In last week’s commentary, I imagined the perspective of a Guyanese girl named Maria in the Virgin Islands of 2030. This week, I’ll imagine her older brother’s perspective from the same year.
While Maria longed to travel around the world, Zak was more interested in exploring the Eastern Caribbean Union’s past and was excited at the prospect of being able to vote for the first time and participate in deciding the path the ECU would take after independence.
The creation of the ECU — uniting Anguilla, the VI and Monserrat — had been brokered by the United Kingdom and United Nations Decolonisation Committee. Then its terms had been approved by referenda in all three of the British overseas territories. The agreement had built on historic ties between them and was swiftly recognised by the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, of which Monserrat was a founding member.
In the first round of the upcoming referendum, ECU voters would choose between three options:
- a) Association with the UK, with representation in Parliament;
- b) Complete independence from the UK, leading to application for admission to the Commonwealth of Democratic Nations, currently chaired by India, and ultimately to the UN; or
- c) Negotiating union on equal terms with an independent member of the OECS, like Antigua or St. Vincent, already members of the CODN and UN (needing a further referendum on the final terms by both sides).
Unless one of the options received at least 50 percent of the vote, there would be a run-off between the top two vote-getters.
Further ahead, Zak looked to the ECU demonstrating its affluence by establishing a secondary market for VI company shares — which had retained the brand name by which they were known in Asia for injecting capital into the UK — by buying one of London’s commodity exchanges, preferably one established by slave-owners, just as Singapore did when it bought the historic Baltic Exchange.
‘Year of change’
Zak was fascinated by the tales of what had happened during Maria’s birth year, known globally as the year of change. Challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic had been met by similar, yet different, responses in individual countries. The VI’s determination to maintain its record as being free from infection had led to a very strict immigration policy and members of its diaspora returning home to establish their right to live in the VI.
This trickle of returners was boosted by Virgin Islanders whose financial services posts in Hong Kong had becomes untenable after Beijing imposed a national security law on the territory, undermining it as a regional financial hub, followed by an accelerated brain drain and flight of capital.
Many younger returnees from Hong Kong had been educated in private international schools alongside the children of Communist party elite, successful industrialists and businesspeople, and spoke fluent Mandarin, adding to the 150-plus languages already spoken in VI homes. They brought a new outlook on the VI scene.
The UK offered immigration visas to Hong Kongers wanting to escape, but could not force China to allow them to leave. However, it was discovered that Hong Kongers were sending out their wealth via networks of VI companies, so the UK Parliament approved an indefinite extension of the date by which open registers would be enforced in order to retain privacy of ownership of VI companies subject to responses to national tax authorities or crime bodies.
Businesses and VI companies could offset their liability by payments to local charities, and economic substance requirements expanded to proving some concrete benefits.
‘Internet of Things’
Zak had viewed at a safe distance the robots installing the 5G aerials throughout the VI while the restoration of the 4G network had taken over three years from its massacre by Hurricane Irma. He remembered his amazement the first time he downloaded an entire 4K HD movie in 10 seconds and attended virtual-reality-enhanced training and presentations, but the greatest benefits were the network’s support for the “Internet of Things.”
The IoT revolution had converted Aruba into “smart” cities with road sensors eliminating trash and orchards repelling marauding insects with automated systems designed to protect them. 5G moved huge amounts of data at high speeds and enabled the IoT to connect formerly unconnected things (like watches, cars, refrigerators, farms and so on).