BERMUDA AND THE UIGHURS – A CASE STUDY
BY DR. THE HON. EWART F. BROWN JP
BY DR. THE HON. EWART F. BROWN JP
PREMIER OF BERMUDA
This address was delivered at the "50-50 Caribbean Conference: Surveying the Past, Mapping the Future," convened at the University College of the Cayman Islands, 22nd March 2012
The title of this address is laced with temptation.
Firstly, one is tempted to make the speech short. The question posed is easily answered. “Is the UK/OT relationship based on mutual interests?”
A slightly longer version could go something like this “The relationship is based on some interests, but they are hardly mutual...”
However, I shall not be tempted, and will do justice to the invitation to speak and the fact that this is my first public address since demitting office almost two years ago. It is time.
Let me first declare that I hold no animosity toward the British or to their various agents with whom I have come into contact. In fact, the lady in whose name most of their work is done is a gracious, kind and engaging individual. I speak from firsthand knowledge because in 2009, Bermuda hosted the Queen and Prince Philip, and my wife and I spent a couple of days in their company, culminating in an elegant dinner at which we were the hosts.
To my certain recollection, the Queen bore none of the traits of many of those who profess to be her servants in our lands across the Region.
To fully understand the nature of the relationship between the United Kingdom and the Overseas Territories, you must call to remembrance the fundamentals of the British Empire. That institution is based upon a simple belief -- the British are superior.
To deny the existence of that belief destroys the foundational understanding of the relationship. It means that not only can you not understand them, but you cannot understand us -- the peoples of the remaining territories.
In 2012, in Bermuda and other territories, our minds are still captivated by the British and their superiority -- we "drank the tea". And, I don't know who perpetuates the myth more -- the colonizers or the colonized.
Consider: When I became leader of the Bermuda Progressive Labour Party and thus Premier of Bermuda, as leaders of countries do when they land by plane in their home countries, I had the driver bring the car on the tarmac to pick me up. As a matter of practice in Bermuda, that had not been done by past premiers. Some of the colonized spoke up to say: "Who does he think he is? Let him go through Customs and Immigration like everybody else."
Yet, no one has ever questioned why our British Governors always have their cars on the tarmac when they return home, and do not go through Customs and Immigration like everybody else. But, they are superior. Unfortunately, this is in the minds of the British and in many of ours as well.
What about budget cutbacks? During these recessionary times, there has been a hue and cry all over Bermuda and other nations for leaders and public officials to voluntarily take a decrease in salary -- to lead by example. Bermuda's Parliamentarians, led by our Premier, voted themselves a pay cut this past Friday.
Union workers have been asked to take cuts, certain public services have been reduced, a few social programs have lost funding -- but not once have I heard even a whisper that the $1.6 million annual outlay that goes to Government House should be cut back. Is there no moral obligation for the British Governor to lead by example, and volunteer to take a pay cut? Oops, I forgot. The British are superior.
On our tiny island where land is scarce, our Premier's actual residence is nice, but unspectacular. It sits in something of a 7-acre shallow glen just off of a major thoroughfare, while the Premier's official residence is a beautiful front that has entertainment, but no residential capacity. On the other hand, Government House, where the British Governor lives and entertains, is a stately, manor-like structure sitting on a 37-acre hill overlooking the North Shore, replete with a private chef and other staff. But, don't forget, they are superior.
The steady diet of British superiority has had its effect, even on the independent nations of the Region. In one such country, I marveled at a commemorative plaque, erected to mark the opening of a capital project, completed with UK aid. The citation reads in part: “The British were here, thank God”.
So the sole “mutual” element of the relationship is British superiority. No amount of Whitehall posturing about “a new relationship” and “partnership through progress” and all of the other catchy phrases used over the last decade can dilute this single truth.
In the past, I have described the relationship as unnatural. I have called it so because as an adult male, free from my mother’s skirts and my father’s correction, I can see it no other way. If nations develop and grow then there must be paths to that growth, one of which must logically and naturally include genuine self-determination.
By definition, the relationship between the UK and the OTs cannot be based on mutual interests. The assigned Governors, or overseers, are accountable to the UK and so must safeguard the UK's interests first. How is this manifested in reality? Here are some examples:
Before giving Assent to any law passed by the elected representatives of an OT, the Governor considers whether the law is okay with the UK, and in some cases, takes early advice from Whitehall on whether he should sign it. Mutual interests? I think not.
In some OTs, the Governor sits in Cabinet. Unelected, not a native, fresh from Hammersmith or Knightsbridge but he sits in Cabinet in a foreign land? Mutual interests? No! Colonialism at its best!
And then there is the “Entrustment”……. Before doing some things in the name of your people and your country, formal permission in writing is required in the form of an Entrustment. So your government's election by popular vote, and the mandate that typically brings in normal democracies, is regulated by an institution professing mutual interests but whose function in the Entrustment is to protect the interests of the UK. Mutual interests? Certainly not!
I should pause and add here that there is one example from my tenure where mutual interests did shine through. In the modern era, Governors are willing to shed the uniform. You know the one -- pith helmet, feathers, sword and such regalia. It is not commensurate with the image the UK wishes to project now. Two Governors of Bermuda have offered to shed the uniform, and we have declined their generosity. I cannot speak for my successor, but my reasons wereclear.
The uniform is exactly symbolic of the office held and the relationship experienced. The imagery is as accurate today as it was in 1912, and the discomfort Governors have in wearing the uniform is equaled by the discomfort we endure in the unnatural relationship it represents.
Before I turn to the Uighurs, we must examine the modern manifestation of the relationship. The modern economies of the remaining OTs in this Region have been divided between tourism and international business. Our tourism fortunes have varied; by and large, we are at liberty to build what we like to house the guests we are also free to invite. In international business, there is, of course, just a little more interest.
The global economic situation has caused a re-examination of the relationship, albeit somewhat quietly.
For a short while, the fiction of contingent liability figured in some discussions about the financial dealings within the OTs. No-one seems to have asked how, where there is no liability or responsibility, we have the specter raised of contingent liability. Imagine the UK, with all its own internal issues, and most prominently as the banana peel of European financing woes, inferring that they could and would assume some liability for what they might see as financial issues in the OTs. That would be a first.
It would be a stunning surprise, considering how former Prime Minister Gordon Brown threw Bermuda and other OT's under the bus at the G-20 meetings in April, 2009. The former Prime Minister did not see the need for Offshore Financial Centres in the global economy, referred to us as tax havens, and spearheaded the attack on many of Britain's own OT's as if Britain had no relationship with us.
Bermuda and others were grey-listed by OECD as a result, when a benign heads-up or simple representation of our interests at the table would perhaps have given many OT's time to acquire more Tax Information Exchange Agreements and entirely avoid unnecessary grey-listing. Mutual interests? In this instance, how about no interest at all? More like, "Have we met before?"
The second part of the title of this address is “Bermuda and the Uighurs – A Case Study”. In June of 2009, I agreed to accept into Bermuda, four men who had been detained by the United States at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The decision to do so was mine alone and was based upon a number of factors. In the first instance, few opportunities exist for a 21 square mile island to secure the gratitude and respect of a friendly superpower nation.
In no discussion on this issue was there a request for, or an offer of, any quid pro quo. There didn’t need to be. Our act of friendship alone would be sufficient demonstration to an historic Administration that Bermuda could be more than a nice place to visit or do business.
To better understand the importance of the US-Bermuda relationship, one only need read the quote of Dr. Charles Ludolph, Executive Vice-President of the Albright Stonebridge Group in his report entitled "US-Bermuda Economic Relations: Economic Impact Study 2011":
" Building its economic partnership with the United States.....Bermuda, for the first time ever, was the most important international provider of insurance services to the United States."
Secondly, and more importantly, a community of 65,000 rarely has the opportunity to set the standard in anything. The nature of the global stage is such that bold gestures can become mired in historical diplomatic minefields. Increasingly, small island states and emerging countries are not confined to the fringes of international affairs.
Opportunities to play a meaningful role in this area must be seized by those who bear no such burdens. This is particularly so when justice and humanity cry out to be exercised.
My decision to accept these men into Bermuda was guided by the humanity of the choice presented, and the opportunity for my country to be seen as a leader not only in matters financial, but in matters humane.
The criticism around my decision was well-aired and was perhaps summarized in the views of those who claimed that I should have asked the UK’s permission to do it. I did not ask the UK's permission because I believed then, and I believe now, that constitutionally, immigration is a domestic issue. As such, allowing the immigration of four foreigners was within my power as Premier of my country in the same sense that the Government issues work permits for foreigners to live in Bermuda everyday without permission from the UK.
It was the British themselves who portended such disputes over constitutional responsibilities years ago when the FCO, in the document "Overseas Territories: Relationship with the UK" observed the following: "More generally, we are moving into a world which is becoming ever-more interconnected, in which the distinction between domestic and foreign policy will become less and less clear."
Tangentially, I recognized then, and still do now, that any decision by the UK on this issue would not have been based on what was best for Bermuda, but against the background of the UK's historical, diplomatic stances with other nations involved in the matter. The UK would have done what was best for the UK -- not Bermuda. To connect this to the premise of this address, the relationship is not based on mutual interests. It is based on superiority. They would have figured out what was best for the UK, and handed down their opinion to us irrespective of our needs or wishes.
We can spar over the technicalities of immigration law and the ability of the Government of Bermuda to determine who comes in and who leaves the Island. We can rehearse the well-worn argument about my so-called “dictatorial” style and the lack of advance knowledge to even my Cabinet colleagues on this decision. You can go to YouTube and view the living record of the reaction of some of my people to the decision and how they chose to communicate it to the world.
All of this would be entertaining but it would not change one important fact -- If any of you wanted to do what I did, the only way to do it is the way it was done.
I have already endured the aftermath of the decision and have been subjected to all manner of backlash as a result. In fact, it has become clear to me that some of the embarrassed British, and offended Bermudian residents who never liked me and my Government anyway, will stop at nothing. A tiny group calling themselves "Concerned Bermudians," who clearly have no concern for Bermuda at all, have invented improprieties with which they attempt to smear me, without offering a single shred of proof.
Not content with maligning me, they seek to embroil Bermuda in a state of constitutional and economic turmoil by writing to England calling for a Royal Commission of Inquiry into my administration. They should know this: I have nothing to fear from a Royal Commission of Inquiry; I have nothing to hide. In fact, there are supporters who have encouraged me to call for one myself to clear my name and the name of the PLP Government.
But on this point, I actually concur with a view recently expressed by Bermuda's Governor Gozney. To send Bermuda through such an expensive and time-consuming exercise would achieve nothing. From any objective viewpoint, it would risk creating a crisis of confidence in our island at a time of international economic uncertainty, and still achieve nothing. Anyone who wishes for that has no right to claim to be a concerned Bermudian.
Say what you will about my actions in bringing the Uighurs to Bermuda. I behaved like a leader, and did what was right for Bermuda. And, again, I did it in the only way it could be done.
If you think otherwise, cast your mind back to 2007 in Bermuda. Gang violence in Bermuda was rearing its head. Gun play was rare but increasing. Gangs were forming and turf skirmishes were rising. For better or for worse, I spent decades in California where the gang culture is ingrained and the fight against it is well known and respected. When I recognized the signs in my own country, I sounded the alarm.
The record will reflect that my call for overseas assistance went virtually unheeded. I knew then and said so at the time that this gang thing could not be allowed to grow -- that it had to be stamped out without delay.
My Government’s request went through the proper channels -- we made presentations; we urged action; we even engaged in some saber-rattling to spur the British to act. We wanted to engage the assistance of former American law enforcement personnel because gang activity in Bermuda best mirrored the American model.
Our entreaties were given cursory attention and rejected. We were provided with the UK version of assistance, which essentially did not work. We now have a more visible gang problem in Bermuda, which might have been prevented had we been granted permission to deal with this phenomenon early.
So, were our mutual interests served in this case? Could it be that the American option we suggested was rejected because Whitehall couldn’t have a former colony fix the problems of an OT? Could it be that the mutual interests that are supposed to characterize the relationship mean that priorities are set between Government House and the FCO while the local Government struggles to be heard?
If you really want to hear something weird, listen to this. While I was Premier, someone altered cancelled checks and placed them in Government files to make it appear that a Minister and I received kickbacks on a Government job -- a clear forgery and a clear attempt to frame a sitting Premier and a Minister for crimes...perhaps to bring down the Government. The Governor announced that the local police would investigate. The local police did investigate, but supposedly could find no chargeable culprit in Bermuda; he was said to reside in Canada.
A case for Scotland Yard, or for diplomatic channels? I would think so. But our Governor did not request help from England. The criminal case against these persons who committed treason against the Bermuda Government was allowed to founder and die.
Nine months ago, after I had ceased to be Premier, a convicted perjurer made the totally unfounded claim that I had attempted to coerce from him some part of his worthless company. No shred of evidence was presented, yet the Governor announced that the local police would
investigate to see whether I had engaged in criminal acts. The Governor also later announced that he was requesting assistance from U.S. investigatory agencies, presumably the FBI.
Mutual interests that would not call in Scotland Yard to investigate a conspiracy and crimes to frame a sitting Premier and Minister?
Mutual interests where the UK would allow a criminal who committed crimes against a sitting Premier and Minister to reside peacefully in Canada without pursuit through diplomatic channels?
Mutual interests where the UK's representative would call for an investigation of a former Premier and seek assistance from the U.S. based on the rants of a known, convicted liar, but seek no help from the UK when a crime has been known to be committed against a sitting Premier, Minister and the Government of the day. Mutual interests?
I end where I started: Is the UK / OT relationship based on mutual interests?
Thank you, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Dr. Ewart Brown