Agents of the British state overthrew the elected government of the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) in the Caribbean on 14 August and replaced it with direct imperial rule.
“This is not a ‘British takeover’,” said Governor Gordon Wetherell of this throwback to the “glory days” of the British Empire.
“Public services will continue to be run by people of the Turks and Caicos Islands, as indeed they should be. But I hope we can now begin to run them better.”
The coup has cast light onto the question of the remaining British territories around the world.
There are 14 “British overseas territories” – plus a number of similar entities, such as the Channel Islands.
Various TCI governments have considered both full independence and mergers with neighbouring island states.
TCI’s population is sharply divided. On one side are mostly white expats who come for the tax-free living, the “helpful” banking and the beaches.
On the other are the black islanders, including many impoverished refugees from Haiti, who scrape a living.
Only “belongers” are accepted as being from the island and are the only people allowed to vote. Only 7,000 of the 23,000 population are in this category.
The ousted TCI chief minister Michael Misick called the takeover a coup d’etat and urged the islanders not to respect any laws or decisions made by the governor.
Wetherell took charge, suspending TCI’s elected government, after an investigating panel found “clear signs of political amorality and immaturity and general administrative incompetence”.
Apparently this representative of a British government mired in the expenses scandal saw no irony in these charges.
The panel called for criminal investigations into five government officials, including Misick. It says his spending habits “far exceeded his salary and allowances”.
Many islanders have welcomed the intervention as offering an end to the corruption there. But it is the very nature of the micro-state that causes the problem, and the British intervention will not change that.
The situation says something fundamental about the anti-democratic, un-elected part of the British state.
The people of both TCI and Britain have had no say in Wetherell’s role and decisions.
As with the military and the secret service, a small un-elected group of people run these crucial functions of the state in secret.
This kind of intervention is hardly unprecedented. Australia’s governor-general, appointed by the queen, removed Labour prime minister Gough Whitlam from office as recently as 1975.
The people at the top of society who worry about “corruption” in government seem noticeably less concerned about the dealings of “friendly” regimes.
The hypocrisy is stunning. First, set up a state to act as a corrupt playground for the rich – and then complain when the local ruling class starts to join in.
This is the nub of why Britain maintains these micro-states. There are really only two reasons – military and financial.
Many of the territories are used as military bases, notably Ascension Island, the Falkland Islands and Gibraltar. The island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean is leased to the US for its own military base.
But the main issue is financial. As George Monbiot has pointed out, “Over a quarter of the world’s tax havens are British property. More than half of Britain’s colonial territories and dependencies are tax havens.
“Strip out Antarctica, the military bases and the scarcely-habited rocks and atolls, and of the 11 remaining properties, only the Falkland Islands is not a recognised haven.”
Outside of the Channel Islands, the best example is probably the Cayman Islands, now the fifth largest banking centre in the world. They are home to nearly 300 banks.
These include big players such as UBS and Goldman Sachs, and are supported by a range of accountants and offshore law practices.
Ordinary people who live in any of these states will not have serious rights until the rule of the rich is curtailed.
People in TCI who hope that the governor will bring them justice are missing the point – he is a representative of the power that set the tax-dodgers to rule over them.