This blog has been rather preoccupied with COVID-19, and I am sure there will be more news to come. Nevertheless, much is happening (or has been happening) before, during (and hopefully after) the virus, so I am trying to catch up a little.
I recently received this press release from the Saint Lucia National Trust. It reflects the dilemma that many of our islands, whether large or small (and Saint Lucia is quite small) are now facing – over and over again.
Are we going to continue to irreversibly damage and destroy our forests and coastlines, bird habitats and breeding grounds, sanctuaries for our wildlife, beaches for local people to enjoy…and all that makes our Caribbean so beautiful…in the name of the God of Tourism? Are we going to do this until there is no land left that has not already been taken away from the people of our islands, forever? Because land is, after all, finite – and so are our natural resources, so easily exploited by and sacrificed to large, mostly overseas-based tourism interests. One day, it will be gone. That is what sustainability is about.
This sad story is also about our precious, irreplaceable cultural heritage. I wrote about this in the Jamaican context for Global Voices here, last year.
In this case in Saint Lucia (whose Prime Minister is very much involved in the tourism business) both the cultural and natural heritage are threatened. There is also a special report done by Choice TV that provides more details into the development and the locals’ concerns: https://www.facebook.com/choicemedianetwork/videos/539804663316306/
“Bulldozers are there already…”
(I feel I have heard this phrase before, in other places).
March 10, 2020:
Cabot Saint Lucia Development
Joint Press Release by the Saint Lucia National Trust, the Archaeological and Historical Society and the “Lavoutte Links” concerned citizens group
The parties in this press release stand together in support of genuine sustainable development for the benefit of the people of Saint Lucia. Over the past seven months, we have sought individually and collectively to engage in productive negotiations with both the developers of the Cabot Saint Lucia (Canadian-based) project and the various public agencies responsible for observing due process to ensure the safeguarding of citizens’ rights and cultural heritage of Saint Lucians. All of our efforts to date have been frustrated and we are left with no option but to speak out publicly, as we witness the ongoing massive clearance of large tracts of land without the necessary preparations, jeopardizing important archaeological and natural heritage within the Cabot Saint Lucia site and the adjoining Queen’s Chain.
Since learning of this development in mid-2019 we have, singly and collectively, sought dialogue to state our concerns and explore options to address them. Initial meetings were held separately between our organisations and the developer during which we presented our concerns frankly and openly. At these meetings, the developer spoke to their observance of international best practise in their approach to development across the globe and made several promises to continue dialogue in an effort to find ways to address our concerns. The developer has so far not lived up to these promises and our efforts to re-engage have been ignored. Similarly, our efforts to obtain information from the Development Control Authority (DCA) on what has been approved, and on any conditions imposed by the DCA to ensure sustainable development have met with no meaningful response.
In the meantime, many acres of land haenvironmental ve been cleared and, as we had advised was likely to happen, the developer’s bulldozers have uncovered artifacts. Invest Saint Lucia recently reached out to us for advice on how to deal with these artifacts, but they also seem unable to convene an urgent meeting amongst the developer, the DCA and ourselves, even as land clearing by the developer continues apace and in contravention of international Conventions and best practice.
Our concerns are many and are triggered by, and responsive to, the unwillingness of the developer and the authorities to engage in dialogue and undertake responsible development and development control practices. These include:
- The atypical manner in which this project has been approved, including our belief that the development was approved without submission of full development plans being required of the developer, and without imposition of development conditions as is the norm (our efforts to date to find out if there are any development conditions have been frustrated by the DCA).
- The fact that the developer did not conduct an environmental, social and archaeological impact assessment. This is unprecedented for a development of this scale and scope, and is in contravention of the Physical Planning and Development Act. The developer relied on an EIA completed in 2006 for a different project and it is our understanding that the DCA has accepted this in spite of the objections of referral agencies.
- We estimate that up to one hundred acres of land has already been cleared by the developer without any environmental safeguards or monitoring.
- The unique and sensitive biodiversity of the area including Cactus Valley which has significant populations of a wide variety of cacti, is under threat from the massive clearance activities already undertaken.
- The conceptual plans we have seen for this development show structures erected over the known Amerindian burial site within the property. Despite assurances from the developer that this area will be respected and that all stakeholders will be consulted in the decision as to how it should be dealt with, no further information has been forthcoming from the developer.
- The developer’s bulldozers are uncovering artifacts and there is no information on how these are being managed, or on precautions put in place to mitigate further loss or damage to others that may be discovered on the site.
- The proposed development appears to include the Queen’s Chain and does not provide for traditional public access to the coastline. Hundreds of Saint Lucians, residents and visitors use this area for recreation and micro-business and have done so for decades. There has been no consideration of the socio-economic costs of this loss of access to these users and future generations.
- The developers are promoting the development as having exclusive access to the beach which will deny the local population our rightful beach access.
Each of these is grave enough to be of concern to every citizen. The Cabot Saint Lucia developer is pursuing a plan that will prevent public access to beaches for recreation or fishing, contrary to national law and disturbingly, facilitated by the DCA and our decision makers. We must juxtapose this against the practice of hotels to discourage public access to other beaches across Saint Lucia, whether this is done aggressively or by subtle means.
However, the ongoing Cabot development is the first time that we have seen the explicit approval by national authorities of a development design that deliberately excludes and precludes public access. This infringement should be a worry for every Saint Lucian. If our public allows this, those who are appointed or elected to protect citizens’ rights may be emboldened to continue to deliberately violate these rights at the pleasure of prospective developers. Why do we accept the notion that a tourist must be given exclusive access to our heritage sites and public landscapes? Why do so many of us believe that we are not good enough to share in the enjoyment of public spaces with our visitors? Why do we not see ourselves as enhancing rather than diminishing the visitor experience through our interactions with them? Why do we persist in pursuing visitors who do not want to interact with us as part of their visitor experience?
We reiterate that we do not object to national development that is sustainable and provides opportunities to improve the quality of life and earning potential of our people, but we have serious concerns about the irregularities with this particular project’s development approval process and related conditions, the widespread land clearing which is proceeding without safeguards, the ongoing destruction of heritage assets and plans to prevent access to the Queen’s Chain and beaches.
Furthermore, we are very perturbed by the unwillingness of the developer and the DCA to respond to our many requests for dialogue to resolve the important issues we have raised. Our efforts to engage with the authorities and the Cabot Saint Lucia developer to ensure that this development is undertaken responsibly, sustainably, and is in a way that protects natural, social, cultural, archaeological and recreational assets that belong to the people of Saint Lucia, have been frustrated time and again. We have exhausted our options to get to the negotiation table.
As national entities we have a responsibility to represent national interests, but our voices are small. We cannot do it alone. These infractions should mobilise all Saint Lucians to action. Public support must rally, and call out developers and the authorities who implement or condone unsustainable development approaches that will result in irreparable harm to important national heritage, loss of access to beaches that is the right of every national of this country, and loss of our children’s future earning potential from public spaces. We call for development works to cease until a clear plan to develop this site responsibly is documented and reviewed by the referral agencies, and for the government to institute an oversight mechanism involving key stakeholders including the National Trust, the Archaeological and Historical Society, Invest Saint Lucia and DCA to ensure that the developer follows an acceptable development plan.
Today we embark on this campaign to raise public awareness of what is happening on the Cabot Saint Lucia development site, and what this means to us as a people. The inappropriate and unsustainable approach taken so far in this development means that important heritage of value to the people and country may have already been irretrievably lost.
We are a small country with limited resources that are an important part of what define us as uniquely Saint Lucian. We need to appreciate and conserve these wonderful and fragile attributes that underpin our ability to develop sustainably. Let us never forget that Saint Lucia does not exist simply for visitors to enjoy. She is ours to protect for the preservation of our Saint Lucian identity, and the enjoyment, recreation and livelihoods of our people for generations to come. She is ours to share in perpetuity with the visitors who come to our shores. If we do not take care of her, who will?