Islanders angry as Britain gets tough

Colonial storm: Anguilla, one of the UK's last dependencies, accuses London of blackmailing it into independence
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The Independent Online
A British initiative aimed at tightening control over its Caribbean dependencies has brought an angry response from Anguilla, a tiny island in the Leewards.

The island's Prime Minister, Hubert Hughes, accused the Government of trying to force the five remaining dependencies into independence by removing the powers of local officials.

"There has been no discussion of this with me or with the government of Anguilla," Mr Hughes said yesterday. The Government was making the same mistakes that it had made in other colonial possessions, and would antagonise the local population, he added.

"They have come straight at last and they are saying ... `You have one option, independence or serfdom'," he said in a letter which was circulated throughout the island.

His comments were in response to a letter the British government sent its five Caribbean territories - Anguilla, Montserrat, the Cayman Islands, the Turks and Caicos islands and the British Virgin Islands - spelling out their relationship with Britain.

In response to a parliamentary question, Nicholas Bonsor, a foreign office minister, confirmed last month that the Government was resurrecting the threat of using reserve powers in the Caribbean. This means that governors of the territories - with the agreement of the Foreign Secretary - could amend, veto or introduce legislation over the heads of the islands' existing legislators.

The aim is to bring the financial legislation of the islands into line with practices in Britain. There have been repeated warnings over the past year about the threat from money laundering in the islands.

MI5's former top law official, David Bickford, warned a corruption conference in Cambridge that more than $1 trillion was "generated by organised crime and laundered through offshore centres using secrecy laws".

Mr Hughes said that the real agenda was to "blackmail" the territories into independence. A section of the letter said continued dependence relied on an extension of the reserve powers. He denied money laundering was a factor, saying Anguilla's legislation was the most modern and open in the region.

There has been an increase in tension between Caribbean governors, who are appointed by the Queen, and the island populations. Last year, the Governor of the Turks and Caicos Islands, Martin Bourke, whom locals called an "arrogant autocrat", came under fire when he appeared to say the police were corrupt and the territory was a haven for drug traffickers.

When Alan Shave, the outgoing governor of Anguilla left last October, he spoke in a farewell radio broadcast of his "often thankless and confrontational task".

Britain's last serious tussle with Anguilla was in 1969, when islanders revolted over attempts to integrate them with the neighbouring islands of St Kitts and Nevis. Army and police reinforcements were drafted in, and when St Kitts and Nevis became independent, Anguilla remained as a dependent.

Since then there have been frequent clashes over the degree of autonomy accorded to the local administration.

The few dots that are all that's left of a once-great empire

Once of enormous strategic importance, the remaining British dependencies are now just dots on the map, writes Andrew Marshall. When Hong Kong goes, Bermuda will be the largest.

Almost all were wrested from the Spanish in the 18th century after a long struggle for the Americas. Only Diego Garcia and Ascension Island still function as major military installation - for the United States.

CARIBBEAN

Anguilla. Population: 7,000. Named by Spaniards, Anguilla was settled by the British in the 17th century.

British Virgin Islands. Population: 13,000. Discovered by Columbus in 1493 and taken over in 1666 by the British.

Caymans. Population: 26,000.Discovered by Colombus in 1503 and recognised as British in 1670.

Montserrat. Population: 12,000. Colonised by the British in the 17th century after being discovered by Colombus in 1493.

Turks and Caicos. Population: 13,000. Britain, France and Spain finally settled the title to the islands in 1766 when Britain established a resident agent.

SOUTH ATLANTIC

British Antarctic Territory. Population: About 300. Established in 1962, its 660,000 square miles are inhabited only by scientists and logistical staff.

Falklands. Population: 2,000.Disputed by Britain and Spain, until Britain expelled Argen- tinian-governed settlers in 1832. War returned 150 years later.

St Helena and Dependencies. Population: 5,000. Became a colony in 1834. With it go Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha.

South Georgia and South Sandwich. Population: 0. Captain Cook took possession in 1775. A whaling station and scientific base until its starring role in 1982.

OTHER

Bermuda. Population: 59,000. Discovered by the Spaniards in the 16th century, the British settled the islands in 1609.

Gibraltar. Population: 30,000. Britain took the Rock from Spain in 1704, and it was ceded to Britain by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. Sovereignty still disputed by Spain.

Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno islands. Population: 50.Pitcairn was settled by mutineers from HMS Bounty.

British Indian Ocean Territory. Population: 0. Diego Garcia is now home to a US military base.

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