Monday, April 12, 2010

British government gets more than it bargained for in Turks & Caicos

By Ben Roberts:

Methinks the British, and by the British I really mean the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO), and to a lesser extent other leading authorities, are quite stunned about the lowly Turks & Caicos and its current trials and tribulations, and how this issue has grabbed their body politic by the throat and not let go.

They probably thought this would be the usual dog and pony show as in other corruption probes in the Territories, where they would come in, conduct a half-hearted Inquiry, declare the natives in power to be suspect and marinated in corruption, rap a few fingers for bad behaviour, deny a few privileges for the political elite such as disbarment from running for political office, return across the Atlantic to have scribes write a voluminous dust-collecting report on the matter, and pin the expense of the whole exercise on the natives. Case closed.

Not so. This matter of the lowly and, in some cases, hardly known T&C, is sending seismic shock waves through the Mother of all Parliaments, as the British system of government is at times referred to. In other words, they are experiencing their own earthquake that is shaking up and unearthing a system not usually known for drastic changes of direction. This is especially evident for the FCO and its antiquated way of doing business. But even the British Parliament is being affected by these developments in T&C. And why should T&C not have such effect, as far as Overseas Territories go? They always did. Here’s some past history:

Archival material on T&C revealed that, during the American War of Independence, these Islands were involved in something that had huge consequences for the world as we know it today. It was a crucial point in the war. America was experiencing one of its worst winters. Its Continental Army was hungry, demoralized, and in tatters. Without food the troops were dying in significant numbers.

They had no food because they had no salt to cure their meat to ensure their soldiers’ bellies were full, affording them the strength to fight (Remember, a famous military quote that ‘an army travels on its stomach.’ Also remember that in this time there was no refrigeration, so curing meats with salt was the way to preserve food).

This is where T&C comes in. During that time, this British colony was a major salt producer. Through some subterfuge and strange shenanigans, General George Washington, the commander of American troops, was able to request and secure salt from T&C. This changed the dynamics immensely. The British Redcoats, well-fed and licking their chops, were thinking it was only a matter of time once the elements let up for them to launch their offensive, before the enemy would fall to them, thereby quashing the Revolution.

To their surprise the Americans were able to beat them back, and inevitably go on to defeat them and gain independence. Chalk up one huge loss for the British. And it was none but the lowly and seeming insignificant Turks & Caicos that had a part to play in this reversal of fortune, and earth-shattering change and advance for the world.

In a newspaper article from some time ago, a British writer described Turks & Caicos as ‘insignificant ink-dots in the ocean.’ Really! T&C has been, throughout its history, a valuable asset to the British. Just look at their geography. The most north-easterly of Caribbean Islands and the jump-off point with the closest distance to Europe. Having this small territory as a possession translated into a strategic gold-mine for any colonial power.

From here there was the quickest access to Europe and the halfway point going to and from the valuable colony of America. It also guarded the important approaches to and from the Caribbean and South America. It was key for Britain and its wealth because from here they would routinely lie in wait for the gold-laden Spanish galleons coming from South America and making their pit-stop into the ports of Santo Domingo and Puerta Plata in what is now the Dominican Republic. T&C is just ninety miles away from this island.

Also in their quest to wrest Haiti, the prize of the Caribbean, away from France, the British without question maximized the use of this asset just ninety miles away. What stories Sir Francis Drake, Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Henry Morgan, Black Bart, and General Maitland would have about T&C, were we able to call them back to our time.

So you see, despite its small size and seeming insignificance, Turks & Caicos has always had a telling impact on Britain. Today is no different. Its current state of affairs is shaking the British system in more ways than one. We have British lords and moneyed interests that have clearly contributed to this Territory’s current crisis. We have political high and mighties suffering setbacks in being relegated to the back bench and handed assignments that amount to exile in remote missions.

We have seen a significant arm of the British Government, the FCO pilloried and on the defensive from its own government and T&C citizens for its negligence and archaic behaviour in addressing the current situation. We even have important Committees in the British Parliament engaged in substantial debate on Turks & Caicos. In that debate, we even have politicians on watch during the demise of T&C conveniently running for cover trying to distance themselves from the scene.

Yes. It was stunning to hear former Permanent Undersecretary Meg Munn, the one responsible for matters relating to T&C during the time of the debacle, say in the debate: “As the minister rightly says, I was the minister responsible for Overseas Territories for a while, including when the Inquiry was set in place, although I, too, have never visited the Turks & Caicos.”

Can this be true? How can it be when various T&C citizens, including a prominent media representative, confirm that Meg Munn was in T&C at the eleventh hour, attempting damage control and trying to give a positive spin on the dismal state of affairs.

Hence despite its size, which one might easily and foolishly equate with insignificance, Turks & Caicos, more than most colonies in the faded British realm, has throughout history had a profound effect on the politics, financial fortunes, and global reach of the British. Today is no different. The current intervention and players of an Interim Government, the FCO which administers this entity, and the British Parliament and its Foreign Affairs Committee which oversees the FCO, should do well to remember this.

Ben Roberts is a Turks & Caicos Islander. He is a newsletter editor, freelance writer, and published author. He is the author of numerous articles that have been carried by a variety of Internet websites and read worldwide. He is often published in Turks & Caicos news media, and in the local newspapers where he resides. His action adventure novel, Jackals of Samarra, can be found at, and most of the major Internet book outlet sites.

April 12, 2010