It is now almost a week since the story about the Gitmo Uighur detainees broke. This incident is, without question, one of the biggest newsworthy and political stories for Bermuda since at least Hurricane Fabian, and even then some. And in many ways this story is still developing.
It’s no secret that this story has triggered massive discussion on Bermuda’s various blogs, the radios and workplaces. There are a lot of issues to get ones’ head around, and I think its important to try and take stock of the various issues this story has touched on. I’m going to try and put out what I see as the pros and cons of this incident and its related issues.
Four people who have been in limbo for several years, and arguably unfairly so, have been relieved of their inhumane living situation at Gitmo.
Bermuda has acquired significant political capital with the USA, easily our most important economic, cultural, and political partner. This may be used for a combination of purposes, be it cleaning up the mess the USA left behind when they closed their military bases, greater security for our IB sector, or something else, or combination of purposes.
Our political power structure, as outlined in the Constitution, is being widely discussed, both in whether the incident was Constitutional and how a No Confidence Vote works. The same can be said, to a lesser degree, for our Immigration Act. It’s always a good thing for people to learn more about the legislation that structures our political system.
This issue has united a cross section of usually opposed groups, a rarity for our nation, and one that has a potential to help develop a concept of us as a nation and a people.
People have mobilised to express their opposition (and support) on this action, and exercise their right to demonstrate such. Whether I agree with a demonstration or not, I personally find the fact that there are demonstrations quite refreshing. Demonstrations are also a hugely important learning experience for those involved, and empower people as active and participative citizens, something I am always supportive of.
The incident has given an opportunity to discuss democratic reforms of our political system, both in the structure and practice of government, as well as our relationship with the foreign powers, particularly our colonial relationship to the UK and our neo-colonial one with the USA.
Bermuda has received praise from human rights groups in the West, and praise from individuals, some of which have expressed an interest in becoming tourists as a result.
Bermuda has received massive free international advertising that may boost our tourism.
Our Constitution would appear to have been violated.
Bermuda has received massive negative advertising, with some individuals vowing never to be tourists out of fear of terrorists.
The ensuing discussion has shown that some people subscribe to a authoritarian democratic system, in the sense that they are happy to participate actively in our democracy for the five seconds it takes to fill out a ballot, and are willing to surrender their right to actively participate in politics in the mean time. One could argue that this legitimatises psuedo-democracy.
While criticism of the incident has truly spanned racial and political groupings, its practical expression has illustrated ongoing divisions in this area, as well as risks further polarisation along these lines.
The incident has unleashed some xenophobic and islamophobic tendencies within our people.
The incident has illustrated our neo-colonial relationship with the USA and the relative impotence of Britain.
So, where does that leave us?
Its not possible to just tally the pros and cons of this issue and just say that there are more pros than cons, so lets move on. There are some very different weights involved to the various pros and cons that make such an angle impossible.
For me, and for the bulk of individuals who have expressed opposition to this incident, the main problem is the fact that our Constitution has been violated. That is a very, very serious issue. While I, and a minority of others, are pro-independence, I recognise that for better or worse the Bermuda Constitution is THE Constitution of Bermuda, and up until the time that we are independent (or the Constitution amended), we must abide by the existing framework laid out in this Constitution.
Personal relationships and political allegiances have been frayed over this issue, largely over (what to me is a red herring) issue of the incidents humanitarian value, but also over a mistaken view that opposition to the Leader equates to opposition to the Party. I have also been disappointed by certain aspects of what I see as rather bad political spin coming from individuals I held in higher regard.
I feel compelled once more to stress that I cannot ignore the fact that the incident equals a violation of our Constitution, and this warrants a those who acted unconstitutionally to be held accountable accordingly. As for the decision, I fully understand that it is a good thing that these four people are no longer in limbo, and any attempts to return them to that state should be resisted by all progressives. However I believe we made this decision on the basis of developing political capital with the USA, and nothing more. As much as I abhor that, I fully recognise the benefits it has for our country, and I can sympathise with it as such.
For me, I intend to explore the issues of democratic reform, primarily in attacking support for authoritarian democracy (for want of a better name for now – LOL!). I also intend to explore the aspect of independence, not so much as it relates to the UK, but our neo-colonial relationship with the USA and how much would formal independence be simply cosmetic. For me these areas are perhaps the best fruits of this mess of an issue, and I hope to do them justice.
On a final note, I’ve been thinking about this No Confidence Vote that the Opposition UBP has tabled. Initially, and in the anger of the moment I came out in support of this motion, arguing that having violated our Constitution Dr. Brown had justified his removal as Premier and Party Leader. Having reflected further on the issue, I’ve decided that I was wrong, and that I do not support the motion of No Confidence.
I realise that a lot of people are going to go ‘WTF?’ as a result of my change of mind. I need to stress that I DO think the Constitution was violated, and I DO think that Dr. Brown needs to be made accountable for violating the Constitution. I just don’t think that a No Confidence motion is the appropriate one. Having referred to my manual of parliamentary procedure (I have consulted both Roberts Rules of Order and Demeter’s Manual, and yes I know those are for the US system but I don’t have the UK one), I think a more appropriate move would be a Motion of Censure. To me such a motion serves as a parliamentary reprimand and a warning. It effectively says that the House finds the person to have acted unconstitutionally and their actions will be under greater scrutiny – further violations would result in a No Confidence Vote.
I realise I am not as versed in parliamentary procedure as some, so I hope that those with better knowledge can correct me on this issue. Does such a motion exist under the UK system which we use? And is it more appropriate than the No Confidence option? While I am wary about the PLPs election chances under the current situation and Leader, I hope that having appropriately rebuked the Premier for a violation of the Constitution, the Party itself will resolve the Leadership question appropriately and at the soonest possible opportunity.