The King and Queen of Spain arrive in Jamaica today. There is an enormous spread in the Gleaner to commemorate the visit – the Jamaica Observer apparently did not benefit from the advertising largesse. In Jamaica, you have to understand the runnins – the Observer has hammered what has come to be called “The Sand Issue” – the theft of sand from a beach in Trelawny allegedly to “nourish” the beaches of three north coast hotels - two Spanish, and one American. The Gleaner spread has the predictable photos of the President of the Spanish/Jamaican Chamber of Commerce a.k.a. Spanish Ambassador to Jamaica Jesus Silva – is he gaining a bit of weight? The good life on the Rock will do that for you. Careful, Ambassador, you might jeopardize your Eye Candy status…
An article by Gareth Manning entitled “The Spanish in Jamaica” happily only begins the story in the late 20th century – so no uncomfortable mention of the poor Tainos – and does mention the environmental “issues” raised by “the environmental advocates.” Way to go, Gareth! Ambassador Silva dismisses these easily as lack of communication and the fact that we Third-Worlders are “not used to such a huge flow of sudden big-scale projects.” Really now. Actually, Ambassador Silva, we’re most used to large scale projects being inflicted on us in the absence of the required consultative, planning, environmental and social frameworks and yes, absent even an economic rationale. It’s the norm, not the exception.
The Ambassador gives us a fabulous quote at the end of his interview: “There are places in Jamaica where there is no investment, no economic activity, the coastline has been untouched and it has been very degraded.” Yup. Gotta get rid of that bush.
Ambassador Silva finishes with that old chestnut – “Sometimes the biggest threat to the environment is not hotels…it’s poverty,” he tells us. People who are poor and who directly use natural resources, such as for firewood, can and do cause damage to the environment, but it pales in scale and seriousness when compared to the actions of an investor with a bulldozer and an environmental permit.
One thing the Ambassador says is true: “Spanish hotels have become part of the geography of Jamaica and they are here to stay.” And that is the tragedy. When the economic downturn affects the viability of these hotels, after our people have been denied access to their own coastline, after our wetlands, coral reefs and sea grass beds have been destroyed in order to save them, after our coast has been turned into a version of The Generic Warm Place, we Jamaicans will be left with the concrete. The decisions are with us forever. As American environmentalist David Brower once said, “Our victories are always temporary; our defeats always permanent.”
The royal visit is not without its lighter side, of course. We have had the obligatory spruce up and clean up, the signage, the plantings, the paintings – all of which will instantly cease when the royal feet leave the Rock. The plantings will die or be returned to the nursery from whence they were loaned, the painting will fade in the sun, the signs will be grafitti’d or used by those Jamaicans not able to get jobs in tourism to make aluminum pots.
The King will honour Prime Minister Bruce and Mrs. Golding tonight – Portia and P.J. must be gnashing their teeth! After all, it was the PNP who brought the Spanish back to the Land of Not Much Wood or Water. Still, if memory serves me correctly, P.J. got his honours already and I'm sure a little patience will bring Portia hers too...
And so while we buzz around all agog at the brush with royalty – life continues on the Rock. We are assailed by vile and ignorant utterances from Member of Parliament Ernie Smith about gays, http://www.jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20090217/lead/lead6.html
we are desperate to protect our children from daggering songs http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/lifestyle/html/20090210t210000-0500_146018_obs_poets_defend_ban_on_explicit_songs_.asp
while doing little to ensure their safety, education and quality of life – the lack thereof being the real obscenities in Jamaica.
And another part of the north coast, historic Falmouth, is about to fall to an investor with a bulldozer, not one from Spain it must be said, but an investor also welcomed as royalty and given the keys to the kingdom without so much as the most minor of skirmishes.