JET says there is no confusion over Cockpit Country

I sometimes wonder whether media commentators are a little tired of topics like the Cockpit Country, because they are not going away. I can almost see them doing the “eye roll” emoji as they sit down to pen a careless piece for the Sunday Gleaner, such as the article by Mr. Mark Wignall on November 14. Because he did not have the patience to do the required homework, Mr. Wignall contented himself with snide comments like “That, of course, will not satisfy activists (sic) groups like the Jamaica Environmental (sic) Trust (JET), which wants to have it both ways.” 

Mr. Wignall is very good at commenting on crime and violence on our island and likes to give us his personal insights on such matters. Even in this article he could not resist mentioning “an area that is a haunt of mine” that was “shot up”! Dear me! [Insert eye roll emoji here]. I think he was trying to make the point that the bauxite industry provides employment for rural youth. Perhaps he would do better sticking to what is his forte.

Here is the response in the Gleaner’s Letter of the Day from Jamaica Environment Trust. I hope Mr. Wignall had the time and patience to read it:

There is no Cockpit Country confusion

Mark Wignall, in his article in The Sunday Gleaner of November 14, writes critically of the Jamaica Environment Trust’s (JET) position on bauxite mining in the area left out of the Cockpit Country Area Proposed for Protection (CCAPP), tossing around accusations like “never compromising” and “tilting at windmills” without stating what JET’s position is or engaging with any of its arguments. For the record, here are JET’s positions:

• JET welcomed the declaration of the CCAPP in 2017, as it was a long overdue first step to the protection of the area known as Cockpit Country, while pointing out that important areas in the northeast and south had been left out.

• In the following four years, JET has continued its advocacy to include inside the CCAPP the northeastern region, which is now the subject of a proposed new mining lease, SML 173, on the following grounds:

– That the landforms in this area are cockpit karst;

– That the place names show they are part of Cockpit Country’s extraordinary history;

– That the area contains important historical, cultural and archaeological assets which will be put at risk by bauxite mining;

– That the area connects to the vast underground water resource of Cockpit Country that supplies 40 per cent of Jamaica’s fresh water needs, and that proposed bauxite mining in the watershed protection area of a major river, the Rio Bueno, presents a risk to that resource;

– That the projections for the impact of the climate crisis on Jamaica includes a significant reduction in the availability of fresh water;

– That although the bauxite industry is approximately 70 years old, no in depth attempt has ever been made to quantify its costs in comparison to its benefits, and that JET’s own research, presented in a substantial study called RED DIRT, released in 2020, demonstrates that the full costs of bauxite mining far outweigh the benefits;

– That over the life of this industry, there has only been one serious health impact study commissioned by the GOJ, and the harm that continues to be done to the health and quality of life of those who live in proximity to mining and processing remains ignored;

A bauxite pit in Caledonia, St. Ann. (Photo: JET)

– That many (but not all) of the people who live in the rural communities of Stewart Town, Madras, Gibraltar, Endeavour and others, some already being affected by bauxite mining under earlier permits and leases, value their rural livelihoods and do not want bauxite mining. Others accept the paltry sums offered by the industry for the sacrifice of their personal health, celebrate minor contributions such as the painting of a school or the construction of a playing field on mined areas. Still, others feel powerless and state they have given up the fight and will take what they can get from the bauxite companies. Others have chosen to either leave the area or simply migrate from Jamaica.

Additionally, though the CCAPP was declared in 2017, it has still not been designated a protected area. Therefore, it is still not protected under law.

At no point has JET been against economic development or progress. We have, however, been advocating that economic development must not come at any cost, to either the environment or to human health.

We would greatly appreciate thoughtful engagement with these arguments without the type of innuendo and mudslinging contained in Mr Wignall’s column.

THERESA RODRIGUEZ-MOODIE

CEO, Jamaica Environment Trust

Dr. Theresa Rodriguez-Moodie, CEO of Jamaica Environment Trust, appointed on July 1, 2021. (Photo: JET)

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