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Overseas Radio Network - History of the Abacos Islands

abaco islands in the bahamas have a colorful historyTopics in Overseas Radio Network Show 1, Segment 1:

  • Abacos secede
  • Turmoil of secession
  • Abacos Independence Movement matures

Hi, this is Gary Fretz and we are talking about the Bahamas today. Specifically, the Abaco chain of islands in the Northern Bahamas. Most people have no idea that a libertarian country was almost founded in the Abacos. I think it is a fascinating story.

For a transcript of this podcast, click below.

Abacos Secede from The Bahamas

abacos islands bahamasIn the 1960s, the Abacos tried to secede from the Bahamas when they were discussing becoming an independent country with London because the Bahamas used to be a colony of the United Kingdom up until 1973. Now the Abaconians wanted to form their own libertarian style country separate from the Bahamas because the politicians in Nassau, which is the capital of the Bahamas were too socialist leaning for the Abaconians. And when London told them, "No, we are not going to let you do that," they prepared to have an armed revolution to accomplished this.

So a rag-tag Abaco army was formed and they started training. But the army wasn’t very big and eventually the authorities in London threatened to send in the Marines. And so, that put an end to the Abaco revolutionary army. Now, the movement for a libertarian Abaco didn’t die with Bahamian independence. Some activists continued to seek autonomy for the island and they included Chuck Hall and Bert Williams who in August 1973 formed a political party called the Abaco Independence Movement (AIM). And its stated goal was self-determination within a federal Bahamas, sort of like a separate state.

Just before Bahamian independence in 1973, Chuck Hall had been in touch with an American financier named Michael Oliver whose libertarian, Phoenix Foundation, had attempted to create a micro-nation in 1971 on some low-lying Pacific atolls that weren’t claimed by anybody by any other country, I should say. And this so-called Republic of Minerva was going to have no taxation, no welfare, no subsidies, or any other form of economic interventionism. And so when the Republic of Minerva fizzled out, the same group wanted to do this in Abaco.

Oliver who was a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust had written a libertarian manifesto in 1968 called a "New Constitution for a New Country". And this supported property rights and an unrestricted market as the basis for human liberty with a minimalist role for the state. Now Oliver agreed to help finance AIM, the political party in order to set up a Libertarian refuge in Abaco.

This campaign for self-determination through legal and peaceful political action was launched in augural edition of AIM’S newspaper called the Abaco Independent in October 1973. Now, one of the movement's key proposals was the placement of all three hundred thousand acres of Crown land in Abaco, that’s the land owned by the Queen, into a land trust drawn up by international respected economist. And at the time, Abacos Crown land was set to be valued at $60M in 1970 dollars.

Land Entitlement Deeds in the Abaconian Independence Manifesto

In addition to home lots, all citizens of Abaco were to receive shares in the trust whose income would be derived from land leases and land sales. In addition to this revenue, a free economic climate will attract business and provide high-paying jobs, AIM said. The plan called for a balance between recreational use, nature preserves, farming, commercial areas, industrial area, as well as traditional real estate developments. So each Abaco citizen would receive a land entitlement deed for a one acre home lots you know in addition to their share from the income from the main trust.

Now estimates at the time suggested that by leasing half of the three hundred thousand acres of crown land to the developers the yearly income would amounted to around $55M that’s in 1971. Which would have set up every citizens of Abaco with a really nice trust fund. They also proposed a Abaco world trade zone which would be a joint venture between the land trust and a company called the Atlas Corporation. They were a development company based in the Cayman Islands.They were supported by wealthy libertarians. A four-page outline of this fifty square mile of the free trade zone was published. Two thirds of the zone would be owned by the land trust and one third by Atlas Corporation. So in late 1973 AIM surveyed 200 Abacos residents and supported strong dissatisfaction with high taxes and poor service from the central government in Nassau together with an almost unanimous more local control.

Abaconian Independence Matures

Now these opinions still resonate today. In 1974, AIM held its first convention. The key speaker was Dr. John Hospers of the University of Southern California. He was an author of a book called "Libertarianism: A Political Philosophy Whose Time Has Come". He was also the first Libertarian party presidential candidate in the US. And now according to a February 1975 article in Esquire Magazine, plans were being drawn up for another alleged insurrection in Abaco. Now, this article was by Andrew Saint George and was entitled "The Amazing New Country Caper" and centered on an interview with Mitchell WerBell who was an American mercenary arms dealer who claimed the Abaco was set to declare unilateral independence in January 1st 1975. Now it is clear that the Bahamian government saw the Abaco independence movement as a serious national issue and the Prime Minister banned the Libertarian organizers from entering the Bahamas.

Now in June 1974, Lord Belhaven, who had supported council for a free Abaco during the British debates in Parliament, asked questions in parliament about the Bahamian government harassment of Abaconians' home rule. And much was made at the time of a dynamite explosion that happened at a political meeting in Marsh Harbour where the Prime Minister was speaking. Fortunately no one was injured in this incident and the prevailing view among Abaconians if that there was never any intention to harm the Prime Minister.

According to one local source involved with AIM, a handful of Abaconians also visited Mr. WerBell's Georgia estate but, no serious of an arms takeover ever came to light or arrest ever laid against any of the alleged participants.

Nevertheless, rumors of this plot led AIM to change its name in 1973 to the Abaco Home Rule Movement. And plans were made to contest the Abaco seats in 1977 general election and this newly started organization denied any association with WerBell and disclaimed any military objectives. So this new political party continue to work on a draft Constitution for a proposed Abaco Commonwealth and this document based on Libertarian principles called for a limited government control by elected representatives from each settlement.

A bicameral legislature would be responsible for establishing laws and procedures to protect citizens from forced and fraud. It would raise revenues setting up a budget and supervising government expenditures. It would maintain and organize a peace-keeping force and judicial system and it would act as a permanent agency for the review of actions by government officials. Now under this Constitution, Abacos' assembly would have the power to suspend or remove from office any official suspected of infringing on an individual’s rights. And most laws would be set to expire after 5 years forcing Parliament to review the cost and benefits of each initiative that passed. Doesn’t that sound like a great plan?

Anyhow, this whole plan kind of fizzled apart and unfortunately never got off the ground. But, you still see this attitude there today.

Now we will have to take a short break we will be back and continue discussions on the Bahamas.

You are listening to the Overseas Radio Network and this is Gary Fretz.

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