Selling Our Souls
I suppose it’s easy to say man shall not live by bread alone when your belly is full. When hunger pangs strike, bread can be powerfully appealing, souls not so much. So I won’t beat my breast self-righteously and cry shame at the Jamaican politicians who are apparently selling the island’s soul to a shadowy Chinese organization.
But I will join the widespread lament that has greeted the news of .a secretive deal to build a massive seaport in the nation’s largest natural protected area. This is, indeed, a sorry chapter in Jamaica’s history.
Yes, Jamaicans need jobs. Yes, the Chinese investment will provide jobs – possibly as many as 10,000 jobs.
But think of the price!
Naturists and environmentalists are aghast at the planned sacrifice of Jamaica’s Goat Islands, in the heart of the Portland Bight Protected Area. They cite the protected species there and the ecological damage that must ensue.
More pragmatic minds question the wisdom of risking the island’s primary source of foreign currency – tourism – to win the $1.5 billion project. The island’s greatest asset is its natural beauty. Tourism is responsible for half of all foreign revenue and a quarter of all jobs.
The proposed project cannot fail to leave an ugly scar on Jamaica’s pretty face. According to an article by Richard Conniff in Takepart.com, it is expected to:
…involve clear-cutting the mangrove forests on both Goat Islands, building up a level work area using dredge spoils from the surrounding waters, and constructing a coal-fired power plant to support the new infrastructure. The port, including areas currently designated as marine sanctuaries, would accommodate “post-Panamax” size ships—up to 1,200 feet long and with a 50-foot draft—arriving via the newly expanded Panama Canal.
And the new jobs will come at the cost of old jobs. The area’s fishing industry provides a living for a lot of Jamaicans who cannot expect to fill the vast majority of jobs created by the port.
Critics also question the integrity of the Chinese organization involved, the China Harbour Engineering Company, which is part of a conglomerate blacklisted by the World Bank under its Fraud and Corruption Sanctioning Policy.
I have had personal experience with the abuse of international funds in Jamaica. In 1970, I was hired by the Jamaica Telephone Company to direct their PR and promotion activities. It wasn’t long before the horrible truth emerged. The president of our parent company, Continental Telephone, was killed by a car bomb and newspapers suggested the involvement of organized crime. As I remember it, within months, the company abandoned its contract to rebuild Jamaica’s telephone infrastructure, leaving a multimillion-dollar international loan exhausted and the island with only a few showcase projects.
Of course I quit that job as soon as I found out what was happening. And I don’t really know the whole story.
I also have no evidence of similar intentions by the Chinese port builders. But I would expect Jamaican authorities to be more wary of foreign developers by now.
And, however honest the Chinese investors may turn out to be, this looks like a poor bargain to me. I am signing a petition to Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, pleading with her to reconsider. If you share my misgivings, you might want to add your signature.