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We must refind our place in the world

Captain John Smith: “Bermuda is an excellent bit with which to rule a great horse”

I have read a lot lately about the seemingly random acts of nature that occasion together to create what seems a terra firma. In a geographic context, the Spanish and the Portuguese were the first to occupy Bermuda, and for 100 years this island played a valuable role for them as a water hole and a mid-Atlantic food and repair stopover.

Their exploits to the south were so great and bountiful that Bermuda played only a transitory role. Nevertheless, it was a vitally important role that we played. It was a role that the Portuguese would have held for ever but for a fateful storm that blew Sir George Somers upon our shores. That little role continued, but under a new flag that helped Britain to establish itself firmly in the northern hemisphere of the Americas.

The point to be made is we have earned our keep because of the role we played as a maritime hub enhanced by our strategic location. The use of our ports has been essential in the development of our larger nations to the west and south. We can look at each epoch over the millenniums and see the impact on our economy and living standards derived because of some role we played as a maritime port and jurisdiction during times of both war and peace.

The year 1994 was a huge turning point in the nature of our affairs when all the bases decided to forgo their leases and end their military presence in Bermuda. Inside a few months, more than 5,000 bodies left our shores, ending the military role we played in the world for several centuries. Fortunately, international business was having its heyday and blunted the impact that, by comparison, was ravaging to countries such as Somalia when their military lords moved out.

Naturally, when Bermuda thinks of recovery, in particular when we realise the No 1 pillar of international business softening in its impact, we should grab our guts — which in this case has been our maritime existence. This is primarily the reason why our airport and ports should have huge “Attention” signs proverbially posted high over their heads.

In 2011, I began with the question of what is happening to our maritime relevance and whether the role of our airport and ports were relevant. We don’t always have to reinvent the wheel; often the answer we are looking for is right in front of us. Like the story of Hagar in the Bible: she was running back and forth between the mountains desperately looking for water for her baby, only to find that the baby had scratched a hole in the earth and there it was — a bubbling well full of water.

The next step in our recovery is similarly already there, staring us in the face, and the need for it is now. Bermuda’s ports as they exist at present, even with the new airport, are tied to an old era and ideal, which are outdated and no longer relevant to the present international transport industry.

The devastating storms that have ravaged the southern United States and the Caribbean will take decades to rebuild. If Bermuda were being ruled by an empire, we would have already been dispatched in a military fashion to play a role in the rebuilding of our neighbours to the south. Now with an open democracy and more so as an economy driven by the private sector, it is up to us as a legislature to allow the ingenuity of our entrepreneurs to fulfil a niche so needed in the world.

Our forefathers amid their treachery, were a progressive bunch. In the words of the infamous Captain John Smith: “Bermuda is an excellent bit with which to rule a great horse.”

At one time we saw the world as our oyster, campaigns were launched from our shores, which resulted in major events in the world. We have to regain the ability to think as worldly as they, and find our role to reclaim our former position as hemispheric masters.