A dispute over a work permit has potentially large repercussions in Bermuda. Jake Elson, 23, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Bunbury in Australia, argues the episode represents deeper political and social conflict on the island.
For a small island paradise of nearly 70,000, Bermuda can be an extremely fractious place.
The oldest remaining British Colony in North America is often looked upon by outsiders as a sort of playground for the rich – no surprise considering that the archipelago colony is home to the highest concentration of golf courses in the world. To add to this lustre, Bermuda is set to host the 35th America’s Cup mid-2017, an event that is expected to reap $250 million – a much-needed cash injection that many hope will pull the colony out of recession. Yet what may sound like a black-and-white occurrence is under threat from the tumultuous world of local politics.
The political scene in Bermuda is notorious for its partisan attitude, to the point that it would give the United States a run for its money. Divided as much among the lines of race as ideology, the One Bermuda Alliance is overwhelmingly supported by White Bermudians descended from plantation owners while the Peoples Labour Party supporters are Afro-Bermudians and allied to trade unions across the island. Issues can become magnified quickly.
In 1977, the execution of two Black Beret Cadre members, inspired by the US Black Panthers, for the murder of Governor Richard Sharples four years prior led to island-wide riots which were only quelled after the deployment of British Forces. So it can come as no surprise that an issue over the cancellation of a work visa by the governing party has snowballed into threats of economic warfare from its opponents.
The issue revolves around an English Methodist Pastor, Nicholas Tweed. The government alleges that Mr. Tweed’s employer, the Saint Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church, did not follow immigration laws by advertising the position to locals in the preparation of the expiration of his current permit – a fact attested to the Island’s paper, the Royal Gazette.
Furthermore, it was alleged that the permit was lodged six days before its expiry, though government policy requires notification no less than a month before expiration. Clergymen such as Mr. Tweed have, since 2014, been subject to the same process as general employees. Home Affairs Minister Patricia Gordon-Pamplin, herself a professed member of St. Paul AME, argued that “It is critically important that the intent and spirit of these rules and regulations are upheld” in order to protect the integrity of the law and bring further issues for native Bermudian workers.
Usually, such issues would be forgotten in a flash. This would have been the case had it not been for Mr. Tweed’s political links. He is a prominent member of the activist group People’s Campaign and a vocal critic of the current government. Ironically, the People’s Campaign, alongside the Bermuda Industrial Union, are opponents of proposals allowing foreigners gaining status, and were responsible for blockading parliament in an effort to prevent relevant legislation from being discussed.
It didn’t take long for accusations of political point-scoring to find their way into the public domain. St. Paul AME accused the government of showing ‘total disrespect and disregard’ for the church, one that played a pivotal role in the Bermudian Civil Rights Movement during the 60’s and 70’s. The government fired back by saying that the church was aware of the rules regarding clergy visas, enacted several years earlier.
All the mudslinging, however, paled into insignificance when Chris Fubert of the Bermuda Industrial Union threatened strike action in order to sabotage the America’s Cup. The Colony’s centrepiece event, seen as rescue from the island’s recession, looked in doubt. Pressure on businesses eventually forced Mr. Fubert, a close ally of Mr. Tweed, to recant. However, such threats typify the nature of Bermudian politics.
It should be no surprise that on a small island 1,000 kilometres from the nearest landmass, disputes escalate. Racial tensions also underpin societal attitudes. The BIU, which represents a primarily black membership base, often used economic warfare against the white establishment in order to promulgate racial reforms. It can be argued strongly that this is still the case. Though Bermuda has been desegregated for the past 50 years, economic power still favours the whites. Furthermore, it is believed that expatriates are crowding out local Bermudians, and the America’s Cup will no doubt present Bermuda as an attractive place for the expat community to work.
This is without a doubt a messy dispute. Though cooler heads prevail for now, it may only take something small to ignite tensions. However, this whole issue is more complex than a simple visa revocation – it represents the tensions of a small but divided society.
I am a history buff, but also am into soccer. I referee soccer, and would like to go FIFA one day. I’m currently studying politics and international relations at Edith Cowan University. My aim is to become a police officer in Western Australia, and I would like to be Prime Minister one day.
I am a Conservative and a Monarchist, and believe in the role of the Commonwealth as a tool for good.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
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