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.