A report commissioned by the Queen’s representative had called for the Caribbean territory to be effectively governed by London.
Hundreds of people demonstrated in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) against a proposal to place the British Overseas Territory under direct UK control.
Monday’s rally came days after the BVI premier was arrested in the US city of Miami on drug-related charges.
A report released Friday and commissioned by Queen Elizabeth’s representative in the territory said the BVI should be effectively governed from London to “restore the standards of governance” to which people there “are entitled”.
A day earlier, BVI Prime Minister Andrew Fahie and the territory’s director of ports were jailed following an undercover operation by US authorities.
Activists gathered outside Governor John Rankin’s office in the capital, Road Town, on the island of Tortola on Monday, chanting slogans and holding signs reading “No British rule”.
“Our message to the UK government and to the world: there will be no direct government in this country,” said protester Luce Hodge-Smith.
The gathering coincided with a visit by Amanda Milling, UK Minister of State for Asia and the Middle East, to discuss the report’s findings.
“I arrived in the BVI yesterday following the release of the Board of Inquiry,” Milling wrote on Twitter on Monday.
“I look forward to engaging with a range of people [including] BVI leaders, opposition, community groups and industry experts to hear views on what is in the best interests of BVI residents.
The BVI, a self-governing archipelago in the Caribbean, is home to around 35,000 people and is an overseas territory of the United Kingdom, which oversees its defense and foreign policy.
It is also one of the main offshore tax havens in the world. The local government and London have been accused by anti-corruption campaigners of turning a blind eye to illicit flows of foreign money through the territory.
Last week’s report, led by British judge Sir Gary Hickinbottom, concluded that politicians were wasting millions of dollars of public funds each year without proper procedure. He also found “serious dishonesty” in relation to sales of public assets and widespread abuse of appointments.
“Unless the most urgent and drastic measures are taken, the current unfortunate situation – with elected officials willfully ignoring the principles of good governance, giving rise to an environment in which the risks of dishonesty in decision-making public decision and funding continue unabated, and the consequences of allowing such an environment to thrive – will last indefinitely,” he said (PDF).
The document was commissioned in early 2021, but its release coincided with Fahie’s arrest.
US officers at the Miami-Opa-locka Executive Airport on Thursday arrested Fahie and Port Authority Director Oleanvine Maynard in the territory after they allegedly agreed to accept money from undercover agents posing as Mexican drug traffickers, the Miami Herald newspaper reported.
United States justice department said he accused Fahie, Maynard and his son of “cocaine trafficking and money laundering conspiracies for agreeing to facilitate the safe passage through BVI ports of tons of Colombian cocaine bound for Miami” .
In a court filing on Monday, Fahie’s lawyer claimed he enjoyed immunity from prosecution in the United States as the constitutional head of the British Overseas Territory government.
The prime minister’s arrest follows the extradition of former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez to the United States, where he faces drug trafficking charges.