Big turnout: Protestors making their way up Langton Hill. Not all were there just on the ‘land grab’ issue — some told us they were fed up of long-standing injustices. *Photo by Andrew White
Big turnout: Protestors making their way up Langton Hill. Not all were there just on the ‘land grab’ issue — some told us they were fed up of long-standing injustices. *Photo by Andrew White

As many as 2,000 people marched on Government House late yesterday afternoon to protest the governor’s decision to reject a proposal that would have looked into historic and controversial land deals that displaced Bermudians.

Opposition Leader Marc Bean delivered an eight-page document listing the Progressive Labour Party’s grievances with that decision, as well as many other problems the party has with the Governor’s office and its relationship with the One Bermuda Alliance led-government. In the Governor’s absence, Deputy Governor Ginny Ferson was on the steps outside Government House to receive the document. 

The House passed a proposal calling for a Commission of Inquiry earlier this month. There were compulsory land deals in the first half of the last century that allowed for the tourism development of Tucker’s Town, the construction of Bermuda’s railway and what became a World War II-era military airfield.

Governor George Fergusson declined to form such a commission, citing the lack of specifics about the scope of such an endeavour and the lack of information about funding. He did, however, indicate he would consider forming such a commission should those questions be answered. That response was not good enough for the Opposition PLP, which has called for his resignation and suggested the Governor is being disingenuous in his response, saying that those issues have already been discussed with his office.

Ms Ferson did not address the crowd, but Mr Bean indicated she told him she would deliver the document to the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which would consider it “as soon as possible”. Mr Bean did not specify what his party’s list of grievances entailed, other than the Governor’s most recent decision.

Mr Bean told the crowd that if the party did not get the response they were looking for, he would ask them to mobilize again. He said he hoped this marked the start of “being the masters of our own destiny” — which will be read by some as a rallying call for independence

There was a palpable frustration amongst the throngs who gathered.  Some carried signs with slogans such as “Bermudians are treated like second class citizens in their own country.” 

Protest signs

Another read “Land fraud, corruption, sharpe (sic) practices, cover-ups. Is this democracy?” Yet another read: “No status for PRCs.” The crowd marched slowly from the Langton Hill entrance to the grounds of Government House. Some banged drums or rang bells or carried flags or signs. There was a heavy police presence.

While there were plenty of complaints among the crowd regarding a governor who is not elected by Bermudians rejecting a proposal crafted by Bermudian politicians, there were also concerns about shrinking pensions, unemployment, foreigners taking jobs in Bermuda, racism on the island and government corruption. The list of  problems on the island was long and specific.

“There’s still racial discrimination here, there’s still a pay gap,”  said Edward Swan, a 63-year-old from Hamilton Parish. “And we’re supposed to take this? Generation after generation. Over and over and over again? People have just had enough.”

‘The simple things’

Gilbert Casey, a 74-year-old from Hamilton Parish, was concerned about the private sector having more sway over the direction of Bermuda, citing specifically the newly formed Tourism Authority and the SAGE Commission.

“I did this 50 years ago and I’m doing it again,” he said. “It’s fighting for the simple things. That’s the most frustrating part.”

LaVerne Smith, a 64-year-old from Warwick who plans on retiring next year, is troubled by prospective pension freezes. 

“Of course there’s a fear. People are afraid for their jobs, for their mortgages,” she said.

Johnny Lightbourne, a 58-year-old from Warwick, thought the Governor should reverse his decision. “He was wrong,” he said. “It is frustrating, but until we go independent, these are the rules we have. I’m on my way out, I just hope there’s a better Bermuda for my grandkids.”

Philip Martin, a 57-year-old from Somerset, had similar thoughts about the Governor’s decision.

“I feel disrespected,” he said.

Viewpoint / ‘People need to know the truth’

In light of yesterday’s march by the Opposition to Government House regarding the Governor’s decision not to set up a Commission of Inquiry into allegations of historic land grabs, Carla Zuill took to the streets of Hamilton to find out if Bermudians are in support of the commission being established.

Dennis Bean, Snr:

There should have been one done a long time ago. There are certain businesses and  families who own residences on Hinson’s Island and in Fairylands and Tucker’s Town, how did they get them? It’s important to find out. I actually want to sit on the

Chris Nusum, 26:

Yes, I think there should be one. If any land belonged to someone else, it should be returned. It is no different than if a pair of shoes or anything else is stolen from you. Who wants to see someone else have them?’

Tamara Fox:

Yes, I support an inquiry, 100 per cent. It’s only fair. People should have their land back.’

Kyan Ible, 42:

I support it, but at the same time I think the Governor would need more time to investigate whether or not there should even be a commission. A decision of that magnitude should not have been made in 24 hours.’

Jamel Hassell, 34:

Yes, I support it. No one should be denied their property.’

Howard Mello, 35:

I believe they should have the inquiry. People need to know the truth.’