Like George Bush, Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding is a tough talker. He is the Big Man who went on BBC Television and told the world that there will be NO homosexuals in HIS cabinet. He also talks tough about crime (Jamaica is a world leader in murder), and was about to make some tough statements on the subject at the recent JLP conference when gun shots went off not far from him and most of his would be audience fled in a panic.
He is now talking tough about the terrible scourge facing Jamaica: environmentalists who want to take Jamaica back to the days of the Taino. He will “not allow environmentalists to dictate to [him] how to address environmental issues.” Apparently he “has no qualms about the preservation of the environment but in these modern times, the country cannot go back to operating as in primitive times.” And “some environmental breaches which have occurred in the past were mere mis-understandings.”
These tough statements were made “at the Seawind Key Investments commemoration ceremony for the construction of two upscale resorts – The “Secrets St. James” and “Secrets Wild Orchid.”* These “upscale resorts” are being built in the Bogue Lagoon, part of the Montego Bay Marine Park, Jamaica’s oldest marine sanctuary and the most important fish nursery for that part of the North Coast.
Earlier this year at a fishery conservation meeting with Dr. Tufton, Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, I raised the question of building hotels in the marine sanctuary and was summarily dismissed as one would brush embarrassing droppings from one’s clothes.
We have to have hotels, he intoned, without seeing any contradiction in claiming to desire a healthy fishery and the purposeful destruction of mangroves, sea grasses, reefs and other nurseries that marine life requires to reproduce and live.
Prime Minister Golding praised the Spanish investors who have been the main force behind the recent construction of mega-sized all-inclusive hotels in Jamaica. And he threatened us with where would we be if we didn’t have these hotels bringing in tourists? We have an economy that is so bankrupt, so lacking in diversity and robustness that we must accept any job as better than no job and that we must be held captive and dance to the tune of whoever pays the piper – whose fault is that?
Golding sees no irony in his dismissal of environmentalists as longing for the days of the Tainos, given that the Tainos were killed by the Spanish conquistadors who participated in the gross genocide of native people throughout the Caribbean and the Americas. There is clearly no way to return to the days of the Taino because the Taino are long dead.
Tourism is Jamaica’s sacred cow, and god help anyone who dares to question the viability, sustainability, logic or sanity of tourism in Jamaica. One will be attacked as a primitive. Since 1891 with the launch of The Great Exhibition in Kingston, tourism has been the road to shining modernity and development.
The fact that over 50 per cent of rural Jamaicans have no piped water, that most communities in Jamaica have no functioning sewage systems, that we import over 70 per cent of our food, that over 88 per cent of our energy is supplied by imported oil, that the vast majority of Jamaicans have no proper housing, waste management, education, health care, civic or recreational facilities, and that their best hope is to migrate, one cannot honestly say that tourism has delivered on its promise.
And how could an industry that consumes vast quantities of Jamaican land and resources while excluding most Jamaicans from access to their beaches, and which relies on part time, low-waged, dead-end jobs deliver much more than quick foreign exchange that the government desperately needs to service its endless debt?
Jamaica for Sale is a feature length documentary made by Esther Figueroa (Vagabond Media, Juniroa Productions, Inc.) and Diana McCaulay (Jamaica Environment Trust) that dares to take on Jamaica’s Sacred Cow by countering the dominant view that tourism is the savior of the Jamaican people.
Lively and hard hitting, with powerful voices, arresting visuals and iconic music, Jamaica For Sale documents the environmental, economic, social and cultural impacts of unsustainable tourism development. As Jamaica is irreversibly transformed by massive hotel and luxury condominium development, it both documents this transformation and is trying to turn the tide.
Jamaica for Sale has been successfully shown in a variety of venues and has aired on TVJ twice to an estimated prime time audience of over 400,000 Jamaicans, yet there is a resounding silence in the mainstream print media regarding the film. Every whisper from the tourism industry is printed (including current requests for a bail out from the government) but there is a complete black out when it comes to the film. Why?
As the world enters ever deeper into the global economic crisis, the government of Jamaica schizophrenically is both in a state of denial and panic. The tourist and remittance sectors upon which the government is most dependent are extremely vulnerable.
Now would be the time to honestly face the predicament we are in and admit that repeating the same mistakes over and over will not lead to better results, that destroying the environment in the name of desperation and short term gain is not an intelligent policy, and that not investing in the Jamaican people in a way that would lead to real sustainable development will only lead to more crime and more migration.
It’s not rocket science but it does require something beyond political posturing, swaggering and tough talk. Unfortunately talk is easy and cheap. In contrast, concerted, meaningful action requires a great deal more intelligence, courage, insight, and commitment. Question is who is up to the task?
Esther Figueroa, Ph.D.
Note: All Golding quotes taken from RJR website http://www.radiojamaica.com/content/view/13867/26/