Lawyer Has Island for A Client
The flight from Boston to Anguilla is no tribute to the jet age. When Roger Fisher, professor of Law, undertakes it this afternoon, he will fly first to New York, then make an 8:30 p.m. connection to San Juan, sleep over there, and tomorrow fly to St. Thomas or St. Martins. In either case, the last leg may prove difficult: St. Thomas-to-Anguilla planes don't usually operate Sundays, and on St. Martins a special plans has to be chartered. So by process of elimination, Fisher may end up on Uncle Ben's boat.
Uncle Ben makes the trip regularly, but not a great deal more often than Fisher, who has been shuttling back and forth since July. He was there earlier this week, and is now returning to try and negotiate an interim solution to the Anguilla problem with the British Parliamentary Mission currently on the island.
Anguilla's small reputation (most people who have heard of it know only that "small" is the adjective, and persist in referring to it as "Iguana") results mainly from a full-page ad inserted in the New York Times of Aug. 14. "Is it 'silly' that Anguilla does not want to become a nation of bus boys?" the ad asked plaintively. The Times had only a week earlier described Anguilla's declaration of independence as "touching and silly."
"The tiny Leeward island of Anguilla is roaring like the mouse of fiction and screen," the editorial declared, going on to counsel the Anguillians to give up their foolishness and return to the three-island nation of St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla spelled out for them by Great Britain on the eve of decolonization. The ad--signed by Ronald Webster, chairman of the Anguilla Island Council, but largely written by Howard Gossage, a San Francisco ad man--promised honorary Anguillian citizenship to Americans who contributed $100 to the fledgling state, and told prospective contributors to send money to "The Anguilla Trust Fund, Chase Manhattan Bank, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands."
When Roger Fisher got wind of the ad's existence not long before page 25 of the Aug. 14 Times was scheduled to lock up, he tried to check it out. "I said, 'Hold the ad up until I can look at it,' and they [the San Francisco group which wrote and paid for the ad] thought I was working for the CIA in some connection, as a special agent," Fisher recalls.
That was Fisher's first contact with the group of San Francisco professional people whose interest in Anguilla grew out of a fascination with the city-state, and the promise of a return to it. "They got involved," Fisher says, "with the purpose of trying to prove that you could have a small place concerned with its own affairs and not trying to run the world and not trying to be a U.N. member or not trying to be part of anything else, but just doing what came naturally to the people in terms of popular democracy, with no formal constitution, just running the place in a free, idealistic way."
Fisher got involved because he met a man at a party four years ago. The man was Jeremiah Gumbs, a New Jersey businessman born on Anguilla. When Anguilla achieved its de facto independence, in May of this year, Gumbs was asked to seek out an international lawyer and, realizing he had met one, contacted Fisher, at Harvard Law School where he teaches.
To begin with, Fisher knew nothing of the situation, and he spent his first days on the job simply learning what the job was. He learned that Anguilla had suffered years of maltreatment from the larger, 70-miles-distant St. Kitts, with 40,000 people, whose government even in colonial days handled much Anguillian business. Last year Britain had decided to create an associated nation of the three islands of St. Kitts, Nevis (which is two miles from St. Kitts) and Anguilla, despite an uncomfortable relationship between the first two and the third; and ultimately Anguilla, after three months of association, expelled the 13 St. Kitts policemen on their island and struck out on the road to unilateral independence.
"One of the stories I've heard," Fisher says, "is that when the British government was petitioned over a long time to send money for a pier for the Anguillians--they needed a dock; it's a fishing island and the longest pier was maybe 25 feet long and could only take a dinghy--Britain finally sent money to the administration on St. Kitts for such a pier. And it was built: it's called "Anguilla Pier" and it's on St. Kitts."
The central government of the association, headed by Robert Bradshaw, a St. Kitts labor leader, made one ostensibly friendly gesture toward the Anguillans. In early March after Britain had declared the islands free, the candidates for Miss Statehood, none of whom was Anguillian, were shipped over to the small island for examination by its police. The Anguillian mood, however, was unreceptive, and the bikini-clad contestants were pelted with conch shells and driven back home.
Not all the episodes Fisher learned about were comical. One Anguillian school had 350 students in a single room. Schools in general were wildly under-staffed. Requisitions for chalk and other supplies were ignored by the officials on St. Kitts, and application forms for British standardized tests--the equivalents of college boards--went untransmitted.
The legacy of this maltreatment, Fisher says, made independence in association with the other two islands meaningless for Anguilla: "They replaced a warden responsible to Britain with one responsible to St. Kitts, so there was still a warden on the island who ran it and was the only government on the island. There was no school board, no local autonomy, no council to do anything."
Some of this inequity was not deliberate, Fisher feels. "The problems near at hand," he says, "are the ones that bother you." But the natural conflicts between two associated islands of dramatically different size, and with no particular common interests, were compounded by the person of Bradshaw, "who behaves as if he were paranoid," Fisher says. "He is fearful of an attempt to overthrow his government; he has political opponents locked in jail; he has emergency powers on; he has suspended all individual rights; people can be locked up indefinitely without charges being brought against them."
Fisher first arrived in Anguilla for the 4th of July weekend, when the island, to show its liking for the United States, made American independence day an Anguillian holiday. The two broad tasks lying before Fisher were to reduce the possibility of a military invasion by St. Kitts and to gain whatever minimal recognition and assistance Anguilla required to survive. Toward both ends, Fisher drafted a one-page constitution, specifying at the end that Anguilla was not to return to its association with St. Kitts unless a plebiscite so directed.
Before the constitution could be adopted, a referendum was to be held on the question of Anguillian independence. Fisher was back in Massachusetts--Martha's Vineyard--when, on the 10th of July, he received a telegram reading "REFERENDUM SET FOR THE 11TH IMPERATIVE YOU RETURN IMMEDIATELY BRING INTERNATIONAL OBSERVERS." He did his best.
"I got to St. Thomas," Fisher says, "and there were Anguillians--who lived in Anguilla but worked in St. Thomas--lined up waiting for a charter plane to take them over and back at $15 a head each way to go and vote. They were using half a week's pay and losing a day just to vote. And of course a lot of them couldn't get there because there was not enough space on the plane--it takes 40 minutes each way from St. Thomas. But one of them gave me his seat knowing he wanted me down; it was a little embarrassing because the reporter I had with me, an associate editor from the Washington Post, didn't make it till several hours later. They wouldn't give up the seat for a reporter."
In the morning Fisher toured the polling places and concluded that the referendum met the highest standards of electoral honesty. "It took most of the evening to count the ballots because they would hold up a ballot and the man would say, 'the next ballot: question one [secession], yes; question two [interim government], yes; is there a challenge to the ballot?' Then they would pass the ballot around the table to see if any one of these sort of professional ballot challengers wanted to challenge it. The way the ballot was printed, it had a perforated slip across the top in which the man would sign his name, which would be torn off to show that he had voted, and that went into the pile of receipts for the ballot, and then you voted on the perforation below and there was no way to identify which perforation came from which ballot. But occasionally a man would sign his name on the ballot and the mark would come down across the perforation, and whenever this happened, someone would challenge the ballot on the ground that it was possible to go through the signature slips and find out how he voted. And we lost some 22 ballots this way. But anyway, along about midnight the vote was counted." The result was 1813 for secession, 5 against.
Fisher, on seeing this remarkable act of democracy performed, felt there should be a meeting the next day of the Island Council and other important Anguillians. To his surprise, he discovered that most of the people saw little need for further action. There had not been a great deal of government on Anguilla when it was a British colony, nor when it was an associated state, and few Anguillians wanted to start now.
Fisher recalls that he "finally got a hold of someone, and I said, 'Where is everybody'? And this fellow said, 'But it's all over. We're independent.'" Eventually Fisher did arrange a meeting, "and we got people to write on one side of a blackboard the jobs that had to be done--the roads, the hospitals, the schools, raising money, bookeeping, economic planning and development, foreign affairs, defense, police. On the other side of the blackboard, we wrote the names of people that somebody thought might be good for the job, and then we just had long discussions of who ought to do all the actual work, who ought to be in charge of the individual projects."
The next step was to decide on a provisional council, and it was here that the racial issue came up or, more exactly, failed to come up. "I said, 'How about the white-black problem? I've noticed here you have four whites out of seven on the council.' They said, 'Four what?' I said, 'Well...er...excuse me, but there's a problem here...let's lay our cards on the table. Let's be sure we can live with this group and so forth,' and they said, 'No problem, no problem.' I found it hard to believe but I pressed them and they assured me. Then I said, 'There's also a little problem of geography: do you have people from different parts of the island?' And they said, 'Mr. Fisher, what do you think we've been doing all afternoon?'"
Anguilla may have a racial problem, Fisher says, but if so it is completely different from anything American. The island's 6,000 people are overwhelmingly black, but in the heat of a political debate it was possible for one Anguillian to refer cryptically to "a certain social group" and turn out to mean just that--a group of men, white and black, who saw each other socially.
Since the Fourth of July, Fisher has been back to Anguilla five times. The crisis period fell in the first weeks of August, when there was the threat of a military landing by British Marines and a peacekeeping force of Carribean powers. But last-minute negotiations and a fear of real bloodshed prevented such a landing. In any case, St. Kitts has been shown incapable or unwilling to attempt Anguilla's recapture, and the prospects for de facto independence, with the kind of assistance Anguilla now requires, are apparently improving.
Fisher, the legal adviser, says that his ultimate objective is simply to remove himself from the picture. Dictionary definitions of "colony" and "nation" have little relevance for Anguilla, but self-determination and paternalism do. And even a clear selfdeterminist like Fisher can feel occasional twinges of paternalism