(PRESS RELEASE) For Immediate Release: 75 days since Hurricane Irma: Barbudans still in the dark Essential services not restored Local group urges government openness and transparency, summons local council to return to island Codrington, Barbuda, Nov 17, 2017
— Over two months after a catastrophic Category 5++ hurricane decimated the small island of Barbuda, a group of its local citizens, government officials and councillors living once again on the island is urgently calling on the Government of Antigua and Barbuda to address the people’s humanitarian needs, launch an open and transparent communication process with Barbudans, and disclose its disaster recovery plans and actions to date. The group is also seeking the return of the full Barbuda Council to the island to provide collective leadership and direct recovery and rebuilding efforts.
Barbudans continue to await the return of essential services including running water, electricity, and a shelter. There remains no access to education and medical services and no consistent, reliable telecommunications. “We believe there are clear human rights concerns here when the most basic of human needs are not being met,” said Kelly Burton, Manager, Codrington Lagoon National Park, Department of Environment, Government of Antigua and Barbuda. “We’re asking our government to disclose how much funding has been granted by outside organizations to date, and the status and planned use of those funds.” Since the initial mandatory evacuation on September 6, approximately 220 of over 1700 residents have returned to Barbuda and are undertaking cleanup and rebuilding of homes and facilities.
Only a fraction of Barbuda’s eleven local Councillors have reinstated themselves back on the island. The Barbuda Council has increasingly integrated its operations into Antigua, which distances the council from recovery efforts on the ground in Barbuda, limiting its capacity to provide critical information, essential services and leadership on the island. To date, Barbudans have not received a formal update on the central government’s plans, actions and intentions with respect to recovery, and have yet to be consulted on their own proposed plans and perspectives for the path forward. “We hoped for open and clear communications, to be consulted, and to be a part of a progressive planning process for Barbuda moving forward, and the kind of vision and optimism all citizens anticipate from their leaders. But we have been left in the dark, literally and figuratively,” said Atkinson Beazer, former Barbudan Councillor.
“The people of Barbuda are determined and we’re doing the very best we can in the absence of information, funds, support, and direction on the government’s agenda,” said Wayde Burton, a Barbuda-based Councillor. “It’s critical that our leadership return home immediately and lines of communication open between the cabinet, council and people of Barbuda.”
Amongst many Barbudans, there is a sense that the government is taking advantage of the traumatic post-hurricane period to establish a culture of fear and frustrate the population by withholding critical information and resources, disconnecting the people from their local leadership, and imposing a military-state-like atmosphere on the island. “I hear story after story of citizens and current administration being met at ever turn with roadblocks and little to no information, co-operation or direction. It is simply demoralizing,” said John Mussington, principal at Barbuda’s secondary high school. “We must be collectively focused on rebuilding, and getting kids back to school. Instead, our central government appears to have prioritized plans and construction of an airport in the middle of the island that no Barbudan is privy to.” “Citizens readily communicate their fears that both the government’s silence on its plans and activities, along with its move to create a visibly prominent but undefined military presence on the island are potential signals of its intentions to expropriate the land from Barbudans, clearing the way for foreign investment,” said Asha Frank, Barbudan Councillor. “Our goal is to return as many people home as quickly as possible to rebuild and regain back the life they live; but it is a growing challenge when they feel their historically protected Barbudan way of life and human rights are in jeopardy.”
The Prime Minister Gaston Browne has recently called Barbudans “squatters” and “deracinated imbeciles”. The government has previously publically declared its intention to target the Barbuda Land Act, an Act which respects Barbudans’ history of slavery and the lands as rightfully belonging to the people of Barbuda. Barbudans currently await the results of assessments recently undertaken by the government and multilateral/NGOs to support recovery efforts. Additional Context and Quotes: “We are asking the international community for their consideration of what is happening here. Because of the lack of ability to communicate, we can only surmise our own government is trying to silence us. But we won’t go quietly. Barbudans are resilient and we are going to continue to keep our land and preserve it and our culture for our children and their children to come. That is our right.” — Trevor Walker, former Barbuda Councillor. “Back on day one, the call to evacuate the people of Barbuda was the right one, as any Barbudan who experienced that fateful day will tell you. But the extensive delays from that point forward to provide transportation back to the island and lack of Barbuda-based temporary shelter that would allow us to return and begin rebuilding our homes has relegated us to second class citizens.
As a result, the gradual assimilation of Barbudans into Antigua by necessity has separated our people and started us down a path of cultural genocide.” — Kendra Beazer, current Barbuda Councillor About the voices behind this release The group of Barbudans supporting the consists of the following: Atkinson Beazer – Former Barbuda Councillor Kendra Beazer – Barbuda Councillor (living and working on Barbuda) Kelly Burton – Manager Codrington Lagoon National Park, Department of Environment, Government of Antigua and Barbuda Wayde Burton – Barbuda Councillor (living and working on Barbuda) Asha Frank – Barbuda Councillor (living and working on Barbuda) MacKenzie Frank – Historian; Former Senator of the Government of Antigua and Barbuda Henry Griffin – Wildlife Officer, Codrington Lagoon National Park, Department of Environment, Government of Antigua and Barbuda John Mussington – Principal, Sir Machesny George Secondary School, Codrington, Barbuda Trevor Walker – Former Barbuda Council member
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