21 July 2008

Eastern Caribbean Supports Development of Neighbouring Island Territories

The Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) has expressed its strong support for constitutional advancement of the three overseas territories within its membership to ensure the proper environment for the integration of these territories in the OECS economic union. The nine-members of the OECS include six independent states in addition to the territory of Montserrat as a full member, and the territories of the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla as associate members.

This declaration of support for the evolution of the territories from dependent status was made at the 47th Meeting of the Authority of Heads of Government held in St. Lucia in May, and is included in the official communique of the Meeting, as follows:

47th Meeting of the OECS Authority
23rd – 24th May 2008


Relationship of Non-Independent Member States

"The Authority welcomed a report from the consultant Dr. Francis Alexis of Grenada engaged to examine options available to the Non Independent Member States (NIMS) – Montserrat, Anguilla and the Virgin Islands - in the evolution of the process towards the proposed OECS Economic Union.

The Authority noted the consultant’s recommendation that the most effective solution to the constitutional challenges facing the NIMS would be constitutional advancement which would enable them to sign and ratify OECS Treaties on their own without having to depend on that authority being delegated by the British Government. The Authority also accepted the suggestion by the Consultant that consideration be given to an arrangement that exempted the NIMS from commitments that their constitutional status did not allow them to undertake.

The Authority accepted an invitation extended by the Chief Minister of Anguilla for an OECS participation along with the NIMS in a joint engagement with the British Government in October to address issues related to the constitutional status of the NIMS."


OECS Provides Substantive Support to the Territories

OECS support for the political and socio-economic evolution of the territories within its membership is illustrated in the integration of these territories in OECS programmes. In this connection, the OECS Secretariat, under the leadership of Dr. Len Ismael, furnished the United Nations with a comprehensive report on its assistance to the three non self-governing territories within its membership.

The OECS report was provided in response to the annual request from the U.N. Secretary-General for information from U.N. bodies and regional institutions. The U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) reviews these activities during its summer substantive session, and adopts a resolution that calls for continued and expanded assistance to the non self-governing which are oprimarily in the Caribbean and Pacific. The 2008 ECOSOC session will take up the matter during the week of 21 July.

Following is the submission by the OECS to the U.N. on its support to the territories:

Organization of Eastern Caribbean States

Support provided by the Secretariat of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States to the Non-Self-Governing Territories of Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands and Montserrat

(a) Review of the St. George’s Declaration

41. Montserrat is a member, and Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands are associate members, of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States. The St. George’s Declaration of Principles for Environmental Sustainability in the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States sets out the broad framework to be pursued for environmental management in the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States region. The Declaration, which had been signed by the Ministers of the Environment of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States at St. George’s, Grenada, in April 2001, was revised in 2006. Copies of the revised version were distributed to the three Territories.

Additionally, a communication plan has been developed to support and guide regional- and national-level activities aimed at enhancing environmental management in these Territories and the member countries of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States through implementation of the revised St. George’s Declaration by key stakeholders in the public sector and staff in the Secretariat of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States. Pursuant to this, a number of communications products have been proposed, including a “workshop” (or “popular”) version, to be used to familiarize stakeholders with the revised Declaration in a workshop setting. The workshop version has been printed and distributed.

(b)St. George’s Declaration-related monitoring and reporting

42. A draft reporting instrument has been finalized based on a series of national workshops on St. George’s Declaration-related reporting, coupled with a regional workshop held late in the current reporting period. “Finalized” national St. George’s Declaration reports have been received from Montserrat, Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands.

43. The regional workshop held in January 2008 as well as the national workshops held in member States provided further support to member States in the preparation of national reports. The purpose of the workshops was to:

• Foster increased understanding of the St. George’s Declaration among technical natural resources managers and enable them to use it as a tool for improved environmental management

• Build awareness and appreciation of the St. George’s Declaration within ministries and public sector agencies dealing with related or critical supporting areas

(c) Disaster response and risk reduction

44. UNDP in Barbados awarded a grant of US$ 400,000 to the Secretariat of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States for the implementation of community risk reduction measures. The Disaster Programme of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States Secretariat targeted, in the first instance, the British Virgin Islands and a State member of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States for the implementation of pilot community-based projects. The activities of this component are focused on communities and households that are vulnerable to natural hazards such as landslides and floods.

45. UNDP has assisted the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States in focusing on building capabilities in communities for landslide risk reduction that utilizes low-cost methods. In the British Virgin Islands, the purpose of the project is to reduce the landslide and flooding risks in the ghetto area/crab lot community. The Organization of Eastern Caribbean States has allotted the sum of US$ 145,000 to assist in providing a set of construction implementation interventions related to ghut (gully) sidewall elevations and sediment traps, modelling of water flows on slopes and within channels, and engaging key stakeholders so as to ensure ownership of the intervention.

46. The Environment and Sustainable Development Unit of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States executed service contracts in member States totalling 1,949,811 Eastern Caribbean dollars (EC$) for the period 2006-2007, compared with EC$ 763,634 for the previous fiscal year period. The distribution of these expenditures to Non-Self-Governing Territories by member States of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States was as follows: EC$ 208,996.21 to Anguilla, EC$ 416,353.76 to the British Virgin Islands and EC$ 27,836.76 to Montserrat.

(d) Institutional strengthening of environmental management

47. In 2004, the Secretariat of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, through its Environment and Sustainable Development Unit, provided technical assistance to the Government of Montserrat through the conduct of a strengths-weaknesses-opportunities-threats (SWOT) analysis with senior Government officials. This facilitated the formulation of a set of recommendations on the requirements for improved management of sustainable development in the context of general and environmental concerns.

(e) Small grants facility

48. Through its small grants facility, the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States supported community-based medium-sized ecotourism projects: the Big Spring Heritage Tourism and East End Pond conservation projects in Anguilla and the Piper’s Pond conservation project in Montserrat. The cost of the investments in Anguilla and Montserrat was approximately EC$ 300,000/US$ 111,211.

(f) National focal point meetings

49. The Social Policy Unit of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States Secretariat convenes an annual national focal point meeting, in which Anguilla and Montserrat participate. Designated national focal points have an opportunity to meet to discuss the annual work programme of the Social Policy Unit and obtain an indication of where they add value to the work programme.

(g) Organization of Eastern Caribbean States youth initiative

50. The Non-Self-Governing Territories members were included in a series of island youth rap sessions as part of the preliminary activities leading up to the identification of an Organization of Eastern Caribbean States youth initiative.

(h) Localization of the Millennium Development Goals

51. The British Virgin Islands are benefiting directly from a process of localization of the Millennium Development Goals. This process allows the British Virgin Islands to examine:

(a) Existing programmes/projects/activities to determine how they impact the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals;

(b) What has been achieved to date;

(c) What needs to be done to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015;
(d) How to integrate the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals into the existing national planning and programmes/projects/activities.

(i) Implementation of the Labour Market Programme of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States

52. Certain components of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States Labour Market Programme, such as labour-market information systems and the memorandum of understanding between the Secretariat of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States and the International Labour Organization, are currently implemented by the Non-Self-Governing Territories members.

(j) Statistics Project of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States

53. Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands and Montserrat are involved in the Statistics Project of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, which is aimed at improving statistical systems, including statistics on tourism, throughout the region. The Secretariat of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States is undertaking a series of tourism fact-finding missions extending throughout the member countries to ascertain the current state of tourism statistics. Emphasis is being placed on yachting data.


Support from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM)

The provision of OECS support to the Caribbean territories is in addition to that which is furnished by the wider Caribbean Community (CARICOM) which includes Montserrat as a full member, and Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, Bermuda, the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Cayman Islands as associate members.

In this connection, the Heads of CARICOM at its 29th Meeting in July 08:

"Expressed their deep disappointment that the Government of the United Kingdom has denied the request of Montserrat for an Entrustment which would enable that Member State's particiupation in the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (and) urged the Government of the United Kingdom to review its position on the Entrustment."


Whilst not independent states, the Caribbean territories are nevertheless integral components of the social and economic fabric of the region, as evidenced by their participation in the premier regional institutions of the OECS and CARICOM. Continued political support given by the Caribbean independent states is critical to the expeditious political development of these territories within the framework of the Caribbean region.

16 July 2008

Data on Some Dependencies Omitted in UN Documents

An important function of the United Nations (UN) is the compilation and publication of statistical information and indicators on economic and social development in countries around the planet. This data is valuable to governments, civil society, experts, researchers and individuals in the continual examination of economic and social trends in jurisdictions worldwide.

Inclusion of data on the Non-Independent Countries (NICs) is equally useful for those who follow developments in this unique set of non-sovereign countries. Generally, these NICs are so-defined because of their associate membership (or eligibility) in the respective UN regional economic commissions, but there are many others which exist under varying political and constitutional arrangements with larger countries.

The Non-Independent Countries (NICs)


There are ten Non-Independent Caribbean Countries (NICCs) which are associate members of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), including seven classified by the UN as Non Self-Governing Territories (NSGTs) and three designated as Self-Governing Territories (SGTs). Thus, the United Kingdom - administered territories of Bermuda, Turks and Caicos Islands, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, British Virgin Islands and Anguilla join with the United States – administered US Virgin Islands as the seven NSGTs in the Caribbean. Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles in association with the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and U.S. – administered Puerto Rico constitute the SGT category (even as the level of self-government in Puerto Rico is subject to question). All but Bermuda are associate members of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

Island jurisdictions such as Martinique, Guadeloupe and French Guiana which are overseas departments of France are not eligible for separate status in ECLAC because of their status as politically integrated with the French Republic - and by extension, the European Union. It is often the case that because of the size of their economy, and despite their integrated status, their data is included in international statistical documents.


In the case of the Pacific, a similar situation applies. A number of the Non-Independent Pacific Countries (NIPCs) are associate members of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). The Non Self-Governing Territories (NSGTs) listed by the UN in the Pacific are the US-administered territories of American Samoa and Guam, the French –administered territory of New Caledonia and the New Zealand-administered territory of Tokelau. The Northern Mariana Islands with its autonomous arrangement (albeit in reversal) with the US, the autonomous French Polynesia, and the two freely associated states of the Cook Islands and Niue in their association arrangement with New Zealand, constitute the Self-Governing Territories (SGT) category on the Pacific side. Hong Kong and Macau are also included, as they remain associate members of ESCAP pursuant to the terms of the agreements between China and the United Kingdom governing the re-integration of those former territories.

Statistics for NICs

It is always useful to have the statistical indicators of these Non-Independent Countries (NICs) included in the UN statistical documentation as it facilitates economic and social analysis, and is helpful to international business in investment decision-making. It is encouraging that many of the UN statistical documents contain significant information on this group of countries. The lack of availability of data for many of the NICs is often a constraint since the level of statistical capacity in the NICs varies significantly. This has been identified as an area where international technical assistance could prove especially useful.

Another factor influencing the presentation of data may be the level of political awareness of the UN statistical researchers who may have to determine the ‘political correctness’ of separate inclusion of data on individual NICs. As the political and constitutional dynamics of these countries can be fairly complex, it should not be assumed that these expert technicians would also have access to expert political analysis on these issues.

UN Statistical Publications

Within this context, three UN statistical publications among many offer some insights into the presentation and availability of economic and social development data. The first publication is the Monthly Bulletin of Statistics which is published by the Statistics Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. This is a highly useful reference with coverage of the ten Non-Independent Caribbean Countries (NICCs), while only omitting the small economies of Niue and Tokelau where data may not be as readily available. (It is to be noted, however, that some of this data may be accessed from the UN Development Programme which has historically provided services to both jurisdictions, or from ESCAP in which Niue enjoys associate membership).

The Monthly Bulletin of Statistics admirably exceeds the coverage of the recognised NICs by including non-independent countries and other jurisdictions with varying autonomous relationships with UN member states, and even several integrated parts of larger countries. Thus, data is available on the Aland Islands with its unique relationship with Norway, and the Faroe Islands and Greenland with their respective autonomous relationships within the Kingdom of Denmark. This is commendable since the economies of these territories warrant separate inclusion in their own right. It is also interesting that data is included on the French overseas departments of Guadeloupe, Martinique and Reunion, even as they are integrated parts of France. These outer-most areas of the French Republic (as it is termed) clearly fit the bill as individual economies, even as they are politically integrated, and not autonomous. Perhaps data on the US “outer-most areas” of Hawaii and Alaska should be included in future.

The second publication is the highly useful World Population Prospects document which is published by the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs. The coverage of this document is not as complete as the Monthly Bulletin of Statistics published by the Statistics Division, and is interesting in its omissions as well as in its inclusions. Thus, the population document omits all of the United Kingdom-administered territories of Bermuda, Turks and Caicos Islands, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, British Virgin Islands and Anguilla. Data on US-administered American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands, New Zealand-administered-Tokelau, and the New Zealand associated countries of the Cook Islands and Niue are also missing. Nevertheless, these omitted economies are listed in the beginning of the publication which classify countries by major area and region of the world. Demographic information on these Non-Independent Countries (NICs) is readily available, however, from other agencies of the UN system, so their exclusion from the demographic document is puzzling, especially as the Population Division's two highly useful statistical charts on rural and urban population, respectively, complete extensive data on the NICs.

The third publication, and one of the most specialised UN statistical publications, is the Energy Statistics Yearbook. The aim of this publication is “to provide a global framework of comparable data on long-term trends in the supply of mainly commercial primary and secondary forms of energy.” The document is perhaps the most intriguing of the three in terms of how it treats island countries, especially the NICs.

In the Country Nomenclature explanation at the beginning of the text, it is explained that statistics for the United States includes the 50 states and the District of Columbia, and oil statistics as well as for coal trade statistics, also include Puerto Rico, Guam, the US Virgin Islands, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands. The explanation also inexplicably indicates that the Pacific Islands used for military purposes - Johnston Atoll, Midway Islands and Wake Island –– were also subsumed under the US statistics. More on this later.

In the statistical tables of the energy document, data for the Caribbean and Central America is in the North American region (an interesting interpretation of the political cartography). In tables 1-3 of the document on production, trade and consumption of commercial energy, data for all of the UK-administered territories except the Turks and Caicos Islands is listed, along with statistics for Aruba, the Netherlands Antilles, Puerto Rico, Greenland, Martinique and Guadeloupe. Data for the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) and French Guiana are appropriately listed in the South America category, with Hong Kong and Macau statistics also properly listed under Asia. The Faroe Islands is under Europe. The Pacific category includes data for the Cook Islands, French Polynesia, New Caledonia and Niue. Data is also included for Gibraltar (in the European section), and St. Helena (in the African section).

It is in table 14 on the production, trade and consumption of crude petroleum that has raised eyebrows, and returns attention to the beginning of the document where it was indicated that data for the US-administered territories is subsumed under the US statistical totals. In this regard, only data on Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles, of all of the non-independent countries (NICs), is made available. Data on Martinique also appears, even as this is not a country, non-independent or otherwise, but is a part of the EU. Table 15 on international trade of crude petroleum does not even include the few NICs listed in table 14. A subsequent table on refinery distillation capacity only includes Aruba and Martinique.

Invariably, of the 38 tables included in the document, data on the NICs is included primarily when energy consumption is addressed. In the areas of energy production, however, data on the NICs is absent. Thus, in the case of oil statistics, the data for the US-administered territories is included with the US statistics, providing no opportunity for an assessment of performance in this sector in the US-administered territories. This is clearly evident in the specific tables dealing with refinery distillation capacity, production, trade and consumption of gasoline where data on most of the NICs appears, except for the US -administered territories.

The exclusion of oil production and trade statistics is puzzling given that the US Virgin Islands maintains the largest oil refinery in the Western Hemisphere, with significant refining capacity, imports of crude, and exports of refined petroleum products to the US and other markets. The five US – administered territories, with the exception of Puerto Rico, are also not within the customs zone of the United States, so are therefore separate economies. All warrant separate attention, notwithstanding the arbitrary decision to exclude their data – unless, of course, the decision was not so arbitrary.

The decision to include separate data for NICs, or to include that data in the statistics of the larger country with which the territory has a political relationship, should be made carefully, based on established principles. All efforts should be made to provide separate data for NICs if the document is to have validity and meaning to those who look to UN studies for information. Such decisions should not be left to chance or misinterpretation, nor subject to any unilateral political direction. Such omissions detract from otherwise excellent UN documents.

07 July 2008

US Virgin Islands in 2017

The presentation below entitled “US Virgin Islands 2017” was made by Dr. Carlyle G. Corbin, International Advisor on Democratic Governance, to a conference on Virgin Islands 2020 sponsored by the Virgin Islands Institute of Development which convened at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on 27th June 2008. The text of the presentation was made available by permission.


Barring any extraordinary political developments over the next several years, the US Virgin Islands in the year 2017 will observe the centennial under United States jurisdiction as an unincorporated territory. This is less than a decade away. The constitutional conventions in the territory which convened in the 1960s and 1970s to draft a local constitution based on the present political status did not culminate in a local constitution. Subsequent attempts to deal with the broader picture of modernising the political status of the territory in the 1980s and 1990s resulted in an inconclusive referendum in 1993. Thus, the US Virgin Islands reverted to the current status quo, and is one of sixteen remaining dependent territories/colonies in the world nine years before the centennial.

An Historical Context

At the turn of the 20th Century, a number of European countries had vast territorial holdings in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean and elsewhere. Virtually all of Africa was under the control of European powers which carved up the continent with the aim of taking the human and material wealth of Africa to fuel European prosperity. Much the same applied in the Pacific region where territories were acquired as the spoils of war, as in the case of Guam and the Philippines after the defeat of Spain in 1899. The Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI) administered by the US under a United Nations mandate emerged as three separate military-strategic associate states on the one hand (Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands and Palau), and an initially-autonomous territorial status on the other hand (Northern Marianas).

The US Virgin Islands had a similar history, spending many more years under Danish jurisdiction as has been spent thus far under the United States. Indeed, the transfer from Denmark to the U.S. was done in the form of a land purchase by way of the 1917 Treaty of Cession.

At the end of WWII, many of the territories acquired by the developed countries still remained as colonial possessions. Part of the reason for the creation of the United Nations in 1945 was to address the disposition of these territories. Since then, over eighty territories have achieved a full measure of self-government, either through integration with another country with full political rights, free association with another country or political independence.

All of these self-governing models exist in the Caribbean. In addition to the independent countries, the French West Indies of Martinique, Guadeloupe and French Guiana are examples of political integration, while the former territories of the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba achieved free association with the Netherlands. These are the three forms of genuine self-government with minimum standards set by the United Nations in its resolutions.

Other territories like Greenland, the Faroe Islands, and others have internationally recognised political arrangements with substantial autonomy, while also enjoying full representation in the parliament of the cosmopolitan country with which they share citizenship.

Still others are progressing in stages. The Caribbean/Atlantic territories of the Turks and Caicos Islands and the British Virgin Islands have new constitutions, but have not yet achieved full internal self-government. The Cayman Islands, Montserrat, and Anguilla are in varying stages of constitutional review leading to a modernised territorial status. Bermuda with its advanced political status views independence as an eventuality. Puerto Rico continues to pressure Congress – and now the United Nations – to come to a final determination as to the self-governing nature of its commonwealth arrangement, or whether it should move towards the permanent alternatives of statehood, free association or independence.

U.S. Virgin Islands

Amidst these political developments in the region, the US Virgin Islands is in the midst of its fifth attempt to draft a local constitution based on the present status. Invariably, the question of the relationship of a constitution with a final determination on political status has once again arisen.

Many have supported the view that the political status of the territory should be addressed first, with a constitution written subsequently based on the chosen status. Since the present dependency status was never meant to be permanent, as it is not sufficiently autonomous, a permanent status should be achieved at some point. A local constitution based on the present status will not solve this dilemma. Integration as one of the fifty states would suffice. It would be more likely, however, that such an unlikely move to integration would be as a part of an existing state, in consideration of the small population of the US Virgin Islands, as well as similar ethnic considerations which hampered US Congressional consideration of statehood for Puerto Rico in the 1990s. Other alternatives such as independence and free association are also viable alternatives, but it would only be through an updated analysis on the implications of these options of political equality that the people would be able to make an informed decision.

Territorial lawmakers, however, have chosen the approach of writing a local constitution. This has provided an opportunity for public discussion on political and constitutional issues which would not have ordinarily been examined. Since the first and only political status referendum of 1993, no public discourse had been held on these issues until 2006 when the University of the Virgin Islands received a mandate to begin a political education process.

Both the political status education process of the 1990s, and the present constitutional convention, have at least one thing in common – in both cases, the US Government, as the duly authorized administering power under the United Nations (UN) Charter, rejected requests for financial assistance from the territorial government to conduct a sustainable public education programme. This rejection was extraordinary given the specific international legal obligations of the US under Article 73 (b) of the UN Charter to actively promote self-government in the territories under its administration. This denial of assistance coincides with the support provided internationally for the promotion of specific forms of democratic governance in many countries throughout the world, and is a disappointing indication of the apparent low level of priority given to the political development of the territories via a process of self-determination.

Perhaps a President Obama government, if successful in the November 2008 election in the US, would re-consider the importance of fulfilling the US international obligations to the self-government of the territories, given the overwhelming support enjoyed by that candidate in the territory, even as the territories have no voting rights in US elections. This democratic deficiency is a feature of the dependency status. It should be noted that political promises were made by both US Democratic Party candidates Barack Obama and Hilliary Clinton in advance of the democratic primary in Puerto Rico to address the political status dilemma in that territory. No such promises of support for political status development in the US Virgin Islands have been reported by any of the US political candidates - perhaps because no such political status dilemma is recognised.

The Difference between States and Territories

As the Fifth Constitutional Convention of the US Virgin Islands proceeds to draft a document for review by Washington, an important point to be taken into account is that a constitution for a dependent territory, is not the same as a constitution for an integrated state of the US. This is simply because a territory is not a state. A territorial constitution may be structured as a state with governors, legislatures, state directors and state plans. There is a territorial government office in the Hall of the States in Washington, for example. All this, of course, does not make for a state, but it does feed the mis-perception that the territory is a sort of “virtual state.”

The reality is quite to the contrary, since a dependent territory does not have the political power of a state through voting rights in the US House of Representatives, and the U.S. Senate. Persons in the US Virgin Islands, or in any of the other four US-administered territories of American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and Puerto Rico do not have voting rights for the US President. Perhaps as a means of confirmation of their international personality, territories do have “sports autonomy,” and send athletic teams to international competition such as the Olympic Games, the South Pacific Games, the Pan American Games and other international athletic competitions where countries are represented separately. Thus, the category of Non-Independent Countries (NICs) was created within the United Nations system at the beginning of the 1990s to distinguish these dependencies from integrated parts of other countries.

A fundamental difference between integrated states or departments, and the territories is that the dependencies are governed by the Territorial Clause of the US Constitution. States are not. The full US constitution applies only to states, whereas in territories, only the fundamental parts of the US constitution apply. In 1991, the US General Accounting Office produced an article-by-article analysis of which provisions of the US Constitution apply, and which do not - so that the limitations would be clear.

Thus, the system of US dependency governance is underpinned by the Territorial Clause of the United States Constitution which gives the US Congress the power to legislate for the territories without their consent, and often above their objection. Unilateral changes in the economic development incentives programme in the US Virgin Islands is one of the most recent example of the use of this practice. Various United Nations reports in recent years have determined that as long as this unilateral authority exists, a territory could not be considered self-governing.

This contrasts, for example, with the autonomy enjoyed by other territories. Greenland and its relationship with Denmark, for example, provides a clear distinction between a sufficient measure of self-government and political dependency. Greenland has the authority to determine, with a few exceptions, which Danish laws and treaties apply to it, while at the same time sharing Danish citizenship and sending voting members to the Danish Parliament. Such a mutual consent provision was included in the US Virgin Islands proposed commonwealth arrangement which was one of the political status options before the voters in 1993. The option provided the opportunity for in-depth discussion on the elements of autonomy, but was cut short due to internal political considerations favouring the status quo.

The Autonomous Alternative

It is rather disappointing that the “strict interpretationists” of the US Constitution generally dismiss as “out of hand” for the US-administered territories anything approaching the level of autonomy enjoyed by Greenland, the Netherlands Antilles or other autonomous territories. Guam found this out the hard way in the 1990s with the US rejection of its autonomous commonwealth status proposal after years of expensive negotiations.

The Northern Mariana Islands is also experiencing this in 2008 as it is attempting to adjust to a significant reversal of what was once considered a model autonomous relationship. Legislation has even been introduced in the Marianas Legislature to review the present political arrangement, although the level of support for the measure is not clear, especially given that the new arrangement will provide for a “non-voting delegate” like the other four territories. Substantial political interest in the new elected position of non-voting delegate, however, has diverted attention from the projected negative economic implications of the “reverse delegation” of power. For its part, the Northern Marianas Government is considering whether to file a legal complaint against the US Government over this reversal of autonomy, specifically as related to the removal of the territory’s power to control its labour laws.

To their credit, members of the US Virgin Islands Constitutional Convention are seeking to introduce varying degrees of creative autonomy in the draft constitution, within the very real limitations of the enabling federal legislation which requires that the constitution must be under the sovereignty of the U.S. This approach may serve to define the parameters of territorial status in 2008, as far as the level of autonomy that can be achieved as an unincorporated territory. It would be a strategic move to extend the time of the Fifth Constitutional Convention to allow sufficient time for a draft constitution to be submitted to a possible Democratic Party Justice Department, which may be a bit more flexible on these issues than the present Bush Administration. Then again, any new government in Washington could simply rely on the pre-existing interpretations of the federal bureaucracy which have prevailed for the last several decades. Indeed, it was the Republican – led US Congress which had shielded the Marianas from a Democratic Party-led political assault on its autonomy. The shield was dissolved when the US Congress changed hands.

One thing is certain. There is little consistency in the parameters setting the level of autonomy permitted in an unincorporated territory. An autonomous power obtained in the 1980s by the Northern Marianas to control immigration and enact their own labor laws through exemptions from federal law might not be necessarily permitted, if requested by other territories in 2008.

References in the Puerto Rico Constitution adopted in 1952 on issues such as Puerto Rican citizenship, the Spanish language and residency requirements for holding office, were endorsed by the US Congress of that time, but this was achieved in a different era. Would they be achievable in 2008 – especially in view of the findings of the two Bush White House Reports on Puerto Rico in 2005 and 2007 which served to re-define Puerto Rico’s status as less autonomous than originally perceived ? The governor of Puerto Rico spoke on the ramifications of these issues at the United Nations Decolonisation Committee earlier this year.

Autonomous provisions related to land ownership and native rights in the Northern Mariana Islands Commonwealth Covenant with the US might prove unattainable in other territories today – even as an important issue continues to be the loss of land by the native population in the US Virgin Islands amid rising land values fueled by external investment and land speculation.

The US Virgin Islands Fifth Constitutional Convention is also seeking to address the very essence of self-definition which is a necessary prerequisite to self-government. One proposal identifies a native Virgin Islander as a descendent of those specifically mentioned in the Treaty of Cession of 1917 as the inhabitants of the territory at that time. A reference to this group of original Virgin Islanders, in the Preamble of the draft constitution, would be appropriate as an acknowledgement of the origins of a people who were overwhelmingly of African descent, and who had been recognised at the time of the transfer from Denmark to US jurisdiction. The recognition of the cultural identity of a people should not be confused with the citizenship conferred upon them. It is to be recalled that US citizenship was not granted to the native Virgin Islander immediately at the transfer, but only following ten years of statelessness.

Political Status Modernization

In any case, the US Virgin Islands will have to organize a mechanism sooner, rather than later, to modernize its political status after the completion of its fifth internal constitutional exercise. Prior to that, there had been several political status initiatives consistent with a 1979 policy of US President Jimmy Carter. These initiatives included a Status Commission headed by the former Senator Earle B. Ottley in the early 1980s, followed by a Committee of the Legislature chaired by former Senator Lorraine L. Berry in the mid 1980s. Neither of these two bodies succeeded in conducting a referendum, but did create an important body of research.

The latest Status Commission, created in 1988 by Gov. Alexander A. Farrelly, succeeded in facilitating the only referendum in US Virgin Islands history on political status options in 1993. However, the vote failed to receive the required 50 % of those registered, and the result was declared null and void. The territory, therefore, reverted to the status quo political option, by default. The people did not vote in favour of it, as it is often erroneously projected.

The deep emotions generated in the public during the status discussions, which were often fueled by mis-information on the ramifications of the options, created a serious vacuum of dialogue on issues of political development for over a decade. No legislation was introduced, and no public discussions were held during that period. There is also a serious question as to whether any of the recent history of the referendum process has been adequately and accurately reflected in the historical record.

Thus, it wasn’t until 2004, or some eleven year after the political status referendum, that a bill was adopted to create a Fifth Constitutional Convention – not to deal again with the overriding political status question, but rather to try to draft a constitution based on the present dependency status.

Looking Forward

This is the state of play in 2008, as the territory moves with all deliberate speed towards the centennial – 2017. Will the US Virgin Islands remain as an un-incorporated dependency, albeit with a constitution? Will there be renewed emphasis on addressing the political status options, and will there be a final status determined? Or will we consider a dependency constitution the end of the political development – notwithstanding the continued applicability of the Territorial Clause of the US Constitution?

In a broader sense, are the minimum requirements of democratic legitimacy met by a political system of governance which maintains unilateral authority over a territory by a government in which the territory has no voting rights?

Do the people have a problem with being equated with “territory or other property,” and referred to in legislation as offshore possessions, insular areas, and similar terms which many consider insensitive given the historical legacy of slavery?

These are a few questions fundamental to the future political development of the US Virgin Islands. Is the society comfortable with the present arrangement as an unincorporated territory whose government, according to a federal court ruling, exists only by the “legislative grace of Congress?” If so, then there should be no surprise when laws, regulations and other decisions continue to be unilaterally applied, without the consent of the governed, and often against their wishes with unknown economic repercussions. I

But if an awareness is developed among the people and its leadership that the dependency status has become anachronistic, then much work lies ahead. In the first instance, there would have to be a process formulated to sensitize the society of the existing democratic deficiencies inherent in the prevailing dependency status. This would be followed by the development of a viable, democratic model of a full measure of self-government for the 21st Century based on internationally recognised standards of full political equality and democratic governance.

By the year 2017, the world should know whether the people would have chosen action or acquiescence.

02 July 2008

National Geographic Magazine Reviews 'Last Colonies'

The prestigious National Geographic in its June 2008 edition published an article on the remaining sixteen non self-governing territories worldwide. The article entitled “Last Colonies” was written by National Geographic columnist Karen E. Lange and provides a succinct description of the state-of-play in the decolonisation process as the world approaches the 50th anniversary since the adoption of the landmark Decolonisation Declaration of 1960.

The article also provides factual historical, demographic and political information on each of the sixteen territories with references from the World Factbook of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, the New York Times,our own Overseas Territories Report, the United Nations and the New Zealand Herald.

The article can be accessed at: