Politics & Policy

Island Ally

Bermuda's not just an American vacation spot.

American patriots used gunpowder from Bermuda to fight the Revolutionary War. Without Bermuda, the United States and its allies would have lost far more fights with Nazi U-boats in the Atlantic in World War II.  Bermuda’s central North Atlantic location, just 800 or so miles off the East Coast, and its status as a “self-governing overseas territory” of the United Kingdom, the closest ally of the U.S., has led to a strong, 230-year-old partnership between Bermuda and the United States. Fortunately for both sides, this partnership has grown and matured with age. The United States supplies Bermuda with the bulk of its imports, tourists, and economic capital, while Bermuda’s major insurance companies have already provided the U.S. with well over $20 billion in insurance-claims payments over the past five years to help rebuild cities and coastal areas destroyed by the everything from the tragic events of September 11 to the hurricanes of 2004 and 2005.

The Bermuda / United States partnership is multifaceted: cultural and educational exchanges, medical services, insurance, and tourism are just a few of its pillars. The United States supplies Bermuda with approximately 80 percent of its imports–nearly $766 million in goods in 2004–and U.S. citizens make up almost 85 percent of the island’s tourists–some 204,000 U.S. airline passengers visited Bermuda in 2005 and many more came via cruise ships. The value of U.S. exports to Bermuda is 27 times that of the United Kingdom. And the U.S. sends 10 times as many tourists to Bermuda as the Brits do. U.S. tourists contributed hundreds of millions to Bermuda’s economy in 2004.

But this important partnership is very much a two-way street.  While the U.S. is shipping goods and sending tourists to Bermuda, America has become the major beneficiary of Bermuda’s thriving international insurance industry. After a record-breaking 2005 hurricane season, Bermuda-based insurers and reinsurers expect to pay nearly 26 percent of the insured losses arising from the devastation caused by hurricanes Dennis, Katrina, Rita, and Wilma. In fact, Bermuda carriers will pay to their U.S. clients approximately $13 billion–as much, if not more than, their better-known European counterparts. And all of this money is going to assist the rebuilding of the devastated U.S. Gulf and Florida coasts.

This is not the first time Bermuda’s insurers and reinsurers have contributed substantial funds to U.S. reconstruction.  After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Bermuda-based insurers and reinsurers paid over $2 billion in total insured losses.  And in 2002, nine new Bermuda reinsurers were created to provide coverage to U.S. commercial interests building or rebuilding in the wake of 9/11. Providing that coverage has not been cheap for Bermuda-based insurers: over the past five years, Bermuda’s insurers and reinsurers have poured more than $20 billion in catastrophic loss payments into the reconstruction of the U.S. economy.

Best of all, Bermuda and the United States share a strong commitment to democracy, the rule of law, and free markets.  Racial reconciliation is a priority for both of our lands, both of which share a difficult history of racial segregation and exclusion. The importance of family and a respect for the dignity of every human being is deeply woven into the cultures of both societies. In fact, the ties between the countries are so deep that an estimated 12 percent of Bermuda’s citizens also possess American citizenship, and almost all Bermudians have family or close friends in the States. There is even a Bermudian-American in the United States Congress: Congressman G. K. Butterfield’s father came to the U.S. from Bermuda in 1905, and fought for the U.S. in World War I. Today, over two dozen Bermudians serve in the U.S. Armed Forces, a number of whom are now stationed in Iraq.

 

For all of these reasons, we are honored to be participating this week in the first-ever official bilateral visit by the premier of Bermuda and two of his Cabinet ministers to the most senior members of the U.S. Congress and the Bush administration. Close ties between our countries have benefited our citizens–and helped defend democracy–for hundreds of years. We celebrate our partnership of the last 230 years and look forward to the future’s promise, together.

–William Alexander Scott, JP, MP, is the premier of Bermuda.  Gregory W. Slayton is the United States Chief of Mission to Bermuda.

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