Bermuda's Storms

As Bermudians braced themselves yesterday for the arrival of hurricane Felix, the government was deciding whether to postpone an historic referendum, originally scheduled for today.

The island's 38,000 eligible voters will be asked for the first time in more than 300 years of colonial rule whether they favor independence from Britain. Opinion polls show the answer will likely be a resounding no.

The fact that the question is being asked is significant - and has aroused strong sentiment. Prime Minister John Swan recently vowed to resign if voters vote no on the referendum.

But the majority of Bermudians, bucking the historic trend toward anticolonialism, have good reasons for wanting to maintain ties to the motherland. While Caribbean states suffer from high unemployment, poverty, crime, and dependence on tourism, Bermuda enjoys one of the world's highest living standards, based partly on a thriving offshore business community. Independence could lead to higher taxes and increased regulation, prompting businesses to flee.

Proponents of independence say a fear of change is keeping Bermudians from casting "yes" votes. But while change is often synonymous with progress, in some cases it makes more sense to stick with what works.

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