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Old Posted Jun 26, 2013, 3:49 AM
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US Virgin Islands - America's other tropical island chain

Here are a bunch of photos from a trip I took this past October, to St Thomas and St John in the US Virgin Islands, a small group of islands immediately to the East of Puerto Rico. The population of the island chain is 106,000, on a 133 sq miles. Yes that's considerably smaller than municipal NYC, Chicago, or LA. As my plane was landing and taking off, I could see St Thomas (co-main island, with it's 50k or so population) in its entirety, and it didn't look very big. St John isn't much smaller land-wise, but is much less developed. The islands are self-governing, with the limitation that whatever laws they have on their books have to not conflict with federal law and the US Constitution.

Photos are more or less in chronological order. I spent most of my time on St John, with one excursion to Charlotte Amalie, the main town on St Thomas.

First, St John, most of which is a national park.







Shrub behind beach



Entrance path to beach park













Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas



Jewelry store after jewelry store. The US Virgin Islands are a duty free zone, so while they are part of the US (I believe the idea is that as unincorporated territories, they are owned by the US, but not an integral part of it. Kind of like you own your jeans, but they aren't a part of you),... anyway, so while the islands are part of the US, you still pass through customs on the way back to the mainland, with passport/ID checks and customs/immigration officers. Locals are American citizens just like us on the mainland, but the checks are there, and passports are required of any foreigners.

Despite the lack of respect inherent in unincorporated territory status (and all current US territories are unincorporated), there are benefits. There are no federal taxes from my understanding (no taxation without representation), but there are most of the usual federal benefits we have here in the 50 states. Also, if I were an islander, I sure as heck wouldn't want to be stuck in an independent island country you can see in it's entirety out of an airplane window, without the benefit of American citizenship and the wider world it opens up.















Back to St John. Path from the port to a beach









Largest shopping center in town an on island





Main square in St John



Port view. The pickups pictured are how the taxis look on the island. Fare are by person, by schedule of origin and destination. I wish I rented a car, as even though they drive on the left, the roads weren't congested at all, and I would have been able to explore the island much better.



Evening view from my favorite bar on the island














Last edited by bricky; Jun 26, 2013 at 1:27 PM.
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Old Posted Jun 26, 2013, 3:59 AM
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Ive always wanted to go to the Virgin Islands. Ever since I read an article about the Virginal Islands National Park in a National Geographic when I was a little kid Ive wanted to go. Ive been to many islands in the Caribbean, St. Lucia, Aruba, Curacao, the Bahamas, Cozumel, and Caymen Islands, alas all before I was into photography unfortunately, but Ive always viewed the national park in the virgin Islands as a little slice of preserved paradise and its intrigued me. I plan on going to San Juan pretty soon, only 300 bucks for an airplane ticket there.
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Old Posted Jun 26, 2013, 4:06 AM
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Interesting. Thanks.

I wonder how much more developed this place would be if it were a US state. Simply from added exposure to geography-challenged Americans. Would it look like Honolulu?
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Old Posted Jun 26, 2013, 4:14 AM
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Interesting. Thanks.

I wonder how much more developed this place would be if it were a US state. Simply from added exposure to geography-challenged Americans. Would it look like Honolulu?
I kind of thought of the islands as analogous to Hawaii too, before going there. But once there, I think you'd realize just how small the USVI are. They'll never be a state because the population is way too small. And if they did join another state, like Florida for example, or a hypothetical state of Puerto Rico (with which they culturally have very little in common by the way), they would not only essentially become just state counties with no significant internal self-government, but they would also lose their duty free status, which I think is their main tourist driver now - cruise ship traffic to the shops at Charlotte Amalie. I do think the Virgin Islands would see far more investment and tourism as part of an American state, but the current local political class and duty free stake holders would fight like crazy against losing their little fiefdom/goldmine.
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Old Posted Jun 26, 2013, 4:23 AM
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Originally Posted by photoLith View Post
Ive always wanted to go to the Virgin Islands. Ever since I read an article about the Virginal Islands National Park in a National Geographic when I was a little kid Ive wanted to go. Ive been to many islands in the Caribbean, St. Lucia, Aruba, Curacao, the Bahamas, Cozumel, and Caymen Islands, alas all before I was into photography unfortunately, but Ive always viewed the national park in the virgin Islands as a little slice of preserved paradise and its intrigued me. I plan on going to San Juan pretty soon, only 300 bucks for an airplane ticket there.
I think I paid about $350 for a round trip ticket from JFK to St Thomas. With a connection through San Juan. The price wasn't bad at all!
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Old Posted Jun 26, 2013, 5:02 AM
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certainly the definition of tropical paradise... at least geographically.

I spent a day walking across St. Thomas (mostly straight up and then back down). While it was nicer than other islands I've been to, it was poorer than I imagined it to be. There were some really nice vacation digs around, but not a whole lot of amenities to go with them.

* really small sample size to be sure, but I was expecting something more akin to Key West I guess.
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Old Posted Jun 26, 2013, 6:23 AM
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They'll never be a state because the population is way too small.
Well, I'm saying I bet the population would boom if they became a state.

Also, the statutory minimum requirement for statehood is 60,000, so VI's 106,000 is enough to qualify. Alaska's population in 1960 (the first census after it became a state) was 226,167, and in 1950 (the last as a territory) it was 128,643, pretty in line with VI.

I'm not arguing they should do it. I'm sure the 106,000 existing residents don't want a population boom, and love paying low taxes.
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Old Posted Jun 26, 2013, 11:31 AM
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Well, I'm saying I bet the population would boom if they became a state.

Also, the statutory minimum requirement for statehood is 60,000, so VI's 106,000 is enough to qualify. Alaska's population in 1960 (the first census after it became a state) was 226,167, and in 1950 (the last as a territory) it was 128,643, pretty in line with VI.

I'm not arguing they should do it. I'm sure the 106,000 existing residents don't want a population boom, and love paying low taxes.
Yep, it sounds like the residents of the US Virgin Islands have a similar political situation and representation as those of us here in DC. We are a part of the US, of course, but don't have the same political representation as the other 310 million US residents.
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Old Posted Jun 26, 2013, 12:00 PM
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Wow. Just wow. I love that part of the Caribbean. I spent last Christmas on Vieques which is very close to the USVI but I've never been...yet.
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Old Posted Jun 26, 2013, 1:12 PM
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Originally Posted by Cirrus View Post
Well, I'm saying I bet the population would boom if they became a state.

Also, the statutory minimum requirement for statehood is 60,000, so VI's 106,000 is enough to qualify. Alaska's population in 1960 (the first census after it became a state) was 226,167, and in 1950 (the last as a territory) it was 128,643, pretty in line with VI.

I'm not arguing they should do it. I'm sure the 106,000 existing residents don't want a population boom, and love paying low taxes.
Back when Alaska became a state, America had a much smaller population than now, and I suspect that there was an expectation that Alaska's population would get much larger, because of it's physical size.

Today, I think the realistic minimum population that would informally be necessary to become a state is around 500k. If the Virgin Islands became a state, the average vote there would count 400 times more in the Senate than an average vote in California. And 5 times more than in the now current smallest state. The average vote in the House would still count 5 times more than in the now current smallest state. But there wouldn't be much hope of the population increasing so substantially because the land area is so small. To put it in perspective, Hawaii, itself not exactly known for being huge, has something like 50 times the land area of the USVI.

Guam is still a territory for similar reasons I think. Even though the people there are from my understanding quite patriotic about America, Guam isn't big enough to be a state, and the population there doesn't want to join and probably doesn't want to be taken in by Hawaii.

Last edited by bricky; Jun 26, 2013 at 1:32 PM.
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Old Posted Jun 26, 2013, 1:20 PM
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Originally Posted by bricky View Post
Back when Alaska became a state, America had a much smaller population than now, and I suspect that there was an expectation that Alaska's population would get much larger, because of it's physical size.

Today, I think the realistic minimum population that would informally be necessary to become a state is around 500k. If the Virgin Islands became a state, the average vote there would count 400 more in the Senate than an average vote in California. And 5 times more than in the now current smallest state. The average vote in the House would still count 5 times more than in the now current smallest state. But there wouldn't be much hope of the population increasing so substatially because the land area is so small. To put it in perspective, Hawaii, itself not exactly known for being huge, has something like 50 times the land area of the USVI.

Guam is still a territory for similar reasons I think. Even though the people there are from my understanding quite patriotic about America, Guam isn't big enough to be a state, and the population there doesn't want to join and probably doesn't want to be taken in by Hawaii.
Not to detract from your excellent photos but DC has more than 630,000 residents, more residents than three or four states, and we do not have any representation in Congress. Other than three electoral votes for president, we have about the same status as residents of the US Virgin Islands.
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Old Posted Jun 26, 2013, 1:30 PM
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Not to detract from your excellent photos but DC has more than 630,000 residents, more residents than three or four states, and we do not have any representation in Congress. Other than three electoral votes for president, we have about the same status as residents of the US Virgin Islands.
But I totally agree, and expect DC to be a state sometime in the future.

Why isn't it a state yet? I suspect because Republicans are loath to have another 2 Democratic Senators and 2 Congressman, not to mention shifting the needle just a bit in presidential elections. Perhaps Hawaii and Alaska were admitted together because one was solidly Democratic, and the other was solidly Republican? To balance each other out?

Partisan politics, which is a big factor in its own right, would still the least of USVI's problems in becoming a state. Population/size is the biggest impediment, I think.
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Old Posted Jun 26, 2013, 2:50 PM
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Today, I think the realistic minimum population that would informally be necessary to become a state is around 500k.
AFAIK, the law still says 60,000.

Their small population is not what's stopping VI from petitioning Congress to become a state. Lack of political will within VI to do so is what's stopping them.
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Old Posted Jun 26, 2013, 3:14 PM
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Thanks for sharing these pretty shots of US Virgin Islands, bricky!

Those beaches must be the paradise on earth. The sand so white and the water so blue..., wow! Amazing place to relax and to rest. Beautiful! I´m dreaming about going there.

Congrats and greetings from Madrid, Spain!
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Old Posted Jun 26, 2013, 3:15 PM
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AFAIK, the law still says 60,000.

Their small population is not what's stopping VI from petitioning Congress to become a state. Lack of political will within VI to do so is what's stopping them.
Why petition for statehood when you know it's not going to happen? Why set yourself up for a fall which you can perfectly well see coming? After all, I don't think it would be a costless proposition, in terms of polical capital, for any local politicians keen on championing it. Nor would it serve the local population to get them excited about something which has no possibility of being realized.
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Old Posted Jun 26, 2013, 4:11 PM
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If VI applied for statehood and was denied by Congress due to its population, despite meeting the requirements, they would have an excellent Supreme Court case on their hands, with a very high chance of winning. Congress can change the law if they want to, but as long it says 60,000 they have to abide by that.

I don't mean to hijack your excellent thread, so I'll stop making a big deal about it and stop responding on this issue. But your personal opinion that VI isn't big enough doesn't carry the weight of law in this matter. There is a law that addresses this, and it says a place the size of VI can be a state.
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Old Posted Jun 26, 2013, 4:44 PM
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I remember when I was in 5th grade my family took a vacation to the BVI's/USVI's. We landed in St. Thomas, rented a big sailboat and we went island hopping for a week. It was one of the best experiences and vacations of my life.

I definitely recall the British islands being a lot nicer and more developed. Charlotte Amalie felt pretty rough and as though it was still developing. Either way, all of the islands are beautiful.

What do you mean about the "lack of respect"?
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Old Posted Jun 26, 2013, 5:12 PM
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If VI applied for statehood and was denied by Congress due to its population, despite meeting the requirements, they would have an excellent Supreme Court case on their hands, with a very high chance of winning. Congress can change the law if they want to, but as long it says 60,000 they have to abide by that.

I don't mean to hijack your excellent thread, so I'll stop making a big deal about it and stop responding on this issue. But your personal opinion that VI isn't big enough doesn't carry the weight of law in this matter. There is a law that addresses this, and it says a place the size of VI can be a state.
I also don't want to make a big deal about this in a photo thread, and respect your opinion. But from my understanding of history, achieving statehood was more complicated than you make out. First of all, statehood was never to my knowledge granted right away to an unincorporated territory. Previous cases were to incorporated territories. Second, I don't think statehood is as automatic of a process as you make out. Congress has discretion. In fact there was a lot of talk with Puerto Rico of Congress not making, and not having to make, Puerto Rico a state unless they thought the margin of victory in any referrendum was high enough, like 60% or 55% instead of 50%. And I never heard the argument made that the Supreme Court could in effect overturn Congress and create a 51st state from a court decision. Perhaps the discetion is in going from unincorporated territory to incorporated territory? But I strongly suspect that it's there.

And finally, there's probably a reason none of the current territories (other than Puerto Rico) have made significant movement toward statehood. I'm pretty sure Guam would want to if it were a realistic possibility. And I suspect politicians in Charlotte Amalie would much prefer to be US Senators than USVI Senators. Bigger stage and all. But those places are just too small, and it kind of makes sense. There are multitudes of individual suburban towns with greater populations than the USVI. I see more people out of my window in Manhattan than reside in the USVI. It would be quite strange to give them the same representation in what is probably the greatest legislative body in the world, the US Senate, as a state with close to 40 million people, almost 400 times the population. And 5 times the per capita representation in Congress of even the smallest currenly existing state.

Last edited by bricky; Jun 26, 2013 at 5:48 PM.
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Old Posted Jun 26, 2013, 5:22 PM
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I definitely recall the British islands being a lot nicer and more developed. Charlotte Amalie felt pretty rough and as though it was still developing. Either way, all of the islands are beautiful.

What do you mean about the "lack of respect"?
St Thomas is certainly rough around the edges. In fact it has a murder rate 5 times higher than NYC for example. Per capita income is about $15,000, what is that, about half of the poorest American state? Still, I'd rank it as a developed society, just barely. They get most Federal benefits, which does create a bottom to living standards. St John on the other hand is very nice, in the sense that most of it is a park and there isn't much development to get run down in the first place.

The "lack of respect", as I read in the local paper, was something like this: the current status of the USVI is a possession of the USA. Not a part of the USA (that would be a state or incorporated territory), but a possession. Just like you own your car, but the car isn't a part of you. This might touch a particularly raw nerve in a place like the USVI, where the majority of the population are descended from slaves. The territory still being a "possession". In a way, it can sound even worse than a colony, which is also effectively what it is.

There isn't an easy way out, since most people consider statehood an unrealistic possibility, independence is both scary and perhaps not advisable for a place considerably smaller in both population and size than the NJ county I grew up in, and joining an existing US state would mean giving up self-government and duty-free port status. I have a feeling that 50 years or whenever down the line, when colonies might just not be morally acceptable no matter how comfortable the colonization is, when push comes to shove the USVI will just join Florida or Puerto Rico if it's a state then. Or maybe we'll all be living in a giant global EU/Schengen type zone in a hundred years, and independence or national governments almost won't matter one way or the other.

Last edited by bricky; Jun 26, 2013 at 5:34 PM.
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Old Posted Jun 26, 2013, 5:26 PM
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Gorgeous. I spent a month in Charlotte Amelie a couple years ago and was absolutely stunned by the amount of incredible restaurants of all types there were there that had ZERO to do with tourist resorts. Some of the best food I've ever eaten, I've had in Charlotte Amelie.
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