Just ask David and Vicki Legge, publishers of the Cayman Islands' only daily newspaper, who say they have had to leave Grand Cayman and seek refuge in Florida after an editorial in response to the FIFA scandal caught the ire of Premier Alden McLaughlin.
"He put a target on my back, to my mind," David Legge says in a phone call from Florida. "And my wife’s as well."
Legge, a former employee of The Washington Post who moved to Cayman 25 years ago and bought the Cayman Compass in 2013, says the problem stems from an editorial he penned last week in the wake of the corruption scandal. That editorial, titled "Corruption: An insidious, creeping crime," described the Cayman Islands as "culturally steeped" in corruption and called on the government to investigate allegations of corrupt practices thoroughly.
It was a provocatively timed article. Jeffrey Webb, a popular Caymanian who had worked his way up to become a top executive in the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football, was among the most senior FIFA officials arrested in Zurich last month. He now stands accused of racketeering and bribery offenses.
"Jeff Webb is a native son of the Cayman Islands, and he’s done much good for the Cayman Islands," Legge says, before comparing the impact of his arrest to the impact of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. "He’s truly one of the most beloved, and certainly famous, people in the Cayman Islands."
Given the Cayman Islands' position as a major tax-free financial center and its tiny population — less that 55,000 in 2013 — accusations of a culture of corruption can have a big impact in the British overseas territory. At a legislative meeting on Friday, McLaughlin offered some stern words for the Cayman Compass, calling the June 3 editorial "reckless" and adding that it "must be interpreted as a treasonous attack on the Cayman Islands and on all the people of Cayman."
Things quickly escalated further. Legge told WorldViews that shortly after the premier's comments became public, he brought up the subject of his family's personal security with Helen Kilpatrick, the governor of the Cayman Islands. Kilpatrick acts as the Queen of England's representative on the Cayman Islands; she is effectively the head of state while McLaughlin is the head of the government.
Twenty-four hour police protection was then granted for Legge and his wife, though Kilpatrick later issued a statement saying she did not make the decision. Despite the added security, Legge says he and his wife decided Saturday it was safer to head to Fort Lauderdale, where they maintain a home.
"The Cayman Islands are a very safe and secure place — I wouldn't want to imply or suggest otherwise — but we have our share of crazies and malcontents and so on just like any other society," Legge says. "I felt the need for security because the premier had just gotten on the floor of the House and accused me of treason."
Not all journalists on the Cayman Islands are sympathetic to the Legges' plight, however. In an opinion article posted to the Cayman News Service Web site, a competitor of the Cayman Compass, editor Nicky Watson called suggestions of treason "fantastically silly," but also suggested that much of the anger at the editorial was in fact directed at the Legges' management of the paper over the past two years. She also questioned why the Legges were given government-funded protection and described the publishers' decision to flee this weekend as "cowardly and a disgrace to the profession."
Legge says he and his wife are not sure when or if they'll return, but he seems hopeful. According to reports in the local press, however, his escape to Florida may have financial consequences. The international headlines caused by the incident had prompted the Cayman premier to support a motion for a government boycott of the newspaper. That motion, which passed on Monday, formalized government plans to stop spending money for advertisements and announcements in the Cayman Compass.
The same day, the Cayman Compass released a new edition with a blank front page. The headline read simply: "In Memoriam: Free Speech in the Cayman Islands."