The St. Kitts-Nevis Observer
No. 804 • March 26, 2010
 
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COMMENTARY By Whitman T. Browne
The US Virgin Islands Dilemma

 

During the 1830s the Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville examined the matter of democracy in America. He concluded that in America the aspiration towards democracy conflicted with the tyranny and prejudice which the nation demonstrated towards the indigenous Americans, and the brutality meted out to the dehumanized and enslaved Africans.

Such situations depicted a crucial dilemma in terms of the aspirations of the American nation compared with its lived social reality. As I write, March 18, 2010, a parallel dilemma can be seen within the US Virgin Islands society.

A group of colonial islands sold to the US in 1916-1917, because of the Danes' inability to arrest their economic decline, are now demanding from the US Government the autonomy of independent islands, but they are still depending on financial support as a colony, which they truly are.

Ironically, the US was part of an early push in 1947 for more autonomy to the people in the British West Indies. At the same time, however, the US went about investing in the economic and social development of its Virgin Islands, which were declared by President Hoover, in 1931, to be: "An effective poor house. Useful only for remote naval contingencies … it was unfortunate that we ever acquired these islands."

For the next forty plus years, however, the US spent millions lifting the US Virgin Islands from the poverty and deprived conditions they shared with all the other West Indian islands. Britain in particular remained committed to keeping its colonies and their people poor and powerless. While migration across and beyond the Caribbean happened in the Virgin Islands up until the late 1920s, the phenomenon persisted in the other islands way into the 1980s, because of their economic hardships.

Meanwhile, financial success, infrastructural development, education opportunities, and tourism investments flowed to the US Virgin Islands at that time. It was the prosperity which flowed to the US Virgin Islands from the US, which made the area economically different from the other struggling and poverty-stricken Caribbean islands.

That economic success in the US Virgin Islands also inspired the inter-island hatred and prejudices that still fester in these societies. The economic success, as a US colony, also appeared to have bred a level of complacency, resignation, and probably some fear about challenging the benevolent USA for further political autonomy. So, the US which had pushed for political independence in the British West Indies back in 1947, did not foster the same changes in the US Virgin Islands.

Today, St. Croix, St. Thomas, St. John, and Water Island remain a territory/colony of the USA under the dictates of the federal government and the Constitution of the USA, in 2010.

As long as that is the case, it does not matter which Virgin Islander writes it, indigenous, native, or non-native, no Virgin Islands constitution document can supersede and allow to any Virgin Islander privileges beyond those allowed by the US Constitution. That is the fundamental nature of the colonial relationship these islands share with the United States of America.

Ironically, because of the poverty, powerlessness, and limitations that British rule brought to their lives, the people on islands such as Jamaica, Dominica, Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua, St. Kitts-Nevis all revolted against Britain. It was a long and difficult journey, but they broke those colonial ties with Britain and stepped out in faith to confront their future.

Today, these islands may be struggling, but they are independent nations. They get no assistance from Britain. The laws in Britain do not affect them, and unlike a case in the Turks and Caicos Islands colony at the moment, the British Government cannot disband any of these governments. The islands are also free to make their own laws, determine immigration stipulations, make or to alter their own constitutions.

Like any other group of islands in the Caribbean, the US Virgin Islands are entitled to self determination. However, self determination will not be achieved as a colony accepting grants and aid from the USA. Consequently, those who insist on writing into the provisional constitution of the US Virgin Islands colony, rules and regulations that contravene the US Constitution are deluding themselves.

They are also grand-standing and showing a limited perception of how imperialism and colonialism work. If the native Virgin Islanders are bent on setting up their own laws and immigration rules in the US Virgin Islands, they must take a stand and first break the islands' colonial ties with the US.

Until that stand is taken and the political links with the US change, all the talk about independence written into the constitution is simply blowing smoke and part of the continuing grand-standing and drama used to evade the present Virgin Islands dilemma. It is not only about changing the present political relationship with the US. It is also about changing the secure, comfortable life the US has brought to the people of these islands since the 1930s. That is the true US Virgin Islands constitutional and status dilemma being faced in 2010.

Consequently, those who insist on writing into the provisional constitution of the US Virgin Islands colony, rules and regulations that contravene the US Constitution are deluding themselves. They are also grand-standing and showing a limited perception of how imperialism and colonialism work. If the native Virgin Islanders are bent on setting up their own laws and immigration rules in the US Virgin Islands, they must take a stand and first break the islands' colonial ties with the US. Until that stand is taken and the political links with the US change, all the talk about independence written into the constitution is simply blowing smoke and part of the continuing grand-standing and drama used to evade the present Virgin Islands dilemma. It is not only about changing the present political relationship with the US. It is also about changing the secure, comfortable life the US has brought to the people of these islands since the 1930s. That is the true US Virgin Islands constitutional and status dilemma being faced in 2010.

 
 
 
 
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