THE EDITOR, Sir:
The recent discussions about Goat Islands make for some very interesting reading. One aspect which has not been raised, at least not publicly, is the fact that the agreement of September 2, 1940 between the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US) contains within it a 99-year lease for the entire area of approximately 150 acres.
A quick check with the US State Department List of Treaties and Other International Agreements in Force as of January 1, 2012 shows a bilateral agreement with the UK, relating to naval and air bases.
Students of WWII history know this to be the famous 'Destroyers for Bases' agreement between Churchill and Roosevelt which gave Britain 50 ships in exchange for land on which to build military bases in Antigua, The Bahamas, Bermuda, Guyana, Jamaica, St Lucia, and Trinidad and Tobago. In Jamaica, these became the Goat Island Naval Air Station and Army Airbase at Vernamfield.
Despite the disestablishment of the seaplane base at Goat Island on December 1, 1946, it appears, at least as far as the US is concerned, that they have a valid treaty in force that gives them a lease on Goat Island until September 2, 2039. The final agreement signed on March 27, 1941 is publicly available from parliamentary papers of the House of Commons 1940-41 [Cmd. 6259] Treaty Series No. 2 (1941).
That the US acted on this agreement, there is no doubt. Besides the activity of the bases, Article XVI granted the US the right to establish postal facilities in the leased areas. They did. Stamp collectors are familiar with US postmarks for Portland Bight and Sandy Gully, Clarendon.
Significantly, Article XXI, which speaks to abandonment of the leased area, states that abandonment will not be deemed to have occurred in the absence of notice. Again, the US State Department List would seem to indicate that, as of now, the US has not given any such notice.
I am not an attorney-at-law. Constitutional lawyers can advise what effect Jamaica's independence would have had on the agreement. Research shows, however, that every other Caribbean country on which the US had bases, either negotiated the termination of the agreement or made specific statements with regard to bilateral treaties upon independence from the UK.
For us, there does not seem to be anything similar with the Goat Islands agreement in mind. Is it possible that the early abandonment of bases in Jamaica simply means that they have slipped under the radar in our negotiations with the US? We would all hope not, but that is what the research shows.