Protests took place in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) against plans for the UK to take over direct government after the arrest of its elected leader.
Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the seat of government in Tortola, the residence of Governor John Rankin, on Monday after an investigation led by British judge Sir Gary Hickinbottom into corruption recommended that the islands be ruled by London for two years.
It is proposed that Mr. Rankin, who represents the Queen, will assume the post of premier in place of an elected government official.
However, many BVI residents object to this suggestion which has been described as “colonial”, particularly in the context of the region’s history as a former British slave colony, and undemocratic as there are no plans to go public.
Protesters blocked traffic outside the governor’s house and chanted slogans such as “no to the British government” and “no back to chains”.
One speaker told the crowd: “How can you speak for us if you haven’t had a conversation with us, people? It is possible for us to condemn the actions of corrupt leaders and also to believe that we can also be an authority on good governance, ”the speaker continued.
Bishop John Ivan Cline, of the New Life Baptist Church, who organized the event, told local media: “This is a very significant historical moment in the life of the Virgin Islands. The UK has decided after 70 years of self-government that it wants to take our rights and deny us the opportunity to have a democratically elected government. “
“They want to tell us that a man should be able to make decisions for 30,000 people, they want to tell us that we do not have the necessary skills to govern our country and we are saying that we will not give up our rights,” continued the pastor.
“We welcome help from the UK, but a democracy and a dictatorship are two different things. We want the opportunity to go back to the polls and elect a democratic government to rule us. But this colonial mentality that you will tell us what to do is wrong, unfair and we will not support it ”.
The protests come after the arrest of BVI Premier Andrew Fahie in Miami on Thursday on charges of drug conspiracy and money laundering in an operation led by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). The director of the ports in the area, Oleanvine Maynard, has also been arrested.
The report was unrelated to incidents in the United States last week, although its release was anticipated following events in the United States last week.
UK Minister for Overseas Territories Amanda Milling arrived in the BVI on Sunday for a three-day trip to discuss the region’s future leadership.
However, the content of these discussions was shrouded in ambiguity, protesters said, as they asked Ms. Milling to include BVI residents in the conversations about the country’s future.
The BVI has a population of 35,000 and is currently governed by a 2007 constitution, which gives it limited self-government under a governor who is the ultimate executive authority as the queen’s representative.
“Don’t we think there are good people in this country that we can elect as worthy leaders of the BVI? This is our future and it should be in our hands, ”another speaker said.
“This is our country! It is our responsibility to take charge ”.
“I want to say to Her Majesty, the Queen: tell your people to be loyal to us. This is not justice, “said another speaker.
In a statement earlier this week, Acting Premier Natalio Wheatley said he was “very concerned” about the recommendation.
Mr. Wheatley said, “What this would mean in real terms is that there would be no more elected representatives representing the people of the districts and territory in the House of Assembly where the laws are made for our society.
“Furthermore, there would be no government ministers to promote public priorities or a cabinet to approve the policy. All this authority would be vested in the governor.
“The benefit of representative democracy for the public is the understanding and responsiveness of their elected representatives to their challenges, which also act as a conduit for their views, especially on reforms.”
This follows widespread protests against royal visits to Caribbean countries and requests for slavery reparations from Britain over the past two months.
When it gets closer The independent for a comment on the protests. the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office did not release a specific comment.
However, a spokesperson pointed to a statement on governance in the BVI released on Friday by Foreign Minister Lizz Truss.
It reads: “In January 2021, we expressed significant concerns about the deterioration of the government status in the British Virgin Islands, as well as the potential vulnerability of the islands to serious organized crime.
“The UK government supported the then governor’s decision to launch an independent land governance inquiry.
“The investigation report released by the governor today clearly shows that substantial legislative and constitutional changes are needed to restore the standards of governance to which the people of the British Virgin Islands are entitled.”