eye.gif (5286 bytes) Point of VIEW.

A purely analytical perception...


 

Pristine Beauty but That's About It.

 

The Bahamas', crystalline waters and incomparable climate make it a postcard paradise. The more than 700 islands, of which only 20 are inhabited, are home to a population of 250,000 people. The 100,000 square miles of water that embodies this archipelago's borders, originate within 60 miles of the Florida coast. This indeed is not only a beautiful country but also a young one as well, currently being only 30-years of age. Columbus called it "Baja Mar" or "shallow Sea", a term used by Spanish Sailors and hence its name, Bahamas.  The Island of  New Providence having by far the largest population of all of the islands makes up over two-thirds of the country's total population. Nassau, the capital city is located there and the names New Providence and Nassau are often used interchangeably . 

A Whale of A Tale

Many people including the avid followers of Edgar Cayce believe that the first people that came to this area were those from the lost continent of Atlantis. Numerous of his advocates that have interpreted his sayings indicate that  while he was in a hypnotic trance he indicated in the early 1930s that Atlantis would be found between the Bahamian Islands of North and South Bimini. Indeed, amazingly not far below the surface of the crystal clear water in exactly the spot he predicated appear to be two columns of rocks neatly arranged and running horizontal to each other, which continue on for some distance, forming an enormous letter "J".

Although we don't have a clue who "J" is, it most probably is some sort of  natural occurrence but fervent believers think that it is some kind of signal from a higher power. However, there doesn't seem to be a lot of evidence of any  lost civilization located on this spot. In spite of that fact, there are many believers in the "Atlantis" old-wives tale that trek to this area regularly to carry on strange  incantations and other bizarre and mystical actions far too numerous to mention.  David Zink a somewhat credible instructor, who taught English at the U.S. Air Force Academy stirred the pot by taking some of the stones that made up the "J" and brought them to a Houston psychic. This was exactly what was needed to stir the already boiling.

The psychic proclaimed, without fear of contradiction that these stones were the collapsed pillars of a religious temple that had great Karma when it had originally been constructed. He went on to explain with substantial certitude that the edifice was certainly erected some 30,000 years ago by the Atlantisians who brought in labor from the star cluster Pleiades to finish the work. There is little question that knowing that those folks from the Pleiades never work for peanuts we inquired as to what made these people from a far off galaxy determine to work on this particular project. This question was met with an uncertain stare and we suddenly knew that we were delving into a subject that was better left alone.

While we are in awe over the information that this Houstonian was able to glean from these water logged stones, we will withhold our skepticism because people from that part of Texas have a history of being able to see things that many of us may miss. This has been known to primarily occur on Saturday nights at some of the local grog shops after the locals have tied on one too many, however the jury is still out. 

 It will probably be some time before we are able to visit Pleiades and check out whether these folks actually visited the Bahamas and worked the site, but whatever the real story is, its certainly great for promoting tourism. However, the numerous tourists that visit this site because of the tall tales surrounding it are if nothing else themselves bizarre to say the least. We have been told that it pays huge dividends to be totally stoned when viewing this unworldly locale. Resident indicate that the enhanced view become multicolored and three dimensional. Naturally, the government of the Bahamian Government pushes the hell out of the theory that Atlantis is located within the confines of the Bahamas but with folks like these traveling the territory, it may not help the neighborhood. 

There is only one dive-shop in Alice Town (The closest jumping off spot to the Bahamian Atlantis) and that shop is owned by William (Bill) Keefe who stirs the pot just a tad more by describing some of the characters that come to visit the underwater Atlantis. "We've seen some things most people would find very strange." Tim McDonald of the Toronto Star had Keefe expound on what he thought was strange. these groups came in all sizes shapes and curiosities "including a group of gay mystics with the snake skin in a decorative box, who sat in a circle and chanted, then jumped into the water. Or the group that startled Keefe by pulling out black onyx skulls before exploring the site.'  Anybody that was not pleased with their trip to see Atlantis would only have to look at some their fellow travelers to have made their day.   

A Tad of History

However, back in to the real world, the Spanish were the first Europeans to set foot here but it was the British that settled in and took over the place. In the late 60s and early 70s, the sun began to set on the British Empire and like ducks neatly set in a row, England began returning its Caribbean contingent  to the locals. Jamaica, Trinidad, Tobago, Barbados, Guyana all preceded the Bahamas in getting their freedom. Because of this,  by 1973, Lynden Pindling, a London trained lawyer who became the country's  first elected premier was well equipped to take charge.    

Taking One Step Back in Time

The first inhabitants of the Bahamas were probably the Siboneys, a fishing clan that arrived in the Bahamas from the Yucatan Peninsula via Florida. On the other hand, when Columbus landed in 1492, he found the Arawak Indians who practiced a strange culture called Tainan. These people, the Laukku-cain, or Lucayans (Island People) fished and cultivated cotton. However, Columbus was hardly looking for cotton or fish. There was little question that  his benefactors in Spain had not sent his expedition half-way around the world to bring back enough food for a fish-fry. They were after bigger game and so was Chris. Isabella would have his neck if he was not able to bring back a more significant prize for her after she had hocked the royal jewels to finance his folly.

Greener Pastures

However, Columbus mucked around in the Bahamas for a while looking for gold and stopped at what later became known as Santa Maria de la Conceptcion (Rum Cay) Fernandina (Long Island) and assorted other islands and cays. Disheartened that unlimited golden riches were not readily available, Columbus set sail  for greener pastures. He was well aware that his financiers, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, would have no interest in the beauty and serenity of the magnificent country he was leaving. They were only interested in hard cash which would give them the financing desperately needed to deploy a navy that could destroy the much hated English. Thus, Columbus, after searching for a time, pulled up his stakes and continued his quest for gold and jewels in more promising climes.

While the Spanish had literally no  interest in colonizing the Bahamas, they did find the Lucayan population useful in forcibly helping them build fortifications in Hispaniola (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic) and Cuba. Thus, the Bahamas were drained of their population and the Lucayans became the first Spanish slaves in the New World. However, others would soon follow. The Spanish were if nothing else, equal opportunity slave masters.

 The natives were sent to other emerging Spanish colonies as well, where they were put to work farming, mining precious ores and working the pearl fisheries. when the opportunity presented itself.  During this period of Spanish forays into the Bahamas, the first of what would be a series of shipwrecks occurred. A fleet of seventeen Spanish frigates found the bottom of the ocean of Abaco in 1595 through a combination of poor navigation and capricious weather. The Spanish were unable to master the sea, the English or the other Europeans, they were forced to settle on taming the peaceful Indians of this and other regions in the Americas.

Colonization Comparisons

There was a great deal of difference between the Spanish and English colonial efforts. While neither of the two seemed to have much interest in making close friends of those that they colonized, the Spanish were only intent only upon draining the various territories they visited of whatever precious metals it contained, pulling up stakes only when they were convinced that the natives could produce no more. However, the English admired these trinkets as well, but along with their greed they had a plan. By controlling the sea-routes, they could effectively let the Spanish and Portuguese break their backs by working the land, but once they set sale with the holds of their ships filled with plunder, the English could readily pluck the little dainties from their clutches in a more civilized manner. Something kind of akin to plundering the plunderers or robbing from the rich and keeping it. Effectively this was called piracy and the English, whether it was their navy or their privateers were substantially advanced  at this pastime. 

While the Spanish showed had shown little interest in the Bahamas, the English, who had already colonized both Bermuda and Virginia, fully realized the strategic value of the geographical location of the islands. They removed  of a group of settlers from Bermuda who were not happy with the way Charles 1 was telling them how to conduct themselves and shipped themselves en mass to the Bahamas. They were led by the inimitable, William Sayle, the former Governor of Bermuda, the small band of 70 settlers and 28 slaves set their sights on Eleuthera. In spite of a tragic accident in which the band almost drowned, they ultimately made it to shore, However, this did not occur before their supplies had been hung up on the reefs surrounding the island. The group barely survived the landing itself but without supplies they were in terrible shape. And if that wasn't enough, once ashore they found to their amazement that somehow, King Charles I had already claimed the Bahamas for England.

What's In A Name?

The "New": Bahamians were not exactly the kind of people you would want to mix with at a Church social. Slave trade, piracy and other forms of illicit commerce were the highlight  that drove the economics of the Bahamas for the next two centuries and such luminaries as Edward Teach, "Blackbeard", called this land of shallows, reefs and headlands, home after he determined that there would be sufficient prey to support his voracious appetite for treasure and torture. The local Government made things easier to get into piracy by calling it privatering and giving those engaged in the profession legitimacy by issuing "Letters of Marque" for a small fee and a large share of the plunder. Thus, there were never really any pirates in the Bahamas in spite of what you have read in all of the history books on the subject, they were all social butterflies known in the better circles as privateers. By changing the verbiage the Government had cleaned up the entire island chain and all of its inhabitants. These folks suddenly had become god-fearing, church-going gentle-folks.

However, in spite of this grammatical cleaning job, this could be called the age of piracy in the Caribbean because the English just loved to envision the Spanish Galleons being attacked on a regular basis by the cutthroat inhabitants of the Bahamas. In order to further facilitate this avocation, the British Government created an authority that began  legitimately licensing the Bahamian pirates to kill and plunder. (And here we thought 007 was the first) During this period, the pirates fared reasonably well, but the people were not sharing in the spoils of one of Bahamas few "legitimate" enterprises. However, there were occasions when everyone could enjoy the spoils. 

Pillaging For Fun and Profit

Jealously, those not rich enough to equip a galleon with at least the mandatory forty-canons or supply enough blood-thirsty murderers to man the pirate ships were forced to watch their more enterprising brothers plunder and kill Spaniards from the beaches. Moreover, the landlubbers got theirs only when large Spanish fleets ran aground and then these  landlocked villagers   could pillage the carcass of a sunken ship to their hearts content. To increase the number of ships that could be salvaged even before their time, the resourceful natives would erect portable beacons that captains thought would guide them to a safe harbor, only to have their ships run aground on a always waiting reef.

Over 500 Spanish ships met their end in the waters of the Bahamas; most were victims of the privateers but those relegated to weaving intricate traps from land also got their share.. On the other hand, this had become a wild and wooly place in which, by this time most of the law abiding citizens had already fled to Great Exuma. These were wimpy people that they could no longer handle the pillaging, rape and debauchery of the pirates who had turned downtown Nassau into a massive drunken brothel. You will always find some of these types in any given crowd. 

Occasionally, the pirates when they couldn't find any Spanish boats to plunder went after their comrades with reckless abandon.  Whether plundering the Spanish, or doing in their own kind, the islands' many limestone caverns provided the plunderers with convenient treasure caches. However, this strategy only worked for a while.  The pirates feeling their oats also took over the management of the Islands, installing their own puppet regime to enhance their status as law-abiding citizens. On the other hand, word quickly spread that anyone venturing within a hundred miles of Nassau would probably be turned into shark meat. This did not improve public relations, and people looking for vacation spots were soon dissuaded to travel elsewhere. Moreover, resourceful ship captains learned to avoid this area like the plague. This caused an economic downturn and soon the people became unruly.

Pirates and Other Evil Does Arrive

As the fame of the Bahamas spread, pirates of all shapes and sizes gravitated to the Islands, hoping to find fame and fortune in the bloodiest of all businesses of that time. Almost all of the buccaneers whose stories appear in the history books made their presence felt in the Bahamas. Moreover,  each of the Pirate Captains had a favorite spot to hole up in when their working day was over. Elizabeth Harbor beckoned the horrendous, Captain Kidd who aptly named his refuge Kidd Cove. Where else would Pirate Captain William Catt bury his fabled treasure but on Cat Island. The British buccaneer, Captain George Watling strong-armed his way into San Salvador Island and renamed it Watling Island, which was particularly upsetting to Anne Bonney, who was already solidly entrenched there. Andros and its ever treacherous seas beckoned the menacing Captain, Henry Morgan, who believed that no one had the courage to follow him into his home away from home because of its dangerous shoals and his cut-throat henchmen and for the most part he was correct in that assumption.  

In the story called "Bahamas' forts tower above island's booty," which appeared in the Washington Times written by Jack Biesterfeld, it was said that Blackbeard had his crew build a tower  on the highest piece of land overlooking the ocean so that he could terrorize passing ships. This Tower, now strangely called Blackbeard's Tower  was built in 1706.  "According to legend, the tower was built by the notorious Blackbeard, alias Edward Teach, who headquartered in Nassau around 1706 so he could spot passing prizes or interloping competitors." The tower at time became a problem at times though.

The ladder going up to the tower was not for the fainthearted and a false step could well cause the climber serious injury or even death. Drinking evil concoctions was an habitual method for passing away time while waiting for a new quarry to arrive. The shifts on the lookout point were about two-hours in length and when someone that had two much to drink tried climbing to the top, it was always a question whether they would make it or not. In addition, when in their drunken state, many of these men would tend to see something that just wasn't there. Often a call would go out to all of Blackbeard's men that an armada was headed right for them when all that existed would be the fog rolling in. This mistake was for the most part punished by a severe flogging as well it should have been.

Legislating Away the Pirates Who Have Done Much

In 1718 the British somehow got religion and decided that it would be the right thing to do to eliminate piracy.  It was not much of a stretch when they determined that Woodes Rogers, a pirate himself, would know how to handle his own kind and he was soon appointed Royal Governor. Rogers made an auspicious beginning  by pardoning those that agreed to  give up the so-called good life and join him in putting down the pirates. Many succumbed to his overly generous offer. However, Blackbeard and an accomplice, Roger Vane, along with their friends were not convinced that going legit offered suitable rewards and had to be forcibly engaged in combat. In a brutal sea battle that soon ensued they were both ultimately  killed off the coast of Virginia. The Captain of the British ship, the Pearl, Lieutenant Robert Maynard, beheaded Blackbeard and displayed his glowering head on the tip of the Pearl's bowsprit. If it wouldn't have been so bad if the head started to smell up its surroundings, the head probably could have led the Pearl into many more battles, it would have represented a powerful signal to the opposition. In later life Maynard was known to remark that this worst thing that ever happened to him was losing Blackbeard's head and he was probably right.  

Not all of the governors that followed Rogers had his fervor about bringing the evil pirates to justice. Another of Her Majesty's appointments, Governor General Cadwallader Jones was unquestionably a member of this cliché and was known to be a bit overly friendly towards the plunderers. However, this relationship was rather disturbing for everyone on the island's  piece of mind. Moreover, rumors aside, one day the governor was actually observed taking a payoff from one of the pirates and the people went bonkers. They threw the old curmudgeon into chains and were about to tar and feather the governor when a group of his cronies came to his aid at the very last moment. This dramatically changed the course of the uprising and the unruly citizens were convicted of sedation by a handpicked jury of the governor's peers, six pirates and two drunks. In reality the pirates were also drunks so in effect it was a jury of eight drunks, six of whom were pirates.

A Man and His Toys

 As time marched on, John Murray, the Earl of Dunmore needing a better climate for his gout was appointed Governor General of the Bahamas by the Monarchy some time after Rogers had made his substantial headway into eliminating the endemic piracy. However, oddly enough, Murray never had toys as a child and was deeply into fortress building. However, that wasn't his only problem as he was also more than a  little tetched about just about everything else as well.  For this passion his occupation  soon earned the nickname, Murray's Mad Obsession. While there was no real justification for having one fortress literally resting on another, it kept Murray occupied for long stretches of time and the people were able to go about their business without being bothered with his insanity. Moreover, the forts were substantial and later served as a tourist attraction.

Murray's forts were built on literally every bluff on the main island to keep away an enemy that did not exist. More and more money was expending in this maniacal pursuit until it caused a major depression in the Bahamas, nearly sending the country back into the Stone Age. His delusions of an ever approaching enemy left the treasury barren and it was most  interesting to note that at one point there was not even enough money left to purchase cannon balls with which to fight off the invisible enemy should they have ever arrived. However, there is a happy ending to the story, two-centuries later, these forts have become highly acclaimed tourist attractions. Many have said that Mad Murray was just a tad ahead of his time.  

An Economic Blight

However, the flip side of this story is that without piracy, the Bahamas were left without an income source and in spite of various economic incentives put forward by the government, the natives seemed to have little interest in working for a living. However, just as everyone was beginning to despair, the Bahamian economy got another much needed lift when the British abolished the slave trade, at least everywhere else in their domain. It seems that whenever anything was banished by the British anywhere in the world, the Bahamian's would be there  to fill this substantial gap. 

Just as it had provided aid and comfort to the pirates before them, the Bahamians seeing a wonderful opportunity invited the illegal dealers in human flesh to the island to ply their wares in this country. It was an absolute  natural, The Bahamas were conveniently located relative to the slave markets in the Southern United States; blockade running and contraband dealing, a very profitable profession had only gotten substantially better when the Civil War began. It was during this period of intense human suffering that the Port of Nassau, in particular, real prospered.   The Bahamian trade in human flesh became enormous and the dealers determined that working these folks day and night was not in their own best interests. It was determined that they should be giveen a day off here and there, eventually they were even given a three day vacation from work on the plantations in order to be with their families. This long weekend became a festival called Junkanoo, the name of which was derived from "John Canoe," the name of an African tribal chief who won the right for the slaves to celebrate. Eventually, Junkanoo became a formalized holiday in which there were parades, costumes, prizes and music. Many have favorable compared Junkanoo to the Madi Grais in New Orleans or Trinidad. 

A Bent For the Illegal

The slave trade was a natural for the Bahamian people because of the fact that the islanders had a propensity for the illegal and were wizards at boat making. When put side-by-side, the two talents combined for an unbeatable combination. The island's woodworkers were able  to create magnificent ships that could fly like  the wind and this dramatically aided the delivery to the South of supplies for ports blockaded by Union Forces. Many of these blockade-runners became folk-heroes, at least in downtown Nassau. However all good things have to come to an end and the Civil War turned out to be  far to short for the Bahamian's taste. Before the Islands had a chance to economically recover, the Civil War had ended, sending many of the Island's workers back into the unemployment lines waiting for another disaster to hit somewhere in the world.  

Moreover,  if things could get even worse, they soon did. When navigational aids such as lighthouses and beacons started to go high-tech, new lighthouse installations along with a highly refined art of cartography  that had been raised to a higher level and in turn this combination was responsible for protecting shipping from landing on Bahamas unfriendly shoals. This in turn resulting in a level of shipping safety unseen in the history of that region. Without the occasional grounding or sinking, accidental or induced, an economy that had literally nothing else going for it sank into its worst doldrums ever. "What are we to do?" said the people who now had no slaves to trade, no ships to sink, no boats to loot or any friends to pillage. Despair had become the order of the day. 

One More Time

Hard times continued to plague the Bahamas until Prohibition began in 1919. Around the same time, Florida industrialist Henry Flagler built a train that went from Miami to the Florida Keys, making the Bahamas considerably more accessible. This made the Bahamas the designated tourist destination for the filthy rich.

Bad Luck

Luckily for the Islanders, only those American legislators who had passed the Act had lost interest in drinking, and prosperity indeed returned to the Bahamas. The country became a destination point for liquor from all over the world headed illicitly heading for the states. However, just as the Bahamians were digging out from their economic problems,  Prohibition was repealed and was almost immediately followed in the United States by the "Great Depression." Things had begun to look really bleak for the Bahamas when at the worst possible time they became even worse;  in 1939 a plague decimated the sponge crop, which had been one of the few remaining sources of hard currency. About that time, ill fortune also hit Flagler's railroad when the most severe hurricane of the twentieth century turned the railroad ties into tooth picks and the rails into man hole covers. The railroad would never recover and the Florida Keys became almost deserted. 

The Fortunes of War

World War II brought with it the opportunity for Bahamian legitimacy. Industry perked up, tourism began, and a small offshore banking and insurance industry started to blossom. However these legit enterprises seemed too much of a good thing and the end of the War also brought with it a return to drug smuggling in exchange for  much needed hard currency. Drug running has become a substantial part of the Bahamian economy; today, fully 11 per cent of the cocaine entering the United States passes through the Bahamas. 

Pop Culture Bahamian Style

For more then 300 years, the country had been ruled by whites; members of the United Bahamian Party (UBP) who were known as the Bay Street Boys, taken from the name of Nassau's main business thoroughfare. Their reign was particularly important to the culture of the country from the end of World War II until the late 1960s. The Boys took charge of just about everything on the Island and deals were struck with just about anyone that had the price of admission.  Concessions in gambling, hotels and land were given out to the "Boys'" favorites at a price. 

The Boys Still Reign Supreme

This era of shady politics did not cool off one bit when Sir Lynden Pindling, the leader of the black majority party, (Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) came to power in 1967. His regime lasted twenty-five years and was punctuated with allegations that he was getting a piece of everything that wasn't tacked down in the country. He was also charged with involvement in the drug trade and doing away with political opponents. Moreover, scandals abounded and ultimately the government fell. In the meantime, the country was deep in another depression sparked partly by distrust of the government.

Pindling did leave a legacy of sorts in spite of his nasty side. He helped to create the Bahamian middle class and brought education to many of the 270,000 people of the Islands. However, he also will be immortalized as the man that allowed uninterrupted drug trafficking and established the Bahamas as a haven for many of the world's most serious criminals. In his farewell address, Pindling seemed to grasp the moment and told the Bahamian House that. "I was less than perfect. When all I did for good is put in the balance against all I did for ill or failed to do at all, I hope that future generations will not find me sorely wanting," No other leader of a nation has ever put his short comings so succinctly.

A Good Time Was Had By All

Pindling died in August of 2000 and Kenneth Bain who both knew him and wrote for the Independent did the obit. He couldn't have told it better: "A first meeting with Pindling could be disconcerting. Mine was - at a meeting of Commonwealth Finance Ministers in Nassau over which Pindling presided in 1981. He was unexpectedly short of stature, and his eyes appeared to   look in different directions, one straight ahead, the other sideways. As a consequence, he seemed more than a little sly. In a crowded room, it was never quite certain to whom he was speaking, and , when he presided over the conference, it was never entirely clear which Commonwealth finance minister he was inviting to speak. At the evening reception in his palatial - nay, opulent - residence, not only drinks were on offer to his official guests. Tucked discreetly at the edges of some of the circulating trays were shots of cocaine."

The Sunday Times in 1985 did a story on the drug traffic moving through the Bahamas and concluded that politicians on the take had: "caused the world's first epidemic of cocaine addiction, leaving virtually no Bahamian family unscathed." The article concluded that approximately 40% of the cocaine entering the United States was entering through the auspices of the Bahamian Government.  

Politics

In the elections held in 1992, the Free National Movement (FNM) won a landslide and their leader, Hubert Ingraham became the Island's Prime Minister with promises of a return to economic stability, an increase in tourism and the creation of a health climate for offshore investment in the Bahamas. While this was quite a mouthful, the new Prime Minister had historically been quite and orator but sadly, he spoke better than he governed.  While he was at it he promised the people that no longer would political hacks be rewarded for their loyalty with the plush bureaucratic jobs in which those occupying them did little discernable work in exchange for substantial salaries. Investigations would be made into the corruption that had taken place in the proceeding years and the guilty would be soundly punished .

When In Doubt Create A Commission and Investigate

A commission was formed and it was that corruption and substantial mismanagement had taken place and it was also brought out that Pindling had squired away a tidy fortune from his under-the-table dealings. Furthermore, it was proved that a number of Pindling's associates had been in league with him as well. However, this was nothing new as everyone in the known universe had been well aware that Pindling had been on the take for decades. Moreover, it was deemed unnecessary to punish the guilty because Pindling was dying of cancer and the resignations of several of his key political associates from their offices seems to quell the publics desire for additional blood to flow. In spite of the lack of blood letting, everyone felt better and once again went about their business of complaining about politicians.

The Spirit Of The Old Boy Network Still Lives

With Pindling gone, voting regions were more fairly re-districted, the number of seats in the House of Assembly was reduced with the government promising to set sail on a new and legitimate course. Since that time there have been new laws passed, friendly to global business in banking and insurance and tourism is finally being to hit its stride. The new government has failed to make any inroad into the problems of drug transshipments and it just may be that although the faces have changed, the penchant to the old "fast dollar" has not yet been eliminated from the system.

The Silly Season

However, the Bahamas have become a great place to live if you have the bucks and the political connections. Bahamians do not pay income or sales taxes with revenue to run the government derived from high tariffs and import duties. On the other hand, the Bahamas, which has a great historical proclivity for snatching defeat out of the hands of victory has determined to join the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) for some more than obscure reason. This would put an end to the money the government receives as their share of incoming goods. Why on earth the Bahamas would want to get involved in this kind of foolishness when they export nothing is beyond the scope of reason but then again, things are going well and it may be time for the silly season.

A Home Away From Home

Some of the economic measures recently passed by Bahamian legislature have born fruit and almost five-hundred banks and trust companies call the Bahamas home. In 1990, the International Business Companies Act became law which simplified and reduced the cost of incorporating off-shore companies in The Bahamas, resulting in the establishment of over 50,000 IBC-type companies.

 

Prospective

The Bahamian dollar is kept at parity with its U.S. cousin by the Government and although the United States is more than unhappy with the Bahamian drug dealing, the country is a card carrying member of the U.S. -Caribbean Basin Initiative whose largesse has proved to be quite beneficial for the Island-chain's residents. The Hawksbill Creek Agreement established a duty-free zone in Freeport and the Hong Kong-based, Hutchison Whampoa has responded by opening a container port there. Moreover, The Commonwealth of The Bahamas became a member of the United Nations in 1973 and the Organization of American States in 1982. Almost 3 million American's visited The Bahamas in the latest year in which statistics are  available in spite of the continued shady dealings of the incumbent government.

The Bahamas has had its fair share of characters who took its reputation as a home away from home for pirates, drug dealers and other misanthropes seriously. Sir Harry Oakes who was born in Sangerville, Maine in 1874, found that the islands suited him to a tee. Oakes got as far as Syracuse University Medical School when he began to believe that things were getting a tad dull. He headed for Klondike when he heard that gold had been discovered there with a couple of bucks in his pocket in an attempt to make his fortune. He used his amateur medical background to get enough money for a grub-stake and prospecting in and around Dawson Alaska for the next seven years. He then combined his search for gold with surveying in New Zealand, prospecting in Coolgardie and Kalgoolie Australia and ultimately in Death Valley California. From there he headed back to Alaska, and from thence on to the Belgian Congo. He was a gold camp follower and couldn't break the habit.

Would You Believe the Tough Bros, From Swastika?

However, Oakes pushing middle age, eventually landed in the town of "Swastika", Ontario, where he teamed up with the "Tough Brothers", George, Tom Bob and Jack. Can you really dig this one, the Tough Brothers from Swastika? In any event they struck it rich in a mine that for some strange reason was named the Tough-Oakes mine. Finally, now with some bucks in his pocket Oakes staked claims in Canada on the southern shore of Kirkland Lake, and once again used initiative, naming the digs the Lake Shore Mine. Nevertheless, this time Oakes really hit the heretofore highly elusive jackpot and no sooner had the assays come back, he renounced his citizenship in the U. S. to become a British Citizen. Financial problems now a thing of the past he began  accumulating a substantial family. Oakes then moved to the Bahamas and became a Bahamian citizen to avoid Her Majesty's Government's onerous taxes.

A Man of Charity and Vision

Oakes quickly became known by giving gobs money away, and primarily for this reason was elected to the Assembly in the Bahamas in 1938. King George VI granted him a Baronecy. His playmates were people like the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. With these credentials, he soon became the man with whom to deal in the Bahamas, and was the founding member of the notorious Bay Street Boys. During the 1940’s he built the Bahamas Country Club, the Cable Beach golf course, and Nassau’s first commercial airport. Pan Am had been making a daily flights to Nassau since 1929, and Sir Harry had created the infrastructure to make tourism,  the island's most profitable industry. (Today the Bahamas is the leading tourist destination in the region and tourism contributes between 60 - 70 per cent of the workforce, accounting for around 80 percent of foreign exchange earnings. In the pre-Castro days, Cuba had the honor of being numero uno)

Harry had vision, and his escapades in the Bahamas became legion. Until his bizarre death, possibly at the hands of the Count Alfred de Marigney, his son-in-law, Harry represented both the best and the worst of the Bahamas. His influence had much to do with solidifying the free wheeling atmosphere that pervaded the economic thinking of the island chain, and set the stage for its manifest destiny in the later half of the 20th century.

 

Dealing With The USA

When World War II began, the United States desperately needed an Air Force base in the Bahamas and made a deal with that Government for its construction The need arose for construction people to begin work on the base and when the basic construction work was finished, providing it with goods and services. This put a lot of unemployed Bahamians to work and temporarily took the edge off of the Island's chronic unemployment problem. The airport facility was invaluable to the American war effort and ultimately it became Nassau International Airport and was critical in the rebirth of the country. .

The Bahamas were the home to a succession of artful dodgers and another colorful character, Sir Stafford Sands, took charge of shaping the next decade. Sands established a Development Board to market the islands as a holiday destination following where Oakes had left off. With jet air services arriving at Nassau International Airport and a newly dredged Nassau harbor accommodating the world's largest ships, tourism began to flourish. Moreover, not wanting to put all of their eggs in tourism basket,  a tax haven was established, which today embraces the country's huge offshore financial industry. Finally, on July 10, 1973, after nearly 250 years as a colony, The Bahamas became an independent nation and forever left the British womb. 

Friends of the Friendless

In the meantime, the resourceful Bahamians uncovered another way to make a living. They created a home away from home for those rejected by their native lands because of minor legal problems like those of theft and murder. Robert Vesco was overqualified for the Bahamas. He was an American expatriate was able to live the good life in the Bahamas for many years after he stole millions of dollars from American citizens in a massive securities fraud. The American Government did everything possible to have Vesco brought back but all of their efforts were to no avail. The fact that such a desperate criminal as Vesco could literally taunt the United States from as close as 60-miles away did not go unnoticed. 

Robert Vesco captured the world's attention when he took over and then looted the Canadian based mutual fund giant, Investors Overseas Services Ltd. The mere theft of this very substantial amount of money might not have caused international opprobrium, but Vesco to was determined to rub salt in an already open wound and to make matters worse he also got himself involved with ex-American President Richard Nixon, drug dealing, an occasional disappearance, and all sorts of other unworldly occurrences.

Vesco Spreads the Wealth Around

Once having looted IOS, Vesco deposited his money in a Panamanian bank account, made a hasty retreat to the Bahamas, transferred his money from Panama, and spread it around like butter to those of importance in the Pindling Administration. He was always accompanied by his yacht, which appeared to take up most of Nassau Harbor, and his 707 plane, which was equipped with a mini-gym, sauna, executive dining room, and a discotheque with a hardwood dance floor and strobe lights. Vesco completed the image of the swinging jet-setter by traveling in velour loungewear. There was always a pilot near the plane in case Vesco needed a fast exit. In 1983 he pulled up stakes and headed for Cuba. The judgments against him had cascaded over the billion-dollar mark, and Justice Department Officials in the United States were making noises about bringing him to trial at any cost. Cuba seemed to be the only place in the hemisphere that could offer him refuge. For a time, he and Fidel were inseparable but eventually the romance cooled.

Drugs Rear Their Ugly Head

Vesco was not having a good time, though. He had to make sure that his payments to his keepers in the Bahamas and Costa Rica were kept current. New governments always created situations where Vesco who was required to bribe a different set of officials and whenever the United States or Canada turned up the heat, even more money was extorted from him. He was always surrounded by guards and was in constant fear for his life. In 1991, this fear caused the suicide of his former partner LeBlanc, a Montreal-born accountant. As a McGill University student, LeBlanc won the Governor General's Award for the highest accounting grades in Canada. He had single-handedly funded the IOS takeover. In the meantime, whether Vesco's money was running out or whether he was just getting bored, he started smuggling cocaine with the Medellin Drug Cartel for which he was indicted in Jacksonville, Florida in 1989.

Although Vesco is the first person ever offered haven in the Bahamas to find the climate getting to hot, it was probably his high-profile drug dealing that caused the Bahamian Government to eventually hand him his walking papers. The Bahamas had a good thing going in the drug market, and they just weren't being paid enough by Vesco to continue to get a rash of bad publicity that could really screw things up. We have taken the liberty of including testimony taken from the United States Drug Enforcement Administration on the subject before a Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control on June 22, 1998 entitled "The Lure of the Bahamas",

"The Bahamas Islands Chain, which lies northwest of the island of Hispaniola and just northeast of Cuba, has been a center for smuggling contraband for centuries. During the heyday of the Medellin Cartel, Carlos Lehder bought an entire island, Norman’s Cay, where he flew planes laden with hundreds of kilograms of cocaine to stage for entry into the United States.

 

Bre-X, Need We Say More?

A Canadian Company by the name of Bre-X was the next big-time criminal operation  to take advantage of this haven. The company and its history began in Indonesia where they supposedly were operating a small mining company.

Indonesia is a country that has been blessed with natural resources, and its minerals and oil industry had by this time become the envy of its neighbors. The local mining industry is world class, boasting large deposits of aluminia and copper. Not too many days go by here without what is called an "elephant find" in one of the many thousands of islands that comprise the archipelago country. Indonesia is the world's largest producer of the robusta coffee beans that are used to make instant coffee. It is also the second leading producer of cocoa and palm oil and one of the world’s largest producers of rubber. Then President Suharto was at the peak of his power in that country, and it was not a major surprise when a small Canadian mining company announced that they had discovered gold in Borneo, one of the islands that make up the island chain.

Gold In Borneo Yet

As the weeks went on reports coming out of Indonesia indicated that  the find was increasing in size regularly until it eventually seemingly had become by far the richest find since creation of the universe. Bre-X, of Calgary Alberta, which was known as a junior company which may have been a tip-off of things to come, had a secondary listing on the Toronto Stock Exchange. It announced that the find exceeded 200 million ounces of gold ($120 billion), and the stock soared from pennies to stratospheric heights on the Canadian Stock Markets. Widows and orphans were taking their welfare checks and going to Canadian brokerage firms to buy the stock before it went even higher.

Before too long Bre-X's price had risen to amazingly to over $281. Fidelity Investments, one of the largest financial money managers in the world, sank substantial money into the stock, as did a number of Canada’s largest pension funds. Its geologist, John Felderhoff, won the Prospector of the Year award almost unanimously. Moreover, he and an associate shared the distinction of becoming Mining Men of the Year as well. The stock market capitalization of Bre-X soared  into the billions of dollars, and many thought that this was indeed the second coming which it turned out to be for a chosen few.

An Unhappy Ending

The next event in this ongoing soap opera was when  a team of highly trained and respected geologists evaluated the gold samples and announced that they were legitimate. Naturally this report caused  the stock to rise even further.  The frenzy assumed unstoppable proportions when Freeport McMoran, a company that had highly regarded expertise in the field, announced a joint venture with Bre-X that included substantial funding.

At this point the strangest of events occurred. The world-renowned chief geologist for Bre-X, Mike De Guzman, apparently became disoriented aboard his helicopter while it was flying near the gold property, and stepped off the plane into the ocean thousands of feet below. Although this caused some consternation, pundits disregarded the aerial circus by remarking that "Mike was always tripping over himself". While this satisfied many, an investigation was begun and Forensic Investigative Associates was hired to look into the claims that had been made.

To the consternation of many they found that the gold had been salted (A mining term which effectively means that the gold is carefully placed in strategic spots to make it appear that the mine is richer than it really is. More on this below.) and that De Guzman had committed suicide because he believe that he was about to be caught. They named one Cesar Pupos as De Guzman’s accomplice.

Another Party Heard From

Others have far more esoteric theories on Guzman’s demise and a have placed a broader conspiracy spin on the overall Bre-X hoax. Some are convinced that sometime before Guzman’s wild stories of gold first emerged, he was kidnapped by an Indonesian group and informed that he had to find lots of gold on the property or they would dismember his torso. This would have represented a strong incentive however if he had only just left town we would wonder whether they would have been able to find him.

In the early West, when someone wanted to sell his mining claim and move along, he would often fill his shells with traces of gold and then put the shells into his shotgun. From there it was a simple task to take aim at his mine site and pull the trigger. Gold particles imbedded themselves deeply into the rock, and when a sample was taken it appeared that the claim was awash with the precious metal. Mr. Guzman used modern technology to salt his claim. In the saga that became known as the "bungle in the jungle" a global record six billion dollars was stolen from investors. On November 5, 1997, the Court of Queen’s Bench, Alberta put Bre-X Minerals Ltd. into bankruptcy and an investigation was begun that will continue for the next century.

A Sophisticated Investor Indeed

David Walsh was the head man at Bre-X Minerals and had been a major seller of the stock as it spiraled upward. Walsh knew that ultimately the scheme would come unraveled and he squirreled the money away in the Ansbacher Bahamas Bank. Walsh determined to withdraw his money from the bank after the scandal was discovered. The Bahamas which had become known as the Government which was always friends of the friendless, took the matter to the Country's Supreme Court, which made the startling although fully expected determination that Walsh, as a legitimate business man, could do as he wished with the funds.

As far as we know, Walsh remains happily holed up in the Bahamas as lawsuits totaling billions of dollars are filled against him. Bank records have shown that both Walsh and his wife were allowed to set up nominee accounts in the Bahamian Bank under names such as Balogh and Hearn Ltd. The bank rightly stated at the time, "Ansbacher does not wish to prejudice the interest of its valued customers, but at this time it considers that it would be irresponsible to ignore the published information and possibility that the monies in the Bank are the proceeds of a fraud". As we indicated, the Bahamian Supreme Court did not agree, although one of the Justices, Emmanuel Osadeby, stated, "There are now grounds for believing that the funds and securities or much of them may have been obtained through fraudulent activities on investors who invested in the shares of Bre-X Minerals Ltd."

Justice is Served

The money was returned to Walsh after Justice Anita Allen determined that "On the state of the evidence before me, I can find nothing which indicates that Walsh was personally involved in the salting of samples, or that he knew or had any information of such a scheme," "In my view, if he were involved in the fraud, or knew of its existence, I would expect him to sell, not all of his shares, as that would be too obvious, but a greater proportion than he sold." Anita Allen did not win a kudos from investors that had their life savings wiped out by Walsh and it certainly is a stretch for us to believe that there wasn't a whole bunch of green spread around the Island before that decision. Anita indicated that her decision was directly from the heart and if you believe that, I have a large bridge for sale that connects Manhattan Island to Brooklyn. We have heard from our confidential sources that Anita is now living in a much improved manner in a large mansion on the Island, earned with the fruits of her labors, whatever they may have been.

Another Cagey Investor

Having seen that the Bahamas knew how to treat people, Bre-X Chairman, John Felderhof, also found the Bahamian climate to his liking and moved to the Island Paradise just before the fraud was exposed. Felderhof is believed to be enjoying the balmy Bahamian breezes with about $70 million tucked neatly into his trousers that was indirectly stolen from Bre-X share holders.

Both men indicated that they did not choose the Bahamas for their non-extradition treaties, nor did they choose the country for its bank secrecy laws. Bahamian judges can be made to understand that large sums of money can show up unexpectedly in accounts in their banks. Further, Bahamian law and tradition provide that when this occurs, the owner's rights must be protected even at the cost of sever financial hardship to others.  The Bahamas had indeed found a successful industry that would also provide big bucks to their treasury and pensions for their bureaucrats. The Bahamas was well on its way to becoming known as a world class refuge for thieves and villains. 

Back to the Basics

The Bahamas remains a central conduit for air and maritime shipments of drugs moving through the Western and Central Caribbean to the Southeastern United States. Two recent maritime operations, resulting in the seizure of 4.3 metric tons of cocaine are indicative of the Colombian drug lords’ trafficking efforts in the Caribbean. On February 20, 1998, the Honduran vessel Nicole departed Barranquilla, Colombia en route to Turks and Caicos Islands. The DEA confirmed that this vessel was originally named the Lucent Star and had been involved with the off-loading of multi-thousand kilograms of cocaine off the coast of Haiti in 1997. The subsequent search of the vessel uncovered approximately 3,700 kilograms of cocaine. DEA also developed intelligence that the Panamanian vessel Sea Star II was suspected of smuggling multi-thousand kilograms of cocaine. On February 28, 1998, this vessel docked in Freeport, Bahamas. The search of the vessel uncovered approximately 2,000 kilograms of cocaine.

Overall seizures in the Bahamas for the first three months of 1998 surpass the total number of drug seizures in the Bahamas for the last three years combined. It would appear that the Bay Street Boys have turned over the running of the Island to the Columbian drug czars.

Transportation groups located in the Bahamas utilize a variety of methods to move cocaine from the islands to the United States. Colombian traffickers air- drop shipments of cocaine off the coast of Jamaica, or utilize boat to boat transfers on open seas. Jamaican and Bahamian transportation groups then use Jamaican canoes to smuggle their payloads into the Bahamas, frequently using the territorial waters of Cuba to shield their movements. The cocaine is then transferred to pleasure craft which disappear into the inter-island boat traffic. Traffickers also use twin-engine turbo-prop aircraft, with long range capability and Global Positioning Systems, which pinpoint drop zones in the middle of the ocean. Cellular telephones are used to minimize their exposure to interdiction assets and ensure the smooth transfer of their cargo of cocaine for shipment into the United States.

 

The American Government is Not Happy

 

DEA is very concerned about the new containerized shipping port facility in Freeport, Bahamas, which will function as a freight-forwarding point for commercial cargo being sent to various ports in the United States and Europe. The containers are not to be opened while in Freeport, however, this creates a situation ripe for opportunistic smuggling organizations to exploit. Even more disturbing are current plans to make Freeport a free zone, which will allow cargo legitimately shipped through the port to be opened and merchandise to be removed or added while in port. Moreover, Miami’s port of entry, which handles hundreds of thousands of tons of commercial cargo, both through Miami International Airport and the seaport, is ideal for smuggling large shipments of cocaine into the United States.

 

Tramp freighters, by the hundreds, tour the Caribbean, going island to island, picking up and dropping off cargo. It is relatively simple for captains, with the inclination, to stop mid-ocean and take on hundreds of kilograms of cocaine and conceal them in false compartments or take on commercial cargo at ports of call with cocaine already concealed inside.

 

 

Easy As Pie

 

Once the cocaine arrives in Miami, the Colombian traffickers have a two-decade old transportation infrastructure of people  who work at the air and seaports, to facilitate the off-loading and warehousing of cocaine shipments. These traffickers frequently provide transportation via tractor trailer or private vehicle to Colombian cell heads on the East Coast and in the Midwest."

As you can see, new laws and new government have little to do with the overall problem in the Bahamas. With no particular agriculture, mining or manufacturing, life is easier if a few international rules can be broken, off-shore banking and insurance setup and a tad of tourism to take it all down. These folks really know how to live but having dealt under the table for centuries they are not particularly amateurs at this game.

 

The Timeth Had Cometh

As time progressed, there was no message that came down from on high to lead the Bahamian Government unto the path of righteousness, but they seemed to flourish, in their own way, nonetheless. It would have seemed to an outside observer that the authorities were trying to recreate the Barbary Coast all over again, but with a modern twinge. Instead of pirates, the Bahamas would be a home away from home to an odd assortment of shady characters engaged in nefarious pursuits from all over the world. Bay Street, conveniently located in downtown Nassau would start to look a little like Rick's Club right out of the movie, Casablanca. While in the movie, everyone was dealing in wartime intrigue; passports, military secrets and the sort, on Bay Street they are awash in drugs and exotic financial scams. Drugs have replaced the Spanish Gold as the medium of exchange and money is flowing rather freely once again in the very center of town. The unemployment rate has dropped to a tad under 10% per cent; a very acceptable rate for a country where many don't even care if they work or not. 

In the meantime, while Nassau had been intentionally rather regulatorily passive to financial fraud as elected officials have recently seen to it that they have become the "hot money" capital of the America's. While officials have attempted to play down the massive quantity of funds that are being laundered within the country, the amount has become so prodigious that they were forced to undertake palliative action. The institutions that have brought a breath of life back to Bay Street are banks that often have no physical presence on the Islands at all and the Bahamas are only an instantaneous stopping point for the electronic transfer of massive amounts of transmitted contraband funds on the way to somewhere else. Senator Carl Levin of Michigan in a report issued to the entire U.S. Senate said it best:

     "The suspect banks often have no buildings or staff in the islands where  they are licensed and do not offer local checking and savings accounts. Their clients are foreign banks. While some are legitimate operations, others are merely conduits to move money quickly from one bank and one country to another; often to conceal the source of the money,." Reuters carried an interesting quote from Charles Intrigue, the published of "Money Laundering Alert": "These banks that often have imposing names are nothing more than a brass plate tacked onto some lawyer's office. Everybody dealing with this has been focusing primarily on customers, the bad dudes walking in with drug money. Now it turns out that ingrained in the banking system are relationships bank-to-bank that have been exposed as being the equivalent of an intersection at a high-speed freeway without traffic lights."

A Different Kind of Folk

The country has gone back from whence it came but this time with at least a dash of color to illuminate the drab. If anything, Nassau always was colorful in the old days. Its people were rapscallions of the Caribbean and the Bahamas were always a place that attracted the slightly twisted. One of the early entrees in that crowd was the ever popular Huntington Hartford the Second. Hartford, a wastrel of sorts that owned a small chain of grocery stores named A&P. The largest chain of any kind in the United States at the time.  He was attracted to what he thought was a choice piece of property across the river from Bay Street. Nobody lived on the other side of the river and the property was aptly called Hog Island because of the fact that local pig farmers would bring their stock over to the island to graze. Over time, the island had literally become "hog heaven". Hartford, who had more money than any normal person ought to have, purchased the island in its entirety and promptly got rid of the hogs and cleaned up after them which a substantial period of time.

A Bridge Over Smelly Waters

His next move was to erect a bridge making direct egress a simpler matter. However, the cleaver little rascal also installed the first toll collection system in the history of the Bahamas. This was a particularly bad financial move of which young Hartford had made more than his share. It seems that there was nothing on Hog Island but stench and why would anyone want to ruin their day and pay a toll besides just to get sick to their stomachs. The young Hartford was undaunted and had an inspiration, he would change the name from Hog Island to Paradise Island. He thought that this would take away the taint of the pig's smell ate least mentally. This wasn't much help because everyone was still concerned about the odor the emanated from the place and wasn't until years later that the pig smell finally abated. While the island finally did became a success scores or years later, Hartford was not at the event and never saw his adored toll collection booth make a penny

During that period of time Hartford erected several buildings and a small hotel on the island. For the most part, Paradise Island was not an overwhelming success until gambling came to the Islands and even then no one really wanted to pay the toll. Eventually, strong rumors began to circulate that the American CIA had became involved in the gambling on Paradise Islands through a little known company called Mary Carter Paint. The paint company was later renamed Resorts International and ownership was legitimatized by an investment by the prominent show business star, Merv Griffin. Griffin was not a particularly gifted hotelier and did not bring any particular fame to Paradise Island although he did have several syndicated television shows that allowed him to waste his money however he pleased

Good Old Fashioned Bund Meetings

But Nassau historically had always been a home to those elite people from overseas that considered the commoners, riff raff. Among those were the beloved Duke and Duchess of Windsor who when not attending German Bund meetings were often to be seen at Nassau's Grayscliff estate. Also in attendance at that location were such other stalwarts as Al Capone, Chicago's gift to the Bahamas and the dynamic duo of the Third Earl of Staffordshire and the lovely Duchess of Staffordshire. The so-called pretty people got out fast when England gave the islands their independence and soon nothing was left but commoners from the United States to people the molding tourist traps. The rest of the world caught up to the Bahamas as gambling spread across the Caribbean and most of the United States. 

A Small Addition

However, The Bahamas were in close proximity to the States and business was good there. The American people wanted to travel and they were looking for an excuse to go to the Bahamas. Sun International gave them an excuse in spades. They bought up over 70 per cent of Paradise Island and started a massive improvement program. Then they constructed a little place called the Atlantis Paradise Island Resort and Casino. They weren't into excesses and therefore only put in the following: 40 waterfalls and fountains, 11 swimming areas, 980 slot machines, and someone once said 8 billion fake seashells. along with this they installed an 11-million-gallon aquarium containing 50,000 sea creatures. It is something to behold. 

When the other resort owners saw the massive investment made by Sun, they all joined in. Grayscliff got an expansion and makeover, Cable Beach and its magnificent golf courses came alive and the Ocean Club upped their already excessive rates and dramatically expanded. The ancient but ever popular British Colonial was acquired by the Hilton and started beckoning everyone within shouting distance. The Bahamas were on a roll. Rates on Bay Street skyrocketed and drug sales soared. Exotic women from all over the world were imported to work the casinos and the hotel beds. And mugging, a business that had risen and fallen with Bahamas' economic status took a sharp spiral into the stratosphere as hapless tourists somehow were led to believe that the side streets in Nassau were safe after dark. The Bahamas after many fits and starts had finally severed its ties with the past and it historic mediocrity. It has finally joined the global elite and is spreading it wings.   

 

 

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