On September 1, 2014 I wrote a blog post entitled: “The Systematic Dismantling of Paradise: A Preliminary Checklist.” Well, here is an update. Six months later, the dismantling continues, unabated. If anything, it has accelerated.
Let’s start in Central America, shall we? In Nicaragua, the Hong Kong-based HKND Group (reportedly backed by the Chinese Government) is still working on its planned canal project. We should not underestimate the scale. In a January 20, 2015 article headlined “Land of Opportunity – and Fear – Along Route of Nicaragua’s Giant New Canal” the UK Guardian notes: “In an era of breathtaking, earth-changing engineering projects, this has been billed as the biggest of them all. Three times as long and almost twice as deep as its rival in Panama, Nicaragua’s channel will require the removal of more than 4.5bn cubic metres of earth – enough to bury the entire island of Manhattan up to the 21st floor of the Empire State Building. It will also swamp the economy, society and environment of one of Latin America’s poorest and most sparsely populated countries.”
President Daniel Ortega of Sandinista fame, once the champion of the Nicaraguan people, is willing to ignore the protests of local people who have lived in the area for generations. They will simply have to leave and make way for development, while the Nicaraguan Government promises “jobs, jobs, jobs.” Meanwhile, the HKND Group held a meeting a few weeks ago with the Ramsar Convention (an increasingly endangered piece of paper, it seems to me, in this part of the world) to protect the San Miguelito wetland, which the proposed canal will border; and Lake Nicaragua, the country’s largest source of fresh water.
Let’s move on to Costa Rica, a country with a population close to Jamaica’s and with a thriving eco-tourism industry that generates billions annually. The Tico Times (an excellent online publication) reported recently that the state-owned China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) will expand the 105-kilometer highway (Route 32) linking the country’s Pacific and Caribbean coasts, from two lanes to four, courtesy of a loan to the government from the Export Import Bank of China. Ground has been broken for a major container terminal at Limón, to be built by a Dutch firm. Despite initial doubts, Costa Rican lawmakers “overwhelmingly” voted for the project to go ahead last month. The contract stipulates that the project must employ only Chinese workers (Costa Rica has a ten per cent unemployment rate). The Costa Rican Government will bear the cost of compensating local landowners for expropriated lands. Was the new political administration unable to renegotiate some clauses in the agreement? Oh, and any disputes “will be settled in Chinese tribunals.” I beg your pardon?
And now, back to Jamaica. Where shall we start? Well, we have learned that CHEC plans to build three hotels on the 1,200 acres of land it will receive from the Government after it completes the construction of the north-south link of Highway 2000 (which seems to be mostly unused). Other commercial and residential developments are planned, says Minister Omar Davies, who seems to be the CHEC spokesman nowadays. The land includes the beautiful Roaring River property and is a major watershed on the north coast, close to Dunn’s River Falls. The Jamaican Government agreed to give the Chinese Government this land as part payment for the Highway, which by the way belongs to the Chinese for the next half-century. There are concerns that major developments in the area would seriously affect the quality and amount of fresh water available in St. Ann.
Now – irony of ironies – Minister of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change Robert Pickersgill made a speech about deforestation, which is happening at an alarming rate due to agriculture (slash/burn) and development. “The loss of our swamp forest poses serious risks to our tourism industry, as well as the success of disaster-management strategies, and destroys the habitat of our essential wetland species,” said Minister Pickersgill. Conservator of Forests Marilyn Headley expressed particular concern at the loss of dry limestone forest, especially in coastal areas. Where does this remind you of?
Oh! This sounds just like the endangered Goat Islands, situated in the Portland Bight Protected Area (which includes Jamaica’s largest area of mangrove/swamp forest and extensive dry limestone forest habitat). Well, the aforementioned Jamaican Government spokesman for CHEC tells us the firm is still conducting research connected to a possible Environmental Impact Assessment for a proposed mega-port. We just get tiny snippets of information every now and then, you understand. According to Minister Davies, the cost of energy is a crucial factor for CHEC as they consider whether to destroy (sorry, “develop”) Goat Islands and surrounding areas. Coal-powered plant on the horizon?
And here is another irony: CHEC also destroyed mangroves (a Ramsar site, by the way) and excavated huge river boulders to build up the Palisadoes strip road connecting Kingston to the Norman Manley International Airport three years ago. At the time, I understood CHEC had committed to replanting mangroves. This never happened. Now “Phase 2” of the project will involved dredging up and and rebuilding sand dunes on the Caribbean sea side and replanting mangroves on the harbor side. No timeline has been set for this and the cost will be J$500 million, to the Government. It won’t happen any time soon, is my guess. Meanwhile, we are 2 1/2 months away from hurricane season…
Many of these depradations pay lip service to “environmental protection.” The developers solemnly promise us that they are environmentally conscious. They completely destroy one area’s ecological heritage, and then say they will “restore” the environment, or do something wonderful somewhere else. Thus, the HKND Group declares on its website that it “intends to develop in Nicaragua several eco-tourism zones that embody the harmony between man and nature, modernity and antiquity. During the development process, HKND Group will attach great importance to and preserve local eco-environment and historical heritage, in a bid to promote the tourism, service industry, forestry, fishing and eco-environment along the Canal. Such eco-tourism zones will be a source of attraction for visitors around the world to appreciate the splendid Indian history and to enjoy the inviting views of the Caribbean Sea and Nicaragua.” How lovely.
By contrast, the firm’s website has a photo of a huge container ship with the caption: “The century-old dream will come true.” Whose dream, I wonder?
Yes, centuries after the English, the Spanish, the French, the Dutch… The colonizers are on the move again! Coming to a village near you…