“They’ve left us to eat stones now:” The latest Vice News film on the impacts of bauxite mining in Jamaica

Last month, the U.S.-based Vice News posted a second video on the community response to bauxite mining in Jamaica. The Jamaica Environment Trust is reminding us to watch it; the YouTube link is here. The 20-minute report is a follow-up to their 2021 feature, which you can find here. As of May 2, the video has more than 200,000 views and over 1,000 comments.

Yes, we are talking about the community; people. The film also interviews the Maroon Chief of Accompany, Chief Currie – to some Jamaicans a controversial figure, and refers to the Maroons’ claims of sovereignty, as an indigenous people. Whatever you think about the Maroons, Chief Currie and the Cockpit Country residents are not the only Jamaicans affected by bauxite mining. There are many other examples – for example, those living near to the Rio Cobre, which has been polluted by another bauxite company – causing a major fish kill, more than once.

A screen shot – a resident of Gibraltar, St. Ann, looks down at the local school building, perched on the edge of a mining pit. from the Vice News film “The Fight Against A US Mining Company in Jamaica Continues” on YouTube.

The filmmaker interviewed Mining Minister Audley Shaw, who suggested that the mining is “in pockets.” Most of the land remains untouched, he said. He also said that he is not familiar with the mined areas (yet). He stressed that there is a government agency (NEPA) and that this proves that Government cares about the environment. Yes, but is that government agency working hard enough?

JET, in a press release dated May 2, notes the following:

The newly released film highlights the concerns of many residents who are going to be affected by mining under the recently permitted Special Mining Lease (SML) 173. Residents were pleading with the government to avoid mining due to the impacts on their health, livelihoods, and food supply.

After many years of advocacy and at least seven proposed boundaries, on March 17, 2022 the Prime Minister finally legally declared the Cockpit Country Protected Area (CCPA). The gazetted CCPA is 78,024 hectares, while the Cockpit Country Stakeholder Group (CCSG) boundary, widely accepted by most stakeholders as the correct boundary is 116,218 hectares. The newly declared CCPA is approximately 32% smaller and excludes important areas, including that covered by SML 173 and other areas under Special Exclusive Prospective License (SEPL) 541 and SEPL 643. Of particular concern to JET is the Rio Bueno watershed, which is within the boundary of SML 173 and may very likely be impacted.

In the film, the Minister of Transport and Mining, the Honourable Audley Shaw stated that mining only takes place in pockets, and not the entire area. In response, the CEO of JET Dr. Theresa Rodriguez-Moodie said: “Mining in valleys spread over 1,300 hectares also requires a network of haulage roads, which opens up access to formerly inaccessible places and leads to the well-documented degradation and fragmentation of forests, as well as loss of biological diversity. These “pockets” of land are also where farmers grow their crops.”

The Minister also stated that the Government of Jamaica will not lock down the bauxite-alumina industry but focus instead on the interests of the farmers and citizens. In response, Dr. Rodigriguez-Moodie said: “All Jamaicans, including those in rural communities, have a constitutional right to a health environment and bauxite mining and processing threatens that right. The bauxite-alumina industry is extractive and unsustainable and the Government of Jamaica should not support, invest in or encourage an industry whose social costs far outweigh the economic benefits.”

The CCPA does not include a buffer zone, and JET remains concerned that this means mining, quarrying or prospecting would be allowed right up to the boundary, with adverse implications for public health and biological diversity.

JET is hopeful that the Vice News documentary will continue to raise awareness of the costs of bauxite mining, including convincing the Government of Jamaica to prepare an urgent bauxite-alumina transition strategy for Jamaica.

In the film, environmental activist and writer Diana McCaulay refers to the relationship between people and the environment in which they live, which is always important – and complicated. One resident of Gibraltar, St. Ann, put it simply at a church meeting: “Because we are in this rural side, we are nobody to them [the bauxite company].” Surveying a mining pit behind her house, she refers to the food crops that used to be grown there, adding:

“They’ve left us to eat stones now.”

A screen shot – Cockpit Country from the Vice News film “The Fight Against A US Mining Company in Jamaica Continues” on YouTube.

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