St. Barths Online

News

Apr 17, 2000

Status

In a very short length of time - less than twenty years - St. Barths has been transformed from sleepy to bustling, from unknown to internationally popular, and from poor to rich.
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Among other consequences, this has caused two long-submerged issues to rise to the surface: St. Barths' fiscal relationship with France, and St. Barths' political relationship with France vis-a-vis Guadeloupe.
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In the first case, for many decades St. Barths' residents have been exonerated from the dazzling array of French taxes, in part, because of the terms of the 1878 treaty of acquisition, but, in larger part, because of benign neglect. Now, having been exposed to endless descriptions of the fashionable playground of the rich and famous, the tax collectors are claiming the right to dip their beak.
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In the second case, the fact of St. Barths being a sub-division of the Department of Guadeloupe was determined, during the national re-organization that followed World War II, for geographical rather than cultural reasons. In fact, St. Barths has little in common with Guadeloupe: it is small and dry, and therefore does not have, and cannot have, a primarily agricultural economy. More significantly, its core population is made up of the descendants of French adventurers, rather than the descendants of African slaves.
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This hasn't mattered very much while St. Barths was sleepy and remote, but as government has become more intrusive and complex, the prospect of dependency upon the good will of the members of a very different culture has become less than attractive.
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It would be brilliant to resolve both of these issues in one stroke, and this is just what the local leadership has in mind.
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There are several forms of political association with France other than that under which St. Barths currently suffers. They are: 1) collectivités territoriales (example: Saint-Pierre-et Miquelon within Canada), 2) terretoires d'outre mer (example: French Polynesia), and 3) a unique statute for New Caledonia.
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All give the recipient a good deal more autonomy than communal participation in a Department, and that is what local leaders, as well as the local population, believe St. Barths, in view of its history, and in view of its uniqueness, ought to have.
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Any alteration of political status must, of necessity, include a discussion and definition of the fiscal side of things, and this would be the ideal moment to resolve the clouded question of St. Barths' fiscal responsibilities to the Motherland.
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When this will happen, if indeed it will happen at all, remains to be seen, but it is reassuring to see that local folk, long accustomed to running their own affairs by virtue of a neglectful parent, wish to formalize the circumstance, and to assume a more comprehensive responsibility for their own welfare.

Peter O'Keefe


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