28 May 2006

The Selling of Jamaica

Common Sense
John Maxwell

The Spanish are becoming extremely protective about the integrity of their coastline. After 40 years of breakneck tourism development, the Spaniards have looked at their 8,000 km of sea coast and they don't like what they see.

Spain is the world's second most popular tourist destination after the United States, annually attracting 10 million more tourists than the 40 million people of the country. Tourism, as in Jamaica, produces about 10 per cent of GDP, but in Spain most of the money remains in the country, unlike Jamaica where much of it leaks back out to the United States for supplies and to Cayman and other such havens for numbered bank accounts.

Cheap air fares were the stimulus for the Spanish hotel boom, and the result is a wall of concrete cutting off the Spaniards from their coast. Forty years of uncontrolled building of tourist hotels have left Spaniards agonising about the beauty and amenity they have lost.

Isabel Soto, writing 17 years ago in the New York Times, complained that "the idyllic Spanish Mediterranean coast [has been transformed] into an often nightmarish urban wall of big, unattractive hotels and apartment blocks, often with scant attention to environmental basics like clean beaches".

Since then, it has simply got worse, to the point where the Spanish environmentalists are complaining that their coasts have been almost completely destroyed. Instead of rocky headlands, bird-filled marshes, long sweeps of beach and wilderness, the coast is now a wall of hotels and apartments, massive avalanches of concrete-occluding hillsides, fronted by beaches pullulating in bodies like a St Elizabeth rice field under attack by the fall army worm.

The European tourism market is increasingly a mass escape from anywhere to anywhere, with young people looking for surcease from the McDonaldisation of the workplace. What is important is sun, sex and booze, and some people will only be able to say where they spent their holidays by checking their credit card records.

But never mind, pouring concrete was the simplest make to coin money, in hotels and apartments which replicate the banal frenzy for kilometre after boozy kilometre. Nothing about the experience is Spanish - even the gigolos have been globalised.

It is no wonder that an increasing number of Spaniards want their country back, want to preserve some of what was there before the attack of unsustainable tourist mega-development. They have begun to organise to stop the triumph of concrete over common sense.

The same thing is beginning to happen at the other end of Europe. In Bulgaria's Black Sea coast, growing ever more popular as a destination of those in the know, the construction of hotels and apartments is proceeding apace, rather like Spain a decade-and-a-half ago.

Writing for the Environmental News Service, Tatyana Dimitrova says:
"...not all of the rapid development has been viable or well-planned. Lax state control and imperfect legislation have resulted in massive overbuilding on the Black Sea coast, and recently also in mountain ski resorts.

"While much effort has gone into the building of hotels, restaurants and other tourist buildings, little care has been taken of the urban infrastructure or the remaining green spaces.

"The gloomy precedent of Spain's Costa del Sol is increasingly spoken about as a warning of what can happen to a tourist industry if it is allowed to develop with no controls. Wholesale construction of densely packed high-rises all along the Costa del Sol in the 1960s and '70s resulted in a flight of better-off visitors to less "spoiled" resorts, leaving hoteliers in charge of empty buildings - a phenomenon known as 'dead zones'."
The point is, of course, that people, whether visitors or natives, are people first, and in travelling, they are most stimulated by meeting and interacting with people of other cultures. The Jamaican experience is what draws people to Jamaica, but most often they are short-changed and given an ersatz version of the Jamaican reality, complete with fire eaters and limbo dancers while Choucoune, aka 'Yellow Bird', has died a million deaths at the hands of mento bands.

There is another Jamaica, in fact several other Jamaicas, but the competitive pressure does not allow most of our resorts to give foreign visitors any taste of them any more than the visitors to Spain gain any insight into the rich cultures of that country.

The Spaniards are getting so tired of the misrepresentation of their country that a backlash has set in. In several places on the Spanish coasts, municipalities, pressured by the citizenry, are making more stringent regulations governing the number and size of hotels and pushing them back from the beach, which is being reclaimed for the public.

There is news to give Jamaican capitalists fits: the Spanish municipalities are condemning some of these hotels, some only half-built, and are demolishing them, blowing them up with dynamite and flattening them with bulldozers. They want their beaches, their environment and their culture back.

Pear Tree Bottom

In his judicial review of the Pear Tree Bottom debacle, Mr Justice Sykes made several unassailable points as to the almost absolute worthlessness of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). An EIA is a mechanism by which the society decides whether it wants to do some work that will have serious effects on the lives of its members.

The first function of an EIA is to advise on whether there are alternatives to the proposed development, and to evaluate those alternatives. In Jamaica, a developer contracts an EIA, which is submitted in support of the development. What is required instead, is an objective assessment of the costs and benefits, short-term and long-term, of any development and it should point out, as well as the benefits, the possible deleterious consequences of the development.

People are blaming the technical officers of NEPA/NRCA for what happened, but as a former chairman of the NRCA I know that with a body of dedicated professionals, you will get what you ask for, no matter how difficult it is to get.

It is the board of the organisation that must be faulted, because they have proved beyond doubt that they have no business being the arbiters of our environmental development. I doubt that most of them could tell you what the meaning was of sustainable development. As Judge Sykes pointed out, without a Marine Biological Assessment, the EIA was worthless.

But Jampro and the minister of development should get most of the blame. In pressuring the NEPA/NRCA to deliver a development at Pear Tree Bottom, they corrupted the entire process, whether out of ignorance or some other fault is not clear.

In development, as in any commercial transaction, the maxim 'caveat emptor' applies and it is a foolish developer who does not do his environmental due diligence. But the developer was samfied. As were the Jamaican people, all of whom are stakeholders in Pear Tree Bottom.

The Government is developing mega-disasters by stealth, pretending that only the closest neighbours have any cause for concern. I have enjoyed the water at Pear Tree Grove starting at the age of seven. Beyond that is a whole world of small wonders, on land and below the water.

The Government of Jamaica under P J Patterson disregarded its solemn obligations to the Jamaican environment, despite all the sonorous promises in its Manifesto. They deliberately avoided ratifying the SPAW protocol (for the protection of species and habitat) with the excuse that 'laws needed to be changed'.

It has taken 16 years to decide what laws needed to be changed. Meanwhile countries as disparate as the US and St Lucia have found no problem in ratifying the Protocol.

The real reason, in my view, is that the absence of SPAW appeared to give them a clear run at stealing beaches and destroying ecologically sensitive areas.

The notorious cases of the Doomsday Highway, the North Coast Highway, the Hope Gardens attempted rape and Long Mountain came to mind, but the vandals' eyes are even now on Hayes Savannah, Reach Falls, Winnifred Beach and Canoe Valley, a nature reserve designed and built by the NRCA during my tenure there.

Instead of a nature reserve where children can learn about manatees, the vandals intend to build another deep water port there, when there are already facilities nearby at Port Esquivel and Salt River that can serve equally well. But the vandals in and out of government, like Columbus' conquistadors, feel that any jewel of nature on which their eyes light is theirs. "I claim this land in the name of Globalisation and Development."

Many of our governors have never taken the time to find out about their country. I once wrote that many of our cultural assets which could be translated into riches, are blushing unseen by those who think that environment is a sissy concern.

Then they ask me how come I know so much about Jamaica. I am not rude enough yet to ask them how come they know so little. Hayes Savannah is a place most Jamaicans have never heard of, but it is an ecological jewel in danger of being devastated by the developments consequent on the Doomsday Highway.

Dr George Proctor, the world renowned botanist, describes Hayes Savannah as a world-class scientific treasure house - and he knows what he is talking about.

As I wrote in January 2003: "After rain, Harris Savannah is a botanical bonanza, full of species unknown until Proctor discovered them. Many are new to science. Apart from their intrinsic interest to botanists, some could be of profitable horticultural economic interest, others may contain substances which may lead to important medical or other scientific advances. Most of the world's standard medications are made from compounds first discovered in plants and other 'insignificant' forms of life."

In that column (Treasure in the Badlands) I referred to a column written nearly a year earlier in which I pointed out that the (then proposed) dredging in Kingston Harbour threatened to destroy the habitat of another insignificant but important species: "Ecteinascidia turbinata, one of a number of marine animals which manufacture proteins that are proving effective in fighting cancer and may yield substances which may be able to defeat other diseases. A big Spanish drug company, PharmaMar, has bought the rights to a new drug derived from one of the sea-squirt's proteins."

Hayes Savannah, like Pear Tree Bottom, is threatened by the same constellation of geniuses responsible for brutalising Kingston Harbour and Long Mountain. Pear Tree Bottom is another treasury of terrestrial and marine species, including one of the world's oldest, deepest and most complex coral reefs.

These are just three of the atrocities the Jamaican environment has been made to suffer recently. The Turtle Crawle reserve is next on the list. There are others, and most of them may be found in the Jamaican government Green Paper on proposed Protected Areas. I sometimes uncharitably believe that people like Jampro and the Ministry of Development use this Green Paper as a source book for their environmental outrages.

And they are assisted by a document on beach policy, prepared by an outside expert for the NRCA, which treats the Jamaican Beach Control Act as a hostile witness, providing principles to be destroyed in the hunt for the Golden Goose.

We have given a uniquely Jamaican twist to the Precautionary Principle. Whenever we find something that may be scientifically valuable, we take immediate steps to destroy it. Norman Manley, H D Tucker, Harold Cahusac, Jacob Taylor and others who worked so hard to protect our patrimony could not have had any idea that their work would be so denigrated, so quickly, by posterity.

There is a final consideration: Water. Part of the race to build enormous new hotels is fueled by the fact that people who play golf spend six times as much on their holidays as those who don't. Golf courses demand millions of gallons of water.

Patterson's government, in its wisdom, privatised the water supplies of Ocho Rios and Runaway Bay, guaranteeing the concessionaires millions far into the future. We need to take these assets back. We sow, they reap. That is unfair and unconscionable.

We are plagued by the most miserable slums in tourist areas, where there is no provision for workers' housing. The workers and other people in the area have no sanitary conveniences, and to add insult to injury, the Bahia Principé development has filled in the waterhole which once supplied the people of Pear Tree Bottom.

That, for me, encapsulates more than any other single thing, the brainlessness, cruelty, irresponsibility and social illiteracy of all those who defend the unsustainable development of Pear Tree Bottom and our other endangered treasures.

Portia Simpson Miller needs to get moving with her plans for community development planning. It is the only way the people of Jamaica will be able to identify and protect the legacies of their progenitors and the essential heritage of the human race.

21 May 2006

The Public Interest and the Environment

Common Sense
John Maxwell

We tend to treat our environment like most men treat their wives. She's there, so what? We assign no value to her work or, even, to her presence. She is expected to perform general, unspecified duties; to take care of the children, cooking and things, and most important, to clean up after us.

In Jamaica, for more than 80 years, Kingston has daily pumped up to 20 million gallons of its sewage into Kingston Harbour, untreated and full of pathogens. We've also dumped our solid waste into our harbour, motor car tyres, lead acid batteries and even entire vehicles.

The detritus of our productivity washes into the harbour, contaminating it with acids and caustics, with heavy metals like cadmium and mercury, with pesticides and herbicides like DDT, lindane and Agent Orange and a variety of noxious and toxic wastes that make most of the water in the harbour dangerous to our health and lethal to the life forms which once made the harbour one of the world's single most productive pieces of sea water.

The assumption was that the sea cleans up everything, like a wife. A little over 30 years ago, we in Jamaica began to discover that this was not so. The trigger was a doctoral study of Kingston Harbour done by Barry Wade for his tutor, Professor Ivan Goodbody, who had for years been vainly warning about the mess we were making of the harbour.

I happened to have been appointed chairman of the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) a year or two after Wade's study was published. As part of my own preparation for that job I ransacked the NRCA library for everything I could find that was current and important. When I read Wade's study I was astonished and horrified. Astonished and horrified that the conditions he described could exist and astonished and horrified that my colleagues in journalism had seen fit to completely ignore the report.

I brought the report to the attention of my board. NRCA was really four boards: the Beach Control Authority, the Watersheds Protection Commission, the Wildlife Protection Committee and the Kingston Harbour Water Quality Monitoring group set up a few years earlier at Goodbody's insistence.

When I presented the report to the Authority, they were as alarmed as I was. Within a week we had assembled a group of experts, including Wade and Goodbody, and within about three weeks we had produced an action plan for rescuing Kingston Harbour.

We were concerned that the people of Jamaica, and particularly Kingston, had been stealthily deprived of an abundant source of protein food as well as their most accessible recreational area. We wanted to fix it as quickly as possible. Our solutions were basically low-tech and not capital intensive.

The plan was to begin by cleaning up the gullies - former streams - which carried enormous quantities of waste into the harbour. We were going to reforest the mountains behind Kingston, to reduce soil erosion, which we estimated was costing us more than US$30 million annually in lost agricultural production (coffee and other crops which did not disturb the soil).

We would create a real solution to the problem of domestic and industrial waste, and we were going to build a passive sewage recycling system which would provide water for irrigation and restore the depleted and salt-infused aquifers of the Liguanea, St Catherine and Clarendon plains.

Two factors derailed our plans: the IMF restrictions on government spending and the inability of politicians to understand the huge returns from the plan.

We recognised that if Kingston Harbour's recreational potential were restored we would once again have public bathing beaches in the harbour, sport fishing and yachting. The clean-up would provide lots of jobs for unskilled people who could thereby be absorbed and trained into a more highly skilled workforce.

We would be relocating the hillside farmers who destroyed hundreds of acres of land every year, trying to get a patch of land on which to grow food. And, to cut a long story short, we would reinvigorate the public spirit of the people, mainly through a sort of parliament of the harbour's users and increase the environmental and spiritual value of this beautiful 21 sq mile lagoon turned cesspool.

We were stymied by the IMF strictures and political ignorance. On the day our plan was published, the IMF demanded and got the head of Finance Minister David Coore, who I knew would have understood the value of our plan.

Fast forward three decades. Two new plans have been developed for the resuscitation of Kingston Harbour, financed by external donors, secure in the knowledge that Jamaica has surrendered to the Washington consensus. Each of these plans has cost more to design than the entire cost, including the sewage ponds, of our plan.

Twenty years later, in its 1997 Manifesto, the PNP appealed to the people to re-elect the party because it would safeguard the "God-given" environment and would do everything to protect the Jamaican patrimony.

Three years after that Manifesto was launched, we caught the government in the act of trying to destroy Hope Botanical Gardens to give a developer the right to construct palazzos for the rich with the public gardens as their front yards.

While we managed to derail that piece of vandalism, we were unable to stop them doing something at least as bad and perhaps worse, handing over to that same developer one of the most precious pieces of property in the world to build a gated community which now creeps like a cancer over Long Mountain.

The world's bio-scientists and environmentalists have selected a few special areas round the world as biodiversity 'hot spots' - areas of immeasurable importance to the survival of humanity since they contain examples of some of the rarest and most endangered species of plants and animals.

The Greater Antilles, including Jamaica, is one such hot spot. Within Jamaica, Wareika Hill was one hot spot, valuable not only for the variety of its species, mainly of small life forms, but including one plant, Portlandia albiflora, found nowhere else in Jamaica and not anywhere else in the world.

In addition to its importance in biodiversity, Wareika Hill is the site of ancient Taino/Arawak settlements, which have never been examined by serious scientists. This suits some people, of course, because the less we know of pre-Colombian history, the better for us. The Patterson administration's environmental record, besmirched by Wareika, is even worse.

For several years the NRCA, transformed into the National Environmental and Planning Agency, has failed to protect the public interest.

It has allowed the Urban Development Corporation and the tourist industry to capture public beaches, it has gone ahead with major landscape destruction schemes like the Doomsday (Millennium) Highway and the North Coast Highway without allowing the people they are supposed to serve any real input into the decision making.

The "Strategic" EIA for the Doomsday Highway is a classic. As I pointed out in a previous column [Divine Right, Jan 2003] :
'The concept is so breathtakingly simple, so straightforward, so elegant, if you will, that I cannot imagine why nobody thought of it before:

"Birds located in the modified vegetative communities will relocate when their habitat is removed. Species along the proposed alignment such as reptiles are also highly mobile and should also relocate to adjacent similar habitats."

Of course. Why protect habitat when you can simply inform the birds, lizards, frogs and other highly mobile life-forms that they must "relocate".

"Govament waan de lan!" - that's all you have to tell them, and like gypsies, they will pick up their bags and baggage, pots, pans and household effects and decamp to less valuable real estate.

The government allowed a Belgian dredging company, at the behest of the Port Authority, to dredge up and relocate toxic wastes from the bottom of Kingston Harbour to a new landfill off Portmore, and the deleterious and possibly fatal effects of this new Minimata will probably not be evident for decades.

There are other high crimes, but the most egregious of all may be the fact that while the SPAW Protocol to the Cartagena Convention resides in a building at the bottom of Duke Street, Jamaica is the only significant country which has not ratified the protocol. David McTaggart, founder of Greenpeace International, told me that SPAW was the single most important legal instrument anywhere for the protection of biodiversity.

SPAW is a detailed treaty for the protection of sensitive and important species and habitats. This means that if SPAW had been ratified by Jamaica, the government would have found it almost impossible to plan and carry out its environmental depredations of the last few years.

Enthusiasm is great, but without a little moolah, it is difficult to stop a determined bureaucracy on its destructive path through the environment. Two Jamaican environmental NGOs and two individuals managed to scrape together enough money to drag the government before the High Court and to call a halt to the environmental rape of Pear Tree Bottom near Runaway Bay in St Ann.

Last week, High Court Judge Brian Sykes made several rulings which:
  • quashed the permit granted by the NRCA to Hotels Jamaica Pinero Ltd, (a Spanish group);
  • ordered the NRCA to reconsider its grant of the permit; and
  • declared that the NRCA had not followed its own rules in granting the permit.
The 'Development' lobby is up in arms. The judgment, they say, will hinder 'development' and scare off foreign investors. It has not occurred to them that in their native countries, most developers would not be able to even propose the kind of developments we routinely approve.

European authorities and courts have consistently ruled against granting permissions without public participation. In 1998, 35 countries and the European Union signed the Aarhus "Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decison-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters".

The convention is intended to provide an innovative model of multilateral policymaking and promises to create a new operating environment for public agencies and the corporate world.
"It promotes citizen involvement as a key to preventing environmental mismanagement.

"Its principles of transparency and public accountability are integral to the meaningful practice of democratic governance. The Convention furthermore takes the first steps in promoting environmental transparency and accountability norms beyond the nation state.

"It establishes common regional disclosure and participation standards as well as what could be called horizontal accountability by governments and corporations to NGOs and citizens 'irrespective of their citizenship, nationality or domicile'" (from a commentary by Elena Petkova and Peter Veit of the World Resources Institute.)

This in essence means that the Spaniards may as well accept the Jamaican judgment, because if they appeal, the NGOs can appeal to the European Commission, which will certainly enforce the Aarhus Convention and, perhaps, impose even stricter sanctions against the hoteliers.

The lesson to be learnt is that everything we do is eventually of global importance. We live in a world without borders, in which justice will not be restricted by jurisdictions, because whatever we do here either increases or decreases the global prospects for survival.

If we destroy wetlands and kill million-year-old reefs in Runaway Bay, we are damaging the heritage of mankind, not just the prospect of a few tourists. And the tourists are becoming more scrupulous about where they take their vacations, and if they know that their hostelry was built at the expense of the environment, many will find other places to stay.

Our captive dolphins, then, are an affront not only to scientists and environmentalists in Jamaica, they are an affront to the world. But in the Caribbean, we are preparing an even bigger insult to the world community.

"Timeo Danaos et donae ferentes" translated is "I fear of the Greeks, even when they bring gifts". In Virgil's Aenid, Laocoon, priest of Apollo, warns the Trojans not to accept the wooden horse 'donated' to them by the Greeks. He was blinded for his pains and the Wooden Horse in due time discharged its cargo of Greek soldiers who then proceed to rape and destroy the city which had withstood their siege for so long.

Our modern Greeks are the Japanese, who have presented many Caribbean islands with fishing equipment and other baubles. Five hundred years ago, the Manikongo, king of the Congo, complained bitterly to the King of Portugal - who he thought was his friend - asking him to stop the operations of the Portuguese traders whose bangles and beads were corrupting the weak and entrapping the unwary:

"The merchants are taking every day our natives, sons of the lands and the sons of noblemen and vassals and our relatives, because the thieves and men of bad conscience grab them wishing to have the things and wares of this Kingdom which they are so ambitious of; they grab them and get them to be sold; and so great is the corruption and licentiousness that our country is being completely depopulated, and You, Highness, should not agree with this nor accept it as in your service."

The Japanese aren't buying slaves; they are buying votes. They are buying votes to overturn the moratorium on whaling for profit. This question will come up next month at the International Whaling Commission's meeting in St Kitts.

There, the Japanese are expected to score a coup, with the votes of Antigua, St Kitts, Dominica, St Vincent & the Grenadines and St Lucia, together less than half-a-million people, the Japanese will turn back the rest of the world which wants to outlaw whaling altogether.

Monday is International Biodiversity Day. We in the Caribbean will be celebrating it with the best of them.

14 May 2006

The Politics of Love and the Politics of Spite

Common Sense
John Maxwell

People who did not know Portia Simpson Miller were stunned by her performance in the Budget Debate on Tuesday. Watching on television it was clear that among those who didn't really know her were some of her close colleagues as well as her parliamentary opponents, who, apart from a brief, ill-considered bout of heckling, appeared transfixed as the country's first woman Prime Minister outlined her plans for the first year. It is clear that she is a master of the House.

It was a remarkable performance, not least because she was operating under the policy overhang from the previous administration. When PJ Patterson retired, he left not only the budget but also a host of pending actions which would have been accepted 'whole hog' by any of the other contenders for the leadership of the PNP and the government.

That she has managed to put her stamp on some important initiatives in the short time available to her is perhaps the most significant sign of Portia Simpson resolve, her persuasiveness and her ability to get more work out of people than they thought themselves capable.

While the Prime Minister managed to make the budget do some of what she wanted it to do, clearly she has not had the time to rework it to deliver the concrete results of the vision she outlined in Parliament.

Portia spoke from her head and her heart, the first time I've heard a Jamaican PM do that since Michael Manley was in his 'ackee'. She made it clear that she has a fully formed vision of what she intends to do and the rationale behind it.

As she said, her position is not simply political but philosophical; it is a vision of Jamaica as it can be and a preliminary sketch of the roadmap to get there.

The well-being of any society depends on the well-being of all its people. The measure of a good society, therefore, is how it treats the poor, the aged, those with disabilities and our women and children.

She recognises that if we are to achieve a good society we need to remove the negative impacts of violence, corruption, natural disasters and other unplanned events. In other words, a good society can only be achieved by promoting a good environment, social, cultural, political and ecological.

As simple as this mix sounds, it is the first time I have heard a Jamaican politician attempt to connect them and to view them as a whole, requiring attention in a comprehensive campaign against disfranchisement, disempowerment, poverty, misery and squalor.

"We must remind ourselves that people are the ultimate end, and not means to the political and personal ambitions of others. If Portia manages to get this one concept across to her fellow Jamaicans, she will have changed the grammar of our politics.

Her vision begins as it should with the mundane: universal literacy, and rapidly moves toward a Jamaica of first-class human beings able to compete anywhere with anyone on at least equal terms. Her Jamaica which "fully allows the release of the potential of a powerful people".

Up front, she sees the main obstacle as disunity and she intends to break down the partisan and sectarian walls which constrain our progress: "It is time to break down those walls" to produce a community in which all will participate in the national decision making, in which citizens take responsibility for the management of their economic, health, educational, cultural and recreational needs supported and facilitated by the government.

She spoke boldly of the ultimate aim being the elimination of poverty and the elevation of the welfare of ordinary people to the centre of our concerns and development policy.

Those who are old enough will hear in these words, echoes of the original vision of the PNP as expressed by Norman Manley and his colleagues. Then, the vision was blasted by the shallow partisanship of those who preached that socialism meant the forcible seizure and distribution of real and personal property, and did not understand that it was really about the equitable distribution of power and rights.

We must acknowledge that how we manage presently leaves far too many of our people out of the process, disconnecting them from power, alienated from each other and the wider society.

Portia Simpson Miller has been Prime Minister since February 26, slightly more than six weeks. In that short time she has electrified the hopes of the poorest and most helpless Jamaicans and ignited in all classes of Jamaicans the idea that real change is not only possible but likely.

It is not going to be business as usual.

The Prime Minister needs to seize the time now to begin recruiting her army for change from all sectors of the society. The most powerful and the most wealthy have to understand that if this country is going to be worth inhabiting, fundamental changes are necessary.

It is probably too much to ask of many people that, for instance, they should be content with smaller returns from their bonds, that crime and violence flow out of usury and extortionate interest rates, that competitive consumption provokes envy, greed and criminal behaviour at all levels of the society.

Gates and burglar bars may protect you from burglars and housebreakers, but they cannot protect your bank account or guarantee the interests of your children.

I believe I know Portia Simpson Miller well enough to say that I believe that when she speaks of 'unity' she speaks not simply of an end to internecine partisan conflict, but of a society which recognises that its private interests and the public interest must be harmonised and that we all need to work together to achieve a good and just society. In Jamaica there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of well-off people who are already contributing to the welfare of the "less fortunate" but largely, their contribution is sporadic and limited.

To judge from some of the feedback I have got, there must be thousands of others who are waiting to be asked to make the kind of intelligent sacrifices which can help to rescue Jamaica from stagnation and strife and put the nation once more on course to maximising the safety and prosperity and happiness of all.

Michael Manley had the same opportunity in 1972, when an exhausted country, scared and at its wits' end, waited to be asked to make the sacrifices which might have put us firmly on track to the good society. He told me then that to ask Jamaicans to undergo programmed sacrifice, as I suggested, was unthinkable after the people had so overwhelmingly put their trust in the PNP.

I argued that what I heard from all levels was the wish to be asked to work for Jamaica, to sacrifice advantage for community peace and security, to volunteer to help in any way they could, teaching literacy classes, cleaning up garbage in communities, whatever.

The time is ripe for Portia to begin to organise her forces for the good society, to spell out in greater detail how she proposes to harvest the community knowledge, to discover what needs to be fixed, to organise community analysis, community discovery, community planning, community decision making and community self-government. The earlier she begins to ask for help in this process is the greater the response will be. Perhaps National Labour Day, just 10 days away, would be a good platform for that.

Speaking of Labour Day, I remember how successful that first working Labour Day turned out to be. I was one of those who organised a hugely successful drive to collect books for people in prison. I am thinking this year that I will ask a pastor friend of mine (there are such people) and my fellow journalists to organise the collection of school books for distribution to children in need.

Three decades ago Munn's Yellow Cab Company helped us by collecting the books and delivering them to our central collection point. Perhaps other people might volunteer to help in the collection this time. SUVs would be very useful although any vehicle would be welcome. Cell phones would simplify the logistics. If you have any ideas, email me or call me on Disclosure (Hot 102) next Wednesday.

Finally, the PM mentioned in her speech that the government will be developing Winnifred Beach and Reach Falls in Portland. I think she should be advised to look closely at the proposals for these inherited schemes.

Winnifred Beach at Fairy Hill is part of the former administration's programme to take away public beaches from the public and to chase away the people who make their living there. If our community tourism is to mean anything it must mean that our few public beaches must remain public.

While nobody can be more than 25 miles from the sea anywhere in Jamaica, Jamaicans are increasingly being walled off from their recreational heritage. Most have never been to a beach!

The Politics of Spite

As I forecast last week, Mr John Bolton, the US ambassador to the UN has come a cropper in his attempt to bully the Iranian government into giving up its nuclear power research programme.

Mr Bolton cannot be convinced that the Iranians are speaking the truth when they say that they are not interested in nuclear weaponry, just as he and others in the Bush administration could not be convinced that Iraq was speaking the truth before the disastrous decision to invade.

Fortunately, wiser counsel has prevailed and the question is to be returned to the International Atomic Energy Authority, where - as the Iranians contended - it belonged all along. The US press has refrained from pointing out the facts of the case, behaving instead like the Soviet press of a few decades back.

Mr Bolton's pratfall must be shielded from public view as must the sheer fatuity of the president who said last week that the Iranian president's letter to him was "missing the point . it looks like it did not answer the main question that the world is asking and that is, "When will you get rid of your nuclear programme?"

Of course, Mr Bush is probably blissfully unaware that a 'nukular' weapons programme is not the same as a nuclear power generation project. If the US decides that you have weapons of mass destruction then, ergo, you must have weapons of mass destruction.

The 'Civilised World' - the US, Britain, Israel and the international banking system have quietly decided that spite and malice are not sound bases for foreign policy.

This week, faced with the ignominious failure of what I call the 'Haitian Starvation Model' in Palestine, there has been a frantic reworking of the policy. As I reported last week, Mr James Wolfensohn, a Jew, resigned in disgust at the policy he had been asked to navigate in Palestine. He has become a hero to the Palestinians.

Wolfensohn's departure has precipitated a rethink, aided of course by reports from Palestine that the 'Haitian Model' was causing a humanitarian catastrophe. Israel's withholding Palestinian taxes and its barring of fuel supplies to Palestine was bringing the native Bantustans to the verge of chaos.

There was no fuel for ambulances and other essential vehicles, hospital supplies ran out; four patients apparently perished because their dialysis treatments had to be rationed. Cancer patients have had their chemotherapy treatments curtailed.

The Israeli NGO, Physicians for Human Rights - IPHR - warned on Tuesday that the Palestinian health services were near collapse. IPHR called for an end to the starvation policy; for Israel to stop preventing Palestinians from reaching hospitals in East Jerusalem and to stop curbing the activities of international organisations attempting to deliver humanitarian aid to the Palestine health ministry.

The World Bank has warned that the crisis in Palestine is worse than it had imagined and could render the West Bank and Gaza ungovernable. The US position is simple. It regards Hamas as a terrorist organisation and threatens to sanction banks which pass on money from other Arab nations to the Palestinian Authority.

A Washington Post survey of international press comment on the crisis finds that the US press is not carrying the same news as the rest of the world press. President Jimmy Carter said "Innocent Palestinians are being treated like animals" in a piece for the International Herald Tribune, not carried by its parent the New York Times.

The liberal Israeli daily, Ha'aretz reports some unexpected outcomes of the 'Haiti Model'. Danny Rubenstein, Haaretz' veteran West bank correspondent says "The Bush policy to starve Hamas financially is tacitly supported by unelected Arab regimes resisting Bush's calls for democratisation.

"In their view, the successful functioning of the Hamas government sends a message of encouragement to opposition groups in their countries, proof that an Islamic government can rule." Rubenstein doubts that the US-European aid cut-off will persuade Palestinians to abandon Hamas.

"It is clear to everyone now that whatever Fatah, Israel, the Arab states and the entire world do to undermine the Hamas government will not work," he writes. "The Palestinian public is loyal to it. So it is best to look for a way to live with it."

07 May 2006

Groucho Does Nureyev

Common Sense
John Maxwell

The United States is represented at the United Nations by a man named John Bolton, with a white, Groucho Marx moustache and a serious propensity both to embroider the truth and to invent new truths. Take this example, for instance: "While treaties may be politically or even morally binding, they are not legally obligatory. They are just not law as we apprehend the term."

Breathtaking - isn't it? Mr John Bolton was, at the time he said that, doing his damnedest to ensure that the United States did not join 150 other countries in signing the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. His efforts, and those of others, proved successful. The US Senate did not ratify the treaty.

Because of this sort of behaviour, Senator Brian Dorgan said two years ago that President Bush's nomination of Mr Bolton to be undersecretary for arms control was "a terrible nomination".
Senator Dorgan went further:
"To nominate Mr John Bolton to be undersecretary of state for arms control defies logic. Are we going to be a world leader in stopping the spread of nuclear weapons or not? Are we going to be a leader in trying to make this a safer world? Are we going to be a leader in trying to reduce the number of nuclear weapons that exist in this world?

The answer from the president, it seems to me, in sending this nomination to the Senate is no; we don't intend to lead on anything.

We intend to do our own thing notwithstanding what anybody else thinks about it, and notwithstanding the consequences with respect to the reduction of additional nuclear weapons and delivery systems."
Mr Bolton's specialty in the State Department was, according to American authorities on the subject, to block initiatives designed to lessen international tension. According to the Washington Post's Peter Baker and Dafna Linzer "...a key US programme intended to keep Russian nuclear fuel out of terrorist hands has been frozen by an arcane legal dispute. As undersecretary of state, John R Bolton was charged with fixing the problem, but critics complained he was the roadblock."

Baker and Linzer quoted Rose Gottemoeller, a Clinton administration expert on nonproliferation issues. "Throughout his career in the first Bush administration, he was always playing the stopper role for a lot of different issues and even when there was obvious interest by the president in moving things forward, Bolton often found ways of stopping things by tying the inter-agency process in knots."

Many people in the State Department were therefore pleased when Bolton was shifted by Condoleezza Rice and sent to be the resident firebug at the UN. It was a position he was well qualified for, having stated publicly that the UN building could well do without its top 40 floors. Senator Dorgan thought the US would live to rue Bolton's nomination:
"All I know about this nominee is what he has said, what he has established as a public record. It is, in my judgment, antithetical to what we ought to aspire to be and what we ought to aspire to see from someone in the position we expect to provide leadership on arms control.

In my judgment, if this Senate sees fit today to vote positively on this nomination, we will have taken a significant step backwards. We will have impeded the efforts of this country to be a world leader in areas that really matter."
When Condoleezza Rice moved Bolton to the UN, she also moved him out of the circles dealing with a number of arms control issues in which he had played his usual obstructionist role.

Baker and Linzer reported that "As the administration's point man confronting Iran's nuclear programme, Bolton had blocked US support for a European bid to negotiate a settlement with Tehran, arguing that such talks would legitimise Iran's clerical regime without stopping any secret weapons development.

"But Bolton was shut out of Iran after Rice's ascension, according to two US officials, and his policy was reversed. In early January, officials from France, Britain and Germany flew secretly to Washington for a brainstorming session on Iran. Bolton was not invited, European diplomats said. Instead, they met with Elliott Abrams of the National Security Council.

"We weren't the ones who wanted to keep the meeting secret," one European diplomat said. "It was the American side that didn't want him there."

Unfortunately, the Americans weren't able to keep him out of the continuing discussion, and Mr Bolton apparently got his president's approval to move the subject of Iran from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to the Security Council where Mr Bolton feels more comfortable with the other North Atlantic representatives of the 'civilised world'.

That is not simply a cheap shot at Mr Bolton. As an acolyte of Senator Jesse Helms his résumé would seem to qualify him to be described as a racist. His performance in relation to Cuba would seem to disqualify him from ever being regarded as a witness of truth.

During his confirmation hearings before the senate last year it transpired that Bolton had deliberately perverted a CIA memorandum on Cuba to make it state, falsely, that Cuba was in the process of making and testing biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction.

It took former President Jimmy Carter's visiting Cuba with a bunch of American experts to nail that particularly dangerous and noisome lie. Mr Bolton has been doing a carefully choreographed dance around the truth for the last several weeks, his pas de seul and arabesques being faithfully recorded by a craven Press, trying to make it appear that the Iranians are even more intransigent and unreasonable than they actually are.

Mr Bolton believes that Iran wants nuclear weapons to destroy Israel, and nothing the Iranians can say will change his belief. With a president who has such a contempt for the language and for science that he will not properly pronounce the word 'nuclear', Bolton is unlikely to face any challenges from the direction of the White House.

Additionally, Mr Bush is woefully in need of a triumph of some kind, and the unconditional surrender of the Iranians and the removal of President Ahmedinejad would do nicely, thank you. The Iranians are firm.

They realise that nuclear war is out of the question and that for logistical and internal political reasons, the United States cannot launch any realistic invasion of their country. They see no reason to back down. They are prepared to deal with the IAEA, not the Security Council and John Bolton.

Their position is simple. They are entitled under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty - which Mr Bolton despises - to carry out programmes of nuclear research for peaceful purposes. They did not tell the whole truth about the programme in the beginning, for good reason: they were then being attacked by Iraq, armed and egged on by the United States, and they had seen what happened to Iraq's nuclear reactor at the hands of Israel. The construction of nuclear weapons is not a simple or cheap process and it takes time. There is no way that Iran could possibly make nuclear weapons without the world being aware.

Similarly, there was no possibility that Israel could have done that either, but Israel and Apartheid South Africa were allowed to collaborate in making and testing nuclear weapons without a peep from the 'civilised world'.

Israel now has submarines equipped with nuclear missiles and can take out any country it wishes at a few hours' notice.
The Iranians say that the proper forum for discussion of their programme is in the IAEA, not the Security Council, where Mr Bolton expects his 'civilised friends' to support him, as they supported the US in Haiti and in Palestine.

The stakes in Iran are somewhat more critical, since they include the possibility of an oil crisis and global economic meltdown.
And Mr Bolton dances on, Groucho doing Nureyev. There is a pratfall in the script, but he doesn't know that, yet.

Ironist does Manolete

The annual White House Correspondents dinner is, under President Bush, a normally cosy affair, unlike the sometimes acerbic occasions when Democrats are in the White House. This year, to end the proceedings, someone had the wit - or misfortune - to hire a comic named Stephen Colbert.

Mr Colbert, posing, as is his wont, as a friend of the president's, proceeded to unmask himself as the Little Boy in the fable about the Emperor's New Clothes.

Having unfrocked the Emperor, Colbert then turned into an intellectual Manolete, producing elegant passes against two targets, the Presidential bull and the Judas Goat Press, placing his barbed banderillas with savage precision, provoking open-mouthed amazement from an increasingly abashed crowd of dinner guests. Some journalists walked out. They didn't find their defrocking funny. Nobody knows whether President Bush got the message.

They all should be reminded, as Colbert did remind them, that reality has a leftist bias, and that in the good old days, kings and emperors carried their own 'Fools' around with them, to remind them that they were not in fact Gods. Mr Bush has gone too long without a Fool at his side. Which is why Mr Colbert is on his way to becoming an American national folk hero.

Patterson turns Lobbyist

Last week's announcement that the former prime minister, Mr Patterson, is to become a lobbyist alarms me, though it does not surprise me. His choice of partners is even more alarming than his choice of occupation. Mr Patterson is to join a firm of international consultants named GoodWorks International, headed by Mr Andrew Young.

I met Andrew Young about 1978 when he came to Jamaica as the guest of Prime Minister Michael Manley. He was then President Carter's Ambassador to the UN and came with all the cachet of having been an associate of Martin Luther King and a pillar of the civil rights movement.

I confess that we took an instant dislike to each other, and on a television programme in which I was one of the journalists, we got into a short, sharp row about the direction poor countries like Jamaica should be taking. We were, at the time, under attack from the IMF and World Bank and I thought it was unreasonable for those worthies to demand that Jamaica should collapse its pretensions to any programme of self-reliance and poor people's politics. Young was all for dissolving all state-owned enterprise and simply turning to capitalism as the engine of development.

My position was that a people disfranchised by their history of slavery and colonial exploitation could not drag themselves up by their own bootstraps and that dependence on foreign investment would simply be another form of slavery.

Michael Manley was somewhat angry with me for treating this big 'Benefactor' from the US so roughly. I don't think Michael disagreed with my position, more, perhaps with the vigour with which it was expressed.

Since then, Mr Young has gone on to bigger and better things. In February 2005 he became chairman of 'Working Families for Walmart', an organisation sponsored by Walmart in response to public criticism that Walmart is anti-people and anti-minority.

Mr Patterson is still being paid the salary of a Jamaican Prime Minister, which I would have thought would satisfy anyone who was not an oil industry 'ginnigog'. That he should join Mr young and company alarms me. Despite his protestation that he will not involve himself in any deal involving Jamaica, I am afraid that I cannot believe his disclaimers, because he has broken too many promises to the Jamaican people.

I believe that the Jamaican government should take action to forbid any former high official of government from representing any company which has contractual dealings with this country. And I believe that if former prime ministers are to be paid as if they were still in office, the law should prohibit them from engaging in any enterprise of profit. He should be out doing good works if only as penance for his failures.

Palestine & the Haitian Solution

I do not have the space this week to reply to my friend Ainsley Henriques, who counselled me to confine my human rights concerns to Darfur. I simply wish to point out that much of his complaint is based on discredited Israeli versions of history.

Additionally, he should check the BBC website, where a recent study has highlighted the BBC's "failure to convey adequately the disparity in the Israeli and Palestinian experience, reflecting the fact that one side is in control and the other lives under occupation".

On the emotive issue of whether acts of violence perpetrated against either side should be called "terrorism", the review said the BBC should use the term because it is "clear and well understood" and that once it had decided on a policy for the correct use of language it should be more consistent in applying it.

Since the BBC is probably the least obviously biased Western news agency reporting from Palestine, its deficiencies should cause others to question their reporting.

Ainsley should also consult the Israeli human rights websites dealing with Palestinian issues, such as B'Tselem. Finally, the former head of the World Bank, Mr James Wolfensohn, has resigned as envoy from the Quartet group to the Palestinians, because of restrictions on dealing with the Hamas government.

Wolfensohn said: "It would surprise me if one could win by getting all the kids out of school or starving the Palestinians. And I don't think anyone in the Quartet believes that to be the policy. I think that's a losing gambit."