Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Empire Strikes Back, by Paul Lewis

Submitted to The CAC Review by the author. Copyright remains with the author.

, the small Grenadine Island off the coast of St.Vincent, the scene of the 1796-97 internment of the Black Caribs (Garifuna) after their defeat by the British, and where thousands died due to mistreatment, disease, malnourishment and neglect by their captors, appears to have been sold to British investors. Documents lodged by J. Barnard, Realtors (on behalf of Baliceaux Development ) with the Physical Planning and Development Board of SVG to construct a new Residential/commercial building on Baliceaux, point to the sale of the island since a “contract for purchase agreement was made in March 2008.”

This is no ordinary purchase. It involves the sale of both Balliceaux and Battowia for an unconfirmed price of EC$400 million for 191 hectares (471.96 acres) of land. The project, according to the said documents, calls for an investment of US $750 million over a five year period. The plan is hugely ambitious but appears totally unrealistic and environmentally unsound particularly as it will be located in a hurricane zone. The glossy presentation by Richard Hywell Evans, Architectural and Design Limited of England presents a futuristic look for the new Nirvana of the eastern Caribbean, a project reminiscent of designs currently employed in the Gulf States.

(A rough sketch of the Developer’s Plan)

Balliceaux will accommodate 45 luxury condominiums with private jetties, 2 mega villas, Owner’s Club, two beach bars in North Bay and Landing Bay, and a “Carib Indian Monument.” Linking Balliceaux to Battowia will be an extensive marine development that will accommodate 350 yachts, a clubhouse for 200, 80 village apartments, 25 marine houses, 118 marine duplexes and 131 wharf houses.

Battowia will be the site of a huge luxury resort hotel, 35 cliff villas, 15 hillside villas and a summit restaurant. The government has agreed to lease Church Island to the developers - to make the project more realistic. Church Island will be the location of a destination spa and treatment room with medical facilities.

This three- phase plan involves the construction of swimming pools; facilities for machinery, diesel fuel storage, sail loft, chandler, shipwright, and a customs house and police station. The stated purpose of this huge project is to construct not only residential accommodation on land but luxury residential marinas that will cater to international, regional and local homeowners, and transient yachts, while ‘preserving’ the environment of the area. It will be built to accommodate as many as 1000 persons, but because of peaks and lows in the tourist season they expect an average of 300 guests.

The project’s environmental investigations as presented in the Planning Board’s documents are skewed towards very technical areas- water, currents, climate, hydrology, pollution etc. But noticeably absent are studies that would document the impact on the flora and fauna. The indigenous plants and animal species- the wild life- appear not to figure prominently in their programme. Earmarked for closer examination are three areas, including paragraph 2.9 on Conservation. It states quite blandly that “Any species of note located shall be temporarily protected or if not possible relocated to a more suitable site area, for inclusion on the final site landscape plan.” In section 2.8, the developers state: “Balliceaux is acknowledged as a site for cultural and historic Importance in the Carib Indian population. It is intended that a better understanding is achieved and that a monument to the Caribs is designed and built with available access on Balliceaux.” Magnificent! But who are these developers with this surprising social conscience? Vincentians know nothing about them, yet they are suggesting that they will build a monument to the Garifuna people. Will the monument be the sum total of their “better understanding “of the Indigenous people? Is this some form of ‘atonement’ for the treatment of the indigenous people by the British, possibly Gordon Brown’s Apology to the Carib Nation? Or, is this a new form of Reparation?

Did this government renege on their promise to erect a monument in memory of the death of 2,500 Garifuna on Balliceaux between 1796-7? The Government of SVG, especially Hon. Rene Baptiste, Minister of Culture, have spoken about this project for many years. But it seems that it is no longer a local project but a gift by British developers to the people of SVG! This new corporate citizen has attempted to ingratiate itself with the locals by sponsoring a 2008 Carnival Queen contestant. Again, who are these investors? Are they British or Arabs? Of concern too is the absence of any planned archaeological or historical investigations –even rescue archaeology, nor any proper environmental cataloging of the islands. It is to be noted that the developers want to use the experimental High Efficiency Pump (HEP) from inside the hillside of Battowia, as an additional source of electricity.

But there are larger development questions here. We must be concerned about a project that is worth more than twice the combined value of our Gross Domestic Product and our National Debt. When we combine the operations of projects in Mustique, Buccament, Mt. Wynne and Canouan, and the power and influence of such foreign developers, we must ask questions: Who runs this country? Who calls the shots in SVG? How much sovereignty do we really enjoy? Moreover, with so much money floating around these developers can make or break governments, and keep unruly ones in power almost indefinitely.

Globalization has brought us many benefits. However, signing on to international trading agreements has reduced our ability to protect our home markets. We are forced to open up to all and sundry, and our weak economy and general bargaining power, makes us vulnerable, uncompetitive, and puts at the mercy of more powerful countries. Reciprocity is critical if one accepts the new globalized international system, and big developers coming to SVG to maximize their profits. They are hardly concerned with uplifting the welfare of the ordinary people. Some of the real benefits of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) the administrative, technical, and technological transfers do not happen in every project, and this is certainly one such case. Moreover, it would hardly attract ‘old’ money as residents, but the nouveau riche and the drug lords, awash with plenty cash, will find an ideal opportunity to invest in a lovely villa in “Paradise Regained.’

There is a need for a firm policy on foreign investment in the Caribbean. What are Caricom and the OECS doing about the rampant sale of our lands to foreigners? It is time that the foreign investment regime for the region is revisited, and a moratorium instituted to stop the sale of Caribbean lands to multinational corporations. We are selling off too much of our patrimony, and politicians are putting too many roadblocks in the way of local and regional investors that would allow them to pool resources, and access funding from regional and international lending institutions to develop large projects in the region. We prefer to be re-colonized by our former colonial masters, thanks in part to the example of our Portuguese Prime Minister, the 'blackest' politician in the Nation, and a former ‘black power’ advocate. We need to stop the foolish jealousy among ourselves, especially when we see another local doing well. We are putting everything in place to allow the rich foreigner to become even wealthier.

The Project in Balliceaux as presented to the Planning Board is excessive and would challenge the ability of locals to control their living pace. It does not address fundamental issues pertinent to the islands such as the impact of the project on the fragile ecosystem, the fishing industry, protection of the physical environment, and the history and archaeology of the islands. The project will create a state within a state. Through its wealth and financial power it would wield a disastrous influence on the politics of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

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