By Neil Collier, Ora Dekornfeld, and Ben Laffin
30 November 2017

(The New York Times) – Hurricane Irma was ruthless to Barbuda. It damaged or destroyed pretty much all the buildings on the island. It left everyone vulnerable, their homes open to the sky. Walls collapsed. Windows shattered. And it opened a door for the government. The entire island was evacuated. No one was allowed to stay.

But a handful of people were permitted back for a few hours at a time.

Since the colonial era, Barbuda has had this special set-up. It's a kind of island-wide commune. There are only about 1,600 people who live on the island, and they hunt and fish and farm for a lot of their food. It's safe and quiet, a good place to raise your kids. And it's made possible because no one actually owns the land. The whole island is owned collectively, like a co-op and managed by an elected council.

As for outsiders, they can lease land. But first they have to win the approval of a majority of Barbudans. That's why there are almost no foreign companies on the island -- no cruise ships, very few tourists. The community feels close-knit. No one of Barbuda is particularly wealthy, but no one's homeless.

The tradeoff, though, has been a lack of opportunity. There's no higher education on the island, not many jobs. And that's where it gets complicated, because Barbuda relies on subsidies from Antigua, the other major island in the country.

Screenshot from The New York Times documentary, 'No Man’s Land: Barbuda After Irma', showing an aerial view of the widespread destruction of Barbuda after Hurricane Irma. Photo: The New York Times

Antigua's a bigger island with a much larger population. The national government's based there, and it's dominated by Antiguans. Economically, it couldn't be more different from Barbuda. The island welcomes outside money -- all-inclusive tourist resorts, discreet financial services, which has gotten the island in trouble in the past.

The country’s prime minister is Antiguan and a former banker. He pushed for private land ownership in Barbuda, even before the hurricane. And with Barbudans still reeling from the storm, he’s gone a step further and called them squatters. [more]

No Man’s Land: Barbuda After Irma

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