.”

The same democratic deficiencies apply to the territorial status of the other three US – administered territories, as well ( in addition to the Northern Mariana Islands), even as this may not be as readily recognised in these other territories. Thus, it should be made clear in the US Senate that the legislation for American Samoa, Guam and the US Virgin Islands refers to the same options of political equality as those offered to Puerto Rico - along with the possibility to temporarily retain the status quo, with the same stipulation that the territories would be periodically consulted until a permanent status is chosen. In fact, the distinction between temporary and permanent options should form an integral part of any public education process in the territories concerned, especially as the status quo itself is not stagnant, but rather allows for erosion of the limited autonomy of the territorial government at any time through unilateral decisions and applicability of legislation. The Northern Mariana Islands is a clear example of how such unilateral applicability of US law has begun to erode their erstwhile autonomous arrangement. The entire political arrangement should be the subject of formal review and reconsideration.

In some territories, the discussion on political evolution has already begun prior to this US legislation. The Governor of American Samoa initiated a promising political status and constitutional development process utilising local resources. That was before the tsunami earlier this year. Understandably, all efforts in that territory are now directed to reconstruction following the disaster, and the issue of political evolution is scheduled to be revisited in 2010. This timetable places the American Samoa process within the framework of the legislation being considered by the US Senate.

In the US Virgin Islands, an elected constitutional convention adopted an ambitious draft constitution last May for consideration by the US Congress which would test the limited parameters of the status quo dependency arrangement as a first step in resuming focus on political and constitutional development after over a decade and a half of dormancy. Whether the draft constitution would formally be considered by Washington, however, remains to be determined by the territorial court which has yet to rule on whether the document will be transmitted to the US Congress over the objection of the current elected governor who has held back the document based on certain provisions within it. Chances are that a US Congressional analysis of the draft constitution could determine that the additional powers sought for the territory contained in the document could only be realised in one of the permanent options – thus, the process could comes full circle, squarely back into the realm of the fundamental need to address the political status question – as one scholar has written, “decolonisation rather than colonial reform.”

The role of civil society in all of this continues to be crucial. Organisations in the US Virgin Islands such as the United Nations Association of the Virgin Islands (UNAVI) have been active for over a decade in providing information on the importance of a legitimate process of self-determination. Non-governmental organisations in Guam have taken a sustained approach over the years through organisations such as the Chamoru Nashion, and the Organisation of Peoples for Indigenous Rights (OPIR), among others. American Samoa’s Political Status Commission did especially important work on political alternatives several years ago, and this should serve as an excellent point of departure as the legislation in Congress shifts to the US Senate. In Puerto Rico, the political parties and the Bar Association, among others, have historically taken the lead in advocacy on the issue.

The introduction of the Bordallo legislation, therefore, was an important step in ‘jump-starting’ the process of self-determination in all of these territories, and has the promise of reviving serious deliberations among the people on their political evolution. Meanwhile, in the territories, media attention to the measure has been uneven. Other than in Guam, the media in the other two territories covered by the bill has been curiously and conspicuously silent as to the very existence of the legislation, and OTR is not aware of any official statements emanating from these territorial capitols on the legislation with the notable exception of Guam whose governor testified before the US Congress in Washington in favour of the measure.

With the appropriate clarifications to the legislation, including the correction of re-focusing on the permanent options, along with a realistic amount of resources for the three territories to wage a serious public campaign, a process of self-determination can yet be realised. The Obama Administration could very well be the first US administration since these territories were acquired at the end of the 19th century and into the 20th century to foster a genuine process of self-determination for the peoples of these territories, and the first to seriously implement its international obligations under the United Nations Charter to bring genuine self-government and full political equality to the territories under its administration.

09 December 2009

US House Approves Political Status Education Bill

News from Congresswoman Madeleine Z. Bordallo

House Passes Political Status Education Bill

December 7, 2009 – Washington, D.C. –

Congresswoman Madeleine Z. Bordallo today announced that the U.S. House of Representatives has passed H.R. 3940, a bill that would authorize the Secretary of the Interior to extend technical assistance grants and other assistance to facilitate a political status public education program on Guam, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. H.R. 3940 today passed on a voice vote one month after Congresswoman Bordallo first introduced the bill and two weeks after it was approved by the House Committee on Natural Resources. H.R. 3940 will now be transmitted to the U.S. Senate for consideration in their chamber.

“The passage of H.R. 3940 by the U.S. House of Representatives today advances the issue of political self-determination in the non-self-governing territories by providing federal funding for political status education,” Congresswoman Madeleine Z. Bordallo said today. “H.R. 3940 now goes to the Senate for consideration and I hope that they will act on it with the same sense of priority that the House has viewed this issue. This bill is supported by the Obama Administration, elected officials from Guam, and decolonization and indigenous rights advocates on Guam. I will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress and with Assistant Secretary Tony Babauta to pass this legislation in the Senate.”


08 December 2009

Bonaire Referendum Alternatives Discussed

Bonaire Reporter
29 November 2009

On Saturday, November 28, Dr. Carlyle Corbin, the former minister in charge of foreign relations for the US Virgin Islands and an international advisor on political structure and UN Caribbean and Pacific treaty issues, met with Bonaire government officials to offer his expertise. He discussed alternative choices for Bonaire’s upcoming referendum. He visited at the invitation of the Executive Council.

Following the closed-door meetings he was interviewed by the press in a conference in the Pasangrahan. Representatives from Papiamentu, Dutch and English language newspapers were present.

Dr Corbin talked at length about the differences and similarities between integration of a former colony with the “mother country” and a free association following the release of colonial ties. His said that integration can take several forms as could a free association which is also is a legitimate political status recognized in 1960 by the UN under article 1541. The essence ofthe message he presented in response to questions from the press was "People have a right to be consulted once again (in a referendum)... after they have been given more information."

11/29/2009 UN to Visit

Two advisors from the United Nations (UN) will be arriving on Bonaire next week to consult with Island Government about the upcoming referendum.

On Monday, Mansour Sadeghi and Peter Eicher of the UN’s Electoral Support Department will be speaking with members of the Executive Council, political parties, the referendum committee. A meeting with the press is set for the end of this week.

07 December 2009

US Agency Changes Mind on Health Risk in Vieques

Press Release
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry

(ATSDR, a federal public health agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, evaluates the human health effects of exposure to hazardous substances.)

Federal Agency to Change its Early Conclusions on Environmental Assessment in Vieques
November 13, 2009
(In English. Spanish version follows )

ATLANTA-The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has signaled its intent to modify some of its earlier conclusions about health risks to residents of the Island of Vieques. The decision was shared during a meeting with scientists from Puerto Rico and followed a thorough review of ATSDR public health assessments finalized in 2003 and other environmental studies of the island conducted in the intervening years. ATSDR’s re-examination of the data comes as part of a "fresh look" the federal public health agency pledged to island residents and Congress.

"A thorough and objective review of the available data is an important step in our commitment to the people of Vieques", said Dr. Howard Frumkin, agency director. "Much has been learned since we first went to Vieques a decade ago, and we have identified gaps in environmental data that could be important in determining health effects." We are committed to using the best technology and scientific expertise to help find answers for the people of Vieques.

"The gaps we found indicate that we cannot state unequivocally that no health hazards exist in Vieques. We have found reason to pose further questions," Frumkin said. As a result of the scientific consultation and its document review, ATSDR expects to:

change some of its earlier conclusions regarding the safety of environmental exposures on Vieques;
• recommend biomonitoring to determine whether persons living on Vieques have been exposed to harmful chemicals, and, if so, at what levels those chemicals may be in their bodies;
• work with Puerto Rican health officials to conduct more in-depth evaluation of health outcomes;
• work with community members and Puerto Rican health officials to issue science-based, precautionary recommendations to protect public health;
• work with partners in the Puerto Rican health care community to encourage improved access to health care for residents of Vieques; and
• coordinate an inclusive, accountable process featuring participation of Puerto Rican community members and professionals in moving forward.

ATSDR scientists will prepare a summary report of the previous environmental health work done for Vieques, including recommendations developed from the scientific consultation. As part of the scientific process, this report will be peer reviewed by independent experts. Once peer review is completed, ATSDR will provide detailed recommendations about future activities.

"ATSDR greatly appreciates the scientists taking time to travel to Atlanta and share their findings and perspectives. We salute the independent scientists and community leaders for their dedication to the health of the people of Vieques, and we look forward to working with them as we move forward with our fresh look at Vieques," Frumkin said.


(En Español)

Agencia Federal Cambiará sus Primeras Conclusiones en la Evaluación Ambiental de Vieques

Friday, November 13, 2009

ATLANTA-La Agencia para Sustancias Tóxicas y el Registro de Enfermedades (ATSDR por sus siglas en inglés) ha señalado su intento de modificar algunas de sus primeras conclusiones sobre los riesgos de salud de los residentes de la Isla Vieques. La decisión fue compartida durante una reunión con científicos de Puerto Rico después de una revisión comprensiva de las evaluaciones de salud pública que la ATSDR finalizó en el 2003 y otros estudios ambientales de la isla elaborados en los años siguientes. La reexaminación de los datos forma parte de la “mirada fresca” que la agencia de salud pública prometió a los residentes de la isla y al Congreso.

“La revisión comprensiva y objetiva de los datos disponibles es un paso importante en nuestro compromiso a la gente de Vieques,” dijo el Dr. Howard Frumkin, director de la agencia. “Hemos aprendido mucho desde que fuimos la primera vez a Vieques hace una década, y hemos identificado lagunas de información en los datos ambientales que pueden ser importantes al determinar efectos de salud. Estamos comprometidos a usar la mejor tecnología y experiencia científica para ayudar a encontrar respuestas para la gente de Vieques.

“Las lagunas de información que encontramos indican que no podemos establecer sin duda alguna que no existen riesgos de salud en Vieques. Hemos encontrado razones para hacer más preguntas,” dijo Frumkin. Como resultado de la consulta científica y la revisión de los estudios, ATSDR anticipa:

cambiar algunas de sus primeras conclusiones sobre la seguridad de las exposiciones ambientales en Vieques;
• recomendar monitoreo biológico para determinar si las personas que viven en Vieques han estado expuestas a químicos dañinos, y si es así a que niveles esos químicos se encuentran en el cuerpo;
• trabajar con los oficiales de salud de Puerto Rico para hacer una evaluación más exhaustiva sobre las consecuencias de salud;
• trabajar con miembros de la comunidad y oficiales de salud para elaborar recomendaciones preventivas basadas en conocimiento científico para proteger la salud pública;
• trabajar con nuestros colegas de la comunidad de la salud Puertorriqueña para alentar un mejoramiento en el acceso al cuidado de salud de los residentes de Vieques; y
• coordinar un proceso responsable y exhaustivo distinguiendo la participación de los miembros de la comunidad y profesionales mientras avanzamos.

Los científicos de la ATSDR prepararan un reporte del trabajo ambiental hecho en Vieques, incluyendo las recomendaciones elaboradas en la consulta científica. Como parte del proceso científico, este reporte va a ser revisado por expertos independientes. Cuando se complete esta revisión, ATSDR proveerá recomendaciones detalladas sobre actividades en el futuro.

“ATSDR agradece efusivamente a los científicos por venir a Atlanta y compartir sus hallazgos y perspectivas. Reconocemos a los científicos independientes y los líderes comunitarios por su dedicación a la salud de la gente de Vieques, y anticipamos trabajar con ellos mientras avanzamos con nuestra mirada fresca en Vieques,” dijo Frumkin.

05 December 2009

Cayman Islands Contemplates Political Future

Will Independence ever be the answer?
Cayman Net News, Cayman Islands
1st December 2009

Last week’s referendum result in St Vincent and the Grenadines, when the country’s voters decisively rejected a move to adopt a new constitution removing the Queen as head of state and abandoning the UK’s Privy Council in favour of the Caribbean Court of Justice, is unusual in that it appears to go against the flow of regional desires to sever the last bastions of colonial ties.

The issue of independence for the Cayman Islands is one that has been increasingly mooted in recent months, no doubt as a result of Britain’s intransigence in relation to borrowing our way out of financial failure and our economic model generally.

Although the question of independence has not yet been raised with any great fervour, there are people of influence in these islands who support -- at times not so secretly -- the notion and who accordingly promote and support those politicians who may be similarly inclined.
And, granted, we have surely been given cause to re-examine the benefits of our historical ties to Britain in the light of the various events that have taken place during the last couple of years.

However, the prospect of independence has never been a major factor in our political landscape, unlike other British Overseas Territories in the region, notably, Bermuda and the Turks and Caicos Islands, where it has formed from time to time a significant election issue.

Once its former Caribbean colonies began to achieve independence in 1962, Britain’s policy has been to withdraw from individual security, but not economic commitments, to the Commonwealth Caribbean. British interests in the region have been reduced mainly to trade, investment, and limited economic and security assistance.

What arguments are likely to be advanced in favour of independence for the Cayman Islands? One could certainly say that we would not be completely on our own. As a full member of the Commonwealth, we could expect some financial aid in case of need from the larger countries.

But then, who is to say that we will benefit anyway if we remain under British rule, given the independent spirit the Caymanians in dealing with their economic and social affairs, for example, in the wake of Hurricane Ivan. Even Grenada, which is a fully independent nation, got more hurricane relief aid from Britain than Cayman.

Some five years ago – shortly before Ivan struck, in fact – there was something of a fuss when a delegation from Cayman Islands non-governmental organisations (NGOs) addressed the United Nations Special Committee of 24 (C24) on Decolonisation in New York and claimed that there had been “misleading representations” by the British Government dating back to the 1960s regarding its obligations under various UN resolutions dealing with self-determination.

Although the most recent pronouncement by the C24 concerning the Cayman Islands is somewhat anodyne – it merely notes the finalisation of the new constitution and recommends that participate in the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) as a new associate member – it would seem from a contemporaneous statement by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that the C24 may well adopt a more active approach in promoting independence for all 16 remaining non-self-governing territories. In fact, Mr Ban said that the United Nations must step up its decolonisation efforts.

Decolonisation “is an unfinished process that has been with the international community for too long,” he said.

In the last two years of the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, Mr Ban called for the acceleration of the UN’s work to “achieve concrete results.” He told the C24 to continue its support of the “legitimate aspirations of the people of non-self-governing territories so they can exercise their right to self-determination.”

So far as we know, Britain will never force us to become independent but the views, activities and resources of world bodies such as the C24 will certainly lend support to any local interests that wish to take up such a cause.

On February 4, 1960, former British Prime Minister and consummate politician of his era, Harold Macmillan, in speaking about the future of Africa, coined the memorable phrase: “The wind of change is blowing through the Continent. Whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact.”

At that time, the use of this simple metaphor in relation to the turmoil of African affairs was most apt and may still prove to be relevant to an increasing acceptance of the notion of independence for the Cayman Islands.

02 December 2009

2010 Ibero-American Summit to Address Malvinas Sovereignty

South Atlantic News Agency
3rd December 2009

Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner said that the sovereignty claim over Malvinas, South Georgia, South Sandwich islands and surrounding maritime spaces, illegitimately held by Britain, will be paramount in next year’s Ibero-American summit declaration. Mar del Plata (Argentina) will be hosting the summit next year (2010).

Mrs. Kirchner was privileged with the closing speech of the two-day 19th summit held in Estoril, Portugal, since Argentina has taken over the pro tempore chair of the meeting and will be hosting the summit next year in Mar del Plata.

The president also thanked summit members for their support to Argentina’s South Atlantic islands claims, as has happened in previous occasions, and underlined the importance that such a support was part of the final Estoril declaration.

“All of us present here are members of the United Nations and we all know the UN has called on Argentina and the United Kingdom to begin sovereignty negotiations over the Malvinas Islands but this has not happened because of Britain’s point blank rejection”, insisted Mrs. Kirchner.

However the issue has been further complicated with the coming into effect December first of the Lisbon Treaty which considers “Malvinas, South Georgia, South Sandwich Islands and the Argentine Antarctic sector as associate territories of the European Union”.

“The Malvinas, South Georgia, South Sandwich Islands and surrounding maritime spaces are integral part of Argentine territory and are illegitimately occupied by the United Kingdom” said a strongly worded protest released by Argentina with instructions to be presented before all EU 27 members by the Argentine embassies.

Nevertheless Mrs. Kirchner thanked Portuguese Primer Minister Jose Sócrates for his disposition “to take the issue to the European Community”, an important step before “returning the claim to United Nations”.

Argentine Foreign Affairs secretary Jorge Taiana also addressed the issue during the closing press conference in Estoril.  Slowly but steadily, “we continue to advance in the creation of conditions to make the United Kingdom sit with us to discuss the Malvinas sovereignty, as has been repeatedly recommended by United Nations”.

“We are satisfied with the support from all heads of state present at the Ibero-American summit to Argentina’s sovereignty claim over the Malvinas”. He also said that Argentina for the “umpteenth time is iterating its protest because the Lisbon Treaty (‘a kind of EU constitution’) includes the Malvinas islands as part of their territory”.

Taiana said that formal protests have been presented before Brussels and the capitals of all EU country members.


Malvinas oil ‘to help' British struggling economy, report

Reserves estimated at 60 billion barrels

Buenos Aires Herald
2 Dec. 09

A British newspaper (Telegraph) reported that a North Sea oil and gas exploration rig is on its way from Scotland to the North Malvinas basin to explore oil reserves, which it described as possible source for economic recovery.

According to the report, Scientists believe that the territory could have up to 60 billion barrels of oil underneath its coastal waters. The area, over which both Argentina and Britain claim sovereignity, are being probed by four British companies - Rockhopper Exploration, Desire Petroleum, Falkland Oil and Gas and Borders and Southern Petroleum.

The estimated amount of oil has already led to the British financial sector pouring around half a billion dollars.

01 December 2009

Second International Decade of Decolonization (to) End Unnoticed

América Latina en Movimiento
by Joyce van Genderen-Naar
30th November 2009

The Second International Decade of Decolonization is ending soon in 2010. The main conclusion is that two decades were not enough to resolve all decolonization issues, in contrary the process of self-determination leading to decolonization has become increasingly complex. Third and even more International Decades will be needed before all Non-Self-Governing Territories have attained self-determination.

The international mandate for decolonisation is a function of the UN Charter and UN resolutions on decolonisation are supported by all of the nations of the world, with regard to the international obligation to develop self-government and to take due account of the political aspirations of the people of their territories (article 73 of the United Nations Charter). But the implementation is politically sensitive and information has been scarce. Decolonization issues stay unnoticed.

The stocktaking took place during the Caribbean Regional Seminar on Decolonization, organized on 12, 13 and 14 May in St. Kitts and Nevis (Caribbean) by the UN Special Committee of 24 on Decolonization (Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples). Recommendations were made to establish a mechanism for dialogue between local authorities in the Territories, administering Powers and the international community to facilitate the decolonization process.

There has to be more interaction and cooperation between the Special Committee and the administering Powers, by creating frameworks for dialogue between the Territories, the administering Powers and the Special Committee. The international community needs to work together and to remain engaged, guided by the political options available to the Non-Self-Governing Territories: free association with other independent States, full integration with political rights, or independence. It is important to focus more on the specific needs of each Territory in terms of their political and economic needs and assistance by the United Nations system.

Education and public outreach are crucial for decolonization, to enable the people concerned to make informed decisions regarding their future political status, to promote maturity and movement towards “appropriation of the own destiny”: “You cannot insist on your rights, unless you understand them.” Decisions on self-determination must be based on full information and education. In a message to the Seminar UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had urged the administering Powers, Non-Self-Governing Territories and the United Nations to continue working together to accelerate the process of eradicating colonialism.

He said that progress in this area will require close cooperation between all three actors. He noted that the right to self-determination must be taken into proper account in exploring how to accelerate the decolonization process for the remaining 16 UN listed non self-governing territories, namely the ten Overseas Countries and Territories of the UK (Anquilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, Turks and Caicos Islands in the Caribbean Sea; Falklands Islands (Malvinas) and St. Helena in the Atlantic Ocean; Pitcairn Islands in the Pacific; Gibraltar in Europe); New Caledonia, Overseas Country and Territory of France in the Pacific; three territories of the USA: Virgin Island in the Caribbean, American Samoa and Guam in the Pacific; Tokelau, a self-governing dependency of New Zealand in the Pacific; Western Sahara, occupied by Morocco, in Africa.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was counting on the administering Powers in particular to discharge their obligations in a manner that promotes the well-being of the inhabitants of the territories within their responsibility. The interests of the peoples of the Territories have to be at the heart of all efforts.

The UN system will continue to assist the Non-Self-Governing Territories, in areas such as economic and social development, environmental sustainability, healthcare and good governance. Emerging challenges for the Non-Self-Governing Territories on their path towards decolonisation are the impact of climate change, the global economic and financial crisis, the role of regional cooperation, education and public awareness, the role of women, the empowerment of vulnerable people and the capacity for full self-government towards self-determination. Key elements in responding to the challenges of today are political maturity, economic sustainability, enhanced administrative capacity and strengthened regional cooperation.

Regional cooperation and regional arrangements offered important opportunities for many Non-Self-Governing Territories and contributed to the development of a strong regional identity and strengthened concrete functional cooperation in various areas of mutual interest. Important were the role of the United Nations regional commissions, such as the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), and bodies like the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), as well as various United Nations specialized agencies.

In response to climate change, which had exposed the vulnerability of many Non-Self-Governing Territories, regional cooperation could play a crucial role in the field of disaster preparedness. The global economic crisis had further highlighted the importance of economic sustainability and diversification of the economic base in the Non-Self-Governing Territories through community-based development, the development of small and medium enterprises, promotion of micro-financing and employment-generating activities, and the empowerment of vulnerable groups.

In his closing statement on behalf of the host country, Delano Frank Bart, Permanent Representative of Saint Kitts and Nevis to the United Nations, characterized the seminar as “the penultimate event” in the course of the Decade. He said that with regard to the energy, food and financial crises, the Territories had been hit as hard as most countries, if not more, but that their concerns were often marginalized. “Our role is to ensure that all needs are met, especially the needs of those of us who are not governing themselves.” Highlighting the impact of climate change, he said that, of the 16 Territories under the Special Committee’s mandate, the majority were islands. Therefore, the concerns of small island developing States within the United Nations system were also the concerns of those Territories. They were among the most vulnerable and needed to be aware of the commitment of the international community to stand by them and “weather the storm together.”

Recalling that his country had recently celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary of independence, he said Saint Kitts and Nevis remembered the concerns of the pre-independence period. One needed the goodwill of all parties to resolve such issues, and the participants should, therefore, take away with them a determination to ensure that the day would come in the not-too-distant future, when the Special Committee’s work would bear fruit, and that the solutions found would be in the best interests of all concerned.

The recommendations of the St. Kitts Seminar have become the most recent chapter of the ever growing legislative authority on the self-determination of the territories. Some of the recommendations were included in the decolonisation resolutions adopted by the UN Fourth Committee in November 2009, and are expected to be approved by the General Assembly in December 2009. Implementation is an entirely separate matter, according to International Advisor on Democratic Governance Dr. Carlyle Corbin

GUAM’s self-determination bill

How important information and education are to the people of the Non-self Governing Territories and how essential to the expression of their political aspirations and self-determination, was shown on November 5, 2009, when the delegate of Guam Hon. Madeleine Z. Bordallo, in the Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife Legislative hearing on H.R. 3940, introduced a self-determination bill to support a public education program for the people of Guam regarding various political status options to express their desired political status.

Guam is a territory of the USA in the Pacific, that has been under the United States Flag as an unincorporated territory for over 111 years. Guam, like her sister territory Puerto Rico, was ceded to the United States from Spain upon the signing of the Treaty of Paris settling the Spanish-American War in 1898. Guam is listed by the United Nations as a non-self-governing territory. Despites all efforts towards defining a new political relationship between Guam and the United States, the political aspirations of the people of Guam for such status were never realized. A referendum affording the people of Guam an opportunity to express their views on status was authorized by local law but remains unscheduled. In November the US Congressional Committee approved the self-determination bill and assistance to the territories.

Dr. Corbin explained that there are two separate pieces of legislation - one bill for American Samoa, Guam and the US Virgin Islands, and a second different bill for Puerto Rico, which is essentially a referendum bill which had been adopted by the same Committee earlier this year. The Puerto Rico measure does not address public education since they already have a very sophisticated process in place via their political parties. Both bills have been adopted by the substantive committee in one House of the US Congress so far. It still has to be adopted by the full House of Representatives, then by the US Senate and signed by the President. He anticipated that this would happen without too much difficulty since there is no new financial resources associated with either measure.

Dr. Corbin also made clear that the issue is not only between independence or not, but rather to chose one of the three political status option which provides for a full measure of self-government, namely independence, free association and integration. These are so recognised by the UN. Some member states which administer territories, such as the UK, have told its territories that offers neither integration nor free association to them, and the choice is either independence or remaining in a dependency status. This is unlike the Dutch Antilles which had achieved sufficient autonomy to be regarded as fully self-governing. This might change as the dismantling of the five islands will now yield a new less autonomous model for the two islands which have chosen in referendum to become separate countries within the Dutch Kingdom.