NEW YORK, United States, Friday September 22, 2017 – Faced with a bill expected to run into the millions to rebuild Barbuda which was rendered “uninhabitable” by Hurricane Irma earlier this month, Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne has made a strong case for debt relief for the island.
He painted a grim picture as he captured the attention of world leaders and officials at the UN General Assembly yesterday with a reminder that “for the first time in over 300 years, there is no permanent resident of Barbuda.”
“The footprints of an entire civilization have been emasculated by the brutality and magnitude of Irma.
“Everything that meant anything to the inhabitants had to be left behind – their homes, their possessions, their history,” he said.
Browne said it would cost US$250 million to rebuild, about 15 per cent of his country’s gross domestic product, and he pleaded for wealthier countries to forgive or reduce Antigua’s US$130 million debt which has been incurred over decades.
“Antigua and Barbuda urgently requires the assistance of the international community, including the international development and finance institutions, to accomplish this vital task of rebuilding Barbuda,” he added.
Browne also reminded the United States officials attending the General Assembly that Antigua was still anxiously awaiting settlement of the more than decade-old online gaming dispute.
“In this time of great need when our sister island of Barbuda was devastated by a hurricane, the US Government should, in the interest of fairness, justice and of good conscience, settle the debt,” he urged.
Back in 2004, the World Trade Organization ruled that Washington had violated trade agreements by preventing Americans from betting on online sites based in Antigua and Barbuda.
The WTO had ordered the US to pay US$21 million per year until it either scrapped its domestic online betting industry or allowed Antigua-licensed sites access to the US market. To date, the US has done neither.
Browne stressed that the US stood to benefit if it honoured its debt, since 90 per cent of the settlement proceeds would be spent in the US economy, Antigua’s primary source market.