Whose Falmouth? Part I

February 11, 2009

I have been in conversation with a friend about this Falmouth wharf issue for a couple weeks now.  So when I heard and saw the reportage today, I fired off another outraged letter to the editor (btw, that’s getting to be a bad habit, but I will deal with that later).

P.S. As always the joke is on us.  While people in Trelawny vex because the Parish Council stopped work on the demolition – albeit temporarily – Royal Caribbean is already advertising Falmouth, and on terms that Jamaicans are not even familiar with.  If you don’t believe me,  check out this website.   The inimitable John Maxwell sounded off on this issue back in December 2008, but I missed it for some reason.

What bemuses me though is that while all the flaws in this project are an environmental activist’s nightmare (and dream for the sheer number of ways to expose and shame the various parties), our local advocates don’t seem to know what to do with themselves.   Apparently they haven’t figured out that bureaucratic structures are the friends of developers and politicians, and that activists must develop their own ways of speaking and making their views heard.   I think I need to write another post on this.

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In my mind, the decision to turn the wharf into a cruise ship port was never conducted in the interests of Jamaican people.  Rather, it has been orchestrated as a deal between governmental officials and the private cruise ship company Royal Caribbean.  There is no evidence to suggest that the plan, as currently constituted and which has not been properly disclosed to the Jamaican people, will do anything more than fill the coffers of Royal Caribbean and the Port Authority.  Furthermore, it is entirely disingenuous and insulting for local politicians to now tell ordinary Jamaicans that this plan is for really for our own good. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Well before the Golding administration took the helm of government, the physical landscape of this country was being parceled and sold to whoever wanted to pay, regardless of the consequences for those of us who continue to live here. And we the citizens never even bothered to ask how much the land was sold for, who received that money, and what the government planned to do with it. Just like now, there is not a single word uttered about where the money from the sale of the Falmouth wharf has gone, and why it was not directly invested back into Trelawny.

Despite what many ordinary Jamaicans may want to think, our governmental agencies do not act in the public interest. Rather, the individuals that run these agencies and broker the various deals are more interested in moving hell and highwater to make way for private capital and big money, whether the sources are foreign or local, even if it means sacrificing our present and the future of the nation. They use the language of “development” and the promise of “jobs” to lure us into believing that they are working in the best interests of poor and working-class people for whom job are scarce, and the difference between eating and starvation, between educating our children and killing our future. And the only way the needy ones are supposed to respond when the powers-that-be use these words, especially in difficult times like now, is to say “yes”, either enthusiastically or through our silence as we swallow our spit and our pride.

For them, “development” means new buildings that were created based on large contracts with foreign companies. But that kind of “development” does not educate our children, make our lives safer or protect our natural environment. In fact, it does the opposite.
Indeed, what has the cheerleading of politicians, government officials and our confused silence bought us so far? Certainly not the whole heap of jobs and properity that were promised in Westmoreland, St. Ann, St. James and wherever else coastal property has been sold to foreigners to do whatever they want to do. No, what the more ordinary among us got was more of what we already had: exploitative work conditions that turn us into modern-day slaves, complete with injuries and lost lives. When the paltry jobs are created, they are only for men, pay a pittance and dry up as soon as the projects end. And when the projects end, we have more sewage problems, more substandard housing, poor living conditions as we poured into the towns and set up shop to get access to the jobs and better life that we were promised were coming but never materialized; more crowded schools, more crime, more violence and social disorder as we all clamour to eke out some sort of living at the edges of civility, none of which are extended to us.

This is what we get when “development” happens in Jamaica these days, even as we hear the news reportage of government-paid engineers who “miscalculated” measurements so that the school that was to be cannot materialize; where well-paid government-paid officials refuse to do their jobs to come up with tangible plans that rid our communities of all the trash and toxic waste that is making us sick and tired. And yet, the politicians in Trelawny seem happy, ecstatic even, to sign off on yet another such “development” project, as is slated to happen in Falmouth. One has to ask the question: if we know that the people of Trelawny are not going to get much out of this grand plan, what are THEY expecting to receive that makes them so happy?

The level of slackness in the Falmouth project lies primarily in the secrecy and the lack of disclosure to the public. Remember how we have constantly been worked into a lather by our various ministers of tourism who tell us that if we don’t accept the exploitation of our land and our dignity by doing everything at all costs to get tourists to come to Jamaica, then we might as well lock up shop economically? When the news reportage hailing Jamaica as the newest intended destination for Royal Caribbean’s “Genesis” class (note the religious metaphor), few (including media persons) asked about what it would take to be one of a handful of ports that would accommodate one of the largest cruise ships ever created. We are expected to just be happy that we are to be made special, but the cost of that specialness is lost on many.

For one thing, this very cruise ship company, Royal Caribbean, has been found to be a lethal weapon when it comes to turning beautiful seas into toxic soups, by dumping sewage and waste and floating away before they are caught. So, how do we explain why NEPA, the very governmental agency which is charged with being steward of the physical landscape and to act in the name of “sustainable development”, has actually consented for the removal of the coral reefs in and around the wharf areas in order for the famed cruise ship to be able to dock? Apparently, they have an idea to put the destroyed reefs somewhere else to grow.

Furthermore, without presenting any credible evidence, NEPA has convinced the Port Authority, the Trelawny Parish Council and other politicians that “the environment” will be fine and all is well without actually doing any of the research that they need to do. So sure are they of the validity of the proposed plan, as well as of their power and control over the fate and future of the people of Falmouth, that the agency has not even bothered to do the necessary paperwork that are a matter of law and due diligence. The Jamaica National Heritage Trust, another entity which is supposed to be the guardian of public history, and has some jurisdiction over the existing buildings and property of the wharf area, has not even given formal approval on the demolition of the buildings. So buildings are being knocked down before everyone involved knows whether this is a good idea or not.

Here, we have the leadership of a governmental agency who are given the responsibility of making informed and ethical decisions about how the physical landscape is to be used, and yet they have consistently ignored scientific research and points of view that contradicted what they set out to do. Now, when 90% of our existing coral reefs are already dead and dying as a direct result of the lack of governmental planning, knowledge and oversight regarding waste disposal, the construction and operation of all those mega-hotels on the north coast, and the lasting and negative effects of cruise ships, can anyone say with any confidence that they believe governmental agencies like NEPA have the credibility or ability to prevent Falmouth from becoming another Montego Bay or Ocho Rios?

The decision about turning Falmouth wharf into a Jamaican-style Disneyland by destroying the landscape, polluting the coastline and by turning ordinary Jamaicans into happy slaves, should completely turn our stomachs and enrage the people of Jamaica. That we have been so consistently misinformed by governmental bodies when it comes to decisions about how “development” will take place certainly tells me one thing: that the folks who engineered this grand plan for Falmouth know nothing about the kind of “development” that is essential in this part of the country. The Falmouth plan does not come close to promoting the social and economic development of the area that the politicians want to claim. Long after the architects of the deal have all been paid, received promotions and gone on greener pastures, and the paltry jobs have dried up, the people of Trelawny will still be asking for fair and living wages, decent schools, good roads, running water, proper sanitation, clean unpolluted waters from which people can make a livelihood, and open access to a beach to spend time with their families. That’s the kind of development that we need and deserve.

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4 Responses to “Whose Falmouth? Part I”

  1. Javed Jaghai Says:

    You raise very pertinent concerns in this piece Long Bench. I lived all my life in Jamaica, and never before realized how problematic tourism development is, until this term. I am taking a course of tourism and development, an mi a tel yu ino, problems galore.

    In this development for example, who stands to gain the most? My logic tells me that the residents of Falmouth should be benefiting the most, but as with other foreign owned ventures, the bulk of the profits will be repatriated to parent companies. Is anything wrong with that? At least we can provide employment for another 500 people (even more in the construction phase)…and at least a hundred or so people will be able to peddle their wares along the tour routes and make some money, where otherwise they would earn nothing.

    Well something is wrong with that. One of the only comparative advantages Jamaica has in this highly competitive global marketplace is our ability to attract tourist. Short of doing that, there are few other industries we could seriously develop to compete in the world. Why then aren’t we deriving the maximum benefits from our tourism product? Well you know why…you mentioned it explicitly in the article- We have nincompoops for business/ government executives. We are doomed I tell you. People only ever think about today, and not the future. It will be a miracle, if the next two generations of Jamaicans escape living akin to our French neighbor.

    On a plus note, I feel as though the construction of the pier, and the marketing of Falmouth as a tourist destination, will lead to the preservation of the historical monuments there. I hate to support the imperialistic nature of such dealings, whereby developing nations must depend on developed nations for capital, but the architectural legacy of the town might soon be lost if we don’t act now.

    I am saddened though, that we must resort to the commodification of our culture and heritage, in order to preserve it. The greater irony is that these grand scale development will contribute further to the environmental degradation experienced by our fragile coastal/ marine ecosystems, and deter future tourists from our shores. What will the residents of Falmouth do then?

    Kom mek wi jraa lang bench pan disya wan ya.

    • longbench Says:

      Javed: I have been mulling over this Falmouth thing for a while. For example, I keep hearing about the comparisons drawn with colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, US. So, I say to myself, well, I do find the whole culture reenactment thing odious. But, CW is an institution; not only the entertainment value, but the educational value and the amazing – AMAZING – resources that go into both preserving the physical site, as well as the ongoing research, training opportunities, etc. Many PhDs are trained there; they have developed wonderful learning tools that teachers and lay people alike can use. But, what are we slated to get, besides the “historical similarity” to CW? Not a blasted thing. I’m going to write about this in my next post on Falmouth.

  2. Student Says:

    Question: Do you think the redevelopment of the wharves was absolutely the best thing for the town and the country or doing a redevelopment of the town itself would have been a better choice?

    • longbench Says:

      Hi: Thanks for stopping by. The problem lies in the very language and practice of “development” here in Jamaica. One cannot say for sure whether what is being done would be the best or the worst thing to happen, since there’s no plan to compare it to, either before this moment, or some other place that underwent similar changes. So, like every other development scheme here in Jamaica, there is little thought given to how people’s lives are to be affected at every possible level by the changes being done to the wharves: from traffic and roadways, to sanitation, to pedestrian walkways, to access to greenspaces, to ability to renovate other places, etc. etc. etc. None of this has been articulated. It is not enough to say that the new wharf provides “jobs”. What kind of jobs? For whom? How do those jobs figure into the development PLAN of the town, region, country? Everyday people might want to think that any job is a good job – they are so accustomed to being treated poorly, after all — but the responsibility of planners (not developers!!) is to make sure that all jobs are sustainable and will contribute to the overall development of the area. Unfortunately, only shortsightedness and money-grubbing guide the work. Developers know what they are doing: they get paid, no matter if the project fails. Planners should know better, but they think like developers, if they are involved at all. What is happening at Falmouth is about the same as happened in MoBay with the creation of the Hip Strip and the rest of the town – which includes thousands of people – left to stagnate and fall apart. Falmouth is an entity; you can’t change one part without affecting the others. However, our gov’t is too lazy to do the work of governing and thinking ahead, and don’t really care about anything except how long they can stay in control of the state’s coffers. So, this is what we get….


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