BVI activists say direct rule would be ‘draconian’
Activists in the British Virgin Islands have predicted widespread opposition to an attempt for direct British rule over the troubled Caribbean territory.
Former Bermuda Governor John Rankin, who became Governor of BVI in January 2021, faces scepticism on his intentions for BVI, according to activist Amberly Crabbe, who said protesters gathered outside Mr Rankin’s office this week to decry moves by Britain to suspend the constitution and take direct control.
BVI was thrown into chaos last week when a report from a Commission of Inquiry into its governance described it last Friday as “appallingly bad” and recommended British intervention.
It came a day after the Premier, Andrew Fahie, was arrested in Miami on drug charges in a US Drug Enforcement Agency sting.
While the two were unrelated, sources in BVI said Mr Fahie’s arrest had sped up the release of the report.
On Thursday the Acting Premier, Natalio Wheatley, brought a motion of no confidence in Mr Fahie’s leadership before the BVI House of Assembly.
It was approved, with Dr Wheatley sworn in as the new Premier and finance minister.
Ms Crabbe told BVI Platinum News that direct rule from Britain would damage islanders’ sense of identity and take the community back to British colonialism.
Speaking to The Royal Gazette on Wednesday, Ms Crabbe said Mr Rankin seemed “hidden” compared with his predecessor, Gus Jaspert, who had ordered the investigation into BVI governance.
“People think he came in to tie up loose ends,” she said. “We heard this before he came.
“Now we are facing the suspension of our constitution, it feeds into the rhetoric of, was this all part of the inevitable?”
Both Ms Crabbe and broadcaster Sam Henry said suspicions were also running high in the country of 30,000 at the recent appearance of as many as 50 British visitors who did not appear to be ordinary tourists.
She said: “They have been on the ground from Easter. Who are they? We have asked but we don’t get answers.
“It’s a small place. People notice things. They don’t seem like they are vacationing.”
Ms Crabbe, a resident of Long Look at the BVI’s East End, described the islands as closer to culturally to the US than Britain.
“We make our own decisions. In terms of UK involvement, its an analogy that’s been around for quite some time, it’s like a parent who abandoned a child.”
She said the UK appeared keen to strengthen its influence “after the child grew up and became successful”.
Ms Crabbe pointed to efforts by Dr Wheatley, who opposes suspending the constitution, to forge a new Government with the Opposition parties and work with Britain on reforms.
A decision on direct rule was expected imminently from Amanda Milling, the Foreign Office Minister who paid an emergency visit to BVI this week.
Ms Crabbe said Dr Wheatley’s moves for a unity government had eased some tensions – but that direct rule from London would prove deeply unpopular.
“Not only would it be a shock, I don’t think, based on the revolutionary spirit of people, that it would be received well.
“I don’t think a draconian measure like that would be in our best interests.”
She said legislators had demonstrated a willingness to work together.
“I believe they should be given the opportunity to right some of the issues that are highlighted.”
Mr Henry, a radio host and frequent commentator on BVI politics, said yesterday of Mr Rankin: “From the few times he has spoken, I would say he is a decent guy.
“He seems pretty nice.”
But Mr Henry, a traditional supporter of the ruling Virgin Islands Party, said the COI’s report had been released hastily in a break from the orderly timeline promised by Mr Rankin.
“When Ms Milling came to the territory on Monday, people expected a plan, some kind of conversation to counteract what’s in the report.
“But the overarching recommendation is suspension of the constitution. It’s created a sense of urgency, panic and confusion.
“For the people it’s like you just put a gun to my head and asked me to defend myself.”
Mr Henry said he sensed a “conspiracy” in Britain’s moves.
“The UK have an agenda,” he added. “Ever since they left they left the EU, they have started to refocus the British Empire on their Caribbean overseas territories.”
Mr Henry said he condemned the Premier’s actions, but found the timing of the release of the report suspicious.
“This is a conspiracy,” he said. “This isn’t just a coincidence.”
He said BVI’s Cabinet had young members on board with “nobody now who can push back” – and that Britain might seek control using “some proxy Government that they put in place”.
“That way they can show the world they didn’t take over, but they have pledged reform.”