31 December 2006

Laughing Water and the Uglificators

Common Sense
John Maxwell

Uglification is an ugly word, and uglificator is even uglier, which is why I just invented it, to describe those who would destroy the Cockpit Country for a couple of hundred million American dollars.

I am old enough to remember, as a very small boy, the exuberantly sparkling, splashing riotous incontinence of the acres of rushing water which was the Roaring River Falls. The falls are now simply a green hillside on the southern side of the road at Laughing Water which, of course, was named after the gloriously, uproariously gambolling, gurgling, roaring, slaphappy, carefree waters of the cataract.

It was a fabulous sight and a wonderful natural concert of sound. The only picture I have ever seen that captured the madcap mood of the falls was in a guidebook to Jamaica published by a Mr James B Stark in Boston in 1909. Unfortunately, I lent the book to somebody who never returned it. But the falls live in my memory.

Today, at the head of what used to be the cataract, you can still gather watercress, but I wouldn't do that now. E Coli pollution from unplanned human settlements make it a little too dangerous.

The Jamaica Public Service Company destroyed the Maggoty Falls to eke out another fractional increase in electricity generation, rather than put real money into building real power stations. That false sense of economy led also to the closing down of the Kingston tramway and six decades of public transport chaos in Kingston. It was all in the name of development.


In 1953 when I had a row with the editor of the Gleaner and walked out of my job at the grand old age of 19, my sympathetic stepfather, Winston Lynch, invited me to a site for which he was the responsible engineer. It was at a place called the White River Falls, and it was being damed by the JPSCo for another minuscule electricity generating plant. That day, I drove a bulldozer, courtesy of Mr Chung, the bulldozer driver, who told me it was simple. It seemed to me to take nerves of steel to control an enormous D-6 Caterpillar earthmover with the aid of four levers and two pedals. But it was great fun. It got the Gleaner completely out of my system and wiped the White River falls off the map.

We have been making bad development decisions in Jamaica for a very long time. Slavery and the plantation economy were among the worst, exterminating the Tainos, brutalising generations of Africans stolen from their nations, which in turn were destroyed by the trade. It all made money, after all, which is what development is supposed to do. So did driving the ex-slaves into the hills, destroying the forests and producing landslides and massive soil erosion and flooding, drying up the rivers and choking the coral reefs.

The Maroons - those left behind by the Spaniards and those recruited from the plantations - didn't think so. For nearly two centuries, they fought for their freedom, managing to extract from the British recognition as an independent autonomous community.

They signed a treaty with the British as between two sovereign entities bound by duties and responsibilities on both sides. The Maroons kept their side of the bargain, the British didn't. And when the Windward Maroons, blackmailed by the British, were forced to capture the remnants of the Bogle rebellion they earned themselves ill-deserved ignominy from later Jamaicans who regarded them as traitors, without understanding why they were forced to do what they were legally bound to do.

After paying that price in reputation and solidarity, their British 'guaranteed' autonomy was snatched from them by a Resident Magistrate in the 1950s who decided that Accompong was no longer autonomous.
In one sense, it doesn't matter, because the deeds of the Maroons cannot ever be wiped from history. One of their members, Bouckman, took the revolution to Haiti and is now one of their national heroes.
In Jamaica, we are planning to destroy the living heart of one of the most potent symbols of resistance to oppression that exists anywhere.


My father was elected in 1934 to represent Trelawny as the parish's Member of the Legislative Council (parliament). My father's irredeemable blackness stimulated his wife's family to refuse to acknowledge their sister and new brother-in-law for seven years.

I made my first entrance onto the public stage when my mother took me as a nursing infant into the Falmouth Court room where powerful forces were determined to deny my father his against-the-odds election victory. In the election, he had beaten the man who had been MLC for 25 years and Custos of Trelawny for 15.

The Hon Guy Ewen was the leading lawyer in the parish and its most potent financier as head of the Trelawny Building Society. He was the attorney or owner of estates comprising one sixth of the arable land in the parish and chairman of the Parochial Board whenever he found the time. And Trelawny was, in those days, the political equivalent of Southern Rhodesia, not quite an apartheid society, but close.

My father lost the case but Mr Ewen, who won, collapsed and died shortly after. My grandmother - a Maroon was widely credited with 'obeahing' the sadly deceased plutocrat.

My father could not pay the legal fees and, though he won the bye-election after Ewen died, he was in danger of debtor's jail if the bailiffs found him before he was sworn in as MLC at Headquarters House.

My father disappeared into the Land of Look Behind after the bailiffs had seized all his furniture, including my baby crib. In this refuge from oppression, there are place names like "Me No Sen, You No Come" and "Waitabit". My father didn't emerge until the day of the opening of the Legislative Council when his friend, Arthur Benjamin Lowe, MLC for St James, picked him up at a secret rendezvous and transported him to Kingston, the last part of the journey covered by a carpet in the back of Lowe's car.

When Lowe arrived at Duke Street the bailiffs were waiting. Mr Lowe, a Baptist lay preacher was obviously a man of truth, so he was to be believed when he told the querulous bailiffs that he had last seen Maxwell near the Beeston Street (back entrance) to Headquarters House.

They dashed off to Beeston Street and my father, freed of carpet, was soon sprinting up the steps of Headquarters House, hotly pursued by bailiffs. It was as they said of another occasion, 'a damned close-run thing'!
I tell this story to partly explain what may be regarded as my intense, 'almost hysterical' attachment to the Cockpit Country - the Land of Look Behind.


The Hon Dr Carlton Davis, head of the Bauxite Institute for more than 30 years and head of the Cabinet office for almost 20, has, almost proprietorially, asked the environmentalists, to define the Cockpit Country so that he can know what it is they are making such a fuss about.

Without in the least casting any aspersions on Dr Davis, it seems to me indecent that those who intend to despoil a national treasure should be demanding that its defenders should define its boundaries and justify their case.

It is the developers who want to refine bauxite and generate millions of tons of red mud waste that will seriously endanger the Jamaican water supply and it is they who should be defending their predatory position.
The developers, not the environmentalists are the people who want to destroy the priceless biological treasure house of the Cockpit Country by excavation, by caustic atmospheric pollution, by deforestation and other destructive practices.

The developers, not the environmentalists, are the people who want to desecrate the historical and paleoontological treasures of the Cockpit Country.

The developers, not the environmentalists are the people who want to destroy the heritage of the world's first successful guerrilla war against a vastly superior and technologically advanced oppressor;
In any sane and rational democracy, it is the proponents of any violently destructive undertaking such as that proposed by the Jamaica Bauxite Institute, Jamalco, Alcoa and their various transnational partners who would be compelled to present their case to the owners with all the relevant facts;

In any sane and rational democracy, it is the developers who would be required to submit themselves for rigorous examination by qualified experts and by the public so that all decisions could be made in the public interest.
In no sane and rational democracy which has signed on to the principles of the Treaty of Rio - Agenda 21 - would people contemplating biological mayhem be allowed to demand that those who oppose dismemberment and destruction be asked to justify their position.

In the topsy-turvy world of Jamaica, where rape victims are transformed by the courts into defendants, such lunacy is made to seem reasonable. In Jamaica the polluter does not pay for his pollution, the people who are damaged are made to pay. The Precautionary Principle, honoured in most civilised countries is in Jamaica regarded as some esoteric theoretical nonsense imported by 'almost hysterical' pressure groups to stop so-called development.

The developers are in for a shock. They are going to discover that there are millions of Jamaicans who are not stupid, ignorant yokels, not modern day Esaus, ready, willing and eager to trade their birthright for a mess of pottage, to exchange their patrimony for the baubles, bangles and beads produced in Pittsburgh, Geneva or Moscow.


But since they ask, let us consider the boundaries of the Cockpit Country.

If you are talking about history and resistance to oppression, the boundaries are wide and go from Kettering (Duncans) in the north almost to Nain in St Elizabeth; and from beyond Maroon Town in the west almost to Bamboo in the east.

For me, the boundaries would include all the caves from Rio Bueno to Auchtembeddie and points west, to the Queen of Spain's Valley and sites where the Taino lived before Columbus' 'doom-burdened caravels' careened so disastrously into their lives at Rio Bueno. So, if you are talking about archaeology and paleoontology, we need to define different boundaries.

If we are talking about geomorphology, we speak of an even larger area, and it is an area vital to the water supplies of most of western Jamaica. It supplies the water for the nation's largest river, the Black River as well as Dornoch (Rio Bueno), Martha Brae, the Great River in St James and others. Again it would include the Queen of Spain's Valley.

If we are talking about ecology, specifically biodiversity, we are talking about a more diffuse definition but which would probably include most of the karstic landscape of Southern Trelawny, parts of St Ann, St James and St Elizabeth. This Cockpit Country is unique in the world, a largely unexplored treasury of plant and animal life with priceless discoveries almost certainly hidden in its hills, valleys, sinkholes, caves and wild places.

If we are talking about the environment, the value of the Land of Look Behind as a spiritual refuge and a wilderness and a resort away from the world, we are speaking of an almost existential dimension.

As we look back at our unsustainable development achievements, at Roaring River, at White River, at Roselle in St Thomas, at Maggoty, Negril, Long Mountain, Pear Tree Bottom and Kingston Harbour and our near catastrophe at Hope Gardens, we can begin to understand what unsustainable development really means.

We have bureaucrats who have no compunction in disregarding public rights including prescriptive rights, in order to build the moral equivalent of freezones for processing tourists, with concrete beaches underlying illegally mined sand. Who in his right mind acres about reefs and mangroves and the habitats of loons? Who cares about public participation in development planning? Who cares about real democracy?


In her campaign for election as president of the People's National Party, Mrs Portia Simpson Miller promised to work for unity and community development by increasing the participation of people in real development planning.

If local people had been consulted about Kennedy Grove, for example, houses would never have been built in a former lake-bed subject to flooding and liable to pollute with sewerage the major aquifer in Clarendon.

If the prime minister wishes to have a second term it seems to me that she needs to get back to her own agenda, as explicated earlier this year, and put a stop to the runaway lunacies of the heavy metal developers.

Perhaps, after the "Developers" have prostituted and devastated the Land of Look Behind, they will tell you, quite correctly, and with perfectly straight faces, that the Cockpit Country then has the potential to be the skateboard capital of the WORLD!!!!

THINK !!! We just don't have the imagination to see what good some old-fashioned constructive uglification can bring. We need to wake up and smell the caustic soda!!!


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