The Human Zoo

 


John Maxwell

 

There is an ancient joke about an American tourist being shepherded round Europe on a package tour, collecting places without ever experiencing them. One morning his wife asked him: “Where are we? His bemused answer:  ‘If this is Tuesday this must be Paris.’

The cruise ship business is even more soulless than the land based package tour. Cruise ships are floating amusement parks designed to delude you into believing that you are taking part  in  a mind expanding experience – travelling to foreign countries to partake of the local culture. In fact the stops in the various islands of convenience are basically to buy cheap water and to allow the crew a day to clean the ship and make it ready for the next day of cruising and boozing and goofing off at great expense.

 

Ginnigogs Rule

Aeons ago, shortly after returning from my exile in the UK, I attended a press conference called by the entity called the Urban Development Corporation and featuring the UDC’s Chairman  Moses Matalon and the Minister under whose portfolio the UDC then fell -Mining and Natural Resources. The Minister was Allan Isaacs and I will never forget his astonishment and then rage when in answer to one of my questions, Mr  Matalon admitted that the UDC, then five years old, had never published an annual report, as it was supposedly bound to do.

The Minister publicly exacted an undertaking from Mr Matalon to publish annual reports covering the UDC’s first five years.

And that may have been the reason that Mr Matalon later described me as an over-educated Rasta – wrong on both counts. His five annual reports were combined in one short lavishly illustrated brochure, in which it was revealed that the Universal Devastation Conglomerate had incurred a significant proportion of Jamaica’s public debt, without the authorisation of parliament. The UDC had simply issued IOUs to American banks, to finance its destruction of downtown Kingston preliminary to reconstructing the city as a modern Miami in the Caribbean. We are still waiting, 35 years later, for the reconstruction. What astonished me then was the fact that Mr Matalon, on his own, could mortgage Jamaica to American banks without the knowledge of Parliament. It did not appear that his former Minister, the famously oversightful Edward Seaga, either knew or cared what was happening.

This week, in a statement to the Gleaner, the head of the Port Authority sounded as if he had inherited Matalon’s powers. According to the Financial Gleaner of November 21:

‘The US$102 million that Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines Limited (RCCL) is fronting on the Falmouth cruise pier project will not give the American company an equity stake in the port, the Port Authority of Jamaica has said.

‘The funds representing 45.5 per cent of the total project cost of US$224 million is, according to PAJ president and chairman Noel Hylton, a loan to be repaid on a negotiated schedule.’

Repayment

“The matter of repayment is well under consideration; it is expected to take place over an extended period.

The Prime Minister, Mr Golding is clearly au fait with this arrangement. On November 10 the press published a release from the PM’s office to the effect that three days earlier, Mr Golding ” was met by Adam Goldstein, CEO of Royal Caribbean International (RCI) in Kingston, ahead of signing a US$224 M contract to develop the Falmouth Pier to accommodate the world’s largest cruise ship in May 2010. Under the contract, the government will invest US$122M to dredge the harbour and construct the pier. RCI will develop the land-based facilities, including shops and attractions.

 According to Mr Hylton, however, there is no joint venture. The Jamaican taxpayer will foot every penny of this extravagant and in my view, mad scheme. The PM’s release hinted otherwise:

‘Under the contract, US$122M will be utilised for harbour dredging and to build the facilities for ships to dock. The other US$102M will be used by RCCL to lease land from the Government, for the construction of all infrastructural development. The facility is due to receive the largest ship in the world come May 2010.’

 

Crazier and crazier

The world is now in the toils of the worst economic crisis in history. Even on CNN, the journalist-millionaire anchors are publicly worrying about their 401(k) nest eggs, rotting away with the stock market. All over the world credit is acutely short. Jamaica owing 137% of its GDP to usurers of various stripes has had its sovereign bonds downgraded to little more than junk. The only source of funds is going to be the IMF, and they will compel us to fire more people and strip our cupboard even barer than it is already. The world’s tourism industries are bawling about the crunch coming from the contraction in disposable incomes. And yet, with our Jamaican hotels on the bones of their balance sheets, we are going to borrow money to destroy the integrity of Jamaica’s loveliest town,, dilapidated though it may be now, in the interest of a foreign corporation. We are prostituting ourselves for a foreign entity with no obligation or loyalty to Jamaica.

It is instructive to learn how the decision was made.

The Custos of Trelawny, speaking at what was alleged to have been a consultation about an Environmental Impact Assessment of the proposed cruise shipping port, said, inter alia “Now, the Port Authority has taken upon itself to make this bold move, and that is to reincarnate as it were, not only the ports of Falmouth but the attendance and glory and historical heritage of the town of Falmouth”

Mr Hylton explained why he was doing all that he was doing for Falmouth. Having developed the ports of Kingston, Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and Port Antonio it was Falmouth’s turn to be blessed by the attentions of the Authority.

 Mr Hylton explained what provoked him to build the new port:

“There is a new ship that is being built, which is called ‘The Genesis of the Sea’, and this ship is capable of taking ten thousand (10, 000) passengers and crew, and we would like to host that ship in Jamaica.”

That is clearly good and sufficient reason to undertake a quarter of a billion US dollar debt. It will allow a foreign corporation to show off the largest and most vulgar expression of  capitalist excess in existence.

The process of site selection, was as one would expect, painstaking and thorough, although Mr Hylton did provoke laughter at one point:

“So, one Sunday morning I drove along the North coast and on arriving in Falmouth I went over the wharf area – actually I had to jump the wall.”

[LAUGHTER]

“And I looked at the place and I thought this is such a beautiful place that we should develop [it] Looking at the historical charm of the place and so on, I thought here it is.”

From the horse’s mouth, as it were, you get confirmation of something I have been saying for years. Nothing so satisfies our developers as the prospect of obliterating natural beauty and charm with concrete and asphalt.

“So, we invited one of the major shipping lines down and we walked this whole town on foot. We walked the whole town, and we thought that there was sufficient materials here to reconstruct the waterfront of this city to bring it back to its original glory. [APPLAUSE] And that morning when the shipping line and myself walked this place, we sat down and we said, let’s do it.”

And that was how the decision to brutify Falmouth was taken, with care, deliberation and extensive research.

After more careful deliberation the Port Authority decided to hire a firm to redesign Falmouth

The artist selected for this job was, surprisingly and purely coincidentally no doubt, a firm called Idea Inc. which Mr Hylton described as “an International Design and Entertainment Company. It has developed story lines and thematic approaches for destinations all over the world, and is currently developing port projects in four other Caribbean Islands and Mexico, also a consultant to the world’s two major cruise lines, Royal Caribbean and the Carnival Cruise Lines. Its president is with us today, Mr. Hugh Darley, he is the Projects Vision Planner. He is a past Walt Disney Imagineer and has experience in developing projects in over 70 countries. He has developed concepts for the Walt Disney Company, Universal Studios and Paramount.”

 Mr Darley, being a man of great imagination will no doubt bring an entirely new vision to Falmouth, unsullied by his past affiliations and visions. We are going to pay him to mess up Jamaica to the specifications of a foreign corporation

Although the new cruise liners will dominate the landscape and obliterate the view of  Falmouth from the sea, Mr Darley promises to make it so that the two cruise ships with their fifteen or twenty thousand passengers do not ‘overpower’ the seven and a half thousand who live in Falmouth.

As he described it, whatever is architecturally valuable in Falmouth will be incorporated into the new development which will become in effect, a gated community stretching the entire waterfront of Falmouth. There will be a facility to allow nearly two hundred large buses and an unknown number of taxis, to transport the fifteen thousand or so guests to approved attractions, and after their labours, return them to a segregated Market Square and a Merchant Square where nearly half a million square feet of shopping mall will be built and which will incorporate the historic Falmouth Courthouse as a museum including a ‘Rum Bar’

 

Chaos to be built-in

“The idea is that the courthouse could be a living museum; it would be restored and developed to represent what was originally there” according to Mr Darley. This fidelity to history will probably include people playing the parts of the slaves who were originally there. I am not being malicious. In several of the North American examples of historic recreations, blacks are hired to play the parts of slaves to make the experience as true to history as possible. Maybe the one thousand jobs promised for Jamaicans as part of the development will include these, or perhaps they will be part of the fruit and vegetable stalls and the fish stalls and curio stalls which will be among Mr Darley’s ” opportunities for locals to participate in sales within the development through these types of chaos opportunities  all along the waterfront.”[sic]

Wendy Lee, the tireless engine of the Northern Jamaica Conservation Association, was, as usual, a voice crying in the wilderness. “”If this is the complete EIA, it means the terms of reference have not been met because there is no adequate archaeological assessment of the town which is the heritage gem of the north coast,”

She, and many others deplore the extensive, mindless destruction of the phosphorescent lagoon, the wetlands and the other characteristics that make Falmouth uniquely Falmouth.

Trelawny’s famous black crabs will get even shorter shrift than the human inhabitants of Jamaica and Falmouth.

Jamaica is a small country and every development affects all of us. Developers get away with EIAs that treat the immediate neighbours of any development as the ‘interested public’ – as in the Doomsday Highway, where the EIA was debated in a small restaurant in Spanish Town. Projects which should be discussed in Parliament are explained to small audiences in hurriedly arranged meetings in obscure places.

The fallout from these brazen assaults on the Jamaican physical – natural and built – environment is not important; twenty vigorous claqueurs in some church  hall are thought adequate to give Jamaica’s assent to some of the most monumentally destructive and environmentally unsustainable enterprises on earth.

Pretty soon, our people will find themselves cut off from their ocean, with their biodiversity destroyed, their natural heritage and culture debased and their national patrimony owned by others. We won’t be able to swim in our beaches, see our coastline, or explore the intellectually stimulating casinos which will provide the prism and prison bars through which we can view twenty-first century reality where courthouses become museums and justice becomes a rum bar joke.

Copyright ©2008 John Maxwell

jankunnu@gmail.com

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