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Walking tightrope and doing the balancing act

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A new row has broken out in the lovely Grenadine island of Canouan over access by locals to the island’s natural resources, and their rights vis a vis the rights of the multi-millionaire developers.

In a sense it reminds one of the major confrontation that occurred there at the turn of the century when the big Canouan development project was in its expansion stages.{{more}} This is more so because, again, at the frontline of championing the interests of locals is Terry Bynoe — who led the protests in 1999/2000. At that time he had at his side then prominent lawyer and Leader of the Opposition Dr Ralph Gonsalves. Today, Dr Gonsalves is Prime Minister, who has to walk the tightrope and do the balancing act between protecting the rights of local people while assuring developers of opportunities to maximize their investments.

The tale of events, covered in our issues of last Tuesday (Midweek edition) and today, outline the build-up of tensions on the island once more. The danger is that, as in the earlier row, genuine grievances can sometimes get intertwined with local politics; often distorting the course of events and bringing a new twist to the situation.

This is most unfortunate but quite understandable in our small country and economy. For the type of confrontation developing is by no means unique either to Canouan or to St Vincent and the Grenadines as a whole. It is an age-old challenge facing developing countries in having to balance between economic development opportunities and environmental and social rights of their people.

Countries like ours, with pristine natural resources as are to be found in the Grenadines, are often torn between ceding rights so as to attract investors and create employment on the one hand, and guaranteeing the rights of local people and preserving the environment on the other. It is an act played out again and again, in the Caribbean, the Pacific, the Indian Ocean, Africa and Latin America.

In our case, access to our precious beaches are often the trigger for such confrontations. More than three decades ago, it led to similar public concerns in our neighbouring island of Barbados, prompting Bajan calypsonian Gabby to pen his immortal ‘Dah Beach Is Mine’. Ironically, it was a theme song for Canouan residents in the earlier struggle a decade and a half ago, a point not lost but being brought as a reminder to Dr Gonsalves.

Barbados partially resolved this row by not only asserting the inalienable right of locals to access to all beaches but also legislating to provide public access roads to all beaches.

Here in SVG, even as we talk of Canouan, there are places on the mainland where access roads to beautiful, small beaches no longer exist, and it is local owners of adjoining property at fault.

All this is to say that while there can be no compromise on public access to all beaches, a great deal of common sense and sensitivity on all sides is required. Intransigence and extremism of one type or another cannot be in the public interest. We have to find ways and means of defending the rights of our people while providing an atmosphere which encourages investment, boosts tourism and provides jobs and economic development. It is both possible and desirable.

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