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Our national essence for sale – Part 2

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Fri May 03, 2013

by Louise Mitchell-Joseph and Vonnie Roudette

Recently, we went to visit the Buccama resort with a 92-year-old resident of the area, and had the shame of being told upon entering, that our movements on the resort had to be restricted to the public (artificial) white sand beach. We could not buy refreshments, not even a fruit cocktail for the said 92-year-old resident of the Vermont Valley. We could not use the restrooms, sit down or buy lunch, because the resort was “too busy”.{{more}} We glanced around at the empty restaurant save for one couple. The security guard then informed us that to use the facilities, we must make a reservation in advance. Our 92-year-old friend, who had toiled the soil for decades and managed three estates in the valley, simply shook his head and gave a knowing laugh, as if to say, “forgive him, father, for he knows not what he does, or says.” There was sadness, but no anger in him. How incredulous it is that the world he knew has so quickly vanished and apartheid put in its place.

Is exclusivity and separation from our local essence the price we pay for tourism development? It appears so, despite the fact that we have some established examples of viable alternatives.

The kind of tourism enterprise that educated me (LJM) was not based on separation of white and black, rich or poor. My family had hotels where everyone was welcome at all times; there were no barriers, there was no need for reservations in advance to buy a beer or sit for lunch. Once there was room, and you had money, you were a valued customer. Our hotel business educated my sisters and me in the best universities of the world. Will the two new large scale resorts that we see emerging today where locals cannot enter without special permits, thrive? Will the separation that they engender bring them or any local person wealth? I think not.

Assessing the impact of developers on our islands begs the question: “What do they think of the country, or of the long-term damage that they are doing?” Some persons recently dared to ask them the question: “What are you doing on X island in the Grenadines?” In response, one investor said “I am going to flatten it and put down three hotels.” And not so slowly, but surely his words are manifesting into reality. In response to another question put to another investor about how they are going to remedy the environmental disaster caused by their actions, that investor said “I am going to drop some plutonium in it and blow it all up!”

Allowing investors of such reckless mindset to control areas of our country is tantamount to selling the nation for two pieces of silver. Why have we chosen this when growing numbers of environmentally conscious investors exist? Pioneers in nature tourism who developed Young Island in the 1960s, Moonhole and Spring on Bequia in the 1970s, and those who have developed Mustique over the years are early examples of a growing global trend in investment based on conservation of the natural environment.

In Mustique, beaches have been left in their natural state, and no dredging is allowed. This island has the healthiest mangroves and swamps in the country. It’s an offence there to cut down or de-limb a tree. This tiny island demonstrates how nature conservation is the foundation of a sustainable tourism product. But why is this approach to nature tourism exclusive to one tiny island, a fraction of SVG? With political will, sustainable tourism can be established throughout the country, on every level, including town and village communities, where renewable energy and conservation complement each other. The OAS Heritage Tourism Project of 1996-2000, laid the practical foundation for building such a tourism product that also strengthens community cultural practice.

However, it’s glaringly obvious that environmental and community consciousness is scarce among current developers. Their backgrounds and values are not critically appraised and we have fallen victim to ruthless exploitation of our resources. Unless great caution is exercised at official levels persons with financial power can assume quasi-state powers.

Such powers can develop insidiously, especially if our state regulatory bodies fail to communicate with each other. For instance, was the Planning Authority aware that a part of the south coast of St Vincent has been designated by the Ministry of Fisheries/National Parks Authority as SVG’s next marine park? If so, surely they would not have allowed the construction of a heavy equipment-landing site on Villa beach. And if the Planning Authority is aware, does it lack teeth to enforce its mandate? Empowering the Planning Authority is critical to protecting the path of development on Yourumein.

Many Vincentians would not know that before men with profit exclusively on their minds began changing our coastline and mountain scape, we could proudly lay claim to a legacy of conservation (not destruction) of the natural environment. This legacy could have attracted quality investors and kept our essential resources intact for generations to come. In 1791 King’s Hill Forest Reserve, the second oldest nature reserve in the Western Hemisphere, was established to “attract the clouds and rain”. Up to the 1960s on mainland St Vincent, only trees that were dying naturally could be cut for lumber and it was an offence punishable by law to cut down a tree. These laws, and others that protect our natural environment still exist, but are entirely disregarded. Their enforcement could have made us a richer country in many ways.

As we base our “development” on disrespect for our essential nature, we are inadvertently creating roadblocks to a sound model of development that will benefit and enrich our future.

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