The United Nations could be an ally of those who want to change the U.S. Virgin Island’s status as a non-self-governing territory, participants in a panel discussion on St. Croix said Monday. Some two-dozen people attended the forum, held Monday evening at the Fort Frederik Museum.
Sponsored by the United Nations Association of the Virgin Islands, the forum’s panelists included Luz James II, president of the U.S. Virgin Islands Fifth Constitutional Convention; Gerard Emanuel, former director of the Virgin Islands Status Commission and a constitutional convention delegate; attorney Genevieve Whitaker of the Whitaker Consultant Group; and community activist Edward Browne. The panel was introduced and moderated by Dr. Carlyle Corbin, former territorial representative to the United Nations.
The U.N. Special Committee on Decolonization lists the U.S. Virgin Islands as a non-self-governing territory. Whitaker noted that according to the world body’s "Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples," all remaining non-self-governing territories and trust territories were entitled to self-determination and independence. Thus, according to Whitaker, the island’s current status as a U.S. territory is "a denial of fundamental human rights."
"Self-determination is essential to what we’re talking about this evening," she added.
James, president of the Constitutional Convention, was critical of Gov. John deJongh Jr.’s decision to not forward the draft constitution to President Obama.
According to James, the law does not give the governor the choice to withhold the document created by the convention. James added that the governor decided he "didn’t like certain things" and so decided not to pass the bill on to the White House.
In a June statement announcing his decision, the governor stated that the draft constitution was not in compliance with either local or federal laws.
For Emanuel, the issue of the territory’s status is almost immaterial until the more serious issue of economic development is addressed. Emanuel noted that, "politically speaking," economic development means bringing in businesses from outside to make products that won’t necessarily be consumed on the island.
With a tourism-based economy, "we even have to bring in the customers," he said.
Emanuel contended that’s not development, but simply growth. He added that real economic development would instead focus on creating products that Virgin Islanders would consume, and thus make the islands more self-sufficient. Not just growing food, he added, but processing and packaging it in the territory.
He also suggested the islands could use their abundant natural resources of sunlight and wind to become energy self-sufficient.