27 May 2006

The Selling of Jamaica

John Maxwell

The Spanish are becoming extremely protective about the integrity of their coastline. After forty years of breakneck tourism development, the Spaniards have looked at their 8,000 km of sea coast and they don’t like what they see.

Spain is the world’s second most popular tourist destination after the United States, annually attracting 10 million more tourists than the 40 million people of the country. Tourism, as in Jamaica produces about ten percent of GDP, but in Spain most of the money remains in the country, unlike Jamaica where much of it it leaks back out to the United States for supplies and to Cayman and other such havens for numbered bank accounts.

Cheap air fares were the stimulus for the Spanish hotel boom, and the result is a wall of concrete cutting off the Spaniards from their coast. Forty years of uncontrolled building of tourist hotels have left Spaniards agonising about the beauty and amenity they have lost. Isabel Soto, writing seventeen years ago in the New York Times complained that “ the idyllic Spanish Mediterranean coast [has been transformed] into an often nightmarish urban wall of big, unattractive hotels and apartment blocks, often with scant attention to environmental basics like clean beaches.”

Since then it has simply got worse, to the point where the Spanish environmentalists are complaining that their coasts have been almost completely destroyed. Instead of rocky headlands, bird filled marshes, long sweeps of beach and wilderness, , the coast is now a wall of hotels and apartments, massive avalanches of concrete occluding hiullsides, fronted by beaches pullulating in bodies like a St Elizabeth rice field under attack by the fall army worm.

The European tourism market is increasingly a mass escape from anywhere to anywhere, with young people looking for surcease from the Mcdonaldisation of the workplace. What is important is sun, sex and booze, and some people will only be able to say where they spent their holidays by checking their credit card records

But, never mind, pouring concrete was the simplest make to coin money, in hotels and apartments which replicate the banal frenzy for kilometer after boozy kilometer. Nothing about the experience is Spanish – even the gigolos have been globalised.

It is no wonder that an increasing number of Spaniards want their country back, want to preserve some of what was there before the attack of unsustainable tourist mega-development. They have begun to organise to stop the triumph of concrete over common sense.

The same thing is beginning to happen at the other end of Europe. In Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast, growing ever more popular as a destination of those in the know, the construction of hotels and apartments is proceeding apace, rather like Spain a decade and a half ago. Writing for the Environmental News Service, Tatyana Dimitrova says “…not all of the rapid development has been viable or well planned. Lax state control and imperfect legislation have resulted in massive overbuilding on the Black Sea coast, and recently also in mountain ski resorts.

“While much effort has gone into the building of hotels, restaurants and other tourist buildings, little care has been taken of the urban infrastructure or the remaining green spaces.

“The gloomy precedent of Spain's Costa del Sol is increasingly spoken about as a warning of what can happen to a tourist industry if it is allowed to develop with no controls. Wholesale construction of densely packed high-rises all along the Costa del Sol in the 1960s and '70s resulted in a flight of better-off visitors to less "spoiled" resorts, leaving hoteliers in charge of empty buildings – a phenomenon known as "dead zones’”

The point is, of course, that people whether visitors or natives, are people first, and in traveling, they are most stimulated by meeting and interacting with people of other cultures. The Jamaican experience is what draws people to jamaica but often they are short-changed and given an ersatz version of the Jamaican reality, complete with fire eaters and limbo dancers while Choucoune, aka ‘Yellow Bird’ has died a million deaths at the hands of mento bands and Jamaican cuisine is apotheosised in Ackee and Saltfish

There is another jamaica, in fact several other Jamaicas, but the competitive pressure does not allow many of our resorts to give foreign visitors any taste of them any more than the visitors to Spain gain any insight into the rich cultures of that country.

The Spaniards are getting so tired of the misrepresentation of their country that a backlash has set in. In several places on the Spanish coasts, municipalities, pressured by the citizenry, are making more stringent regulations governing the number and size of hotels and pushing them back from the beach, which is being reclaimed for the public.

There is news to give Jamaican capitalists fits: the Spanish municipalities are condemning some of these hotels, some only half-built, and are demolishing them, blowing them up with dynamite and flattening them with bulldozers.

They want their beaches, their environment and their culture back.

Pear Tree Bottom

In his judicial review of the Pear tree Bottom debacle, Mr Justice Sykes made several unassailable points as to the almost absolute worthlessness of the Environmental Impact Assessment – EIA. An EIA is a mechanism by which the society decides whether it wants to do some work that will have serious effects on the lives of its members.

The first function of an EIA is to advise on whether there are alternatives to the proposed development, and to evaluate those alternatives. In Jamaica, a developer contracts an EIA which is submitted in support of the development. What is required instead, is an objective assessment of the costs and benefits, short-term and long-term, of any development and it should point out as well as the benefits, the possible deleterious consequences of the development.

People are blaming the technical officers of NEPA/NRCA for what happened, but as a former chairman of the NRCA I know that with a body of dedicated professionals, you will get what you ask for, no matter how difficult it is to get. It is the board of the organisation that must be faulted, because they have proved beyond doubt that they have no business being the arbiters of our environmental development. I doubt that most of them could tell you what the meaning was of sustainable development.

As Judge Sykes pointed out, without a Marine Biological Assessment, the EIA was worthless

But Jampro and the Minister of development should get most blame. In pressuring the NEPA?NRCA to deliver a development at Pear Tree Bottom, they corrupted the entire process, whether out of ignorance or some other fault is not clear.

In development, as in any commercial transaction the maxim ‘caveat emptor’ applies and it is a foolish developer who does not due his environmental due diligence. But the developer was samfied. As were the jamaican people, all of whom are stakeholders in Pear Tree Bottom. The Government is developing mega-disasters by stealth, pretending that only the closest neighbours have any cause for concern.I have enjoyed the water at pear Tree Grove starting at the age of seven. Beyond that is a whole world of small wonders, on land and below the water.

The government of Jamaica under P.J Patterson, disregarded its solemn obligations to the Jamaican environment, despite all the sonorous promises in its Manifesto. They deliberately avoided ratifying the SPAW protocol,(for the protection of species and habitat) with the excuse that ‘laws needed to be changed”.

It has taken 16 years to decide what laws needed to be changed. Meanwhile countries as disparate as the US and St Lucia have found no problem in ratifying the Protocol

The real reason in my view is that the absence of SPAW appeared to give them a clear run at stealing beaches and destroying ecologically sensitive areas. The notorious cases of the Doomsday Highway, the North Coast Highway, the Hope Gardens attempted rape and Long Mountain came to mind, but the vandals’ eyes are even now on Hayes Savannah, Reach Falls, Winnifred Beach and Canoe Valley, a nature reserve designed and built by the NRCA during my tenure there. instead of a nature reserve where children can learn about manatees, the vandals intend to build another deep water port there, when there are already facilities nearby at Port Esquivel and Salt River that can serve equally well. But, the vandals in and out of government, like Columbus’ conquistadors, feel that any jewel of nature on which their eyes light is theirs. “I claim this land in the name of Globalisation and Development.’

Many of our governors have never taken the time to find out about their country. I once wrote that many of our cultural assets which could be translated into riches, are blushing unseen by those who think that environment is a sissy concern. Then they ask me how come I know so much about jamaica. I am not rude enough yet, to ask them how come they know so little. Hayes Savannah is a place most Jamaicans have never heard of, but it is an ecological jewel in danger of being devastated by the developments consequent on the Doomsday Highway.

Dr George Proctor, the world renowned botanist describes Harris Savannah as a world class scientific treasure house – and he knows what he is talking about.

As I wrote in january 2003 “After rain, Harris Savannah is a botanical bonanza, full of species unknown until Proctor discovered them. Many are new to science. Apart from their intrinsic interest to botanists, some could be of profitable horticultural economic interest, others may contain substances which may lead to important medical or other scientific advances. Most of the world’s standard medications are made from compounds first discovered in plants and other ‘insignificant‘ forms of life”.

In that column (Treasure in the Badlands) I referred to a column written nearly a year earlier in which I pointed out that the (then proposed) dredging in Kingston Harbour threatened to destroy the habitat of another insignificant but important species: “… Ecteinascidia turbinata … one of a number of marine animals which manufacture proteins that are proving effective in fighting cancer and may yield substances which may be able to defeat other diseases. A big Spanish drug company, PharmaMar, has bought the rights to a new drug derived from one of the sea-squirt’s proteins.”

Harris Savannah like Pear Tree Bottom, is threatened by the same constellation of geniuses responsible for brutalising Kingston Harbour and Long Mountain. Pear Tree Bottom is another treasury of terrestrial and marine species, including one of the world’s oldest, deepest and most complex coral reefs.

These are just three of the atrocities the Jamaican environment has been made to suffer recently. The Turtle Crawle reserve is next on the list.There are others, and most of them may be found in the Jamaican government Green Paper on proposed Protected Areas. I sometimes uncharitably believe that people like Jampro and the Ministry of Development use this Green Paper as a source book for their environmental outrages. And they are assisted by a document on beach policy, prepared by an outside expert for the NRCA, which treats the Jamaican Beach Control Act as a hostile witness, providing principles to be destroyed in the hunt for the Golden Goose.

We have given a uniquely Jamaican twist to the Precautionary Principle. Whenever we find something that may be scientifically valuable, we take immediate steps to destroy it Norman Manley, H.D. Tucker, Harold Cahusac, Jacob Taylor and others who worked so hard to protect our patrimony could not have had any idea that their work would be so denigrated, so quickly, by posterity.

There is a final consideration: Water. Part of the race to build enormous new hotels is fueled by the fact that people who play golf spend six times as much on their holidays as those who don’t. Golf courses demand millions of gallons of water. Patterson’s government, in its wisdom, privatised the water supplies of Ocho Rios and Runaway Bay, guaranteeing the concessionaires millions far into the future. We need to take these assets back. We sow, they reap. That is unfair and unconscionable.

We are plagued by the most miserable slums in tourist areas, where there is no provision for workers’ housing. The workers and other people in the area have no sanitary conveniences, and to add insult to injury, the Bahia Principe development has filled in the waterhole which once supplied the people of Pear Tree Bottom. That, for me, encapsulates more than any other single thing, the brainlessness, cruelty, irresponsibility and social illiteracy of all those who defend the unsustainable development of Pear Tree Bottom and our other endangered treasures.

Portia Simpson needs to get moving with her plans for community development planning. It is the only way the people of Jamaica will be able to identify and protect the legacies of their progenitors and the essential heritage of the human race.

Copyright©2006 John Maxwell

My nerd score

I am nerdier than 62% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

in symphony hall

in trochaic tetrameter
imitation of longfellow
is the poem about kullervo
taken from the kalevala

and the singers trying mightily
to fill the hall with manly voices
far from mighty great-sea water
create sounds of pure abstraction

clash of cymbals tap of triangle
noted under the orchestral
and tremendous finnish music
music written by sibelius

while one singer quietly waiting
for the cue to stand and belt out
words beyond his understanding
crosses legs and reads a novel

i the poet simply listen
listen to the stirring music
watch the overwrought conductor
sweating singing to the music

and the audience enraptured
by the power of purified passion
passion that promotes a nation
in the words of rustic language

bursts into prolonged clapping
calls back singers and conductor
cheers the end of the long season
hails the coming of new summer

A very dangerous woman

The military thugs who rule Burma have extended the detention of Aung Sang Suu Kyi. She is, apparently, a very dangerous woman, since in a free and fair election she'd be swept to power. Curiously, there seems to be utter silence in Washington at this violation of human rights.

26 May 2006

voices to the left voices to the right

birds singing announcing that
this is their tree their shrub

liquid notes of possession
announcements of power and availability

in the warm summer sun
reminders that life continues

All That's Past

All That's Past

Very old are the woods;
And the buds that break
Out of the brier's boughs,
When March winds wake,
So old with their beauty are--
Oh, no man knows
Through what wild centuries
Roves back the rose.
Very old are the brooks;
And the rills that rise
Where snow sleeps cold beneath
The azure skies
Sing such a history
Of come and gone,
Their every drop is as wise
As Solomon.

Very old are we men;
Our dreams are tales
Told in dim Eden
By Eve's nightingales;
We wake and whisper awhile,
But, the day gone by,
Silence and sleep like fields
Of amaranth lie.

Walter de la Mare

Desmond Dekker has died

The BBC has reported the death of Desmond Dekker. This is sad news. "Poor me Israelite" was a significant part of the sound-track of my youth.

Treasure in the Badlands

Treasure in the Badlands
John Maxwell
JAN 18,2003
Harris Savannah is not exactly a household name in Jamaica. Probably less than one in a hundred Jamaicans would be able to tell you where it was. Harris Savannah is a dry tropical woodland badly degraded, dominated by cactus and thorn scrub, the sort of place some Jamaicans call ‘ruinate’. It lies south of May Pen in the lee of the Braziletto Mountains. .

Despite the unprepossessing nature of the place, Harris Savannah is about to become big news. The Caribbean, particularly Jamaica, is the world’s thrid most biodiverse region. Harris Savannah is one of the jewels in our crown, unlikely as it may seem.

I consulted our leading botanical expert Dr George Proctor, who has spent the last fifty years attempting to find and catalogue every species of plant in this part of the world. In the first 6 years of this somewhat quixotic mission, Dr Proctor collected and catalogued about 12,000 specimens in jamaica alone. Since then he has catalogued and described well over 100,000 plants and has become one of the world’s foremost botanists. He is THE expert on the Jamaican flora, particularly on ferns of which we possess 609 taxa – a great many of them discovered by him. At the age of 82 he is still exploring, collecting, and cataloguing.

Dr Proctor thinks Harris Savannah is a very special place – not only by Jamaican standards, but by any standards. It is, he says, a scientific treasury.

He came to Jamaica to do his doctoral thesis on ferns . En passant,as it were, he took up an offer of a part-time job at the Science Museum at the Institute of Jamaica. He’s been here ever since, enhancing the Institute’s rteputation as a world class centre of botanical knowledge

Shortly after arriving in Jamaica, Proctor met G. P. Von der Porten and his wife Amy,then a botanist at the Institute. It was their hobby to seek out small rare plants .

Proctor told the Von der Portens he was convinced there was a Jamaican version of a very rare fern-like plant – Isoectes – then known in the Caribbean only from Hispaniola and Western Cuba. Its ancestors were trees in the Carboniferous Period 290 to 354 million years ago, when ferns dominated the earth’s vegetation. Millions of years later, buried by tectonic movement, they became the deposits we now mine as coal.

The Von der Portens took him to Freetown in Clarendon, where they thought Proctor might find what he was looking for. He searched for the Jamaican Isoectes for another 25 years, finding it, finally, only 3 miles from the spot to which he had originally been taken.

Plants at Harris Savannah are adapted to an alternating drought/flood regime.. Their seeds and spores survive devastating dry spells. Proctor found Harris Savannah to be home to a large number of endemic and endangered species Although it is very dry, there is an impervious layer below the surface which allows ponds to form after heavy rain – some areas become quagmires. These temporary and unpromising habitats support an amazing array of plants, including two extremely rare species of water lily, one of which is a very shy plant. It blooms only at night and pulls its inflorescence under water immediately after blooming. Proctor has since discovered scores of new species in Jamaica and in Puerto Rico as well as in Central and South America and other Caribbean islands. Scientists all over the world have named dozens of plants in his honour.

After rain, Harris Savannah is a botanical bonanza, full of species unknown until Proctor discovered them. Many are new to science. Apart from their intrinsic interest to botanists, some could be of profitble horticultural economic interest, others may contain substances which may lead to important medical or other scientific advances. Most of the world’s standard medications are made from compounds first discovered in plants and other ‘insignificant‘ forms of life. As I pointed out in a column nearly a year ago, the (then proposed) dredging in Kingston Harbour threatened to destroy the habitat of one such: “… Ecteinascidia turbinata … one of a number of marine animals which manufacture proteins that are proving effective in fighting cancer and may yield substances which may be able to defeat other diseases. A big Spanish drug company, PharmaMar, has bought the rights to a new drug derived from one of the sea-squirt’s proteins.”

I don’t believe anyone knows yet whether Ecteinascidia turbinata survived the brutal ministrations of the Port Authority, but we can’t do anything about that. Now.

Harris Savannah is threatened by the same constellation of geniuses responsible for brutalising Kingston harbour. Unless we take urgent action, the Doomsday Highway will bring in its train the extinction of Harris Savannah and everything there.

This is because, as an attempt to justify the Highway, the planners decided to create a new city at Harris Savannah, no doubt on established principles – tidy, treeless, inhumane, an instant slum, without water supply or rationale but with dozens of unforeseen problems. Nearby is fast growing May Pen, which, without any help from outside, has been expanding madly in all directions. Since May Pen has several important reasons for being where it is, it is clear that the value of any money spent paving Harris Savanmnah would be much more productive and sustainable if it were spent making May Pen a more civilised place, with real planning, parks, civic centres and all.

As I said last week, we have given a uniquely Jamaican twist to the Precautionary Principle. Whenever we find something that may be scientifically valuable, we take immediate steps to destroy it.The people of May Pen really need to take action against this idiotic boondoggle.

The only cheer I can see on the horizon is that when Mr Bush leads the world into his promised Hundred years War, it will doom the Doomsday Highway and everything connected to it. Do w really need another Portmore in the desert of Harris Savannah?
It is dangerous to be seen ‘fighting against’ any project which promises, jobs, foreign investment and paradise on earth. Unfortunately, the promoters of this world know exactly how to hook the unwary taxpayer. They don’t sell the steak, they sell the “sizzle”. There is nothing so potent as a vision of deliverance,.

Development based on what people need and on real resources is sustainable. It would be sad if, twenty years down the road, our children came and asked us why we had destroyed Harris Savannah. Didn’t we know that such and such a plant was found there? Didn’t we know that that plant contained compounds which could have cured HIV/AIDS? We could say, with perfectly straight faces: “No, we didn’t know”

The next question would be why didn’t we know?

And, says Proctor, Harris Savannah is only one of a number of similar national treasures in need of urgent care and protection. If we knew what we were doing, they could be enormously valuable as educational and touristic attractions, as biosphere reserves, as sources of new economic activity, new havens of tranquility. The question is: Do we care about our country?

Do we really?

Copyright ©2003 John Maxwell

25 May 2006

Taleban growing in strength

The US is admitting that the Taleban in Afghanistan is growing stronger. One wonders what the ghosts of British and Russian occupiers are doing. The Guardian reports that the American admission comes in the context of

16 civilian deaths inflicted by its bombers during southern Afghanistan's most violent week in years.

The US is thus facing two insurgencies -- in Afghanistan and Iraq -- that are likely to define its military posture for the next year or so. In the meantime, noises continue to be made about Iran. One wonders if an October Surprise is likely, to raise the patriotic drumbeat in the run-up to the Congressional elections.

24 May 2006

Getting ready for Trinidad

On Sunday, we head for Port of Spain where the Caribbean Studies Association will be meeting next week. I'll be delivering a paper entitled "C.L.R. James as a Creole Nationalist: Reconsidering The Case for West-Indian Self-Government" and feel rather as if I've gone off my head. After all, I'll be delivering a paper on C.L.R. James in Trinidad. And it will be about his earliest political ideas, which differ considerably from his later ones. I asked Tony Bogues for his comments, and he gave me some. Quite helpful for a later iteration, but mostly not immediately useful -- since they'd require additional reading and then, probably, adding another two or three pages. Anyway, I reproduce here the opening of the paper, which should give the reader (assuming I have one) an idea of what it's about.

The usual description of C.L.R. James’s political theory locates him at the intersection of Marxism and pan-Africanism, generally more towards the former than the latter. The bulk of James’s work bears this out. For example, in The Black Jacobins he defines the rebels of Saint Domingue as proletarian without forgetting their blackness. James unambiguously defined himself as in the tradition of Marx and Lenin.[1]

Nonetheless, James’s earliest political monograph aligns him more with Creole nationalists such as J.J. Thomas, Eric Williams, or Norman Manley, than with Walter Rodney or the New World Group. In this paper I analyze that work and delineate the ways that the ideas he expressed at that time connect to a West Indian Creole nationalism that stressed the need for an end to colonial trusteeship and that saw West Indians as peoples (or a people) shaped by the colonial experience and ready and able to govern themselves.

The Case for West-Indian Self-Government, originally part of the Life of Captain Cipriani, published in 1933 not long after James moved to England, provides at first glance no indication of James’s later radicalism. It critiques British rule very much in the tradition of Thomas’s Froudacity, with a Millian, not a Marxist, assertion that the West Indian people (projecting from James’s own experience and knowledge of Trinidad but with references to other colonies) had been sufficiently prepared by British rule to take control of their own destinies.[2]

James argues for West Indian autonomy, as we shall see, in terms little different from those of the Creole nationalists who were to dominate the politics of the region from the 1940s until the 1970s; but he is not normally considered among their number. His thoughts on the subject of political autonomy nevertheless make him a forerunner of the Creole nationalism that became normative at the end of the colonial period; they contain both seeds of a more radical political future, and signs of James’s own limitations in seeing the colonial Caribbean as a Creole region.

The Case for West-Indian Self-Government is, not altogether surprisingly, a work often mentioned but rarely cited; largely, one suspects, because it does not fit well into the categories in which James is normally placed.

[1] Anthony Bogues, Caliban’s Freedom: The Early Political Thought of C.L.R. James; London: Pluto Press, 1997, 1.

[2] Glen Richards, “C.L.R. James on Black Self-Determination in the United States and the Caribbean” in Selwyn R. Cudjoe and William E. Cain (eds.) C.L.R. James: His Intellectual Legacies; Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1995, 318.

23 May 2006

My blog personality

Your Blogging Type is Logical and Principled

You like to voice your well thought out opinions on your blog.
And if someone doesn't what you write, you really don't care!
Serious and blunt, sometimes people take your blog the wrong way.
But you're a true and loyal friend to those who truly get you.


this morning i heard the dead speak
in high-pitched squeaking tone
annoying voice

i listened to that unexpected sound
the warble of a disconnected phone
having no choice


A lovely piece in this morning's Grauniad on life in Germany today. I enjoy these personal accounts a lot; journalists spend most of their time writing like automatons, it's good to see how they react to the societies and cultures they cover. My favourite passage:

Germany's legendary reputation for bureaucracy is, though it pains me to say it, deserved. In a nature park east of Berlin, we stumbled across two otters - Sid and Doris - living in separate pens fenced off with giant green spikes. "Why can't they live together and have little otters?" I asked Sid and Doris's keeper. "Ah, that's a good question," the keeper replied. "We haven't got Zuchtgenehmigung [breeding permission]," he said. Until some bureaucrat stamped their form, the otters were condemned to a life of lonely isolation.

22 May 2006

The Public Interest and the Environment

The Public Interest and the Environment

John Maxwell

We tend to treat our environments like most men treat their wives. She’s there, so what?

We assign no value to her work or, even, to her presence. She is expected to perform general, unspecified duties; to take care of children, cooking and things, and most important, to clean up after us.

In Jamaica, for more than 80 years, Kingston has daily pumped up to 20 million gallons of its sewage into Kingston Harbour, untreated and full of pathogens. We’ve also dumped our solid waste into our harbour, motor car tyres, lead acid batteries and even entire vehicles. The detritus of our productivity washes into the harbour, contaminating it with acids and caustics, with heavy metals like cadmium and mercury, with pesticides and herbicides like DDT, lindane and Agent Orange and a variety of noxious and toxic wastes that make most of the water in the harbour dangerous to our health and lethal to the life forms which once made the harbour one of the world’s single most productive pieces of sea-water.

The assumption was that the sea cleans up everything, like a wife. A little over thirty years ago we in Jamaica began to discover that this was not so. The trigger was a doctoral study of Kingston Harbour done by Barry Wade for his tutor, Professor Ivan Goodbody, who had for years been vainly warning about the mess we were making of the harbour.

I happened to have been appointed Chairman of the Natural Resources Conservation Authority a year or two after Wade’s study was published. As part of my own preparation for that job I ransacked the NRCA library for everything I could find that was current and important. When I read Wade’s study I was astonished and horrified. Astonished and horrified that the conditions he described could exist and astonished and horrified that my colleagues in journalism had seen fit to completely ignore the report.

I brought the report to the attention of my board. NRCA was really four boards: the Beach Control Authority, the Watersheds Protection Commission, the Wildlife Protection Committee and the Kingston Harbour Water Quality Monitoring group set up a few years earlier at Goodbody’s insistence.

When I presented the report to the Authority they were as alarmed as I was. Within a week we had assembled a group of experts, including Wade and Goodbody, and within about three weeks we had produced an Action Plan for rescuing Kingston Harbour.

We were concerned that the people of Jamaica, and particularly Kingston, had been stealthily deprived of an abundant source of protein food as well as their most accessible recreational area. We wanted to fix it as quickly as possible. Our solutions were basically low tech and not capital intensive. The plan was to begin by cleaning up the gullies – former streams – which carried enormous quantities of waste into the harbour. We were going to reforest the mountains behind Kingston, to reduce soil erosion which we estimated was costing us more than US $30 million annually in lost agricultural production (coffee and other crops which did not disturb the soil). We would create a real solution to the problem of domestic and industrial waste, and we were going to build a passive sewerage recycling system which would provide water for irrigation and to restore the depleted and salt-infused aquifers of the Liguanea, St Catherine and Clarendon plains.

Two factors derailed our plans: the IMF restrictions on government spending and the inability of politicians to understand the huge returns from the plan.

We recognised that if kingston harbour’s recreational potential were restored we would once again have public bathing beaches in the harbour, sport fishing and yachting.Tthe clean up would provide lots of jobs for unskilled people who could thereby be absorbed and trained into a more highly skilled workforce. We would be relocating the hillside farmers who destroyed hundreds of acres of and every year, trying to get a patch of land on which to grown food. And the cut a long story short, we would reinvigorate the public spirit of the people, mainly through a sort of parliament of the harbour’s users and increase the environmental and spiritual value of this beautiful 21 sq. mi. lagoon turned cesspool.

We were stymied by the IMF strictures and political ignorance. On the day our plan was published, the IMF demanded and got the head of Finance Minister David Coore who I knew would have understood the value of our plan.

Fast forward three decades. Two new plans have been developed for the resuscitation of Kingston Harbour, financed by external donors, secure in the knowledge that Jamaica has surrendered to the Washington consensus. Each of these plans has cost more to design than the entire cost, including the sewage ponds, of our plan.

Twenty years later, in its 1997 Manifesto the PNP appealed to the people to re-elect the party because it would safeguard the “God-given’ environment and would do everything to protect the Jamaican patrimony.

Three years after that Manifesto was launched we caught the government in the act of trying to destroy Hope Botanical gardens to give a developer the right to construct palazzos for the rich with the public gardens as their front yards.

While we managed to derail that piece of vandalism we were unable to stop them doing something at least as bad and perhaps worse, handing over to that same developer, one of the most precious pieces of property in the world to build a gated community which now creeps like a cancer over Long Mountain.

The world’s bio-scientists and environmentalists have selected a few special areas round the world as biodiversity ‘hotspots’ – areas of immeasurable importance to the survival of humanity since they contain examples of some of the rarest and most endangered species of plants and animals. The Greater Antilles, including Jamaica, is one such hotspot. Within Jamaica, Wareika Hill was one hotspot, valuable not only for the variety of its species mainly of small life forms but including one plant, Portlandia albiflora, found nowhere else in Jamaica and not anywhere else in the world.

In addition to its importance in biodiversity, Wareika Hill is the site of ancient Taino/’Arawak’ settlements which have been never been examined by serious scientists. This suits some people of course, because the less we know of pre-Colombian history, the better for us.

The Patterson administration’s environmental record, besmirched by Wareika, is even worse.

For several years the NRCA, transformed into the National Environmental and Planning Agency, has failed to protect the public interest.

It has allowed the UDC and the tourist industry to capture public beaches, it has gone ahead with major landscape destruction schemes like the Doomsday (Millennium) Highway and the Northcoast Highway without allowing the people they are supposed to serve any real input into the decision making. The “Strategic” EIA for the Doomsday Highway is a classic. As I pointed out in a previous column [Divine Right, Jan 2003] :

‘The concept is so breathtakingly simple, so straightforward, so elegant, if you will, that I cannot imagine why nobody thought of it before:

“Birds located in the modified vegetative communities will relocate when their habitat is removed. Species along the proposed alignment such as reptiles are also highly mobile and should also relocate to adjacent similar habitats.”

Of course. Why protect habitat when you can simply inform the birds, lizards, frogs and other highly mobile life-forms that they must “relocate”.

“Govament waan de lan! “– that's all you have to tell them, and like gypsies, they will pick up their bags and baggage, pots, pans and household effects and decamp to less valuable real estate. ‘

The government allowed a Belgian dredging company, at the behest of the Port Authority, to dredge up and relocate toxic wastes from the bottom of Kingston Harbour to a new landfill off Portmore, and the deleterious and possibly fatal effects of this new Minimata will probably not be evident for decades.

There are other high crimes but the most egregious of all may be the fact that while the SPAW Protocol to the Cartagena Convention resides in a building at the bottom of Duke Street, Jamaica is the inly significant country which has not ratified the protocol. David McTaggart, founder of Greenpeace International, told me that SPAW was the single most important legal instrument anywhere for the protection of biodiversity.

SPAW is a detailed treaty for the protection of sensitive and important species and habitats. This means that if SPAW had been ratified by Jamaica, the government would have found it almost impossible to plan and carry out its environmental depredations of the last few years.

Enthusiasm is great, but without a little moolah, it is difficult to stop a determined bureaucracy on its destructive path through the environment. Two jamaican Environmental NGOs and two individuals managed to scrape together enough money to drag the government before the high court and to call a halt to the environmental rape of Pear Tree Bottom near Runaway Bay in St Ann.

This week High Court Judge Brian Sykes made several rulings which:

• quashed the permit granted by by the NRCA to Hoteles Jamaica Pinero Ltd., (a Spanish group);

• ordered the NRCA to reconsider its grant of the permit

• Declared that the NRCA had not followed its own rules in granting the permit.

The ‘Development’ lobby is up in arms. The judgment, they say, will hinder ‘development’ and scare off foreign investors. It has not occurred to them that in their native countries, most developers would not be able to even propose the kind of developments we routinely approve.

European authorities and courts have consistently ruled against granting permissions without public participation. In 1998, 35 countries and the European Union signed the Aarhus “Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decison-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters”. The convention is intended to provide an innovative model of multilateral policymaking and promises to create a new operating environment for public agencies and the corporate world.

“It promotes citizen involvement as a key to preventing environmental mismanagement

‘Its principles of transparency and public accountability are integral to the meaningful practice of democratic governance. The Convention furthermore takes the first steps in promoting environmental transparency and accountability norms beyond the nation state.

‘It establishes common regional disclosure and participation standards as well as what could be called horizontal accountability by governments and corporations to NGOs and citizens ‘irrespective of their citizenship, nationality or domicile’” ( from a commentary by Elena Petkova and Peter Veit of the World Resources Institute.)

This in essence means that the Spaniards may as well accept the Jamaican judgment, because if they appeal, the NGOs can appeal to the European Commission which will certainly enforce the Aarhus convention and perhaps, impose even stricter sanctions against the hoteliers.

The lesson to be learnt is that everything we do is eventually of global importance. We live in a world without borders, in which justice will not be restricted by jurisdictions, because whatever we do here either increases or decreases the global prospects for survival.

If we destroy wetlands and kill million year old reefs in Runaway Bay, we are damaging the heritage of mankind, not just the prospect of a few tourists. And the tourists are becoming more scrupulous about where they take their vacations, and if they know that their hostelry was built at the expense of the environment, many will find other places to stay

Our captive dolphins, then, are an affront not only to scientists and environmentalists in Jamaica, they are an affront to the world. But, in the Caribbean, we are preparing an even bigger insult to the world community.

“Timeo Danaos et donae ferentes” being translated is “I fear of the Greeks, even when they bring gifts”. In Virgil’s Aenid, Laocoon, priest of Apollo, warns the Trojans not to accept the wooden horse ‘donated’ to them by the Greeks. He was blinded for his pains and the Wooden Horse in due time discharged its cargo of Greek soldiers who then proceed to rape and destroy the city which had withstood their siege for so long.

Our modern Greeks are the Japanese, who have presented many Caribbean islands with fishing equipment and other baubles. Five hundred years ago the Manikongo, king of the Congo, complained bitterly to the King of Portugal – who he thought was his friend – asking him to stop the operations of the Portuguese traders whose bangles and beads were corrupting the weak and entrapping the unwary :

“the merchants are taking every day our natives, sons of the lands and the some of noblemen and vassals and our relatives , because the thieves and men of bad conscience grab them wishing to have the things and wares of this Kingdom which they are so ambitious of; they grab them and get them to be sold; and so great is the corruption and licentiousness that our country is being completely depopulated, and you Highness should not agree with this nor accept it as in your service.”

The Japanese aren't buying slaves; they are buying votes. They are buying votes to overturn the moratorium on whaling for profit. This question will come up next month at the International Whaling Commission’s meeting in St Kitts. There, the Japanese are expected to score a coup, with the votes of Antigua, St Kitts, Dominica, St Vincent & the Grenadines and St Lucia, together less than half a million people, the Japanese will turn back the rest of the world which wants to outlaw whaling altogether.

Monday is International Biodiversity Day. We in the Caribbean will be celebrating it with the best of them.

Copyright © 2006 John Maxwell

jankunna [at] yahoo.com

18 May 2006

Not a forgotten war

The continuning drumbeat of war news from Iraq has drowned out the war in Afghanistan which seems to be heating up. Afghanistan is a place that has eaten its putative conquerors time and time again, as the British and Russians can testify. We have entered an era of war without end, of a steady slow drain on the resources of the United States, that is the legacy of the Shrub.

17 May 2006

Library Thing

101 Uses For A Condom

A very funny, very pointed cartoon commenting on former South African vice-president Jacob Zuma's method of HIV prevention.

16 May 2006

Millions of Africans may die

Global warming is likely to hit the poorest people in the world hardest. Of course, this report is being met by yawns in Washington, where the Shrub administration probably thinks its a great idea if there are fewer black people in the world. It should ring alarm bells in Europe -- drought in Africa is going to mean increased migration pressure on Europe, and that's already becoming a major problem.


in cool spring the sun warms gently
and the breezes make even the most tedious
outdoor duty into a pleasure

but it is not that that makes us smile
it is the names repeated and repeated
as if each generation of parents

tapped into a collective
lack of imagination
how many dewaynes, tiffanies, brittanies
do there need to be?

the speaker makes the expected appeal
to the language of youth, while urging them
to recognise that they are now grown up

and they pay no attention not even when
the mtv bet rap video language
elicits a ripple of pained laughter from the rest of us

i think of it as a harvest
the field being cleared for a new planting
of eager and lazy youths

puer et puella fighting to keep
themselves from sleeping after the long nights
of work and partying have made it hard
to focus on their purpose

but we get them through we get them through
to the moment when they walk across the stage
as their name is called the moment when

parents and siblings and cousins and spouses
erupt in pride rejoice at seeing
an end to all the expense

14 May 2006

Pygmies in Seven-League Boots

And the sequel to the previous post:

Pygmies in Seven-League Boots
FEB 8 2003
John Maxwell

“At some point we may be the only ones left. That’s OK with me. We are America”.

Mr Bush, like me, was once a practising alcoholic. I decided, 14 years ago, that I had done quite enough for the distilling industry and joined a 12-step programme which helped to deprogram some of my obsessive compulsive behaviours; Mr Bush woke up one morning with the Mother of All Hangovers, became a born-again Christian and quit cold turkey.
Alcoholics tend to be perfectionists and/or people who have an obsession to set the world to rights. Programmes like Alcoholics Anonymous help you to cure yourself of delusions.
I believe that Mr Bush might have been helped by a 12-step programme. For one thing, you begin to realise that the world turns whether you are helping it to move or not, and that it will continue to turn after you have gone, just as surely as it did before you arrived.
But, having been elevated to the presidency of the mightiest power in the history of the world, Mr Bush, seems to have forgotten that his position depended on the fraudulent disfranchisement of half a million black voters and the unprecedented and improper intervention of the US Supreme Court in an issue reserved by the US constitution for settlement at the state level.
These facts allow certain foolish people to contend that Mr Bush is not the President of the United States, that he is not the Commander in Chief of the greatest destructive force ever assembled by mankind. (Go on! Make his Day!)
Mr Bush knows who he is and what he is about. He doesn’t play it by the book, he says, he is a ‘gut-player’.
Like most alcoholics.
Having seized the reigns of power, Mr Bush is quite clear in what he calls his ‘resolve’ aka ‘cojones’ or testicular fortitude. ‘Don’t mess with me, I’m a dangerous hombre.’
In Texas, as Governor, Bush signed more than 150 death warrants, including at least nine for people who were probably innocent. When he was informed of this, Bush said that if it were proved “We’ll give them a pardon. It’s only right.”
And he would not stay the death penalty for morons or juveniles or people who clearly had not been properly defended.
They had been found guilty, he said, and that was that.
Now, as Chief Magistrate of the Known Universe, , President Bush obviously takes his responsibilities just as seriously. And if the United Nations doesn’t understand that, too bad.
According to Bob Woodward’s bestseller, ‘Bush at War’ –which I have not read – Bush decided very quickly after the September 11 2001 atrocities that Iraq was somehow involved. And when the anthrax murders occurred, he and his administration immediately pointed the finger at Iraq, no matter that it is now clear that the culprit was an American scientist operating out of a US military facility.
Since then the official and media concentration on Iraq has proceeded apace, despite the discrediting of the only report linking the suicide bombers to Iraq and despite the CIA saying there was no evidence that Iraq is involved in terrorism.
In Bush terms, that was not relevant. He judged Iraq and found it wanting, and the appropriate penalties must follow. His monomania seems to have so clouded the issue that many Americans now confuse Saddam Hussein with Osama bin Laden. A neat trick.
Mr Bush has made some accommodations to public opinion. He sent Mr Powell, the only member of his administration with any credibility, to make the case for “terminating” Iraq “with extreme prejudice” – the CIA euphemism for murder.
Mr Powell who, as a diplomat is ordinarily expected to lie for his country, made the ultimate sacrifice: he made a fool of himself for his president.
It is now admitted that a large part of Powell’s “evidence” was plagiarised by the British government from an academic study by one Ibrahim al-Marashi . Mr al-Marashi is very upset that more than half of the so-called the British evidence quoted by Powell is copied word for word from his work.
Did he expect royalties?
Mr Powell refused to answer when questioned as to why the Americans had not ‘taken out’ a so-called poison factory which he alleged was controlled by friends of Saddam Hussein. The factory is actually in a part of Iraq walled off by the US from the Iraqi government.
The Iraquis have been accused of not cooperating with the inspections, much as a rapist might urge his victim to show a little more enthusiasm.
Official sources complain that Iraq threw out the UNSCOM team of inspectors, in 1998 when in fact they were withdrawn by the UN on American instructions.
And it is expected that a country, starved by sanctions, which must seek permission (often refused) to buy even chlorine for its water supplies, is likely to be able to produce weapons of mass destruction after its armaments industry was either destroyed in the Gulf War or by UNSCOM inspectors. It is a commonplace that it is impossible to prove a negative, to prove oneself innocent. How can Iraq? It has the world’s second largest reserves of oil. That is guilt beyond any possibility, any scintilla, of reasonable doubt.
It does not matter now what the Iraquis do. They will attract thunderbolts from on high, directed by the Anglo-American yuppie conquerors Bush and Blair – moral pygmies in uranium lined seven league boots – who talk a great deal about the rule of law, even as they take urgent steps to extinguish that rule of law in their own countries and abroad.
Iraq is said to be a danger to its neighbours, when it has in fact been to war with just two of them, first, to settle Iranian Islamic extremist attempts to overthrow the Iraqi government in 1988; and second (having sought and apparently got US permission) to punish Kuwait for its stealing of Iraqi oil, among other crimes.;
As Mr Bush has made clear, his world is black and white. “You are with us, or you are with the terrorists” In the past week his Minister of Gratuitous Offense, Field Marshal von Rumsfeld, bracketed Germany with Cuba and Libya as being wholeheartedly against war. What the Americans do not appear to realise is that while they may have the support of several Prime Ministers and Presidents, they do not have the support of the people, including their own, Even Mexico, whose president was supposed to be a confidant of Mr Bush, says he too, opposes the war.
The US government has made it clear to the rest of us that we have nothing to lose in the campaign for globalisation by force. As Mr Bush said in September 2001
“At some point we may be the only ones left. That’s OK with me. We are America”.
That is why on Wednesday – before the Reggae Boyz match versus the United States – I intend to join others who shall be standing outside the National Stadium in peaceful protest against this unjust war, and again on Saturday next, at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, I shall be standing with others who oppose this brutal charade, in front of the US Embassy on Trafalgar Road as part of a worldwide protest If you wish to take part please phone 1-396-8494 or email jamaicansagainstwar@yahoo.co.uk
We have nothing to lose but our chains.
Copyright© 2003 John Maxwell