The riots earlier this month in Bermuda have come at an embarrassing time for the Government of the colony.
The riots earlier this month in Bermuda have come at an embarrassing time for the Government of the colony. The visit by the Prince of Wales to celebrate 350 years of parliamentary rule has focused attention on the tiny island, its problems of racial integration and of apportioning its tourist wealth.
Because of its isolation - 600 miles (960 kilometres) from its nearest neighbour - Bermuda has been able to preserve its natural beauty and an easy way of life. American visitors flock to the island where they are not only welcomed but treated like royalty. Nearly 400,000 visitors are attracted to the island each year, in the summer the Government actually turns away cruise ships, the regular liner-loads of shoppers and sight-seers are all the island can cope with at one time.
All this has created a standard of living considerably higher than that in the Caribbean islands to the south. Bermuda had no slums, no abject poverty, and no unemployment: just a permanent state of boom. Superficially it is paradise, but a paradise which does not extend to everyone.
Racial integration came late to Bermuda, so did constitutional reform. Neither have meant any real change. Real wealth and power still go together: the men who run the colony today are the men whose families have run it for generations: the old-established bankers and merchants of Front Street, in Hamilton, the capitol. The colony is not so much a country, more a hugely successful commercial enterprise.
The younger black Bermudans have recently begun taking an active part in t he islands politics, challenging the white-minority leadership. So far this challenge has not been as determined, nor as successful as it has in the Bahamas, where a Black Government was elected three years ago.
In recent weeks, Court Street has been the scene of rioting: burnt-out shops and broken windows bear witness to this. Black leaders blame the police, who have been given new powers to search people for drugs and who, it is alleged, have used these powers indiscriminantly.
Called up for full-time service during the riots, but never sent into action, was the Bermuda regiment: a territorial force of 300 officers and men. The regiment is the only reinforcement for the police - a high proportion of whom are recruited in Britain, the colonial power - and is used mainly as a ceremonial force.
Bermuda is totally dependent on the American visitors' dollars and t here is a danger that the current boom in tourism will recede if black militancy and social unrest continues to grow. The task facing Bermuda's leaders is to solve the problems on the island soon, so that the economic benefits from tourism may be maintained.