A significant number of citizens of the U.S. Virgin Islands enjoy the Fourth of July. Just pay your Facebook timeline a visit and you will see a number of Virgin Islanders sharing “Happy Fourth of July” greetings or giving military veterans a special shout-out for their service in America’s armed forces. With a population that is well over 70% of African descent and a considerable number of those individuals hailing from independent Caribbean nations or the Caribbean overseas territories of other European powers, it is sometimes amusing and downright disturbing to see an African Diaspora population relish in a revolution by American colonists who did not resemble most Virgin Islanders.
Today’s Virgin Islanders do resemble America’s founding citizens in one respect: Virgin Islanders are residents of a colony although I would not go as far as saying that they are true colonists. Although since 1927 American law has granted people born in the Virgin Islands full citizenship status, I would argue that Virgin Islanders more resemble American nationals than they do full American citizens.
While a U.S. citizen is also a U.S. national, a U.S. national is not necessarily a U.S. citizen. A national is someone born in an unincorporated territory and enjoys limited but not full citizenship rights like universal access to the right to vote for national leaders. To enjoy full citizenship rights, a Virgin Islander would have to move to the U.S. mainland and receive what I call “instant naturalization.” This means that once she takes up residence in the States she could vote and receive other benefits typically reserved for citizens living on the U.S. mainland.
As for the deficiency in colonial status that I alluded to earlier, the major components of the USVI’s tourist-driven economy, i.e., most hotels, restaurants, clubs, jewelry stores, etc., are not owned by “locals.” Outside interests and investors own the tourist industry. If you are not benefiting in terns of equity for the extraction and sale of tourist product, you really cannot call yourself a colonist.
But treated like a colonist you are if living in the Virgin Islands. As I shared with you in a post yesterday, who the Virgin Islands trades with externally is dictated by American law. Virtually all items you need for survival are imported. According to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook, the USVI has a considerable trade deficit, exporting $1.81 billion in goods and services in 2016 while importing $2.49 billion in goods and services, also in 2016. Federal and territorial government spending accounted for 27% of gross domestic product, according to the Central Intelligence Agency. Together, government spending and exports comprised 74% of the USVI’s gross domestic product.
The Virgin Islands has been treated like an outlying territory in the Badlands for decades. I still remember the feeling of being ignored by the U.S. federal government during the post event travails of hurricanes David and Frederick in 1979. The memories of being a step-child in a catastrophe came back to me last year as the media, who ironically has spearheaded the “ignore the USVI” approach, started reporting on how the USVI was being ignored as Puerto Rico got the spotlight after hurricanes Irma and Maria severely damaged both territories.
Not only do residents of the USVI not have full citizenship. They get less than guidance or attention on their poor economy.
The question is, whether status as a territory and effective status as a U.S. national in an unincorporated territory provides the USVI with the opportunities to succeed? Maybe it is time for Virgin Islanders to start agitating like fed up colonists.