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Non-Sovereign Caribbean Territories and Citizenship (1/4): Britain

After a period of colonisation by different European powers, decolonisation in the Caribbean officially began with the 1791 Haitian Revolution. Sovereignty was subsequently secured by the Dominican Republic (1844) and Cuba (1902), quite late by Latin American standards, but the rest of the region remained dependent on traditional metropolitan powers until late into the twentieth century and in some cases to this day. Colonies also frequently changed hands in the colonial era, which had an impact on feelings of national identity in the Caribbean. Barry Higman has given the example of the British capture of Trinidad from the Spanish in 1797, which ‘spread a layer of British imperial rule and culture over an existing Catholic, French, and Spanish ruling population, creating cross-cutting levels of national identity and language’. According to Franklin Knight, imperial divisions were of minor significance in the Caribbean – ‘a fact illustrated by the facility with which territories moved into and out of rival imperial administrative controls’.

The Future Citizen Institute will dedicate a short, four-part series on the non-sovereign Caribbean territories that currently belong to either Britain, France, the Netherlands, or the United States. These territories do not have their own citizenship legislation. The non-sovereign Caribbean territories in fact outnumber the sovereign ones, but their size and population are much smaller. Although independence was achieved in the 1960s and 70s by the currently independent islands, resulting in eighty-five percent of the Caribbean people currently living in independent countries, Gert Oostindie and Inge Klinkers have pointed out that this came at a high price:

In general terms, standards of living in the non-sovereign Caribbean are significantly higher than they are in the independent countries. Furthermore, in a region that has witnessed many dictatorial regimes and territorial disputes, and which now faces the contemporary challenges of international crime, the remaining non-sovereign territories still continue to enjoy a higher degree of security and stability.

Each of the metropolitan countries adopted a different approach to decolonisation. Britain’s aim from the very beginning was the full transfer of sovereignty to the newly independent states, a process that started in the 1960s. However, since this process came to a halt in the 1980s, a considerable number of scattered British overseas territories remain part of Britain to this day.

While Britain had the greatest number of colonies in the Caribbean, the islands of the British West Indies (also called the Commonwealth Caribbean) were all relatively small. As a result, only a quarter of the Caribbean inhabitants are English-speaking. After the short-lived West Indian Federation (1958-1962), which brought the British Caribbean islands together in a bureaucratically centralised structure but failed due to lack of homogeneity, most territories soon moved towards independence – starting with Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago in 1962, and Barbados and British Guyana in 1966.

By the end of the 1960s Britain only remained responsible for the smaller territories, divided into seven Associated States (Antigua, Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla, St Lucia, and St Vincent) and six Dependent Territories (the Bahamas, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, and Turks and Caicos Islands). Associated Statehood was abolished in 1983 and all seven Associated States but Anguilla – which became a Dependent Territory in 1980 – gained independence. They were subsequently incorporated in the British Commonwealth of Nations. The Bahamas, in turn, was the only Dependent Territory to become independent on 10 July 1973. The territories that remain British to this day, and were renamed British Overseas Territories under the British Overseas Territories Act 2002 (BOTA 2002), can become independent if they want to, yet Britain does not apply any pressure in this respect. In the summary of Oostindie and Klinkers,

the United Kingdom’s decolonisation of the West Indies … resulted in twelve politically independent countries – dominions within the British Commonwealth – and six so-called British Overseas Territories: Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, and Turks and Caicos Islands. The latter group is administered by ‘Her Majesty’s’ Governors’, with different degrees of local autonomy.

An important development was the extension of British citizenship to the British Overseas Territories by means of the BOTA 2002 on 21 May 2002. Laurie Fransman notes in this respect that ‘British citizenship conferred by or as a result of BOTA 2002 does not replace British overseas territories citizenship … The persons concerned are, therefore, dual British citizens/BOTCs’.

Author: Dr. Olivier Vonk

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