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  Yves Bourel has been living in St. Barts for more than 10 years. He is an experienced journalist and has been the editor-in-chief for local newspapers. Currently, he is one of the radio announcers at Radio St. Barth for whom he covers political news and is presenting the local news every 2 weeks for St. Barths Online!
  September 5, 2001 - Issue # 5
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  A November referendum
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  August is traditionally the time when islanders spend their weekends preparing for, and then attending the string of neighborhood feasts, or fairs, that are held annually. During this hot summer month, the community party relocates from neighborhood to neighborhood, giving residents of one sector of the island a chance to welcome friends and family to their beaches and their homes and to partake in their hospitality. The moveable feast starts in Flamands, then progressively winds its way to Lorient, Public, Gustavia, and Corossol. The quay in town is annexed by festival organizers as a rallying point, sometimes for athletic contests, sometimes for dances or concerts featuring local bands.
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  The feast of St. Barthelemy, patron saint of the island, is celebrated on August 24, and singles itself out as a a showcase for current political thought. Though time marches on, this day seems to doggedly resist change. The fare is, if anything, predictable. Once the wreath has been laid in front of the monument to commemorate those who died in the war, the crowd shuffles to town hall to hear the mayor of this small community give a flattering review of the actions taken in the past year. The decisions made during that time are recalled as being the right ones, the good ones, and the municipal council members are heartily thanked for their efficiency and self-sacrificing efforts. Protocol dictates that dignitaries are properly introduced. These officials are mostly limited to the regional and general council representatives, as well as the government representative, who are publicly credited with their errors and invoked, in front of all who have jammed into the historic building, to take corrective action. For the past few years, the most exposed in the line of fire are usually the prefect, and his immediate subordinate, the sub-prefect, who must unflinchingly brace themselves to receive the pointed remarks of the mayor concerning the island’s evolving political and fiscal status. Bruno Magras, who concluded his 7th consecutive round of August allocutions two weeks ago, knows the score by heart, and as custom demanded, called the government representative on the carpet for breaking promises made to the people of St. Barth. He was referring to the efforts deployed by the State’s fiscal agents to collect federal taxes from his constituency. The sub-prefect, Patrice Latron, did not tarry in the political repartee, and pointed out that belonging to the French republic implied compliance with certain fundamental rules (read: paying federal taxes.)
And so it went, back and forth, between one speaker and the other. Though their positions were couched in diplomatic finery, it became clear that the veiled antagonism which exists between St. Barthelemy and the French Republic has a decided potential for souring into a higher, more overt degree of conflict. Indeed, though opinions on the methods to be used may vary among locals, the majority agrees on the bottom line, which is to refuse direct state taxation. This should not be taken to mean that St. Barth people refuse to contribute to the national budget, but rather, seek a modified fiscal structure that takes into account the island’s particularities and its historically established rights, locally referred to as “the Swedish legacy”.
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  When Sweden took possession of the island on July 1, 1784, it granted the overseas West Indian colony duty free status and exonerated its overseas citizens from paying federal taxes for the entirety of its nearly century-long reign. In the international treaty signed on August 10, 1877 that governed the conditions under which Sweden was to cede its colony back to France, it was stipulated that the island would retain its duty free status and that citizens would continue to enjoy their tax exemption. With the exception of a brief period in the 1970’s, (when some civil servants and business people were made to pay taxes, some of whom were later reimbursed by the State) that status went unchallenged- or at least observed- by the French government as part of unwritten national policy for the next hundred years. When France’s ruling majority shifted in 1977, so did the clement political winds.
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  “Confronted by this unjust and unacceptable situation, the municipal council will not remain unresponsive for long,” warned the community’s highest leader, alluding to his decision to resign from his post as mayor of St. Barthelemy should the tax department persist in its strong-arm tactics for collecting taxes locally. Perhaps in an effort to squelch any accusations of acting independently and to demonstrate to the French Republic that he is a valid spokesman for the will of the community he was elected to represent, Bruno Magras has announced that an island referendum on this issue will be held sometime in November. The results will undoubtedly set the tone for the events to come.

  More to come,

  Yves Bourel


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