Bermuda – a small island is celebrating 400 years

Thilo Roth (Germany/Bermuda, AC 08-10)


The Tall Ships left Europe taking course in direction of the new world, full of ambition and hope for good winds to fill the sails. This was in May 2009 but could as well have been centuries before. The only difference from the old days, the new world has been discovered and the crew is planing to make a stop on a small rock in the middle of the Atlantic.


A rock which was discovered in a stormy night around 1503 when Juan de Bermudez first set foot on the shores of an unknown and unpopulated island. He did not stay for long on the islands he called the Isle of Devils, which later got known as Bermuda one of the richest, most beautiful and most important offshore islands in the world.


It took another hundred years until man set foot again on these islands. This time it was Sir Georg Somers and his fleet, who was on the way to the newly founded colony Jamestown and landed on this no-mans land. It was the year 1609 when after a big storm the fleet had to save itself on the island.


Sir Somers declared the islands as official British territory, which it has stayed since then. Today it is the oldest remaining British oversea territory with the oldest continually inhabited English town in the western world and the oldest continuously ruling parliament in the world. This territory is now celebrating  400 years of existence, the reason why the Tall Ships stop on the rock in order to honor it.


However, in this important year for Bermudian history, it is also in the biggest trouble it has been since a long time. Economical as well as political.


Bermuda has always been of strategical importance, whether militaristic or economically. Especially the economical side of Bermuda is of great importance today. In the early days especially ship building, piracy, the onion supply of New York and the world’s biggest salt-supplier.

Now it is tourism and most important offshore banking, making it a tax-paradise for hedge-funds, re-insurances and other funds.


However, the troubles arose a year or two before, when the first banks at Wall Street tumbled, the beginning of the recession. Many companies registered in Bermuda lost a lot of money, with their investments in Lehman Brothers and Co.. Now Bermuda, a country which has the highest GDP per capita in the world and is counted as one of the most crowded places in earth, is struggling to cope with the crisis. It is not just that many important companies have to reduce themselves or even leave the island but also does Bermuda have to pay a political price.

The big G20 members are trying to shut down the offshore paradises which they claim for being partly responsible for the crisis often ignoring their own responsibility for the crisis. It is often more the anger that G20 countries are losing tax money to these offshore paradises which otherwise would have ended up in a European or American fiscal bank depot. However, the saved taxes enable companies then to create new jobs back in Europe or the US, as often only a very small part of the company is based in offshore countries. Still the US & Co. want to see these countries shut down and such a small and powerless country like Bermuda does not seem to have a very strong position against the voices of the US and therefore has to be flexible and try to calm them down.


How can it do that? Bermudian premier, Mr. Brown (not to confuse with Gordon Brown), tried to do so by allowing three Chinese Guantanamo internees in the country, just shortly before he visited President Obama, who freed them. He hoped with this action to win Obama’s support. However he ignored Britain and brought the mother country of the colony in great trouble having to explain the Chinese government that Bermuda acted independently and the British government has nothing to do with it. This sparked up a discussion about Britain’s role in colonialism and whether Bermuda should become independent or not, all in the year in which Bermuda celebrates 400 years, in British possession. A discussion which has been going on for years and split Bermuda in two parties. Would Bermuda become independent it won’t have to worry about Britain anymore but also many companies would leave out of fear of expropriations. Would that occur Bermuda’s glory economical times would most likely be over but they might end even quicker, if the G20 really crack down on offshore countries, which would be a totally unwise decision.  


All these heated debates occurred while the Tall Ships were lying peacefully in the safe harbors of the small rock in the middle of the Atlantic, just like 400 years ago after the storm calmed down. Happy Birthday Bermuda.


– United World College Student Magazine –

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