Having hounded and driven out the editors of Caribarena.com amid death threats, cyber-attacks and intimidation, and having jailed the internationally recognised local journalist Ian "Magic" Hughes on trumped up charges, the Government of Antigua & Barbuda has now turned its attention to the Observer Media Group.
The Group is the only remaining independent provider of news to and about Antigua, by way of its Observer Radio and what used to be a daily newspaper, The Daily Observer.
With non-payment of invoiced notices, and "suggestions" to private entities to stop advertising with the Observer Media, the government had already succeeded in reducing the publication of The Daily Observer from its usual six issues a week, to three.
However, the Government's goal goes further -- to the total silencing of this sole remaining source of news.
The tool is simple; a three- month notice to vacate the premises, which the Observer has redesigned and occupied for eight years. It has assisted the Government's intentions that the building is located on the former Stanford Development Company Limited (in Liquidation)'s Estate on Airport Road and is now in the hands of receivers, ostensibly recovering funds on behalf of the many thousands of creditors duped by R. Allen Stanford, arguably the architect of one the world's largest Ponzi Schemes and international bank fraud.
According to its press report of 31 July 2018, the eviction notice states that the property is due to be sold to an unnamed third party. This, though, appears to conflict with an arrangement negotiated some time ago between the Management of the Observer Media Group and Antigua's Ambassador Gilbert Boustany, cousin of Minister Asot Michael, and the liquidators' appointed agent.
The Observer Media Group does not deny that it is carrying a heavy burden of older debt. However, it also says that it has been current with its obligations to Grant Thornton LLC., the Liquidators for the "late" Stanford Development Company.
While this author cannot opine on the financial situation used as a reason for the eviction, there is no question as to the grave consequences to the nation of Antigua & Barbuda and its standing in the free world, should this gambit succeed.
It is sobering that the observations made in 1999 by the Washington-based, independent Center for Strategic and International Studies (Douglas W Payne - The Failings of Governance in Antigua and Barbuda) and echoed by the US Department of State (Human Rights Practises), the Committee to Protect Journalists, Freedom in the World and the International Press Institute, were not heeded as a warning, but accepted as predictions of a recognisable process by which a country becomes mired in deceit, corruption and malfeasance.
Over the years, The Daily Observer and Observer Radio programs such as The Voice of the People and The Snake Pit, have been the constant source of information on legislation, events and government actions which affect Antiguans and Barbudans.
For the last five years, they have also been the sole voice carrying these news items to the outside world, by way of its website, antiguaobserver.com.
The instances of malfeasance, of abuse of power and of a class system of discretionary justice that the current publishers of The Observer Group have presented both locally and abroad, have all been handled with considerably more care in the editors' choice of language and imagery than was the case when their predecessors were alive and dealing with the issues of their day.
Nonetheless, it is impossible to present the facts without creating consequences, when such facts speak loudly for themselves.
And that is the crux of the matter, the need to destroy the provider of information, so that any fantasy can be produced for dissemination without fear of the truth being introduced to confuse the message.
There is an amazing irony in lessons not learned:
For years since Stanford's arrest and the public disclosure of his fraudulent schemes, which were helped along by the Antigua & Barbuda Government, the latter has attempted to distance itself from the public distrust and disdain which surrounded both entities. Yet, while still proclaiming its innocence, it now, once again, turns to Stanford's on-going legacy to assist in its dirty work.
Reminding the world of Antigua and Barbuda's partnership with a scoundrel, while removing the last vestige of democratic transparency, can only confirm that the world's opinion was right the first time.
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