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What are the VI's Self-Determination options?

Edgar Leonard is a native Virgin Islander (British), an amateur freelance writer, and a graduate of Florida A&M University. Photo: Provided
Edgar Leonard

The right to self-determination for colonised territories is a right that is a generally accepted principle of international law advocated by the UN.

Chapter XI of the UN charter defines Non-Self-Governing Territories (NSGT) as territories whose people have not yet attained a full measure of self-government. The UN General Assembly on December 14, 1946, noted a list of 72 NSGT; 17 of the 72 remain. The VI was one (1) of the original countries and is still one of the remaining NGST.

Further, in 1963, the UN Special Committee on Decolonisation (C-24) approved a preliminary list of NSGT. The VI is currently an Overseas Territory of the UK with partial self-government. Independence often is the primary self-determination option discussed among VI residents. However, other self-determination options exist, including free association, integration, etc. Is it time for the VI to entirely ditch its self-governing training wheels?

Political Status & Governing

Since the emergence of the Age of Exploration, Discovery, Slavery, and Colonialism, the VI has been a dependent territory. The English, Spanish, Dutch, etc., battled for supremacy over the VI; the English won and had control over VI since 1672; VI captured, conquered, and colonised, it was annexed to the Government of the Leeward Islands. Other events include a)the VI House of Assembly met in 1774 in Road Town, Tortola, for the first time, b) in 1816, St Kitts, Nevis, Anguilla, and VI formed into one colony, c) 1902 VI Legislative Council abolished with the Governor of the Leeward Islands becoming the lone legislator, d) 1949 Theodolph Faulkner led the Great March of November 1949, demanding representation and democracy, e) 1950 Legislative Council reconstituted, constitution rolled out, and local direct voting for some elected representatives permitted for the first time, f) 1954 Adult Suffrage granted, g) 1956 Leeward Islands Federation dissolved and VI Commissioner title changed to Administrator, and h) 1960 the office of Governor of the Leeward Islands abolished.

Moreover, the VI didn't join the West Indies Federation (1958-1962); instead, it became a direct colony of the UK (1960).

Further, in 1967, a new constitution was issued, ushering in ministerial government with a measure of self-government. Currently, it shares governing responsibilities with the UK. The UK is responsible for external affairs, defense, internal security, civil service, and judiciary; local government, remaining functions, including finance. VI became financially self-supporting in 1978 under Dr Willard Wheatley's administration.

Nonetheless, though the VI has a measure of self-governing, the UK-appointed Governor (title changed from Administrator in 1971) has unilateral power. Any UK devolved powers can be easily reversed, i.e., suspending the constitution and imposing direct rule. For example, an order in council recently suspended the VI constitution, but it is being held in abeyance, dangling over the head of the VI and people like the Sword of Damocles. The VI has had four modern-era constitutions, i.e., 1950, 1967, 1976, and 2007; currently, a Constitutional Review Commission is formulating a new constitution.

Nevertheless, though the UK is the Administering Power for the VI under the UN Charter on decolonisation with the responsibility for assisting and guiding the VI towards a full measure of self-governing, the constitutions are dependency-model based. Further, new constitutions came on stream in 1976 and 2007. And the VI status changed from Colony to Dependent Territory in 1981 and Overseas Territory in 2002.

Challenges & Vulnerabilities 

The  VI is a small (59 square miles), resource-poor group of 36 islands with a service-based economy----Tourism and Financial Services. It was neglected and almost forgotten, classified as poverty-stricken, cast as a little sleepy hollow, and viewed as supposedly only useful as a bird sanctuary. Nevertheless, to use an old cliché, it pulled itself up by its bootstraps. It can now quietly boast of having one of the highest standards of living, quality of life, and per capita income in the Caribbean region. Nevertheless, despite its success, it still has some social, economic, and environmental challenges and vulnerabilities that it must embrace and factor into its planning as it moves forward in charting a new course. These challenges and vulnerabilities include a)remoteness from major markets, b) high imports/high cost; low exports, c)small and undiversified economy, d)vulnerability to external shocks, e)high transportation and energy costs, f)limited institutional capacity, g)scarce financial resources, g)heavy dependence on imported labour, h)developing physical infrastructure (roads, water, wastewater, stormwater(drainage), electricity, gas, telecommunications, ports), i)developing social infrastructure  (education, healthcare, public safety, information, arts and culture, sports and recreation), j)disaster-proneness, k)fragile ecosystem/biodiversity, l)small population, m)low economy of scale and scope, etc.


Is independence the next political status course for the VI? The VI and its people, like other countries and people, are entitled to pursue the self-determination status of their choice, i.e., independence, free association, integration, etc. Digressing, the British Empire was vast, comprising approximately 25% of the global landscape with over 400 million people. Yet the UK had not integrated any former colonies into the UK. Nonetheless, choosing the next self-determination option is a significant decision, and a supermajority of Virgin Islanders should decide through a referendum. Independence or other self-determination options is an emotional issue and is creating much-needed heated and constructive debate.

Nevertheless, whatever self-determination option the VI people choose must entail much active debate, discussion, planning, and preparation, weighing the pros and cons. Consequently, an independent and experienced agency with related expertise must conduct a sound cost-benefit analysis. The cost-benefit study must drill down hard on and focus on a)the overall cost of any new political status, and b)the long-term economic and other benefits to the VI and its people. The topic of independence is often discussed issue among Virgin Islanders. As such, Government must initiate planning on holding a referendum on self-determination, including independence, soonest to settle the matter, at least for the short- to medium-term. Bermuda (1995), Gibraltar (2002), and the Falkland Islands (2013) have held referendums on political status.

Moreover, economic independence, challenges, vulnerabilities, overall/long-term positive benefits, and community engagement must be critical factors in debating self-determination. Further, the VI can look at the independence experience of its sister regional Caribbean countries as valuable case studies. It is definitely time for the VI to explore ditching its self-governing training wheels.

Edgar Leonard is a native Virgin Islander and an amateur freelance writer. 

16 Responses to “What are the VI's Self-Determination options?”

  • U - Are Beginning (10/11/2022, 18:41) Like (9) Dislike (4) Reply
    To sound like those canaries that were blogging in the last election are you related to his holiness - cSc ????
  • Political Spin (10/11/2022, 18:45) Like (4) Dislike (2) Reply
    E. Leonard, this is much political spin, and with all the spinning, you still didn’t offer any decision on independence. What is your position? You want to waste money on a cost benefit study. The blind knows that independence is the way to go. Independence is better than the colonial grip the UK has and is having on the BVI. Where is the BVI pride, thirst for freedom, equal rights and so on? You said it. The BVI has been under the UK control since 1672. Is not over 300 years of subjugation not enough? It is. Time to drop the training wheels and start peddling.
  • Eagle and Buffalo (10/11/2022, 20:32) Like (4) Dislike (0) Reply
    “ Moreover, economic independence, challenges, vulnerabilities, overall/long-term positive benefits, and community engagement must be critical factors in debating self-determination.” The UK has been in control of the BVI for over 300 years and grown tired of the BVI a long time, hoping that the it would vanish. It sees no value in and care little about the BVI. The BVI needs a change and some sector of the population have been advocating for a change, ie, independence. Nonetheless, change should not be haphazard, sudden, emotional, and reactive. Change should be well-planned, well-organized and well-prepared for. The introductory excerpt from your commentary is apt for the independence or what self-determination discussion and worth repeating: “ Moreover, economic independence, challenges, vulnerabilities, overall/long-term positive benefits, and community engagement must be critical factors in debating self-determination.” Self-determination must be a win-win for BVI and people. It is better to take the time to get it right to provide the best benefits and opportunities for the most BVIslanders than to rush and things race for the bottom down south. Don’t rush the brush and get daub. Nice read.

    [Let’s lead like eagles, not careen off the cliff like buffaloes]
  • No to slavery (10/11/2022, 23:12) Like (11) Dislike (0) Reply
    Give us freedom our give us death
  • Stealth (11/11/2022, 06:25) Like (5) Dislike (0) Reply
    Virgin Islanders are growing frustrated with over 300 years of being under the colonialism yoke and the epic let down by local government and want a change, freedom. It is a cage bird and wants to be free. Some Virgin Islanders want independence. Nevertheless, the BVI must be circumspect and plan its independence journey effectively. The decision to take the independence flight or trip must get by in from the people. Plan, prepare, plan, progress, proceed!
  • Gus Gus (11/11/2022, 09:21) Like (1) Dislike (3) Reply
    So what's the point? Just to say that you pen a piece on the contemporary issue? What are the options?...where are your recommendations except fo this cost benefit study ...which Im sure you will be willing to conduct.
    • Confusion (11/11/2022, 11:05) Like (4) Dislike (1) Reply
      @Gus Gus, ah yu are expert critics and like to cause confusion. If you had read the man’s article, you would have seen that he noted independence, free association, integration, etc, as self-determination options, suggested holding a referendum on self-determination options, suggested conducting a cost-benefit analysis, consider economic independence, engaging the populace, looking at overall benefits , etc as factors in the self-determination debate. Ah yu make the dog sick. No wonder the BVI is floundering.
  • Socrates (11/11/2022, 09:42) Like (5) Dislike (1) Reply
    My forte was /is questions and answers. Watching with interest, concern, inquisitiveness and anxiety, some old fellow philosophers and I, ie, Plato, Xenophon, Aristotle, among others got together to review the BVI independence debate. Of course, true to form, I was posing the questions to the others. Where is the BVI? How did it get in the state in which it finds itself? What type of government does it have? Are the people happy with its people? Are the politicians behaving like old Athenian or Roman politicians? Do the people of the BVI have the same basic democratic human rights and freedoms as other countries around the world in 2022? Why do some BVIslanders want independence? Who are BVIslanders? Are they united on the issue of independence? Is the BVI prepared for independence? Is independence a practical option? What is the cost of independence? Will the benefits outweigh the cost? Is independence the best option? Is the BVI like a City-State? What are the BVI economic strengths and weakness? Does it make sense to ride its economic strength into independence? Was a referendum offered to the people in the issue of independence?

    Most of the interlocutors got bored with my series of questions and dozed off so the few who endured the rapid fire series of questions decided that we should meet again to get answers. However, we did decide that we should send word to the BVI and its people to get together on the issue of independence.
    • @Socrates (11/11/2022, 11:09) Like (2) Dislike (0) Reply
      @Socrates, I got tired reading all the questions you fling out. Lol. Nonetheless, they are worthy questions that need to be answered.
  • Confucius (11/11/2022, 12:49) Like (4) Dislike (2) Reply
    @Confusion, fu real. They are always looking for the dry patch in a well-watered flourishing oasis. The criticism masters always want the perfect to be the enemy of good. They are a drag on BVI progress. I bet the criticism experts most of them are not going to partake in the Constitutional Review Commission outreach session but they will be highly critical of the final negotiated constitution. Criticism and finding fault like licking melee is a BVI pastime. Constructive feedback and criticism are good.
  • Quiet Rebel (11/11/2022, 15:28) Like (3) Dislike (0) Reply
    BVI people want everything easy and ready made. They complain about this and that but when it comes to action and speaking up they show disinterest. The disinterest is what the colonialist use as a weapon against us. For example, people have been belly aching about self-determination and independence for the longest. It is the man this and that. But the Constitutional Review Commission meeting last nite in West End was poorly attended. And without strong local interest, the UK pushed the standard “boiler plate” crap on the BVI. People need to understand that they have to live by the constitution so they should help to shape it. We as a people must understand the divide and rule strategy employ by the UK. And lack of interest and disunity provides fuel for the UK’s strategy.
  • Class Mate. (11/11/2022, 17:03) Like (3) Dislike (0) Reply
    Indeed, the BVI should not rush into independence or any other self-determination political status. It must prepare itself. Proposing a referendum, cost-benefit study, economic position, overall benefits, population civic engagement, are all important action items. To them, I will add effective planning and preparation. The territory and people must feel relatively comfortable with whatever self-determination choice is made. A change, some type of change is needed.
  • Disinterested (11/11/2022, 20:46) Like (3) Dislike (0) Reply
    Many young teenagers are often eager and excited to leave their home and launch out on their own. It is a big and uncertain decision. But off they go to test the waters. Some make it. Some have some challenges and come home to their parents home to sort things. However, going independent is a deep and profound decision for a territory, country, etc. There is no easy coming back into the fold. It is sink or swim or find another option. Consequently, much planning, preparation, etc must go into the decision of pursuing independence, for it not easy to undo what is done. There must a relatively high level of certainty that no major challenges will be encountered.
  • NPolitico (12/11/2022, 13:04) Like (2) Dislike (0) Reply
    We in the BVI treat independence as a casual event. It is fling around willy nilly. Well, deciding to go independent is a major decision. And is one of the biggest decision that the people of BVI will be asked to make. Consequently, it should be emotionally rush into. As others have noted, the decision on independence requires serious, deep debate; planning and preparation. It must treated with the structure and seriousness it merits. Truth be told, independence will not a panacea for ails the BVI.
  • The historian (13/11/2022, 13:23) Like (1) Dislike (1) Reply
    Sweet talk does sound good sometimes , but this isn't Hollywood , what do the country have to enable the people to live independently ??? Weed ??? The Cuban - mouth Champ ) and the coach didn't think agriculture was good enough , maybe we can export pot holes coc(weed)aine , please enlighten our people with your fantastic pipe dreams , on how we are going to pull that off ???? have you been smoking some lately or are tmyou under cthe influence on his holiness cSc

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