BVI News

COMMENTARY: The BVI’s 70-year journey on the path of self-determination

Benito Wheatley

By Benito Wheatley, Contributor

The 24th of November 2019 will mark 70 years since the Great March of 1949 in which the people of the British Virgin Islands (BVI) peacefully marched through Road Town to protest the gross neglect of the British Empire. 

The march at the time was the largest demonstration ever to take place in the islands and changed the course of BVI history.

The demand by the marchers for political representation led the United Kingdom (UK) to agree to the restoration of the Legislative Council that had been abolished in 1901. 

Elections were subsequently held on 27th November 1950 that reestablished democracy and brought to a close a period of 49 years in which the people of the British Virgin Islands were denied democratic rights and political participation in the governing of the islands. 

These developments and the subsequent adoption of the 1950 Constitution were the critical first steps in self-government and the building of the modern BVI.

In the decades that followed, periodic constitutional reviews between the BVI and UK secured further gains in local autonomy that included the adoption of ministerial government in 1967, transfer of control of the public finances from the Governor to the elected Government in 1977 and the delegation of powers to the elected Government to conduct international relations in 2007.

Since 1949, the BVI has seen governance evolve from UK direct rule to parliamentary democracy based on the Westminster system in which the Leader of Government Business, the Premier, is the Head of Government, while Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is the Head of State, represented by the Governor who serves as the de facto Head of State in the islands.

Through the initial measures taken by the UK and the restored Legislative Council in the 1950s and 60s, and the subsequent efforts of successive BVI Governments since 1967, the foundation of a modern state has been laid with the establishment of functioning Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of government and a supporting bureaucracy of state institutions.

The miraculous economic transformation of the society from an agrarian economy to a premier tourist destination and international financial centre (IFC) would not have occurred without the granting of greater authority to the local Government over the islands’ affairs.

From 1949 onward, the thrust of BVI political history has been a continuous drive by the BVI for greater autonomy in becoming the master of its own destiny. This spirit of self-determination remains at the heart of the Virgin Islands story.

The BVI’s inalienable right to self-determination, enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations (UN) (i.e. Article 73-74) and the UN Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples (14 December 1960), gives the people of the BVI the right to decide their own political future at a time of their choosing.

The UN officially lists the BVI as one of the 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories (NSGTs) under its remit that has the option to either become a sovereign independent state, have a free association with an independent state or integrate with an independent state.

The BVI’s next constitutional review is an opportunity for the islands to secure, among other things, further advances in self-government, protections from arbitrary UK interference in the BVI’s affairs and a referendum by 2030 or thereafter on the BVI’s political future.

The BVI’s seventy-year journey on the path of self-determination has seen important advances in self-government and must continue even as the society rebuilds from Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

A great debt of gratitude is owed to political heroes Theodolph H. Faulkner, Isaac G. Fonseca, Carlton L. de Castro and the more than 1,500 courageous men and women who marched on the UK Commissioner’s Office in Road Town seventy years ago to demand the right to give their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren a better future. It was their will and determination that paved the way for the emergence of modern-day BVI.

As the BVI celebrates the 70th anniversary of the Great March of 1949, it is imperative that the 24th of November be officially recognised as the national day that the people of the British Virgin Islands rose up and took their destiny into their own hands in their long struggle for freedom, human dignity and a better BVI.

May the generations of today learn from their example.

The author is a Policy Fellow at the University of Cambridge’s Center for Science and Policy (CSaP).

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  1. TurtleDove says:

    We certainly have come a long way thanks to the hard work of many, including you my brother.

    Personally speaking I think we need to map out the next 20 years and slow things down a bit on the tourism side. The concentration should be more overnight stay and the environment. We need to save our beaches and re-engineer the Ghuts and marsh land as best we can. Too much silt running into the ocean. These problems were mostly caused by us and should be rectified.

    We bloggers talk a lot and are a little hash sometime but big up to all the politicians and people who are contributing and have contributed to make a better place to call home.

    • Peter Moll says:

      The VI must continue to participate in strengthening regional integration, having in view at least one option for fundamental constitutional change on the table by 2030

  2. Peter Moll says:

    The VI must continue to participate in strengthening regional integration, having in view at least one option for fundamental constitutional change on the table by 2030

  3. Patriot says:

    Perhaps 24 November should be made a Public Holiday in the Virgin Islands to mark this significant event in perpetuity.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I would like see an effort and some money spent on documenting some skills and knowledge before they the last man is buried.

    I am referring to ship wrighting. The building of schooners and row boats.

    I am filled with great intellectual pain and constination that our short sighted ill-progressive leaders saw it fit to allow those skills and knowledge to go to the grave with those men. They did not even bother to pay experts to sit with them to catalog and index that knowledge for classroom use.

    Imagine this: not one single young boy or man can build a fish trap today. Not one single person can go to library any where in the BVI and reference an article on shipwright building in the BVI. in the 17th, , 18th, 19, and 20th century.

    Perhaps they did not begin so early any way, but you got the picture, as they were still working for the devil for free.

    Therefore, if the world economic realities were to do a 360 turn tomorrow, there would mass starvation all over, as most can’t even row a rowboat much less make one.

    Forget catching a fish on a line from a rock. Most young men today cannot climb a rock today as the are obese and over weight.

    We have swallowed the modernity bullshit at the expense of what brought us to the threshold of modernity at our own peril,

    We now have burnt our ancestral bridges and so we will perish as a result.

    Sky scrapers will not teach us how to light a fire or find a cup of water under a rock, build a schooner or row boat, a fish trap or dig a well that fed generations for centuries.

    The point here> What has worked in the past and brought a people forward should never be discarded for unproven systems. It is foolish and unwise forward movement thinking and living. Selah!!

    What a shame! What a lunatic people we are.

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