March 17, 2003 – An editorial call by The Avis for St. Croix to become a territory separate from the Virgin Islands should serve as a wake-up call, as far as community activist Noel Loftus is concerned.
"I see it as a shot across the bow," Loftus said on Monday.
The editorial in the Sunday/Monday issue of The Avis was headlined "Time for a divorce." It called on Congress to further revise the 1954 Revised Organic Act so that St. Croix could become a separate territory.
The Avis asked registered voters on St. Croix to sign a petition, printed in the paper, supporting secession. Signed copies are to be delivered to the newspaper's headquarters in La Grande Princesse by April 7.
"We are advocating this because St. Croix's economy is in the doldrums," Avis managing editor Will Jones said on Monday. "All we hear is more talk and hot air."
Loftus, a St. Croix businessman and president of the organization St. Croix Alive, said he sees the editorial not as an actual call for secession but rather as a way to bring attention to St. Croix's plight. He noted that he was speaking for himself, not the group's members, since he had not had a chance to ask their opinions.
Jones said the newspaper's stance is that money generated on St. Croix should stay on St. Croix.
The editorial said that St. Croix's major private-sector employers — Hovensa, V.I. Rum Industries, Kapok Management, the Divi Carina Bay Resort and Casino — and one individual, San Antonio Spurs basketball star Tim Duncan, together contribute about $416.4 million to the government coffers. The paper claims this accounts for 70.9 percent of the territory's overall revenues.
"Most of the money collected by the government is spent on St. Thomas," the paper charged.
The paper called on Delegate Donna M. Christensen to petition Congress to make the change in the Organic Act, which in lieu of a local constitution sets forth the powers of the V.I. government.
Christensen aide Brian Modeste said broader community and official government support would be needed before the delegate would put such a request before her colleagues. And, he said, if the governor or the Legislature opposed such a move, it "wouldn't happen."
However, Modeste said the issue has legitimacy because the Croix newspaper of record, The Avis, advocates the change.
The Avis called for a separate governor, lieutenant governor and five-member legislature for St. Croix, with St. Croix continuing to share a delegate to Congress with the other islands.
According to the editorial, autonomy will allow St. Croix to run its own affairs, with control over its own departments and agencies. The editorial said the island should not give up its share of federal funding.
Loftus said the editorial crystallizes what St. Croix residents already feel. Ticking off a list of businesses that have closed since three cruise lines stopped calling at St. Croix last year, he predicted that more failures will follow.
The planned $540 million Seven Hills Beach Resort and Casino development at Robin Bay appears to be the only bright light on the horizon economically, Loftus said. However, he said, if the Legislature does not repeal the bill allowing video lottery terminal operations in the St. Thomas-St. John district, the Robin Bay project will evaporate.
Loftus said it is particularly discouraging that Senate President David Jones, who represents St. Croix, has led the charge for VLT's.
The Avis editorial noted that Anguilla successfully seceded from St. Kitts and Nevis after years of troubles When St. Kitts and Nevis became independent in 1983, Anguilla opted to remain a British colony.
Craig Barshinger, a St. John political activist, has long advocated more autonomy for St. Croix and St. John in the form of island councils. Decisions about what happens on a particular island should be made on that island, not by the central government on St. Thomas, he said Monday.
He said he sees the Avis' call for secession as a "harbinger of things to come" and called it a step on the territory's road to political maturity.
It's an indication that people are no longer passive and that they are seeking to control their own destiny, Barshinger said. He added, "I think that is very healthy."

Publisher's note : Like the St. Thomas Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much — and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice … click here.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here