Several months ago an organization known as Friends of Abaco appeared on the scene, and advertised (among other places) in this magazine. Abaco, the ads explained, is one of the Bahamas islands, whose people want to be autonomous from the central government in Nassau. The ads went on to imply that Abaco could become a free-enterprise enclave, with free trade, no taxes, and full individual liberty.
Free trade zones, and tax havens tend to come and go, generally starting with a big splash, enticing in banks, industries, and expatriates from abroad…only to suffer a change of administration which begins to regulate, tax, and set up a welfare state like any other government. Would Abaco be any different? Does the independence movement have much chance of succeeding? If a laissez-faire enclave should be set up there, would it be likely to last?
To attempt to answer these questions, REASON has been researching the Abaco situation for the past six months. The most recent step occurred at the end of July when editor-in-chief Lynn Kinsky and executive editor Robert Poole, Jr. visited Abaco. Exploring the country like tourists, they talked with native Abaconians, both black and white, about the island, its problems, the Nassau government, and the independence movement In the course of their travels, they talked with several of the leaders of the Abaco Independence Movement and obtained a copy of the proposed constitution of the Abaco Commonwealth. Their assessment—in words and pictures—follows.
At first glance Abaco might seem a rather strange place for a new nation to be born. It is small and relatively poor, its people are unsophisticated, it possesses no great mineral wealth, no large harbors, and no cities. Yet none of this should disqualify it: Hong Kong, Macao, and Singapore are all independent, prosperous free ports. All three are smaller than Abaco's 776 square miles, and all are basically without natural resources. Indeed, the brief ascendancy of Freeport on neighboring Grand Bahama Island showed very pointedly what kind of energetic development could be generated on virtually worthless land, simply by removing taxation. (Freeport grew from nothing to 20,000 people in a few short years, with 15 hotels, a dredged harbor and marina, and several major American-owned plants and refineries.) As an independent nation Abaco would not be the world's smallest, either in area or in population. A number of U.N. members are smaller in area, and at least one is smaller in population than Abaco's present 6500.
So what kind of a place is Abaco? This would-be country is actually an archipelago, consisting of two large islands—Great Abaco and Little Abaco—and numerous small offshore islands called cays (pronounced keys). From north to south, the islands extend some 90 miles, and cover 75 miles east to west. Abaco is approximately 170 miles east of Florida and 100 miles north of Nassau, capital of the Bahamas. The main settlements on Great Abaco are Cooperstown, Treasure Cay, Marsh Harbor (seat of government, i.e. the office of the Commissioner, sent from Nassau), Little Harbor, Cherokee Sound, and Sandy Point. There are airstrips at Sandy Point, Treasure Cay, and Marsh Harbor, the latter two being designated as "international airports" in view of daily service from Florida (Mackey International) and Nassau (Bahamasair). A number of the smaller cays are privately owned, mostly by Americans, but there are long-established settlements on Green Turtle Cay (New Plymouth), Great Guana Cay, Man-o-War Cay, and Elbow Cay (Hope Town and White Sound).
Marsh Harbor is the largest settlement, spread out along its harbor for about a mile, together with its suburbs of Murphy Town and Dundas Town. The town boasts several inns and restaurants, four banks, a clinic, a supermarket, and various other modern stores, a charter-yacht service, and other service businesses. The settlements on the cays are much more compact, resembling New England whaling towns of 200 years ago, with narrow streets and neat little houses, painted in pastel colors. Hope Town is particularly picturesque, with its candy-striped lighthouse (still lit by kerosene, as it has been for 100 years) and beautiful hurricane-safe harbor. The only Americanized area of Abaco is Treasure Cay, a resort community developed by Americans beginning in 1963. It features a very modern hotel, condominiums, beach houses, marina, golf course, and homesites—and is regarded as distinctly foreign by most Abaconians.
Great Abaco has a single paved north-south highway (the Great Abaco Highway), built by Owens-Illinois in 1959 to serve its logging operations (since moved to Andros Island). Most of the 1600 miles of road on the island (largely unpaved) were built by that company, which during the 1960's was a mainstay of Abaco's economy. The coming of the highway permitted cars to be introduced, the population of which has exploded from two (in 1959) to some 2000 today. Once Owens-Illinois ceased logging in 1968, there was no further maintenance on the road, despite the pleas of the citizenry to the government in Nassau. Finally in 1973 the government issued a paving contract, reportedly at $24,000 per mile. According to local lore, the contractor (who had no prior experience and was selected for political reasons) turned right around and subcontracted the job to another firm for $20,000 per mile, pocketing a fast profit. The latter simply graded the road, rather than repaving it, and as a result it is once again a mass of pot holes.
Economically, tourism is the island's largest business activity. Abaco's incredibly beautiful water, white sand beaches, and balmy climate make it a favorite off-the-beaten-path tourist spot, especially for boat owners. Boat-building was once an important industry, but the advent of fiberglass has largely obsoleted the skills of Marsh Harbor and Man-o-War Cay's fine hand craftsmen. Fishing is an important occupation of Abaconian men, and the island practically shuts down during the late summer crawfish (lobster) season, when everyone goes out after the highly lucrative shellfish.
Lumbering was an important industry during the 1960's, with forests of yellow pine providing excellent pulpwood for the Jacksonville (Florida) paper mills. Owens-Illinois cleared huge stands of timber, which it properly reforested, but completed its cutting program in 1968. Wishing to make further use of its large investment in equipment, its buildings and roads, workforce, etc., the company then developed a major sugar-cane operation. It brought in 19 heavy-duty bulldozers to clear the land, and 30 farm tractors to work it. A modern sugar refining and packing plant was built adjacent to the fields. By 1970 the operation employed 300 people, 150 of them Bahamians, but by November of that year the company decided to close down. Its press release cited the inability of the Bahamas to get a sufficiently large U.S. sugar quota, and said also that the yield per acre was substantially below what was needed for a profitable operation. Unsaid, but widely believed, was the company's serious problem in obtaining the necessary work permits to bring in enough skilled managers and technicians, due to the Pindling government's work permit freeze which began in March 1969.
Today, nearly four years after the shutdown, Owens-Illinois has yet to find a buyer for its Abaco holdings: a 23,000 acre plantation and sugar mill capable of producing 50,000 tons per year, rows and rows of rusting tractors, lease rights to 25,000 additional acres, three employee towns (with schools, electricity, and water), a portion of the Great Abaco Highway, and a group of executive homes. The price? Just $16 million, complete. The lack of buyers is indicative of outside investors' lack of confidence in the economic system under the Nassau government.
Indeed, it is only tourism that has limited Abaco to a recession while the rest of the Bahamas have experienced a depression during the past few years. Pindling's racially-motivated work permit system and the increasingly high import duties have made it extremely difficult for American companies to invest in new plants and equipment. They cannot find the skilled technicians and managers they need, and their costs of materials keep rising. Moreover, the government periodically makes noises about introducing an income tax, which does little to shore up the Bahamas' tarnished reputation as a tax haven. These policies have produced unemployment as high as 30 percent in some places. With unemployment has come a large increase in crime in places like Nassau (though not on Abaco), which has seriously hurt the tourist trade, which further aggravates the unemployment situation.
Undoubtedly some of Abaco's continued popularity with tourists stems from its unique social and racial structure and the resultant lack of anti-white hostility (in contrast to conditions elsewhere in the Caribbean right now). Whites constitute only about 15 percent of the population of the Bahamas overall but Abaco is unique in that the black-white ratio is about 50-50.
After the American Revolutionary War large numbers of British Loyalists fled to the Bahamas in order to stay under British rule. The first settlers on Abaco came from New York and New England in 1785 and were primarily fishermen and boatbuilders—they settled on the cays where good harbors were available. Other Loyalists came from Virginia and the Carolinas bringing their slaves with them and they set up cotton plantations on Great Abaco. When Britain abolished slavery in 1834 many of the plantations were abandoned and the freed slaves left on their own to eke out whatever precarious existence they could.
Meanwhile, out on the cays, the living was pretty easy. The waters all through the Bahamas can be treacherous to navigate and there were no charts available in the early 1800's—many ships went aground accidentally, resulting in the cargo being salvaged by local residents. Even more ships were lured aground when local residents set up false navigation beacons! Wrecking was the industry among the Loyalists on the cays—enough ships were crashed onto Elbow Cay every year to provide a comfortable salvage income for all 600 residents of Hope Town. These halcyon days came to an end with the completion in 1862 of Hopetown's famed candy-stripe lighthouse (the residents tried unsuccessfully to sabotage its construction) and all of Abaco settled down into an isolated, poverty-stricken existence. There was little communication between white and black settlements (blacks weren't allowed on some of the cays) or even between white settlements, and that situation wasn't modified until 1959 when the Great Abaco Highway was built linking the mainland settlements.
The main thing the highway did was promote business and commerce between the races—the settlements have never integrated residentially. Nor does anyone, black or white, appear to want residential integration—both races appear concerned about preventing interracial marriage as well as trying to avoid having either racial group become politically or economically dominant over the other. This system appears to work well; there is no segregation in stores, hotels, schools, restaurants, etc. and black Abaconians have for the most part been unresponsive to the racist rhetoric of Prime Minister Lyndon Pindling.
This desire to remain autonomous extends to all levels of Abaconian life; it's more than just a racial issue. The Out Islands of the Bahamas, including Abaco, are still a frontier, and in many respects life in the settlements hasn't changed much in 200 years: children's schooling consists mainly in learning to read and write; churches are the dominant social institutions in the settlements and religion is taken quite seriously; family structure is very traditional with women sticking strictly to the home; and—most importantly—the economy is still a hunting (fishing) and gathering one. The waters around Abaco teem with fish, conch, crawfish, etc. and a man can earn enough to support a family adequately (by Abaco standards) without having to work too hard. He's self-sufficient, he's his own boss—and he's very independent.
For most of Abaco's history it was a neglected island in Britain's poorest colony—although the islanders presumably got psychic satisfaction out of being British subjects, their contact with agents of the government was minimal. Each settlement kept to itself and handled its own affairs—a situation which was drastically changed when Owens-Illinois started opening up the island in 1959 and gave the Bahamian government and the Abaco settlements access to each other.
In 1967 the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) won their first electoral victory in the Bahamas, marking an end to two centuries of white political control in the 85-percent black islands. The PLP, under Lyndon O. Pindling, built its political program on two planks: appeals to black racism and economic interventionism. Its campaigns during its six years in power have openly exploited black grievances and discontent, by promising to throw out whites, or at least to take away from them the good jobs and give them to blacks. The practical implementation of this rhetoric was Pindling's system of work permits for foreigners, culminating in the disastrous permit freeze of 1969. PLP's economic programs have included inflating the currency, raising taxes, proposing national health insurance, and removing portions of the home rule provisions granted to Freeport in 1957.
As discussed above, Abaco's social structure is unlike that of the other Bahamas islands. With its relatively good race relations, large white population, extensive British heritage, and rugged individualism, Abaco did not respond favorably to PLP's rhetoric, consistently giving majorities to the opposition party. Consequently, when the PLP government succeeded in winning independence from Great Britain in 1973, a delegation from Abaco went to England and petitioned the Queen to allow Abaco to remain a British colony, separate from the Bahamas. But the request fell on deaf ears.
The Abaco separatists were discouraged, but not defeated. Independence became official in July of 1973. By August, the formation of a new political party on Abaco—the Abaco Independence Movement (AIM)—was announced, with the avowed purpose of achieving self-government for Abaco. The first issue of the party's newsletter, The Abaco Independent, set forth AIM's basic philosophy of government, in the following words: "The purpose of government is to protect the freedom of the individual from force and fraud. Government should be the servant, not the master, of the people."
If these words have a surprisingly libertarian ring to them, the source of this influence is no mystery. One of the founders of AIM several years ago heard about American libertarian Mike Oliver, and purchased a copy of his book, A New Constitution for a New Country. Oliver's ideas on separating economy and state by law, and his concept of an extremely limited government funded by participation premiums rather than taxes (see "Designing a Free Country: An Interview with Mike Oliver," REASON, December 1972) seemed particularly applicable to the situation on Abaco. Consequently, the AIM leaders contacted Oliver for advice and assistance.
Mike Oliver, as readers of this magazine and of the International Harry Schultz Letter are aware, has spent a considerable portion of his time and energy over the past six years working on what he terms the New Country Project—a continuing, worldwide search for locations where libertarian concepts of freedom might be put into practice. These efforts have involved scores of people and several million miles of travel, discussion and negotiations with a variety of governments and industrial concerns. Thus far, none of these efforts has succeeded, principally due to an incredible unwillingness on the part of established governments to relinquish sovereignty over even the smallest, most worthless piece of land. (Even the worst collectivist bureaucrat is apparently aware of the remarkable power of truly free enterprise to turn barren islands and deserts into centers of commerce—and he's not about to relinquish his "sovereign right" to move in and tax what the newcomer capitalists might produce.)
Abaco, however, appeared to present a uniquely promising opportunity. For here was an area in which the population (or at least a significant portion of it) appeared to be basically individualist in orientation, and desirous of getting out from under an oppressive external government, whose interventionist policies were visibly wrecking the economy. Further investigation by New Country Project personnel confirmed the initial impressions. As a result, a U.S. foundation known as Friends of Abaco (FOA) was set up, headed by Hank Phillips in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. The foundation, of course, could not engage in political activities, but there was nothing to prevent it from engaging in a variety of educational activities (such as sending several hundred copies of John Hospers' Libertarianism to Abaco).
GETTING UNDER WAY
With advice and encouragement from FOA, and immediate grass-roots support, AIM's organizing got into high gear. Between its first public meeting on October 27, 1973 and July 1, 1974, AIM's membership grew from zero to about 1000 (out of only 2200 voters). The most active support has come from Marsh Harbor and Hope Town, but AIM has members in all 17 of Abaco's settlements. Membership is about evenly split between whites and blacks, and AIM's vice-chairman is black. Besides achieving a large membership in a short period of time, AIM has (1) published and distributed The Abaco Independent—a semi-monthly newsletter commenting on political and economic events on Abaco and in Nassau, and promoting the cause of independence, (2) distributed a large number of bumper strips supporting independence and criticizing the government, (3) produced and sold AIM T-shirts, (4) held an organizing convention, and (5) conducted a development conference.
The main speakers at the AIM organizing convention in February were libertarian philosopher John Hospers and Cleophas Adderly, an Independent member of the Bahamas Parliament. Adderly, a strong supporter of AIM, came down hard on the PLP-dominated Nassau government. Telling the AIM supporters that "this heartless government is driving you into the dust," Adderly reminded them that when government fails to be the servant of the people, "you are supposed to get rid of them." Hospers, having been warned by Immigration at Marsh Harbor not to make a political speech, instead delivered an "economic speech," pointing out that when government gets a stranglehold on business and the economy, it paralyzes people's initiative to do anything on their own. Both speeches received front-page write-ups in The Tribune, Nassau's leading newspaper. The convention adopted a party constitution, statement of principles, platform, and a plan of action setting forth both short-term and long-term actions for achieving self-government.
The development conference, called "Prosperity '74," was held in May by AIM's Abaco Development Bureau. Its purpose was to bring together a group of industrial experts in order to generate ideas on how the island could become self-reliant. About 100 prominent Abaco business and community leaders were invited to the conference, which focused on tourism, commercial fishing, and agriculture. Among the speakers were Dr. Jack Wheeler, speaking on Abaco's substantial tourist potential; Alvin W. Lowi, discussing improved technology for commercial fishing; and Susan Love Brown, discussing the island's educational needs. Also attending were potential foreign investors, and Lord Belhaven, a member of the British Parliament who supports independence for Abaco.
Noticeably absent from the conference was Dr. Hospers, who had been scheduled to speak on plans for setting up an academy of higher education on Abaco. Anticipating trouble from Immigration due to both the popularity of his book, and his February speech, Hospers flew into Treasure Cay rather than Marsh Harbor. But Bahamas Immigration apparently had alerted all points of entry to be on the lookout for this "undesirable alien." Thus, Hospers was not allowed off the plane, but was forced to return immediately to Miami. Fortunately, the incident was reported in the Nassau Guardian, exposing the government's blatant repression of free speech.
A PROGRAM FOR FREEDOM
A political movement needs more than membership and meetings. It must have issues to obtain support, and it must have a plan for dealing with these issues. AIM has emphasized a number of issues in its campaign to build support for independence, and has developed a constitution for setting up a new, limited government for an independent Abaco. The people of Abaco have many grievances, apart from the destruction of the economy by the Nassau government. Despite the PLP's pre-independence rhetoric about the evils of colonialism, the status of the Bahama Out Islands (of which Abaco is one) is essentially that of colonies of the Nassau government. Government officials, including Abaco's Commissioner, court, and police officers, are appointed by the Nassau government. Of the tax money collected on Abaco (import duties, fuel taxes, license fees), only about one-third returns to Abaco in the form of services. And over 300,000 acres of Abaco consists of government-owned Crown lands, over which Abaconians have no control.
AIM has taken these issues to heart, advocating short-term reforms (which the government is likely to ignore, thereby strengthening the case for independence). It has agitated strenuously for repair of the pot hole-filled Great Abaco Highway, pointing out how little Abaconians receive for the 30¢ per gallon gasoline tax. It has urged creation of a special trust fund from the government's marine revenues collected on Abaco (fuel taxes, license fees, etc.) for repair of broken-down public docks, navigation aids, etc., since one of AIM's (interim) principles is that "those who pay taxes are the ones who should receive the benefits from them." It has called for local election of all public officials, and especially for local control of courts and police.
AIM's most imaginative idea concerns establishment of an Abaco National Land Trust. Pointing out that the so-called Crown Lands rightfully belong, not to the government, but to the people of Abaco, AIM proposes converting these land holdings into a trust, shares of which would be held by Abaconians. The trust would make available to each native-born Abaconian adult one acre of land; the balance would be leased (with suitable safeguards against pollution) for commercial, light industrial, tourist, residential, and recreational purposes. One economic study projects that leasing only 137,000 of the 300,000 acres could yield annual income of $55 million, to be used to provide services to tenants and to provide income to each shareholder in the Land Trust. Needless to say, this proposal is attractive to residents of what, by American standards, is an underdeveloped island.
A NEW CONSTITUTION
AIM's leaders are understandably closed-mouthed about the precise steps they plan to take to achieve independence for Abaco. They have carefully researched 20th century history and U.N. resolutions regarding independence and self-determination, so that whatever their approach, they will have an array of facts and precedents to support their case in the eyes of the world. What is especially noteworthy is the care with which they have developed and refined their proposed constitution for the Abaco Commonwealth. Their challenge, basically, was to devise a way to set up a government limited strictly to protection against force and fraud: a government completely separate from the country's economy, and financed without resort to coercive taxation. Such a government would keep the peace, while preserving indefinitely Abaco's status as a tax-free haven for free trade.
The resulting document (at least in its third-draft, May 1974 version) is truly remarkable; its adoption by an independent Abaco would be an event comparable in significance to adoption of the U.S. Constitution in 1787. Americans will find much about the document that reminds them of our own constitution: separation of powers among executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government; checks and balances; a two-house legislature; an even stronger bill of rights. But in many respects these similarities are superficial, being matters of form rather than substance. The essential features of the constitution concern the powers of, and limitations on, the government, and its method of obtaining revenue.
The Abaco government would be limited by the proposed constitution to a list of specific functions, and expressly prohibited from carrying out a long list of other activities. For example, under the constitution the government could NOT:
- Issue money
- Pass or enforce any legal tender laws
- Restrict trade in any way
- Establish or aid any school or church
- Own any business or property
- Establish or support any form of charity, welfare, or insurance program
- Grant exclusive franchises
- Subsidize any business
- Interfere with wages or prices.
The government's limited powers and duties include the following:
- Maintaining peace-keeping and defense forces
- Maintaining courts
- Maintaining the government agencies defined in the constitution
- Registering and recording legal documents
- Adjudicating disputes.
In addition, there are various activities in which the government may engage, but which are not required of it:
- Guaranteeing priority of usage, based on properly established claims, to radio frequencies, air lanes, and marine resources
- Guaranteeing patents and copyrights (with multiple patents allowed in case of independent invention)
- Establishing fishing seasons
- Investigating fraudulent product claims, upon complaint, and requiring corrective action
- Prohibiting import or export of disease-causing products, arms for criminal groups, and products of material benefit to a declared enemy of the Commonwealth. Each such allegation must be proven in court.
The constitution's most important concept is its provision for voluntary government funding, so as to make good on the no-taxation provision. The basic concept is derived from Oliver's A New Constitution for a New Country, and is based on the following premise: if government performs valuable services, people who wish these services should—and will—pay for them. Therefore, the constitution separates people into two categories: participants and nonparticipants. Participants are those who choose to partake of government services. In exchange for paying an annual participation premium (computed by dividing the proposed annual budget by the number of participants), they obtain voting rights (if they are citizens), access to the courts, and full police protection. With regard to courts and police services, all residents are to be recognized as having equal rights before the law, and a police officer witnessing a crime in progress is required to act as if the victim were a participant. If it turns out that the victim is not a participant, however, he or she may be charged for the services rendered, as well as for the cost of a participation premium for a period of time determined by the court. Participants may bring civil and criminal cases in the courts, including actions against any agency or official of the government for failure to adequately protect against force and fraud; nonparticipants are denied these privileges.
Because the government's functions are so strictly limited, there is reason to expect the participation premiums to be relatively low, compared with tax payments in comparable countries. In addition to participation premiums, the constitution provides for other government revenues in the form of punitive fines levied by courts on convicted criminals (over and above restitution to the victim and court costs), registration fees for contracts and other documents (whose registration would be voluntary), and fees charged to visitors and those filing petitions for permanent residency and citizenship. The visitor fees would be constitutionally limited to an amount less than the comparable participation premium (prorated over the length of stay); visitors would be allowed to become full participants while in Abaco by paying the full participation premium. The petition-filing fees would likewise be limited to amounts less than full participation premiums.
Would all this really work? Wouldn't this grand design degenerate into just another case of vote-buying politics? No one can guarantee the outcome, but the constitution's framers have included a number of innovative safeguards in an attempt to preserve the limited nature of the government. To begin with, lacking the power to tax, the power to create or inflate currency, and the power to regulate and subsidize, the government will not be a very inviting target for those who want something for nothing. Further, to counter any budding statist tendencies, the framers have included such provisions as the following:
- All statutes expire automatically after five years
- Salaries (if any) of legislators are set by the voters whom they represent, not by the legislature
- Laws can be repealed by referendum
- Assemblymen vote in proportion to the number of votes received when they were elected (i.e. based on how many people they actually represent)
- "None of the above" may be voted for, instead of candidates, on all ballots.
People, of course, can get around any set of safeguards, and if a majority of Abaconians should later adopt collectivistic ideas, no system of laws and safeguards will forever preserve the limited government. Thus, the ultimate question is: are the people of Abaco ready for a free society?
Unfortunately the question doesn't lend itself to a simple yes or no answer. There seems to be little doubt that most Abaconians have had it with the Nassau government. They don't like being subjected to the caprices of Nassau-appointed policemen and bureaucrats over whom they have no control; they don't like being taxed, especially not for services they don't receive; they don't like being subject to a government whose policies drive out jobs and investments; etc. However, it's not clear how many AIM supporters have joined the organization because of an ideological commitment to libertarian principles, as opposed to joining to express dissatisfaction with the status quo. It could well be that many AIM members would be just as happy to return to the paternalism of the British colonial government—if Britain would agree (which is unlikely).
But even if all Abaconians were ready ideologically for a free society and the proposed Constitution was adopted as the basis for their government, they would still face the problem of making it work. Here the prognosis is a bit gloomy—to date Abaconian experiences in self-government have been limited to serving on school boards, public works committees, etc., and the skills developed there aren't of the administrative sort a national government would require. On the other hand, Abaconians wouldn't have to unlearn corrupt and coercive political practices—never having had a chance to learn them in the first place—and would be approaching their new form of government on its own terms without preconceptions.
The final matter to consider is what changes Abaco would experience if a free society were established there—are the people of Abaco prepared to actually live in a politically free society, open to extensive immigration by people with modern views? In theory, yes; until 20 years ago they lived with virtually no political government, defending their moral values informally. But 20 years ago Abaco was a very clannish society and culturally and technically backward. Even if freedom-loving outsiders knew it existed they faced considerable hardships by moving there and their impact on the society was minimal. Today the situation is quite different—an independent, laissez-faire Abaco would be in danger of sinking into the sea from the weight of all its visitors, new residents, new businesses, etc.!
Seen from this perspective, the question becomes one of whether Abaconians can learn enough, fast enough in the process of achieving independence to be able to cope with post-independence problems. A single year seems a very short time span for going from a 19th-century to a 20th-century way of life. One almost hopes that AIM does not achieve its goal too quickly, but rather that a prolonged struggle for independence will produce people with skills in organizing and managing, and lead to increased contact with outsiders. This will greatly increase the odds that "future shock" does not cause a prompt reversion to a paternalistic, colonial-type government after but a brief taste of freedom.
Lynn Kinsky is editor in chief of REASON. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin in chemistry, Ms. Kinsky has recently entered a graduate program in sociology at the University of California in Santa Barbara, from which she plans to obtain a Ph.D. Robert Poole, Jr. is executive editor of REASON and director of marketing for a California think tank. He holds two degrees in engineering from MIT.
A VISITOR'S GUIDE TO ABACO
If you're the sort of tourist who loves Las Vegas, big cities, lots of shopping, excitement, and entertainment, then you can forget about Abaco—go to Freeport or Nassau instead. But if you enjoy year-round boating, snorkeling and diving in warm, crystal-clear waters, meeting friendly people, and generally just taking it easy, then Abaco's the place for you.
To get to Abaco take Mackey Airlines from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, or West Palm Beach, Florida or Bahamasair from Nassau—each city has a morning and an afternoon flight into both Marsh Harbor and Treasure Cay (schedules are subject to the usual airlines' whimsy). Try not to fly in on a Sunday—the Customs inspectors consider their work on that day "overtime" and collect a $3 per person fee to compensate them for their efforts! Passports are not required of U.S. citizens, and the customs inspection can vary from cursory to nit-picky (if you plan on doing any hunting or spear fishing, check out Bahamian regulations before you leave the U.S.—weapons control is extremely strict in the Bahamas; ditto drug control).
The Abaconian ground transportation system is fast and efficient. Taxis meet all planes and ferry service to the cays is geared to plane arrivals and departures. The airports, taxis, ferries, and hotels are linked via citizen band radio and a conscientious effort is made to ensure that everyone gets to their destination promptly and that no one is left stranded. The taxi fare from airport to local hotels or ferry landing is $5 per person; the ferry trip (Marsh Harbor to Elbow Cay or Man-o-War Cay; Treasure Cay to Green Turtle Cay) is another $5. Buses run between Marsh Harbor and Treasure Cay several times daily at $5 per person. The U.S. dollar is on par with the Bahamian dollar and the two currencies are used interchangeably on Abaco.
A variety of tourist accommodations is available but the number of rooms on the island is limited and reservations are essential, especially during the winter season. Houses and cottages can be rented in several of the settlements, but since many things Americans take for granted—such as supermarkets, laundromats, and central-station generated electricity—are available only in Marsh Harbor and Treasure Cay, a first-time visitor might find renting in the cays or one of the other settlements more hassle than it's worth. (For that matter, Marsh Harbor is the only town with enough restaurants to justify opting for European Plan with your room.)
During our visit to Abaco we stayed first at the Treasure Cay Beach Hotel and then at the Elbow Cay Club—two very different hotels. The Treasure Cay Beach Hotel (c/o P.O. Box 3941, Main Office, Miami, FL 33101) is part of a multi-million dollar resort-villa-condominium-marina community being developed by Deltec Banking Corporation, Ltd. Treasure Cay features an 18 hole golf course, clay tennis courts, a fresh water swimming pool, a large marina, a lovely beach, modern medical facilities, a shopping center, elegant air-conditioned rooms and villas to rent, and fine dining facilities (jacket suggested at dinner)—all the comforts (and then some!) of home. If you want to vacation in luxury and privacy and can afford to pay a minimum of $65 per day (two people, winter rates, Modified American Plan), then Treasure Cay is for you. However, if you want to meet Abaconians and get a feel for island life, then Treasure Cay is not the place to be—it's more representative of Palm Beach than of Abaco.
At the opposite pole from Treasure Cay is the Elbow Cay Club (c/o P.O. Box 849, Miami, FL 33137), situated about a mile outside Hope Town and reachable via the ferry from Marsh Harbor. The Club consists of a number of rustic but comfortable wooden cottages and a central clubhouse/bar built around a private cove, beach, and dock off the Bay of Abaco. The cove provides good snorkeling and swimming, sail and motor boats are available for those wishing to explore the surrounding reefs and cays, Hope Town and Atlantic Ocean beaches are easily accessible by road and boat, and for the energetic, windsurfing lessons are available [it isn't as easy as it looks!—LK]. The Elbow Cay Club is the least formal of any of the hotels on Abaco—owners Bob and Annie Maltarp run it as an extension of their home with casual dress the rule and all meals (delicious!) served family style on the patio. The bar is a favorite gathering spot for local residents and visitors, and a good place to meet people and make friends. The Elbow Cay Club costs about $44 per day (two people, winter rates, Modified American Plan).
For more information on vacationing on Abaco write to The Secretary, Abaco Businessmen's Association, Post Office Box 509, Marsh Harbor, Abaco, Bahamas—they have a number of pamphlets available—or check with your travel agent. If you're interested in coming in your own plane or boat, the standard source of information is the Yachtsman's Guide to the Bahamas, available for $4 from Caribbean Sailing Yachts, Inc., Box 491A, Tenafly, NJ 07670. (phone 201-568-0390). And if you know how to handle a boat and would like to sail Bahamian waters (really, the only way to get to some settlements) but you don't happen to have a yacht handy, C.S.Y. specializes in bareboat charters out of Marsh Harbor in which they rent fully fueled and provisioned Capri 30's and Pearson Carib 39's to qualified parties. The cost is approximately $200 per person per week based on four people on the Capri and six on the Carib. For more information contact C.S.Y. at the address above.
A SETTLER'S GUIDE TO ABACO
People desiring to move to Abaco should make at least one visit as a tourist, to determine if they really want to live in a subtropical climate, on an isolated island without many of the comforts of home. The desirability of such a move will depend a good deal on whether or not the independence movement succeeds, especially the availability of jobs. At present, foreigners must obtain work permits from the Nassau government, and be able to show that they are in no way competing for the job with any Bahamian. With an unemployment rate in some places reaching 30 percent, this can be difficult. The government has—and exercises—great discretion in its interpretation of the rules, so that all one can advise is: don't presume in advance that you can obtain the necessary work permit.
To live in the Bahamas you must also obtain a residence permit, also issued at the government's discretion and revokable at their pleasure. (This is one reason why Americans living in Abaco, most of whom favor independence, have not publicly endorsed AIM.) One may apply for Bahamas citizenship after five years of residence.
The Bahamas have no income tax (as yet), and no sales tax, but they do have property taxes. Government revenues are derived from import duties (once low, but now 50 percent or more on some items, such as automobiles), license fees, and fuel taxes (30¢ out of the 91¢ price of a gallon of gasoline is tax). U.S. citizens maintaining a residence abroad are exempt from U.S. income taxes on the first $20,000 of earned income each year for their first three years abroad, and the first $25,000 thereafter. "Unearned" income (e.g. dividends, interest, pensions, rental income, capital gains, etc.) is taxable just as if you were in the U.S. Only Social Security payments are completely exempt.
The IRS allows you to define foreign residence in either of two ways: the "bona-fide-residence-in-a-foreign-country" method refers to actual residence in a foreign country for an uninterrupted period including a full calendar year (beginning January 1). You demonstrate residence by having a dwelling place, a residence permit, etc. Alternatively, you can use the "physical presence" method, to prove you have been outside the U.S. for at least 510 days in an 18-month period, as proved by entry and exit stamps in your passport. In the case of the Bahamas, since no passport is required, you would have to ask Bahamas Immigration to stamp your passport each time.
Much land is available for sale, both on Great Abaco itself and on the many Abaco cays. The choicest residential properties are located on the cays, many of which are oceanfront or bayfront (or both). Under independence, industrial development would likely be confined to Great Abaco, leaving the cays relatively unspoiled. Residential lots on Elbow Cay, for example, start at about $2000 and range up to $20,000, depending on size, location, views, etc. Homes seem to be priced in about the same range as in California, with low labor costs apparently offsetting considerably higher material costs. Financing at seven percent is available as of this writing.
Water is available from wells on Great Abaco—the island is basically limestone and has fresh water in abundance. On the cays, however, all water is obtained from rainfall (which averages 50 inches per year and falls in all 12 months), so most houses are built to include a cistern and pump. Central station electric power is available in the major settlements on Great Abaco (e.g. Marsh Harbor, Treasure Cay) but not in between. On the cays and outside the settlements, most people have their own diesel or gasoline-powered generators, or do without. A cable has recently been laid across the bay from Marsh Harbor to Elbow Cay, and power lines are now being installed on that island.
TRANSPORTATION AND COMMUNICATION
There are reportedly 2000 cars in Abaco, but there are few paved roads (and those are in poor shape, with many large pot holes). With the 50 percent import duty, to boot, one should think twice before bringing in the family Cadillac (a jeep or VW van would seem more practical, in any event). Most people rely on boats for a good part of their transportation. Fourteen-foot outboard-powered Boston Whalers are as common on Abaco as VW Beetles in a college town. Since only a few of the cays have ferry service to Great Abaco (Green Turtle, Man of War, and Elbow Cay), a boat is indispensible for residents of the other cays, and is probably the most flexible and cost-effective means of getting between any two settlements.
There is telephone service to Nassau and Florida from Marsh Harbor and Treasure Cay, but elsewhere everyone relies on Citizens Band (CB) radios. Most homes, businesses, cars, and boats are equipped with inexpensive CB rigs. Tall antennas suffice to bring in good quality television and FM radio signals from Florida, and AM reception is possible without external antennas.
COST OF LIVING
Very little food is produced anywhere in the Bahamas; hence, most food is imported from the United States, Canada, England, and other countries. Although the duty on food is only a few percent, low demand and high transportation costs result in food prices 50-100 percent higher than in the U.S. Fresh milk is rare, as there is only one Bahamian dairy operation and most Bahamians have never acquired the custom of milk drinking. Non-tropical fresh fruits and vegetables are scarce and expensive, again owing mainly to traditional eating habits rather than deficiencies in the soil. Tomatoes and cucumbers have been grown for export to Florida, but are rarely sold in local stores. Reportedly, excellent citrus and pineapple can be grown, but this has rarely been done. The price of alcohol is higher than in the U.S., in contrast to prices in most of the Caribbean, due to highly-resented special taxes on beer, wine, and spirits.
The high prices of fuel and materials have already been noted. As an underdeveloped, nonindustrialized country, the Bahamas must import nearly all manufactured items. Most are imported in small quantities, and at high prices. Labor, as noted, is relatively cheap, so that housing costs are not unreasonable. Neither heating nor air conditioning is really necessary (though some may feel the need for one or the other at some times of the year).
For background on the Bahamas generally, and Abaco in particular, the following books are recommended:
• Bahamas Islands: A Boatman's Guide to the Land and the Water. By J. Linton Rigg, revised by Harry Kline. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. 1973 (4th edition). $12.95.
• The Innocent Island: Abaco in the Bahamas. By Zoe C. Durrell. The Stephen Greene Press (P.O. Box 1000, Brattleboro, VT 05301). 1972. $5.95 (paperback).
• Out-Island Doctor. By Evans W. Cottman. London: Hodder and Stoughton. 1963. $6.25.