Diana McCaulay

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What will it take? An enviro diary of sorts...

Posted by Diana McCaulay on January 23, 2014 at 8:00 AM Comments comments (3)

Saturday, January 18th, 2014


My husband and I stop at Hope Gardens on our way to the Blue Mountains. I’ve heard the Chinese garden has been demarcated and I want to see the area. I’m struck by the many red and white signs at Hope’s various entrances, warning us to not to do this or that, and the complicated system of getting you to pay for parking. We go to the restaurant and across the road is the black marker fence of the new garden – it is HUGE, taking in the entire area of the pond, the pond with the island in the shape of Jamaica. I ask a woman what she thinks about it. “Bare foolishness!” she says. “You see like today? A Saturday?” she asks. “You would see all over there full of people sitting on blankets. Now nobody can go there. They say you will have to pay to go in. They say soon walk foot people will have to pay to get into Hope Gardens.” She stops for a bit. “But it’s our own fault,” she says.


I think back to the application of the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) to the Nature Preservation Foundation, the NGO set up to manage Hope Gardens. We proposed renovating one of the old ruins for our offices, we would raise the funding, and we would conduct educational programmes for Jamaican children in Hope Gardens. All we needed was a lease of sufficient length to make the fund raising feasible. After two years of constantly moving goal posts and the dawning conviction that we were not being dealt with in good faith, we withdrew our application. I imagine the Chinese had a far different experience.


Sunday, January 19th, 2014


My cell phone starts to ring – people from the western end of the island reporting a large sand quarrying operation west of Duncans Bay beach. I get asked all the usual questions – is this legal, how could the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) allow it, who is doing it, where is the sand going – and the usual exhortation – do something, Diana. I call Peter Knight, NEPA’s CEO, who does take my calls, at least up to now. He’s vague, he’ll investigate, he thinks there was a permit for a small operation. He’s acting on it. E-mails start arriving. There’s a line of trucks and they are leaving every 15 minutes, full of sand. I ask for photographs.


Monday, January 20th, 2014


I go to a meeting at NEPA as an observer (not to mash up the meeting, Mr Knight instructs me!) to discuss the environmental remediation of the damage done to the Palisadoes strip during the building of the roadworks and seawalls. The National Works Agency has been in breach of their environmental permit for an unspecified length of time – a situation they do not acknowledge until I make an issue of it, which no doubt constitutes “mashing up the meeting” but I am not evicted. They plan to dredge sand from offshore to cover some of the dunes, the sand they have stockpiled from the works is not enough, and then they will plant mangroves in various sites on the harbor side, and dune vegetation on the sea side. The figures are run through rapidly - $50 million for this consultant, $20 million for another – the total price tag is somewhere between J$200 million and J$350 million. Oh, and they plan to repair the groynes as well.


I conclude that, collectively, we really are mad. We BORROWED US$85 million to do a project of a totally unnecessary scale, it would have cost far less to just fix the groynes, which was all that was needed for most of the length of the Palisadoes, we seriously damaged a protected area, and now Jamaican taxpayers are going to be called upon to pay for this damage! There is no guarantee that the remediation will work – it will likely require the weather to cooperate by not sending any storms before the plants have had a chance to grow and stabilize the dunes. Near the end of the meeting, it is noted that there is going to be a lot of dredging shortly – the expansion of the Kingston Container Terminal and the extension of the runway at Norman Manley International Airport – perhaps we could use that dredged material for the dunes, and then spread the stockpiled amount on top. I wonder, but do not say, what substances lurk in the silt and sand at the bottom of Kingston Harbour, now to be placed on land. I wonder if anyone will test the dredged sand.


Tuesday, January 21st, 2014


The photos of the Trelawny sand quarrying operation arrive. They are taken at quite long range from the sea. I count ten trucks lined up on the beach. It’s healthy turtle nesting habitat and I feel exhausted at the thought of making that argument. Some reports say this has been going on for more than a month, others report a week. A few people followed the trucks but not to any destination. No one took any photos of license plates. Trucks are seen parked near to the old Ritz Carlton and Palmyra. Yup, I think. If you allow hotels where there is little beach, they will need to quarry sand until thy kingdom come. I wonder if whoever is receiving the sand has an environmental permit. I call John Junor, who I regard as the best environmental minister we ever had, as a lot of our legislation was passed on his watch, now he’s the Chairman of the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA). He too takes my calls. He has heard about the sand quarrying situation, he’s investigating and will get back to me. Danielle Andrade, JET’s attorney calls the Mines and Geology Division and learns that the “developer” has a permit from them. It does not seem, however, that the developer has the permits he needs under the NRCA Act.


In the afternoon, while a private sector led symposium on the proposed logistics hub for Jamaica is underway, I go to look at some aerial footage we have obtained of the Portland Bight Protected Area, vicinity of Goat Islands. The weather has been unpredictable for many weeks and several trips to get this footage had to be postponed. Now, here is the Portland Bight Protected Area – the sea, the breaking waves, the small islands, the reefs, the two Goat Islands, looking like one island, the rivers and creeks, the mangroves, the fishers in their boats. Will anyone look at these images and think – no way can they put a port there? I didn’t go to the logistics hub symposium – we at JET have no objection to the logistics hub, although I do wonder about our ability to execute anything of such magnitude. The Government of Jamaica has effectively confused everyone about the logistics hub and the Goat Islands port, conflating them in the minds of nearly everyone. They are not the same thing.


In the evening, I do a radio interview on Nationwide News Network with Cliff Hughes re the sand quarrying operation. By then we know NEPA has issued a warning notice on the quarrying, with a requirement to cease the works – but an unknown number of trucks have already removed sand. I try to explain to Cliff that Jamaica has a real problem with beach erosion, and that if we disrupt the natural processes that create beaches by removing sand from the ecosystem, that problem is only going to get worse.


Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014


I wake up too early. Wonder if it is too dangerous to go outside to get the newspapers in the dark – a friend has just been held up at home. Decide to risk it, get the newspapers, read about another police killing, this time of Robert “Nakia” Jackson while in his cook shop. It’s hard to talk about land and sea, plants and animals, when people are being murdered, every day. And then I see it in the Jamaica Observer – Professor Gordon Shirley, the new Chairman of the Port Authority, confirming that the Goat Islands port will go ahead. He has apparently forgotten (or the reporter does not mention) the plan outlined by his Minister back in September 2013 – Cabinet decision by the end of January, Memorandum of Agreement with the Chinese investors by the end of April, environmental impact assessments thereafter. Not even the GOJs own commitments matter to them.

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/10-000-jobs-from-Goat-Islands-port


And then, also in the Observer, I see the defensive and indefensible argument from Peter Knight of NEPA – the sand quarrying operator had a permit from Mines and Geology. http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/NEPA-says-Duncans-Bay-sand-mining-operation-legal-_15840304


The project was discussed at the Quarries Committee, on which NEPA sits, and no objection was offered by the NEPA representative. I wonder if he realizes how idiotic that is – that NEPA does not insist that the permits required under the law it administers be obtained – that an environmental regulator offers no objection to the quarrying of beach sand, does no monitoring of it – and then, when there is public outcry, issues a warning notice and stops the work.


And so I wonder, what now. It’s a personal question, asked of myself. What will I do today? Issue another press release? To what end? It’s clear what the fate of all our protected areas will be – once someone wants them for some kind of economic activity, any kind of economic activity, no matter how ill conceived, how short term, they will fall. It’s clear that whatever the reasons – corruption, incompetence, political interference, gross ignorance – our environmental institutions have no intention of protecting the environment. Should I call for the closure of NEPA? That agency costs us a fair amount – about J$600 million a year, depending on the year – if it is not going to protect the environment, what’s the point? Should I call for an end to international donor funding for the environment – donor funding that goes into propping up organizations like NEPA, only to see the funding wasted, as is about to occur in Portland Bight.


Perhaps I should appeal directly to the Chinese themselves. Our government does not care, good sirs, please, spare our protected areas. Please.


I think about root causes, driving to work, the same driving force is behind the wall going up in Hope Gardens and the sacrifice of Goat Islands. Politics. Elections. Connections. Scarce benefits. An economic system that values nature at zero.


I come back to the words with which I started writing this piece. What will it take, for us to say, no more? What crime against our people and our land will be too great to bear?

 

On Tessanne Chin and the Jamaican Iguana

Posted by Diana McCaulay on November 21, 2013 at 6:55 AM Comments comments (1)

Watching Tessanne Chin on The Voice stage on Tuesday night, head lowered, waiting for America to “save” her, I was reminded of the Jamaican rock iguana. I hope she won’t take offense. I mean it as a high compliment – they’re both so special. Both born Jamaicans. Both rare. In the case of the iguana, vanishingly rare. And their immediate future rests in the hands of others.


Like most of Jamaica, I’ve watched Tessanne with pride, not just for her extraordinary talent, but for her charm and humility. And I’ve wondered, as journalist Dionne Jackson Miller blogged recently (http://newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com/2013/11/18/why-the-sudden-love-for-tessanne/, why we so often wait for the endorsement of others before we get behind our own.


Last week, I attended meetings at the Hope Zoo hosted by UWI, NEPA and the IUCN (Int’l Union for the Conservation of Nature) Iguana Specialist Group, which have been working for more than 20 years to save the Jamaican iguana, thought to have been extinct, in one of the most successful conservation programmes in the world. In the WORLD, people. Perhaps I do need to say that our iguana is unique to us, found only here on our rock, and is one of the 100 most endangered animals on the planet. Eight zoos in the US hold specimens of our iguana as last ditch saviours of their genetic material – in case all animals go extinct in the wild, a likely outcome of any large transshipment port nearby. But unlike other iguanas, ours have not bred well in captivity – no one is sure why. Enter the process called headstarting, whereby hatchlings are taken from the Hellshire Hills, grown at the Hope Zoo to a size where they are not so vulnerable to predators and then released back to the wild. 52 young adults were released this season. From the handful of animals seen in the 1990s, there are now more than six times the number of nesting females in the Hellshire Hills.


One of the presentations at the Hope Zoo talked about history – and the presenter showed an extract from one of Hans Sloane’s papers dated 1725 – iguanas, Sloane had written, were plentiful in Jamaica – I think of the name Liguanea, and I imagine many iguanas on the plain – and were excellent eating. Then we hunted them to near extinction. This is what happens when natural resources are approached with recklessness – we eliminate their many benefits, quite apart from their intrinsic value.


At the end of the meeting day, we were taken to look at the headstarting cages at the Hope Zoo. And for awhile, I stood starting at an adult iguana, Rocky, I called him in my mind, giving myself permission to anthropomorphize, and I asked him, animal to animal – couldn’t you have tried a little harder to be just a little cuter? Our iguanas are a dull, patchy gray/brown, with just the tiniest hint of aqua around their dorsal ridge, so faint I wondered if it was wishful thinking on my part. Their skin doesn’t fit them. They’re big – can grow to four feet from head to tail. They’re small dinosaurs but we like our dinosaurs to be the bad guys in films. Rocky, my boy, I said to him, you’re just too reptilian.


And I remembered my climb to iguana bush last year, courtesy of Prof Byron Wilson at UWI, landing on the beach at Manatee Bay, the walk through the mangroves and the bright orange crocodile ponds, and then the climb through the forest of Hellshire, the sharp rocks, the stones that turned treacherously underfoot, the rich colours of fallen leaves, the heat. And then the two wild iguanas we saw, so perfectly adapted to their habitat. It’s simple – Rocky and his kind do not exist to please the aesthetic sensibilities of human beings.


Rocky, I said, that afternoon at Hope Zoo, where do I find the words to convince Jamaicans that you’re worth saving? How can I convince them that you are the Tessanne Chin of the Hellshire Hills, what will cause us to have new eyes, new respect, for one of our own, a creature who was here before we were? Rocky was dignified but mute.


I know the rhetoric – if one Jamaican child can eat from the eradication of the iguana, so be it. We thought they were gone and we were fine with that. Most of us will never see them in the wild. Who cares, who cares, who cares – these are the loudest voices.


In the end it comes down to respect, to awe, for the complexity and beauty of the place where we live, first our island, and then our planet. With regard to the prospect of the transshipment port far too close to the dry limestone forests of Hellshire, I’ve listened to people say – we never heard of Goat Islands before. We’ve never been there and so they do not matter – level them. By that token, an awful lot of the world should be leveled because most of us will never see most of it. I’ve heard the dismissive remarks from people who should know better about “two likkle lizaad”. We have become an urban people, with no connection to wild places and no regard for wild things.


I left Rocky in the fading light, thinking of Tessanne’s soaring voice, and the singular Usain Bolt standing in solidarity with her on The Voice stage, extraordinary Jamaicans both, as our iguana is extraordinary and I wondered, not for the first time, who might change our minds and hearts.

 

Does Jamaica really have a strong global brand?

Posted by Diana McCaulay on July 18, 2013 at 10:00 AM Comments comments (5)

As we listen to the usual bleating about damage caused to “brand Jamaica” by a civil society group raising legitimate national issues in an international forum, I decided to research the concept of nation branding. I found a report done by FutureBrand for 2012/3 – the entire report is here: http://www.futurebrand.com/images/uploads/studies/cbi/CBI_2012-Final.pdf


I skipped to the top 25 country brands – no Jamaica. Looked at the top country brands in our region – nope, no Jamaica. I found Jamaica on page 106 of the report in the full list of countries ranked at 62 out of 118 countries. Jamaica was ranked behind the Maldives (16), Mauritius (20), Bermuda (24), Barbados (29), the Bahamas (37), Belize (46), the Dominican Republic (53), Trinidad and Tobago (54) and Cuba (57).


Say what? We don’t have one of the strongest brands in the world??


The FutureBrand report says they annually measure and rank global perceptions of nations using a Hierarchical Decision Model to discover how key audiences view a country – the model tracks awareness (does a respondent know the country exists), familiarity (how well is a country known), associations (what are its perceived qualities), preference (how highly is it esteemed), consideration (is the country being considered for a visit or investment), decision/visitation (has an actual visit or investment taken place) and advocacy (do respondents/visitors recommend the country to others). The criteria measured are:


Values: Political freedom, environmental friendliness, stable legal environment, tolerance, freedom of speech


Quality of Life: Education, health care, standard of living, safety, job opportunity, like to live in


Good for business: Investment climate, advanced technology, regulatory environment, skilled workforce


Heritage and culture: History, art and culture, authenticity, natural beauty


Tourism: Value for money, attractions, resort and lodging options, food


When you see the components of a strong brand, Jamaica’s unremarkable global ranking should surprise no one.


I found Jamaica’s name in one other place in the report – page 88, under tourism. “Weak perceptions around safety can have a negative and very real effect on a traveler’s willingness to visit. We see this in countries like Guatemala, Vietnam, the Phillipines and Kenya – all ranked above 100 (in safety) – that, despite having major despite having major attractions to their credit, fail to perform well in the dimension overall. Exceptions include Egypt, Jamaica and Indonesia – also nations that rank 100 and above for safety but perform relatively well in the tourism category.”


We may hit the headlines for various reasons, often tragic ones, the world may gather to watch our athletes – an unstable foundation on which to build a nation’s future – and we may hear Jamaican music in many countries of the world, but none of this means we have built a solid nation, nor a strong brand.


In fact, we remain stubbornly resistant to the truth about ourselves and our country – the JAMPRO website is a marvel of breathy advertising copy and mixed metaphors: “Business Brand Jamaica captures the essence and dual nature of the great Jamaican people. Creative and supportive with an unyielding, enterprising spirit, we continue to be pioneers, reaching great heights and blazing trails around the world. The creative and innovative side of the Jamaican people is exemplified by the exotic cuisine, pulsating rhythms, tantalizing designs and indomitable human spirit for which we are internationally renowned. Our business acumen is another side of Jamaica - lesser known, but just as powerful. We are contemporary, globally connected, and possess an entrepreneurial character which has spawned new businesses and innovations in a variety of commercial endeavours. And we are dedicated, hardworking, supportive, educated, and highly skilled, making our workforce, efficient and productive.”


Actually, no…


So Minister Lisa Hanna, get over yourself, a petition by Jamaicans for Justice on the status of children in state care is not what's damaging Jamaica’s reputation – the actual status of the children is what is doing the damage.


The plain fact is this: good intentions and public relations are never going to build a strong nation brand.


(I have written to FutureBrand to ask for Jamaica’s score sheet – if they send it to me, I will share it.)

 

Coming up for air

Posted by Diana McCaulay on June 22, 2013 at 10:10 AM Comments comments (0)

I just finished the first draft of my third novel, probably entitled The Dolphin Catchers.  I know now I must let it sit in a drawer, figuratively speaking, for about three weeks before I read it through again, to attempt to come to it as a new reader.  


I don't know what to do with myself on this hot and still Saturday morning - for many months, every day I have woken up at 5.30 am, sat at my computer and let myself fall into the world of my characters.  Maybe I'll update my website, I think, I haven't looked at in forever.   And I see my blog - no entries since January.  Failed on the blog writing, book promoting, keeping website vibrant and new counts.  


So here I am, everyone.  Coming up for air.  You can't do everything and I was writing my third book.  Maybe now I'll blog a bit... stay tuned. 

On Being "Salt"

Posted by Diana McCaulay on January 13, 2013 at 10:40 AM Comments comments (2)

On Friday, January 11th, 2013, the Gleaner reported a “salty ritual” at the Ministry of Youth and Culture. According to the article, the Minister of Youth and Culture, Lisa Hanna and Acting Permanent Secretary Sydney Bartley appeared on Tuesday morning with the President of the United Theological College of the West Indies, Reverend Dr Marjorie Lewis and called a staff meeting. Let’s stop right there for a moment. If the Minister of any Ministry walks into the office on a work morning and calls? attends? a staff meeting, this cannot be considered voluntary.  So let’s put to rest the idea that no one was forced to participate.

 

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130111/lead/lead4.html

 

Anyway, when the staff gathered, what appeared to be “devotions” morphed into the salty ritual. Small plastic cups containing salt were given to the staff (All of them? That’s a lot of salt and cups…I wonder who paid. Some staff members refused to take the cups, the Gleaner asserts, others took them. Can you see this? I don’t know how many people work at the Ministry of Youth and Culture, but it must be hundreds – hundreds of bemused public servants in a staff meeting, being given cups of salt…!). Staff members were then exhorted to keep the salt on their desks “as a reminder that we are the salt of the earth and that it will keep away evil spirits.” This very senior trio then allegedly went around to all the offices in the Ministry and sprinkled the salt while praying. This was followed by some staffers sweeping the salt out of their offices. Some reported feeling the ritual itself was evil and that afterwards, there was a “strange feeling” in the office. You can imagine how much work got done that day.

 

The Gleaner reported mystification on the part of the good Reverend and the Acting Permanent Secretary to the ensuing fuss; the latter still had his cup of salt on his desk. It was all voluntary, they said, no one was forced to do anything. Right. The senior officials of the Ministry of Youth and Culture just wanted to start the year on a positive note, using the passage from Matthew, Chapter 5 verse 13 – you are the salt of the earth. Anything to shift attention from the dismal performance of the Ministry, I imagine, after its many demonstrated failings to protect our children.

 

In an editorial on January 12th, 2013, http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130112/cleisure/cleisure1.html

 

the Gleaner then asked “How much religion is too much?” It’s a good question. Is it right that a staff meeting in a government ministry contain religious rituals of any kind? What should people of other faiths (or no religious faith) do while these rituals are being conducted? It is particularly worrying when these rituals are conducted by the State. What would happen if we had a Minister who was a Buddhist? Would staff be required to learn mantras and make symbolic gestures in staff meetings? Is only Christianity allowed in Jamaica? Aren’t we supposed to have separation of Church and State?

 

What worries me more, though, is the unstated notion that underlies public prayer and ritual at Government gatherings – even conventional Christian prayer – which is that these rituals are a substitute for good policy, enforceable laws and effective action. We see this all the time in national prayer breakfasts, church services and the like. It drives me mad when I get invited by the National Environment and Planning Agency to church services to pray for our wetlands. It would be much more effective if NEPA would simply stop granting permits for the destruction (sorry, they call it “modification”) of wetlands.

 

Whenever we have this blurring of the responsibilities of Church and State, a few voices suggest that the Lord helps those that help themselves, but still, as a nation we seem wholly behind the idea that we will be saved somehow, not by acceptance of responsibility and our own actions – but now, it seems, by cups of salt.

 

Invitation to Road Commencement Ceremony

Posted by Diana McCaulay on December 4, 2012 at 7:45 AM Comments comments (0)

Below is the invitation for the "commencement ceremony" of the North South Highway Project. You decide whether this is just about the Mt Rosser leg...

On Roads, Laments and Resistance

Posted by Diana McCaulay on November 29, 2012 at 1:35 PM Comments comments (3)

On Thursday last week, I finished the review of the 387 page Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the North-South highway link, Caymanas to Linstead leg. For non Jamaican readers, this is a long-planned modern road link between Kingston and the north coast of the island. It cannot be denied that the existing road is problematic at various points – the Rio Cobre gorge which narrows to the single lane Flat Bridge and floods regularly, sometimes trapping people and even drowning them, the winding road over Mt Rosser, where, if a large vehicle breaks down, motorists can easily be delayed for upwards of three hours, and the impossible-to-keep-repaired Fern Gully. It’s clear that the road from Kingston to the north coast needs to be modernized.

 

The Government of Jamaica started with the middle leg – the Mt Rosser bypass. There were murmurs of geological problems at the time, but these were ignored. The road was built – except for a section in the middle, where the GOJ and the road contractor could not agree on a price or an approach to the geological problems – and there that almost finished road has sat, unused, for perhaps 18 months. As you drive on the old road, you can see the major scar of the new Mt Rosser bypass – and at one point where it slices through a hill, you can clearly see why limestone forests should never be removed – there is so little soil on which to reestablish anything else. I feel the Mt Rosser bypass was designed by someone with no respect for aesthetics or natural resources, but I also felt it was necessary and hoped it would not become one of Jamaica’s many white elephants.

 

Fast forward to the December 2011 election of the People’s National Party. Large national infrastructural projects were announced, including the North-South highway link, which was to be taken over by China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC). There were media reports of commercial developments associated with the road – no details or location – promises were made that this road would not cost the Jamaican people a dollar, and assurances given that all environmental due diligence would be done.

 

Through the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET)’s legal programme, with the help of the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (ELAW), and with funding from the MacArthur Foundation, JET has reviewed some 40 Jamaican EIAs over eight years. As I finished this latest one, I sat back in my chair and wondered if there was any point in continuing. For eight years we have been sending written submissions to the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) describing the same deficiencies – failure to adequately evaluate alternatives or cumulative impacts, failure to adhere to the Terms of Reference issued by NEPA, poor and unscientific collection of baseline data, inadequate assessment of environmental impacts and downplaying of risks, lack of detailed monitoring plans and failures in the public process. Yet this latest EIA for a major road project crossing low lying areas in the flood plains of five rivers, susceptible to landslides, posing risks to ground water and requiring the removal of an unquantified amount of forest contained many of these same deficiencies. It was late. I was tired. I attached our review to an e-mail to NEPA and hit the ‘send’ key.

 

The next morning, I read a letter to the Editor of the Gleaner from Zhongdong Tang of CHEC stating that the “commencement ceremony” for the North-South link would be on December 5th, 2012. Here is a link to the letter so you can judge for yourself what I understood from this, what anyone might have understood. http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121123/letters/letters5.html

 

Angry that the public process for this leg of the road was only just completed, there yet had been no time for a decision maker to review any of the public comment but a ground breaking celebration was already planned, I slapped out a press release objecting to this evidence of the “done deal” syndrome and describing my frustration with a bankrupt EIA process.

 

This was followed by:

 

A reporter from the Gleaner called to ask, among other things, whether JET would file legal action over this latest perceived breach to the public process. I said we could certainly consider it, but JET had already filed two successful legal cases on this very point and they continued to happen, so I had to question the effectiveness of this course of action. Naturally, the reporter’s story led with “Court battle looms over Highway 2000 North-South link.” http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=41358

 

The CEO of NEPA called to explain that he could not possibly be blamed for the holding of a ground breaking ceremony and that NEPA would be rigorous in their process. I pointed out all the many problems with Jamaican EIAs, described over many years, which continued. He heard me, but had to take another call.

 

Emails and phone calls to JET arrived, stating various versions of “tek wey oonu self, we waan di road.”

 

The Managing Director of the National Road Operating and Construction Company (NROCC) called to explain there was a “misunderstanding”. The ceremony which had been in the newspaper was only the “recommencement ceremony” of the Mt Rosser link, which had already been given a permit, and in fact was nearly completed. I expressed the view that there was little to celebrate about this particular leg of the highway, but of course, we are addicted to such ceremonies. (I remember being invited to one to celebrate the export of expired pesticides which had been in inadequate storage posing serious risks to public health for 30 YEARS!)

 

I spoke to the lead scientist of the EIA Consultants to object to the downplaying of the environmental and public safety risks in the summary pages – all but one rated as “minor” - while they were described in full in the pages of this substantial document which will be read by few. He promised to get back to me.

 

RJR Journalist Dionne Jackson Miller requested an interview on her radio programme Beyond the Headlines on Monday, November 28th. I was to be “on” with the Minister of Transport and Works, the Hon Omar Davies.

 

During the interview, an unnecessarily aggressive Dr Davies (isn’t his Ph.D in Geography?) was most interested in hammering home the point that I had been wrong about the ground breaking ceremony. He repeated this at least three times, despite Mrs Jackson Miller’s attempts to suggest that this ground had already been covered. He fell back on the hollow assurances, heard so many times in the past, that nothing would be done in advance of receiving the NEPA permit, and all work would be carried out in accordance with the environmental permit. A man then texted the radio programme to ask why his area near the start of the new road was already crawling with Chinese workers. The Minister felt that they might be surveying; he did not see this as any evidence of any “done deal” syndrome. He did concede that bulldozers would be another matter. (There must be a frantic scramble this morning to find heavy equipment that cannot be described as a bulldozer. Can’t you hear it? Yes, the Minister said that bulldozers on the land would be evidence of a breach of the public process, but this is not a bulldozer! It is a BACKHOE! TOTALLY DIFFERENT! THE MINISTER SAID NOTHING ABOUT BACKHOES! In the commercial break yesterday, I entertained myself with images of the land clearing being done in reverse. But it is not funny).

 

On the question of inadequate monitoring, the Minister said we should not be so untrusting as to assume that all the monitoring failures of the past would continue in the future. He deplored my “adversarial position.” I didn’t manage to respond to this on air – Minister Davies said he had hardly been given the space to say two words – but really, Minister, what is wrong with an opposing view, especially one well supported by scientific references? Isn’t that why you have a public process? And isn’t review and comment on the EIA the appropriate method? Are you saying only admiring and supportive views will be tolerated? That we should wait until the environment HAS BEEN destroyed before sounding a warning? Or are you objecting to the views being aired in public? I would like to point out that they are only being discussed because they are made public.

 

Later that night, I was unable to sleep. This always happens to me after media interviews, I feel I could have done better, why did I not say this or that, how tired I am of the whole fight, how hopeless it is, how badly we are being led, how short term our thinking. I mean, you’d think given recent events in Pt Maria, we’d be concerned about flooding possibly related to highways, you’d think given that we now have a climate change ministry and we are supposed to be all exercised about climate change, we’d care about removal of forests. My thoughts turned to Dr Wayne Kublalsingh, a man I do not know, a lecturer in literature at UWI St Augustine campus, who is now on hunger strike to protest a highway in Trinidad. His unequivocal act of resistance is not the path I have chosen – mine is the endless reviewing of piles of paper, the futile meetings, the useless committees, the circular public arguments. But I know with a certainty I do not possess the resolve needed for a hunger strike. I remembered a comment about American environmentalist David Brower – he successfully resisted a dam in the Grand Canyon and lost the Sierra Club their tax exempt status as a result – Thank God for David Brower, he makes the rest of us look so reasonable. And I thought about some of the early actions of Greenpeace – the little zodiacs skimming a grey sea between the harpoons of whaling ships and the whales themselves, the youngsters scaling the stacks of industry to let fall their protest banners – oh for an environmental radical or two in Jamaica! I fell asleep thinking about a 50-odd-year-old man facing organ failure and death over the re routing of a road.

 

And this morning, Annie Paul posted a link to this short video of Dr Kublasingh’s position on the road. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oUhguG92uuQ

 

In case he seems too reasonable, there is also this one of him using – gasp! - “bad language” to the Minister of Health. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-K0as6uUGOY

(The sound is bad and the "cussing' starts at about minute 4..)

 

I also heard him interviewed on the radio here on Jamaica Speaks on Hot 102. He sounded strong, for someone who had not eaten or drank in 14 days. The internet is full of support for him as well as questions about his sanity. To me, he just seems brave. A man risking death for his convictions. As I ponder what else I should be doing, what else we all should be doing about the relentless risk and sacrifice of Jamaica’s natural resources by an unholy alliance of politician, civil servant and citizen, I find no answers. I look at my watch. I’m late for yet another meeting.

 

(As I always do, I send this blog to my husband for his editing eye and his response is terse. So what, I e-mail back, bored in the meeting, you didn’t like it? Not much, he says. It’s your familiar environmental lament. He's right. Should my form of resistance be a vow of silence then?)

 

The Merchant of Feathers II by Tanya Shirley

Posted by Diana McCaulay on November 6, 2012 at 11:55 AM Comments comments (0)

The Merchant of Feathers II

 

Is the mother whose son is found

in a compromising position with a man

in a university bathroom

and is beaten by security guards

who police anuses

while girls walk unguarded in the night

and a mob of educated fools chant

for more blood, more fire.

This mother must put her son back together again

paint his wounds with Gentian Violet

ice swollen tendons, protuberant eyes

find the scars deeper than skin

and like a seamstress mend what’s broken within

and when his father who isn’t worth two dry stones

or a shilling sees his son on the news and appears

at her door to beat her son some more

she will turn herself into serrated edges

stand sharp and poised to kill

for her son is her only gold

and if the father’s thirst for blood is too great

she will pacify him with what he needs

to prove he is not like his son.

In her, he will bury the fear.

And in the morning she will stir soft words into

the cornmeal porridge, carry it to her son’s bed

blow a benediction into each spoon full she brings

to his bruised and beautiful lips.

Tanya Shirley

I promise to love you for the rest of my life

Posted by Diana McCaulay on November 3, 2012 at 6:45 PM Comments comments (16)

Two male students from the University of Technology (U-Tech) were said to have been caught in a ‘compromising position’ in a bathroom on the evening of November 2nd, 2012 – it is not known what they were doing and all a mob needs is a rumour. A growing crowd of other students chased the young men across the campus. One of the students escaped. The other sought refuge in the security guard post on Hope Road and what happened next was filmed by a cell phone camera. It is dark and the figures are shadowy, but it is clear that a crowd of hundreds is gathered shouting anti gay curses, demanding blood. There is laughter and an air of salacious excitement, what happen, some voices ask? One voice asks to be let in on the fun. The video camera steadies and the inside of the security post can be seen through the glass. The three security guards seem unsure what to do, but soon two of them beat the clearly terrified young man. The crowd roars. There is the sound of breaking glass.

 

It seems to me a Pontius Pilate moment, if I remember my Bible correctly. An innocent man delivered up to a judge of sorts, a baying mob outside. The judge seeks to appease the crowd with a beating but it is not enough. And we know the end of that particular story.

 

Other facts emerge. There had been car thefts the night before, a recurring problem on the U-Tech campus, leading to a horrific mob killing in 2003. Some people seem to have thought the man being chased was a car thief, as did the security guards, at least initially. Students found the young man’s photo and plastered it all over the Internet, destroying any hope he can continue to live a normal life in Jamaica, at least for the foreseeable future, and jeopardizing the continuation of his education. The guard company, Marksman Ltd., fired two of the guards the same day, the fate of the others is still under investigation. U-Tech issued a statement condemning the attack. YouTube took down the video, only to have it reposted over and over again. Social media erupted with blogs and comments. Petitions were started.

 

The title of the YouTube video I reluctantly watched was “Beat the Fish 2!!!” (sic) “Fish” is one of many odious Jamaican slang terms for a homosexual. The day after the attack, Friday, I was utterly unproductive at work, constantly refreshing the Facebook pages and blogs I follow, to see what was being said. There were no public comments following the articles published in Jamaica’s two daily newspapers. This was highly unusual. I wondered if, at long last, the editors of our mainstream publications had decided not to give hate speech any oxygen. But the lack of comment was short lived.

 

It’s personal for me. My son is gay. Every hateful, bigoted, violent remark is flung directly at him. I miss my son every day of my life, but I am so glad he does not live here. The question is: Why do I?

 

I had my Jamaican passport with me on Friday, because I needed to make a photocopy. I noticed it on my desk and I held it. I felt, still feel, deeply ashamed to be Jamaican. I felt complicit in this attack because of my long ago decision to remain here, to claim my Jamaican nationality, my Jamaican identity. Now, too late, I want to rescind that decision. I don’t want to be identified as part of a nation that defends and supports an anti gay stance as being cultural, as being Christian, as being an aspect of our sovereignty, our right.

 

It occurs to me this is why the separation of Church and State is vital. It seems harmless, even positive, when people say: Jamaica is a Christian nation. Public prayer at virtually every function seems relatively innocuous – oh sure, there might be people of other faiths in the room, but Jamaica is a Christian nation, right, they’ll understand, they must adapt to the majority’s wishes. But it is not innocuous. As they always have been, religious beliefs are being used as justification for the abrogation of the human rights of some. Religious beliefs belong in places of worship among those who share such beliefs and nowhere else. They must not have the weight of the State behind them.

 

In an interview with Cliff Hughes on Nationwide News Network on Friday, I heard the Minister of Education, Hon. Ronnie Thwaites, strongly condemn the U-Tech attack. Well and good, Deacon Thwaites. But it was you who recently pandered to the mob in the withdrawing of educational materials trying, however clumsily, to deal with the issue of respect and tolerance for gay people.

See Annie Paul’s post Gay Bashing in Jamaica a National Policy? for more on this issue

 http://anniepaul.net/2012/11/03/gay-bashing-in-jamaica-a-national-policy/

 

I am tired of pretending that all aspects of our culture are defensible. They are not. There is much about being Jamaican to be ashamed of – our violent and bigoted speech and action towards gays and lesbians tops the list.

 

A month ago, I went to England, where my son lives, to attend the celebration of his civil union with his long standing partner, another man. The registrar who conducted the ceremony began with a simple statement about relationships between gay people. She said these unions had existed for centuries but only now was it possible for them to have legal status. My son and his partner had written their own vows and the last one was a simple one: “I promise to love you for the rest of my life.” Two honest, productive, fine young men, one Jamaica's loss, promising to love and honour each other, to walk with each other through life. I thought there should be a banner above where they stood, something huge, big enough to be visible all the way across the Atlantic in my homeland asking this simple question: WHAT EXACTLY ARE YOU AFRAID OF?

 

Also Sticks and Stones by Petchary http/petchary.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/40922utechbeating20121101c.jpg

 

 

Wasting Jamaica

Posted by Diana McCaulay on September 18, 2012 at 8:35 AM Comments comments (3)

On the morning after the 2012 beach clean up of Ft Rocky by the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), one of our staff members went to check on the site. There he found the mountain of waste taken off the beach by over 2,000 volunteers uncollected – the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) had been said to be “on their way” the previous afternoon. In addition, he found a pile of burning waste – drugs, he assumed – continuing the long standing practice of the burning of waste near the beach by the Police. For the third year running, JET had either raised the money or begged equipment and removed this residue before the clean up. JET had also written to both the Police Commissioner and the Jamaica National Heritage Trust asking that this practice cease – the JNHT having responsibility for the heritage site of Ft Rocky. Yet there it was happening again, the day after beach clean up. It was too much. I put my head in my hands and I wept.

 

 

The previous Wednesday, I had been taken by helicopter to the Pedro Cays, one of the 64 clean up sites around Jamaica. There, I confronted a very Jamaican circle of hell – some 400 Jamaicans, 90 miles out to sea, in shacks and meager shelters, without running water, sanitation or garbage management on a 10 acre island, surrounded by the Caribbean Sea. We landed on Middle Cay and the downdraft of the helicopter sent the lighter items of garbage flying to fall unnoticed in the sea. The Masked Booby birds, some sitting on eggs, held their ground in the small patches of sand and vegetation adjacent to a burning dump, the scale of which is difficult to appreciate, unless you have stood there, and tried to come to grips with the staggering amount of waste produced by a relatively small number of people. Nor was the garbage confined to the dump area. Horrific as that was, it was worse to see the waste flung everywhere, on every square inch of what should have been and could yet be an idyllic small island, a refuge for seabirds, surrounded by healthy coral reefs, teeming with fish.

 

Where, I wondered, do our attitudes to waste come from? Why is it that so many of us are comfortable with strewing our waste where we live, even as these practices make us ill, result in the flooding of our property, and threaten land, sea and life itself? At beach clean up every year, people who spend hours cleaning up the beach still litter where they eat. One corporate sponsor provided food for their volunteers in Styrofoam trays, obviously giving no thought at all to the irony of cleaning beaches and adding to the pile of waste afterwards.

 

What we took off Ft Rocky Beach 15 Sept 2012

 

I took two members of the press with me to the Pedro Cays. After 21 years of running an environmental non profit group, I know if it is not in the press, it is on no one’s agenda. After the story hit the media, I was invited to meet with the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries on the day before beach clean up. We packed ourselves into a too small meeting room, chock full of numerous representatives from various ministries. A lecture was delivered about there being no need for anyone to be rude and the dangers of having these issues in the press, because now ANYONE can know what is happening in Jamaica. Yes, there is the conch industry located on the Pedro Bank, and most of the conch is exported. Suppose the buyers find out how it is produced… no, that wouldn’t look good. Perhaps there might even be Repercussions.

 

Everywhere you look in Jamaica, there is manifest failure to govern. The political parties are about appeasement, about making their supporters happy, about making themselves look good, about launches and photo ops. If any action – no matter how essential – is going to lose votes, it can’t be taken. So although a 1940s study stated that Jamaican fisheries were overfished, because there were “too many men chasing too few fish,” there has been steadfast refusal by the Ministry of Agriculture and its Fisheries Division to take the necessary steps to manage our fisheries. What is needed is known: No spear fishing, no night fishing, no Hookah gear, no seine nets, increase in pot mesh sizes, no possession of conch and lobster in closed seasons, the establishment of large fish sanctuaries, protection of nursery areas (specifically mangroves and seagrass beds), protection of herbivorous fish (like parrot fish), strict enforcement, heavy fines and confiscation of boats and equipment for breaches. But it is not done. None of it is done. Oh every now and then some individual fisher is taken to court and fined a few hundred dollars and his fish pots confiscated. He’ll be back at sea within a month.

 

The Ministry of Agriculture is a big building, as are all government buildings. These buildings contain floors of people, car parks of vehicles, multimillion dollar budgets. Yet government agencies in Jamaica declare themselves to be helpless, without the required budgets, without the needed resources, action has to be approached with decades of caution, issues must be studied, the studies must be revised after years of failure to implement a single recommendation, the studies themselves must be studied. The people in the buildings collect their pay, money is borrowed to meet those payrolls, and the politicians bluster and insist on civility.

 

It is a perfect storm of abdication of responsibility. We abdicate our personal responsibility for the waste we ourselves generate, we feel entitled to consume and throw away whatever we want wherever we want and someone else must pick up after us. The responsible government agencies point fingers at each other. And the politicians make the usual promises, look to blame the other political party and know without question this issue will blow over as the next national scandal claims the headlines.

 

The filthy beach of Middle Cay is a perfect symbol of Jamaica itself – an island wasted by the people who live on it.

 


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