Plans by a former Bermuda premier to bring a McDonald's restaurant to this tiny British colony has fired up a political controversy, with a great-grandmother leading a petition drive opposing the development.
The pro-government newspaper has condemned the fast-food "folly" and decried the "rape" of Bermuda and even members of the ruling United Bermuda Party have expressed outrage over the plan, which they see as "cheapening the quality" of this luxury tourist resort.
"It is not Bermudian. McDonald's cheapens wherever it goes," said Phyllis Harron, 83, who is spearheading the petition drive against McDonald's in Bermuda.
Known in the tourist trade as a resort of conservative quality, Bermuda has consistently rejected neon signs, billboards and fast-food outlets.
When a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant opened here some 26 years ago, the government moved swiftly to close a loophole in planning laws and declared no more fast-food franchises would be permitted. The KFC outlet remains the only U.S. fast-food entry in Bermuda. An application to open a McDonald's 20 years ago was turned down.
"We do not think that most Bermudians want Bermuda to take on the atmosphere of a North American suburb," the pro-UBP Royal Gazettte said in one editorial. "Bermuda should be Bermuda, not the road to Disney World," said another.
The brouhaha started when Finance Minister Grant Gibbons approved the formation of a company headed by former Premier Sir John Swan.
The government said the application to create the company was given no special treatment, and stringent planning controls would be in place to ensure the restaurants would not have the trademark golden arches, officials said.
The company, Grape Bay Ltd., published a notice Dec. 23, in which it said the firm planned "to obtain all necessary permits or licenses from McDonald's Corp. for the purpose of enabling the company to carry on the business of McDonald's restaurants within the islands of Bermuda."
Opponents of the plan forced a debate last week in the House of Assembly, the lower chamber of the parliament, during which UBP lawmakers joined the opposition Progressive Labour Party in condemning the decision and implying that political nepotism had played a role.
"It just leaves a bad taste in the mouth," opposition leader L. Frederick Wade told the Royal Gazette.
Swan resigned as premier last August but remained a member of Parliament when voters rejected his call for Britain's oldest colony to become independent. He has kept silent on the matter.
Not so Harron, who is distributing copies of a petition headed "Say No to McDonald's."
One of the founders of Keep Bermuda Beautiful in the 1950s, Harron - who says she can trace her family's Bermuda roots to the 1600s - objects to McDonald's because of what she called "proliferation of litter and the poor quality of food."
There had been a McDonald's on the U.S. military base here, but it was usually off limits to Bermudians and it closed when American forces left the island last September.
Gibbons has insisted that the decision cannot be reversed and has dismissed objections. "I think that Bermudians are getting tired of all this hysterical rhetoric," he said.
Divisions within the UBP, occasioned by the independence debate and dormant for some months, have now erupted again. Observers say Premier David Saul, a supporter of the company's approval, seems incapable of controlling fiesty political colleagues after six months in power.
The UBP has a slim three-seat majority in the House.