In 1969, regarding the battle over Freeport, a London paper wrote, “Black power is an element, certainly, in the Bahamas political scene – and why not, after white power had such a long innings?”
Provocative words to say the least.
Everything in the Bahamas is a political issue. Everything in the Bahamas became about politics in January 1967, after a majority rule win for negroes at the election polls. For the country, post 1967, no political question was more divisive than the one over foreign investment.
Bahamians began to slowly rally together against what they saw as one common foe – the much needed, but often despised foreign investor. For Freeport, the debate became increasingly acrimonious. The Hawkesbill Creek Agreement seemingly gave Wallace Groves carte blanche over Freeport. When the details of the famous agreement emerged in the House of Assembly, for the former UBP government, it was like a political bomb whose timer had just counted down to zero. The British press likened it to the Bahamas government handing Wallace Groves, a veritable no questions asked pass, to the Klondyke (region of NW Canada, in Yukon in the basin of the Klondike River. The site of rich gold deposits, discovered in 1896 but largely exhausted by 1910).
As long as Wallace Groves, the creator of Freeport, upheld his end of the agreement to build a deep water port and encourage industry, he could assign and make agreements with whomever he chose. Groves could licence development partnerships, within his controlled area of Freeport, as he saw fit. For the new government of the Bahamas in 1967, it was a cold water realisation that challenged them in ways they hadn’t anticipated. Short of nationalising the entire Freeport Port Authority, there was nothing Premier Lynden Pindling could do but try to negotiate and leverage the few cards the government had in its hand. Hawksbill Creek Agreement was an ironclad document, just the way its drafters intended it to be.
The first card Pindling chose to play was the work permit one for foreign workers. Pindling didn’t play it so much. He just tore it up. Work permits for many levels of foreign workers in Freeport would not be renewed.
Sticking Points – Expats Who Came And Prospered In Record Time While Bahamians Could Only Dream
Foreign investment in the Bahamas came with many associated byproducts. Stories of expats who arrived with just the clothes on their backs, but were soon living in beachside apartments, only added to the dislike natives began to feel for new settlers.
(The Illustrated London News Saturday May 10, 1969)
By 1969, Grand Bahama became a battleground over who controlled the economic and social direction of a city which was created out of mere jungle – Freeport.
Could the Bahamas have developed Grand Bahama on its own, without the likes of Wallace Groves, “Union Jack” Hayward, and foreign investment in gambling casinos? Today, it is a question that for many in Grand Bahama, would be responded to with a resounding ‘no, but we would have liked to have tried.’
Fifty odd years ago, the answer would have been a ‘no period.’
What is without much debate is that the creation of Freeport, and the transformation of Grand Bahama was phenomenal. The difference in just six years is captured from its 1963 pre-development point, to its 1969 post development phase was breathtaking.
(The Illustrated London News June 14, 1969)