The crisis unleashed in Barbuda by Hurricane Irma in 2017 followed centuries of neglect by the British colonial state and then by the postcolonial government of its sister island, Antigua. Barbuda developed customary communal-land tenure as a result of its peculiarities in slavery and freedom, and this survival strategy has doubled as political and economic resistance to encroachment by Antigua, where private land ownership and uneven opportunity abound because of the unstable, cyclical nature of its main industry—tourism. Although Barbudans have long delimited tourism development and refused private land ownership, citing communal land as their shield, these issues have resurfaced in the rebuilding process after Hurricane Irma. Barbudans’ desires to maintain their previous way of life remain hampered by the Antiguan government’s disaster capitalist desires to reconstruct Barbuda as a resort paradise. This essay reveals how climate change, economic fragility, and uncertain sovereignty have collectively undermined Barbuda’s customary forms of independence, leaving dispossession in their wake.
Disrepair, Distress, and Dispossession: Barbuda after Hurricane Irma
Natasha Lightfoot is an associate professor of history at Columbia University. She is the author of Troubling Freedom: Antigua and the Aftermath of British Emancipation (2015), and her work appears in Slavery and Abolition, the C. L. R. James Journal, and the New York Times. Her research on Caribbean emancipation and Afro-Caribbean peoples’ concepts and practices of freedom has been supported by the Ford Foundation, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the Yale Gilder-Lehrman Center, and the American Council of Learned Societies.
Natasha Lightfoot; Disrepair, Distress, and Dispossession: Barbuda after Hurricane Irma. Small Axe 1 July 2020; 24 (2 (62)): 133–146. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/07990537-8604550
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