Did you know that property on the sparsely-populated island of Barbuda is communally owned? I didn’t. In the wake of Hurricane Irma, though, an event that depopulated the island (normally home to 1,800 souls, all of whom were evacuated to Antigua in September, though about 400 have since returned), Robert De Niro is trying to turn crisis into opportunity.
De Niro, leveraging the success he enjoyed with his famous TriBeCa eatery Nobu has quietly become something of a restaurant and real-estate mogul over the years. Over at the Intercept, Naomi Klein is upset about De Niro’s efforts to develop property on Barbuda, a place in dire need of investment, because De Niro is (of course) proposing that the real estate in question be privately held by him and his partners.
De Niro is trying to build a resort called Paradise Found Nobu on the island, and politicians who think this is a good idea have pushed through an amendment to the Barbuda Land Act, which stipulates that all property is held in common, that would enable more property development and so allow the devastated island (95 percent of whose buildings and infrastructure were destroyed by Irma) to begin the process of joining the modern economy. Before the amendment, which is currently being contested, developers could lease land for a maximum of 50 years, and large developments had to be approved by the people via plebiscite. The new amendment does away with both the 50-year limit and the absurd plebiscite requirement.
Klein et al would apparently prefer that the island remain pristine and natural (i.e. wrecked and uninhabited) than stand idly by as anyone manages to make money off what could potentially be a job-creating tourism machine. Gaston Browne, a former banker who is prime minister of Barbuda and Antigua, supports the privatization of the island, proposing that residents be allowed to purchase the plots they occupy for $1 each, though ownership rights would be restricted to Barbudans. They could then borrow against the actual value of their property to rebuild. Browne says it will take some $250 million to rebuild the island, and the government doesn’t have that kind of money. Leftist elements are describing this giveaway as a land grab because it would greatly increase outside development (massively enriching the people who have been living there in the process). One official, Kendra Beazer, of the Barbuda Council, is calling the idea “an opportunity for disaster capitalism and cultural genocide.”
Why is the reactionary Left so resistant to change and modernity? Why does it want Barbuda to remain miserable? This is yet another example of the anti-human, anti-jobs, anti-progress agenda of so-called progressives such as Klein. Browne has referred to development’s opponents as “economic terrorists.” Is he wrong?