Antigua: I am treated like a dog and given cold food

It is more than 25 years since I first came to Antigua. Political activism brought me here in the first place. The Caribbean then was a hive of freedom fighters. It seemed that anyone who was able to string two words together - black and power - qualified for the title "black activist".

I came here specifically to link up with the African- Caribbean Liberation Movement, a body of young men and women who had bonded together with the sole aim of ridding the society of a neocolonial parliamentary democracy. It was not very clear what would replace it, but that didn't seem to matter. I made waves in Trinidad, too; with two Sandhurst-trained officers in its army, I organised a military force that attempted a seizure of power.

I have returned to Antigua "nuff times", as they say in these parts, for friendship and cricket, as well as politics. As I eased off the aircraft, the hot sun was spitting fire on the back of my neck. I had come back to make a TV documentary on the state of these islands post-independence. Minutes into the airport building, my left shoulder drooped easily and my hands hung loosely at my side. My whole frame assumed a rhythm completely different to that which had, only ten hours before, carried me around London.

But only seconds into customs and I can see the change in the ordinary people of this tiny place. They have grown cold, hard and grasping. Years ago, Antigua was all politesse: quiet phrases drifted out of intelligent heads. Now, so much has changed. However corrupt and autocratic a regime might be, it requires the compliance of the people if it is to survive. And Antigua, reported Time magazine only a few months ago, is arguably the most corrupt regime on the planet.

A family - or rather an outdated and dysfunctional remnant of an African tribe - has ruled this place. Vere "Papa" Bird remained prime minister until his dotage and then death a year or so ago. His son Lester is now the chief, and another son, Vere Jnr, is a member of the cabinet.

From humble beginnings, members of the government have risen to the rank of millionaires, multimillionaires in some cases. In a small island, everyone knows that these gains did not flow from capitalist efforts. All - yes, all - have come from corruption in government. Cronies have grown rich, and members of the ruling party boast three, sometimes four, jobs, while appearance at the workplace is unnecessary.

At the airport, I noticed citizens from almost every Caribbean island: Guyanese porters, Trinidadian security officers, Jamaican waiters. Here, I thought, lay some hope of a renaissance. Not true. I have been going around filming vox pops and came across a young Antiguan woman in, I would say, her early thirties. She launched into a volley of abuse against foreigners.

I asked her to detail their nationalities. To the background of commentary on the first cricket Test between the West Indies and Pakistan, she itemised every single English-speaking West Indian island. She finished by shouting: "And the Spanish - dem, too!" She was a fitting type to lead an ethnic-cleansing movement.

I stood in my shoes and wondered. Then the penny dropped. I have been travelling around with an all-white crew and, in restaurants and the like, the locals have treated me like a dog, serving my bacon and eggs cold, and sometimes openly abusing me, to the extent that we now have a list of eating places that we would not attend. I am a foreigner, you see, a kind of guide to white tourists, who denies the locals a hustle.

Yet they humbly accept a parade of pirates from Europe and America - some literally escaping the law, doling out ham and turkey that has passed its sell-by date as Christmas gifts in return for their votes.

I wish I could identify a redeeming feature to lighten the burden of despair. Nothing of the kind exists in this horrible place.

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