Troubled Texas Billionaire Brings Focus On Antigua

Citizens of the Caribbean Island of Antigua take to the polls today. The elections have sparked an unusual interest in the U.S. because Texas billionaire Allen Stanford, owner of Antigua-based, Stanford Financial Group stands accused of $8 billion worth of fraud. Winston Derrick, owner and publisher of Antigua's Daily Observer, discusses the impact of Stanford's troubles on the elections

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, we've heard about global warming and its effects on the planet, but what about its effect on people? We'll talk to two environmentalists about the human face of climate change in just a few minutes.

But first, voters are heading to the polls to elect a new president in El Salvador on Sunday. More on that in a moment. Right now, though, we go to Antigua, where citizens head to the polls to elect new leaders today. As the campaign wraps up, a financial scandal threatens the nation's economy. Winston Derrick is the publisher and owner of Antigua's largest newspaper, The Daily Observer. He joins us from the capital city of St. John's, where, as I understand it, you're waiting to go to the polls yourself right now?

Mr. WINSTON DERRICK (Publisher and Owner, The Daily Observer): I certainly am. I'm sitting at home. I had been down earlier today, but there were some delays in the start. And now there are long lines there, so I'm waiting for the lines to ease up a bit.

MARTIN: We're going to jump into the elections in just a minute, but I wanted to focus on the other reason that Antigua's made headlines in the U.S. - the billionaire financier Allen Stanford, or Sir Allen, I should say. He's now a citizen of Antigua. He's formerly - he's from Texas. He's accused of stealing more than $8 billion from investors. What type of influence did Allen Stanford have on the island?

Mr. DERRICK: Well, Allen Stanford is an important economic player in Antigua, in that he - in our small population, he employs a lot of people. It's probably over 1,000 people, maybe 1,500 or so that he employs. So, from that standpoint, he is a significant player in Antigua. Socially he's not around much, but he's important to the economy of Antigua, certainly.

MARTIN: Well, I mean, I thought that he's the largest private employer on the island and doesn't he own the other newspaper?

Mr. DERRICK: He is probably, when he is in full mode and full operation, he probably is the largest private employer in the country. But, you know, there are two or three employers who employ that sort of - well, not quite that much but, you know, we have some significant people. You don't have to be employing a lot of people to be significant in Antigua.

MARTIN: What role is this whole scandal playing in the elections? I understand that he was considered to have been closer to the former prime minister, Lester Bird, than the current prime minister, Baldwin Spencer, who's standing for re-election. But is the scandal playing a role in the campaign - has it?

Mr. DERRICK: I don't think it's a significant role. It has come up because, of course, Sir Allen's problems are coming up at the time of elections in Antigua. And, yes, he certainly spent more time under the previous administration and doing business with the previous administration than he did with this one. And he's had a rocky relationship with this government that we have currently in office here in Antigua. The prime minister and him have butt heads a few times, so it has not been smooth sailing for him.

MARTIN: What is this election about? What are people about? What are the big issues?

Mr. DERRICK: Well, the big issues are the same issues that are anywhere, you know, health, education, safety, you know, those issues - the sort of bread and butter issues of the economy are going to be important in this one. So, much the same as you have in the United States.

MARTIN: Can you handicap it for us? Who seems to be in the lead - the current ruling party, the United Progressive Party led by Baldwin Spencer, the opposition, the - what's the opposition? The Antigua Labor Party.

Mr. DERRICK: Antigua Labor Party led by Lester Bird. Yes.

MARTIN: And so, handicap it for us.

Mr. DERRICK: Well, my sense is that it's going to be a close election, but my sense is that the UPP has a slight edge - the incumbent has a slight edge on the elections. I don't know how these delays - we have had a number of delays in various polling stations this morning, which caused the polls to open late -I don't know how those are going to - if that's going to translate into a problem in those constituencies and how people will react to it. Because although it's an independent electoral commission, you know, people tend to blame the authorities if they are inconvenienced, you know?

MARTIN: This marks the first time that the Organization of American Safety, OAS, will be observing elections in Antigua and Barbuda. What prompted the government to invite, I guess, they invited the observers, correct?

Mr. DERRICK: Yes. Well, you know…

MARTIN: What prompted that?

Mr. DERRICK: The Baldwin Spencer administration is quite open administration. They talk a lot about transparency and things like that. We have gone from total darkness in our government business to now a more open government. It's not totally open yet, but it's moreso. And I think Prime Minister Spencer thought that it would be useful to bring these persons in to take a firsthand look at our processes here in Antigua and Barbuda.

So that, you know, because there's always a critic, you know. There's always a critic when you, no matter how hard you work on elections, if you're, you know, the elections commission, no matter how hard, there's always somebody who criticizes the way you do things and whether or not your count is accurate. You know, all those sorts of things. So I think to remove any doubt, he invited not only the OAS, but he's also invited the Commonwealth Observer Mission here and also the Antigua Christian Council. They have an official observer status here in Antigua's elections.

MARTIN: Has your paper endorsed?

Mr. DERRICK: No, not really. We have sort of stayed down the middle on this one. We indicated that our preference, what we thought was best was the, you know, UPPs. We thought they were more equipped and in a better position to handle the management of the people's affairs. But we more or less have kind of tried to stay sort of down the middle on this.

MARTIN: And before I let you go, and thank you, you've been very generous with your time, could you settle a dispute that we've been having here in our office? I've always called your country Antigua, but some people pronounce it Antigua, which is right?

Mr. DERRICK: Well, here in Antigua, we say Antigua. It's probably the only silent U in the English language because it's originally a Spanish word. But we say Antigua and everybody here says Antigua. It's people from aboard, if somebody goes down the road saying Antigua, you know they come from somewhere else.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Okay. So…

Mr. DERRICK: That's okay.

MARTIN: So I will do that. Winston Derrick is the owner and publisher of Antigua's largest independent newspaper, The Daily Observer. He spoke to us from the capital city of St. John's. Thank you so much for joining us.

Mr. DERRICK: You're most welcome, ma'am.

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