Bermuda, one of the few remaining British colonies, is the richest nation on earth. It's GDP per capita is 50% higher than that of the United States and it has zero unemployment.

It has been a British colony for around 400 years, and is one of the few places that has still not gained independence from Britain....

Will pursuing equality help Bermudians?

By Tim Hall, Bermuda
The Telegraph

Bermuda is still a British colony and is the oldest and most populous of Britain's few remaining colonies. It's also the world's richest country, with a GDP per capita of around $76,000.

Tony Black lives on the richest island on Earth. Today is a typical day: after driving a taxi for eight hours, he will head to a warehouse, where he has an evening job operating machinery. Late tonight, he will move on to his third job, as a nightclub bouncer. At weekends, Tony, 28, drives a truck.

Tony's story is not unusual. Bermuda has the highest GDP per capita in the world - 50 per cent higher than America's - and it has zero unemployment. Mega-wealthy Britons, among them actress Catherine Zeta Jones and insurance magnate John Charman, rub shoulders with even wealthier American tycoons such as Ross Perot and Michael Bloomberg. Meanwhile, the average black Bermudian takes two or three jobs just to make ends meet.

The flag of Bermuda, still a member of Britain's now-tiny Empire

And the problem is worsening. The trappings of the super-rich are hard to miss - pastel-coloured mansions set among swaying palm trees; 100ft yachts moored in sheltered inlets. Meanwhile, a severe housing shortage has pushed the price of even a modest home way out of the average Bermudian's reach.

Now the issue of inequality has spawned a power struggle that some say risks destroying the tax haven's economy overnight. It adds up to a nervous time for the 4,000 British expats who call Bermuda home. Many are considering turning their backs on their high earnings and Caribbean lifestyle and are looking for somewhere else to take their business.

Britain's oldest colony, Bermuda has significant autonomy of government, although the British governor still has control of the police, military and aspects of the judiciary.

The crisis revolves around the island's premier, Dr Ewart Brown, whose Progressive Labour Party (PLP) is waging an aggressive campaign to improve the lot of black Bermudians. Dr Brown - who was expected to be re-elected in the general election yesterday - has drafted laws allowing government inspectors to enter the offices of global firms and to fine them if they do not employ enough black workers or promote them to enough senior positions. Such measures have won strong support among the grass-roots. Of the island's 42,000 Bermudians, 70 per cent are black, the vast majority of whom were expected to vote for the PLP.

However, global reinsurance firms such as Lloyd's of London, ACE, and XL Capital - which produce 80 per cent of the island's wealth - are wondering if they would be more welcome elsewhere.

Sir John Swan, who was premier for 13 years and who signed tax treaties during the 1980s that helped lure much of the business to the island, recently compared the government's tactics to "Gestapo measures". Sir John said that while Bermuda is obsessing over race, the rest of the world is forging ahead. He said: "It's like the Titanic is sinking, and we know it, and all we're doing is running around rearranging the deck chairs."

Sir John pointed to historic precedents in the Bahamas, Antigua and Guyana, where bad political decisions made big business get up and leave overnight.

Raising tensions still further, Dr Brown and the PLP are attempting to win re-election using racially charged rhetoric - including allusions to slavery. A close Brown ally, Lovitta Foggo, recently said of the opposition United Bermuda Party (UBP), which draws most of its support from the white community: "A UBP vote is a vote back to the plantation. It is a vote that will return the shackles to our feet."

Such language goes heavily against the usual atmosphere in Bermuda. Settled 400 years ago by the British - who later brought slaves from Africa and the Caribbean - the island has long lived with racial tension bubbling below the surface. However, Bermudians are renowned as among the most welcoming people on earth, and bad racial feeling is rarely seen on a personal level.

Now, many expats believe the island's atmosphere is changing. One Brit - who, like most executives, does not want to be named for fear of making matters worse - said: "My son got home and said: 'Dad, am I a racist?' My wife also feels like a lot of this talk is aimed at her. The people in charge are using race as a tool - to stir up political support. But if you are white - whether you are Bermudian, British or American - you can't help feeling you're not as welcome as you were. We are considering our future here, yes."

Social activists argue that a few dissatisfied foreign workers is a small price to pay if Dr Brown can cut black Bermudians a bigger slice of the pie. However, his unpleasant rhetoric - and lack of real substance to back it up - has left many black people just as nervous as whites.

Tony Black, who as a taxi driver is about as working-class as Bermudians get, should be a staunch PLP supporter. However, he said: "What have the PLP done for me? In nine years of government they haven't done anything. I'm a young black man who's still working four jobs. I still can't afford my own home. And some of the things Dr Brown is saying? I think he might just make things worse."