25 June 2006

...and Swallowing a Whale

Common Sense
John Maxwell

The whale-killers have a new heroine. She is a a pretty, petite lawyer, Joanne Massiah, a senator in the Antigua Parliament who possesses a sharp mind and an even sharper tongue.

At the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting in St Kitts last week, Ms Massiah led the Caribbean delegations in a fierce rhetorical attack on their perceived enemies - countries like Britain, France, the United States, India, Mexico and Brazil. These countries are all opposed to the legalisation of whaling as demanded by Japan and her Caribbean and other allies.

All were tarred by the Caribbean orators with the same brush. They were perceived to be racist, imperialist and dismissive of the cultures of small nations. The Brazilians and their 'like-minded' friends protested time and again about the language used to describe them, but this did not stop the fiercely eloquent Caribbean partisans.

They were roused to particular fury when the black delegate from Martinique, Mme Grandmaison, announced that Martinique and Guadeloupe, part of France, would establish a whale sanctuary in their exclusive economic zones, bordering on several Eastern Caribbean nations.

Wada, Japan - Japanese spectators watch a Beard's Beaked whale being slaughtered in the Japanese port city of Wada on June 21, 2006. The whaling firm is one of eight coastal whaling operations in Japan that hunt Beard's Beaked and pilot whales, species not subject to the International Whaling Commission's 1986 ban on commercial whaling. Pro-whaling nations, including Japan, last week edged closer toward their goal of resuming commercial whale hunts at the IWC's annual meeting in St Kitts, passing a symbolic resolution to support ending a 20-year-old ban on commercial whaling. (Photo: AP)

According to Barbadian journalist Tony Best, Senator Massiah had become known at the IWC "for using the most eloquent of phrases and a calm tone to get her points across; so much so that even opponents of sustainable use of the world's marine resources, a policy she champions, felt compelled the other day in Basseterre to cheer her intervention, not because they agreed with her arguments but because of the sheer force of her words and their own inability to muster a comeback".

The problem was that the like-minded nations saw no point in making a comeback against arguments which were largely irrelevant, if often entertaining and provoking and not at all calm.

It was odd to hear Senator Massiah, who is alleged to be a vegetarian, defending the sacred right of people to eat whales, justifying the Biblical warning about "straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel" or in this case, a whale. But neither Miss Massiah nor her associates will be legally able to eat whale meat just yet.

That is despite the widely proclaimed victory of the whale-killing lobby on the second to last day of the conference. Many of the world's leading news agencies were hornswoggled by the whale-killers' propaganda. Interpress services reported: "TOKYO, Jun 20 (IPS) - A closely contested vote on Sunday that gave whaling countries led by Japan, an edge over opponents, has been hailed here as a landmark in turning the tide against an international ban and boosting the domestic fisheries industry."

Since IPS was writing from Japan, one may forgive them, but the Independent of London also got it wrong, as did several other reporters who listened too closely to the whale-killers' anti-siren songs.

What happened on Sunday was a masterpiece in mischief and double-dealing. The Caribbean delegates suggested that it would be nice to have a terminal "declaration" that everyone could sign on to. It would be a "Declaration of St Kitts" in the style of other international meetings, representing a consensus. It would, the 'like-minded' countries were told, be non-controversial and harmless.

When it came to the floor, after at least one revision, the Declaration was a straightforward denunciation of the anti-legalisation group. Some countries protested at the deception and at the presentation of the declaration as a resolution. It was however accepted by the chair as a resolution and voted on.

The result, the whale-killers won by one vote.

But the Declaration was meaningless. All it represented was Japan's ability to get its automatic voting bloc in line. The real result of the conference was contained in four policy resolutions, all of which were lost by the whale-killers. And, even if they had won those votes, it would have changed nothing, since overturning the moratorium on whaling requires a three-quarters majority which the Japanese clearly cannot muster without recruiting another dozen or so destitute nations to vote on their behalf.

There was an interesting sidelight to this recuitment. People witnessed a Japanese delegate rushing to the Secretariat to hand over piles of cash to register the late-coming delegate from Togo, whose vote gave the whale-killers their 'victory' in the Declaration of St Kitts.

It is the destitution of the Third World which should have been the real concern of the whale-killing lobby. The Caribbean delegates, having declared war on the anti-legalisation group, had one more trick up their sleeves.

According to another resolution by St Kitts, the Commission was urged to note "the urgent nature of the economic difficulties of the Government of St Kitts and Nevis resulting from the closure of its sugar industry and the failed materialisation of promised financial aid" and to realise that St Kitts, unable to meet some of the financial obligations related to the hosting of the conference, asked the Commission for a grant of £385,406 from the IWC to St Kitts. That is J$46 million or EC$15 million. The amount was required to "meet some of the financial obligations related to the hosting of the IWC".

The St Kitts request would effectively more than double the IWC's normal cost for holding its annual meetings. As someone unkindly pointed out, St Kitts had competed vigorously and successfully against La Rochelle, France, for the chance to hold this meeting.

As it happened, the vote on increasing the subsidy was a tie, so St Kitts will have to appeal either to Caricom or to its Japanese friends for the money.

It is possible, I believe, that notwithstanding St Kitts' position on whaling they might have got the money had the Caribbean spokesmen not been so gratuitously offensive to the like-minded group, who, I beg you to remember, includes such as India, Mexico and Brazil.

The urge to eat whale meat or to be allowed to slaughter whales comes out of a misconception. The Caribbean and Pacific clients of Japan appealed piteously for the legalisation of whaling to restore the rights of local communities to their coastal resources. "We want to eat, we want to survive," one South Pacific delegate whined.

The problem is that whales are not the coastal resource of any nation. They roam the oceans without passports and are part of the natural heritage of life. Despite this, the Japanese insist on their right to 'scientific whaling' - an enterprise, they say, which will give them information allowing them to harvest whales more sustainably.

Japanese sustainability

Japanese ideas of sustainability may be gauged from the following paragraph, taken from the Japanese's own report on one of their scientific expeditions - JARPN II.
"Based on results from the two-year feasibility study carried out in 2002 and 2003 the coastal component was revised to be conducted twice a year and to sample 60 common minke whales in each spring and autumn.

"During the whale sampling, almost 5,250 nautical miles were surveyed, 202 schools (205 individuals) of common minke whales were detected and 60 animals were caught (23 males and 37 females). Of the males eight were sexually mature while 14 of the females had attained sexual maturity and all but one was pregnant."
We are talking about sustainability, which means using resources without wasting them, making sure that the species will continue to reproduce and maintain itself. Sustainability must clearly include allowing the species time to breed and allowing the young to come to maturity and breed. How can it be sustainable to kill 15 immature males, nearly two-thirds of the male catch?

But worse follows: only 14 of the females were sexually mature - just over one in three, and all of the mature females, except for ONE, were pregnant.

The Japanese have been "scientifically" slaughtering whales now for two decades. Is it possible that after that period of scientific enquiry and thousands of whales killed, they still cannot tell the difference between mature and immature whales, or more important, between mature and immature females, and most important and baffling of all, between pregnant and fallow females?

We have to find something more expressive than 'boggle' for the contortions the mind undergoes on apprehending these facts, provided by the Japanese themselves.

The IWC forbids the killing of whale calves and their nursing mothers, except that this is how they kill whales in Becquia, St Vincent. But Becquia is allowed just two whales a year on the ground of 'aboriginal tradition' going back all of 148 years. The Japanese have been whaling for millennia, and began factory ship whaling relatively recently, to supplement diets deficient in protein after the debacle of the Second World War.

The Japanese are among the richest nations on earth, and no longer need whale meat. Some of what they catch goes for pet food, some is warehoused. The real reason for their intransigence on whaling is to finesse the possibility of restrictions on fishing.

The Japanese and many European countries and the Canadians have already strip-mined the ocean, vacuuming it of several species including the Canadian cod. Now, some of these same nations send out pirate vessels to steal fish from the Atlantic fisheries of West African nations.

Recently Greenpeace has been helping these West African nations defend their local marine assets and have helped arrest European pirate ships and confiscated their cargo for the benefit of the plundered nations. Some of these same plundered nations want to terminate Greenpeace's 'Observer' status at the IWC, while neglecting to lobby on behalf of their own fisheries, which produce food their people actually eat. Instead, they are swinging along with Japan, advancing arguments which are eventually counter-productive to their own real interest.

In the Caribbean, it is clear that the people of the islands do not agree with their politicians and bureaucrats in supporting the legalisation of whaling. As I reported last week, in Miss Massiah's Antigua, 80 per cent of the people polled disagreed with their government and there were absolute majorities against whaling in St Kitts and St Lucia. Only in Grenada did whale-killing sentiments come close to prevailing with 40 per cent for and 39 per cent against legalisation.

Curiously, in St Kitts, the people we met were either against whaling or non-committal, saying they didn't know enough to express an opinion. In a highly literate, extremely rational population it was strange therefore that many people did not wish to be quoted and appeared to be afraid of something when I spoke to them.

Perhaps it was my face that frightened them.

We will probably never know. But I wonder where St Kitts is going to find EC$15 million. Will Caricom oblige? And if it does, will the like-minded nations regard that as an endorsement of the behaviour of their smaller brethren?

One of the Eastern Caribbean delegates told me that part of their problem was that the Marriott hotel had overcharged them for the conference facilities. I would have thought that such a modern, God-fearing company as the Marriott should find this particular whale a lot easier to swallow than the people of St Kitts or of Caricom.

Or perhaps Mr Sanford, Antigua's resident Texas millionaire, might oblige?


18 June 2006

The Japanese Water Carrier and the Caribbean Ants

Common Sense
John Maxwell

"You must understand," the man said, "a drop of water is a mockery to a thirsty horse. To an ant it is enough to swim in." He was attempting to explain to me the importance of Japan's Overseas Development Aid programme to the small island states of the Eastern Caribbean, which are, as I write, expected to be an integral component of Japan's attempt to take control of the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

Here in Frigate Bay, in St Kitts, at the very grand marble and concrete extravaganza called the Marriott Resort and Casino it is possible to imagine oneself almost anywhere but in a poor, tropical Caribbean island. Waterfalls cascade, rocks emit Bob Marley's music and there is a Jacuzzi in my suite.

Power is the motif here and this place is power-intensive.

Japan is well represented here. No one knows how many, but there are lots of them. Greenpeace is not so well represented. Their presence has been deemed a threat to the national security of St Kitts.

The Yushin Maru catcher ship of the Japanese whaling fleet injures a whale with its first harpoon attempt before taking a further three harpoon shots to finally kill the whale in the Southern Ocean off Antarctica on January 7, 2006. (Photo: AFP)

The Greenpeace ship was denied free passage into the waters of St Kitts, largely, one assumes, because of the fact that it was used to harass and embarrass Japanese whaling ships in the Southern Ocean during the last whaling season. Japan and Greenpeace represent two poles of the increasingly acrimonious argument about commercial whaling.

The Japanese want to legalise commercial whaling 20 years after it was banned by the IWC. The Japanese population is the main market for whale meat, and they objected to the 'indefinite moratorium' on whale killing and decided to continue harvesting whales through what the Japanese government called "scientific whaling" for research into the effect of whales on the life of the ocean.

The Japanese have since come up with the novel idea that whales are competing with humans for fish and that competition should be eliminated or reduced. There is unfortunately, a lamentable lack of evidence to support the Japanese viewpoint and most reputable scientists are of the view that scientific whaling is not science.

A group of eminent lawyers consulted by the International Fund for Animal Welfare concluded that "scientific whaling" is a subterfuge for commercial whaling and is an illegal enterprise under international law, specifically against the Law of the Sea, the Biodiversity Convention and the Convention Against Trade in Endangered Species, CITES.

Against these opinions, the Japanese are joined by a motley collection of mainly small island developing countries, but also including developing countries in Africa, and surprisingly, Outer Mongolia - which is completely landlocked and with no readily apparent interest in whaling.

Six of these countries are from the Caribbean: Antigua/Barbuda, Grenada, Dominica, St Kitts/Nevis, St Lucia, and St Vincent and the Grenadines.

The world's largest environmental NGO is the Worldwide Fund for Nature (formerly the World Wildlife Fund). In May this year, the WWF sponsored public opinion surveys in five states of the Caribbean and five from the Pacific to find out what the people of these islands really think about whaling.

The results were surprising. Of the 10 populations surveyed, at opposite ends of the world, nine were opposed to their government's stance on whaling. Only in Grenada did the pro-whaling viewpoint prevail over the anti-whaling element, and even there there was no absolute majority. In Grenada sentiment was almost equally balanced - 40-39 per cent.

Strangest of all, Antigua and Barbuda, the Caribbean bellwether for whaling, was overwhelmingly opposed to whaling, with nearly eight in 10 people against (79 per cent). There were absolute majorities against whaling in St Kitts and St Lucia while in the others, anti-whaling sentiment prevailed. In the Pacific islands, the results were even more dramatic. In reply to the question: "Do you think your country should vote for or against a return to commercial whaling?" the populations were almost uniformly anti-whaling, with 76 per cent in Palau, 72 per cent in the Solomon Islands, 64 per cent in the Marshall Islands, 64 per cent in Tuvalu, while in Kiribati the vote against was 47 per cent against to 40 per cent pro.

It is difficult to make sense of the Eastern Caribbean position. Their representatives repeat well-rehearsed lines about the sustainable development of marine resources, but are unable or unwilling to provide any evidence of any programme of work in this direction.

What there is plenty of is the opposition of Caribbean conservationists and tourism and allied interests to the legalisation of whaling. They appear to reflect the opinions of the population better than the politicians.

In a statement called "The declaration of St Kitts", Caribbean stakeholders urged Caribbean politicians to "Vote for the Caribbean", to vote for the interest of their own people instead of the interest of Japan.

In support of their position, the stakeholders brought witnesses from the whale watching industry to make the point that whales were more profitable to the Caribbean alive than dead. As some people say, Whales should be seen, not hurt. A stakeholder from the Dominican Republic related how in one locality, Samana, whale watching, in an annual 65-day season, brings in more than US$15 million in direct and indirect revenue.

And half of the whale watching operators are former fishermen. The DR has created a whale sanctuary in 20,000 sq km of its exclusive economic zone - effectively forbidding whaling. The French in Martinique and Guadeloupe are expected to announce, as I write, sanctuaries around Martinique and Guadeloupe, which will certainly make life difficult for the pro-legalisation forces.

The IWC is one stepping stone for Japan on its way to a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. They are quite open about it.

The Japanese Foreign Ministry's Fourth Consultation with their Caribbean clients in Barbados in 1996 concluded that Japan clearly recognised the importance of bagging the then 13-member Caricom bloc "and are determined to court that vote, especially in relation to the long-term goal of securing permanent membership of the UN Security Council".

We in Jamaica can recall the building of a fishery facility in Prime Minister P J Patterson's constituency a few years ago. As the Japanese proverb says: "Charity is a good investment."

What is seriously missing from all these development projects, often placed in Prime Ministerial Constituencies in the Caribbean, is any record of how they have helped local fishermen or the local economy.

Several years ago, Japanese long line fishermen did a very effective job of denuding the Caribbean of its pelagic fish. When I was last in Grenada the long line fishing vessel donated by the Japanese had not been to sea for years.

There were no fish to catch. Other Japanese facilities are being used, according to my informants, as community cold stores for beer and other perishable goods. This, I reiterate, is second-hand information, and if it is not correct I would like to know.

In a way it is appropriate that the IWC meeting is taking place in this Marriott palace. It is a vast pleasure dome, lavishly caparisoned in marble and stone. The painful realities of whaling seem as far away as St Kitts itself seems from the room in which I write.

The hotel, like those Spanish monstrosities on the Jamaican north coast, are emphatic statements of the power of capitalism, imposing its personality on the landscape regardless of the beauty it disfigures.

The Haitians and the Palestinians are intimately aware of this power, in which big power politics and interests inevitably trump the will of the people and common sense. In Palestine, the European Union is going to great lengths to frustrate the will of the Palestinians; in Haiti the United Nations Security Council is going to great lengths to frustrate the will of the Haitians.

So too, Palau, Antigua, Kiribati and St Kitts may not want to kill whales. But if Japan tells their governments how to vote, and they obey, what exactly is the value of that commodity called the will of the people?

11 June 2006

Vandalising the Future

Common Sense
John Maxwell

Almost exactly half a century ago, on June 1, 1956, Norman Manley's Beach Control Act became part of the laws of Jamaica. The Beach Control Act (BCA) was an attempt to preserve for the Jamaican people, their rights to access and to use the beaches of Jamaica for recreation and fishing.

On the day the law came into force, I went to the offices of the new Beach Control Authority to interview the secretary of the authority Mr LV Dujon, and the assistant secretary, Jacob Taylor. Jacob Taylor was my friend until he died, four decades later. He was also an indefatigable warrior in the struggle to preserve the Jamaican seacoast for the people of Jamaica.

The BCA had become necessary, Manley told Parliament, because Jamaicans were being prevented from the peaceful enjoyment of their beaches by landowners whose land bordered the beaches. These people had suddenly discovered that there was a new phenomenon called tourism and that tourists wanted to sun themselves on the beaches. Suddenly, the formerly free beaches of Jamaica were being fenced off and claimed to be private property.

Many of these beaches were not only said to be private property, but were refusing entry to Jamaicans of the wrong colour. Norman Manley's son, Michael, and Michael's wife, Thelma, were chased off the Shaw Park Beach in Ocho Rios for that reason.This incident, coming as it did during the public controversy over beaches, lent an inflammatory new angle to the argument.

Nevertheless, Norman Manley's new law was very accommodating to those owning land adjacent to the beaches, allowing them to apply for licences for the exclusive use of the beach for certain private and business purposes.

Thirty years later the Beach Control Authority, the Wildlife Protection Act and the Watersheds Protection Act became the foundation stones of a new authority, the Natural Resources Conservation Authority, which was given the authority and responsibility for the protection of the Jamaican environment and of the rights of Jamaicans to enjoy that environment.

A little before the Beach Control law was drafted, another significant development was beginning on Jamaica's north coast. A young scientist, Thomas L Goreau, had just been appointed the first professor of Marine Sciences at the fledgling University of the West Indies. That scientist's son, Tom Goreau Jr, told me the bones of the story in an email this week.

Tom Goreau the younger is himself one of the world's most eminent marine scientists and is the President of the Global Coral Reef Alliance, dedicated to the study and protection of coral reefs all around the world.
"The reefs at Pear Tree Bottom had the most spectacular vertical coral covered canyons, nearly a hundred feet deep with some of the largest and healthiest corals on the island. It was my father's favourite dive site, and as you know he was the world's first diving marine scientist and the first Professor of Marine Science at UWI, founder of the Port Royal and Discovery Bay Marine Labs, co-founder with Jacob Taylor of the Beach Control Authority (which later evolved into NRCA), and the person who knew more about coral reefs than anyone who has ever lived.

The entire part of Pear Tree Bottom from the road to the sea was given to my father by the owner of Pear Tree Bottom Estate, Major Abbey, to build the UWI Marine Lab in the early 1960s.

Although the reefs, the sea grasses, and the inland ecosystems were about the finest in Jamaica, my father agonised over the site due to it being so low, vulnerable in a hurricane, and because the reefs had grown right up to sea level, making it very difficult to get even a small boat to shore unless corals were destroyed to make a channel, which he was not willing to do. Later in the 1960s Kaiser Bauxite donated the land at the western end of Discovery Bay, which was much better suited for boat diving (after Kaiser had dynamited the reef to make the channel so bauxite boats could enter.

Goreau continues: "Remember that Columbus was so disgusted to find no water at all that he named it Puerto Seco, or Dry Harbour, before nearly dying running the reef getting out and reaching the next bay, which had a river full of sweet water that he named Rio Bueno, Good River, and slaughtered the Arawaks in the huge village that stood there, which still has never been properly excavated even though it is perhaps the most important Arawak archeological site in Jamaica.

When Kaiser donated the land for the Discovery Bay Marine Lab, my father returned the entire shore of Pear Tree Bottom to Major Abbey. The site remained beautiful for a long time, containing unique blue hole springs and remarkable wetlands as well as Jamaica's best reefs, until the beaches attracted the cupidity of developers who destroyed almost everything."
Tom Goreau has an understandable, almost proprietorial interest in the area, because with his father and his mother - a self-taught marine biologist - he began diving there almost before he could walk. He last dived at Pear Tree Bottom in the 1980s when the corals were in very bad condition.

He is much more critical of the state of the corals there than many scientists who are still diving at the reef, because he knew them in their pristine glory. Professor Rena Bonem of Baylor University in Texas, who has been diving there since the 1970s and Professor Ivan Goodbody, who became Professor of Marine Sciences when Tom's father died young, speak of glorious vistas and a reef largely recovered from the die-offs or bleachings of the coral and the damage from hurricanes.

Professor Bonem told me this week that she had recently discovered on the reef, species of sclerotic sponges - very ancient life forms - which were previously unknown in this region. She said that the construction at Pear Tree Bottom has obscured the canyons between the reefs and obliterated any view of the once spectacular corals.

The reefs obviously still have the capacity to surprise, or at least they had until the Spanish hotel groups, JAMPRO and the Ministry of Development discovered that there were in Jamaica still ecological treasures requiring devastation.

The northcoast reefs from Mammee Bay, outside of Ocho Rios to Pear Tree Bottom, a few miles to the west, are now threatened as never before by two hotel developments and a golf course due to be developed, I'm told, by a well-known Jamaican politician.

Mammee Bay was one of Jacob Taylor's most intransigent problems.

Sixty years ago, the colonial government of Jamaica gave the Jamaica Public Service Company permission to destroy Jamaica's most spectacular waterfall, the Roaring River Falls outside Ocho Rios, to create a small hydroelectric plant. This waterfall, or more accurately, cataract, covered at least thirty acres (10 ha) and flowed to the sea at Laughing Water, one of Jamaica's most beautiful beaches.

This beach was reserved as a Public Bathing beach in the 1950s, but the reservation has always been challenged by successive owners of the adjoining land - to the fury of the people of Steer Town who maintain that the beach is theirs.

Thirty years ago, in an attempt to settle the question, as chairman of the Beach Control Authority and NRCA, I initiated talks with the American millionaire shopkeeper, George Farkas, to buy the property. I wanted to transform it into a place of public resort, an arboretum for the display of Jamaican orchids and bromeliads, many of which were native to the place.

The 1980 elections interrupted the negotiations, but John Issa, the incoming chairman of the Tourist Board, bought Laughing Water for the nation. During Mr Patterson's time as prime minister the house was used as a sort of protocol house where the government and the titular owners, the UDC, entertained favoured guests.

The people of Jamaica are still excluded from the beach.

Next door, at Mammee Bay, Jampro facilitated the acquisition of another disputed public beach and the land behind it, for the construction of a 900-room hotel for the Spanish Riu group.

On Wednesday on Disclosure (Hot 102) members of the Mammee Bay community related horrific tales of berserker development which has degraded the health and amenity of the area with broken sewer mains and broken promises.

The hotel has not honoured the promises made in the EIA and in meetings with the residents. There were promises to build a sophisticated sewage disposal plant, but residents report stinking kitchen waste and other sewage, running in a drain to the sea.

Repeated complaints to all the relevant authorities have not eased their pain nor abated the nuisance. They would even be content with the promised tertiary treatment plant with chlorinated effluent.

The problem is that chlorinated effluent, while harmless to the human community, are lethal to the coral reefs just offshore and would probably damage the fresh groundwater. The constructors of Riu committed another ecological crime and an offence against the laws of Jamaica: they illegally removed more than 700 tons of sand from the Whitehouse property in Westmoreland to 'enhance the Riu beach and smother the corals just offshore.

Developers generally, the UDC specifically and Jampro, do not understand that beaches are moveable feasts. Beaches are created and maintained by the so-called 'littoral drift' of sand along the coastline and does not stay in one place like tethered goats. In Negril, my predecessor in the chair of the NRCA told the UDC that they should not build their hotel (then Negril Beach Village, now Hedonism II) so near to the beach.

I told them that they should not try to build a beach by creating a groyne, a stone structure which was meant to trap sand for the beach. The groyne hasn't worked and is probably responsible for the massive erosion to the leeward side of the beach. Added to that, the UDC did not believe our scientists when we told them that they should not dump sewage into the Negril Morass (wetlands) and the South Negril River because that would kill off many life forms, including the argillaceous seaweeds which secrete flakes of calcium carbonate.

These plants make the powdery sand which made the Negril beach so attractive. These days the Negril seven-mile stretch is in many places, more mud than sand and is considerably narrower than it used to be.

And at Bloody Bay, which would have made a great public recreational beach and park, the UDC allowed another massive Riu hotel.

'Short pass bring blood'

There is a Jamaican saying "Short pass bring blood" whih means that short cuts often lead to disaster.

This saying exemplifies much of what Jamaican politicians deem to be development. I have often remarked that Jamaica has given a unique twist to the Precautionary Principle: whenever we discover some natural phenomenon of great intrinsic value, we take immediate steps to destroy or degrade it.

The precautionary principle in its strictest form says that whenever the outcome of any action is uncertain, we should refrain from taking that action.

Article 15 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development states: "Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation." In other words, if damage is likely but not certain, the lack of absolute certainty is no excuse for failing to mitigate the damage.

In 1992, Mr Patterson signed that Declaration and all the other components of Agenda 21, the Treaty of Rio. He then came back to Jamaica to act in ways which repudiated every commitment he had made to sustainable development.

Sustainable development is, briefly, development which while enriching us, will not impoverish or degrade the prospects of our children. The fable of the Golden Goose is a metaphor for the precautionary principle. We are not content to wait for the goose to lay its golden eggs; we kill the goose to get rich quick.

A large part of Jamaica's beauty is due to its riotous vegetation, its green and pleasant face. To protect the island's face, Norman Manley decreed that hotels along the seaside should never be higher than a coconut tree. The development should blend into the landscape, not overpower it. Jampro and its Spanish clients, among others, believe in making statements which disfigure the face of Jamaica, imposing concrete cataracts in place of the natural landscape.

These hotels claim to contribute to Jamaica's development, but they have as much connection to the country as cruise ships. They employ half as many Jamaicans as most Jamaican hotels. They are in my view, the hospitality industry's version of a human car wash, where visitors are inserted at one end and emerge at the other, tanned, tired, hungover and broke.

In the process, they have seen nothing of our country or its culture, have met few Jamaicans outside of the hotel, buy very little of the handicraft or art of the country before going home with souvenirs made in Taiwan, three-packs of Mexican tequila or Spanish brandy and perhaps, a Japanese camera. But they claim to have been to Jamaica.

Greedy Jamaicans tell us that we will scare away investors by blocking the construction of monstrosities such as the Pear Tree Bottom Development. We will be cutting into their agency fees, preventing them from selling imported goodies to imported people. I say: Right On!

Pear Tree Bottom is not development, and is not sustainable, and whatever it is, it is not in the public interest of the people of Jamaica.

In his email to me this week, Tom Goreau said: Pear Tree Bottom was one of the most remarkable properties in Jamaica from a natural history standpoint, both on land and in the sea. Jamaica was one of the most beautiful islands I have seen in my travels through most of the small island nations around the world, but it is one of the worst destroyed by human greed. Sadly, the horse has long run out of the gate, and to close the gate now will not bring the horse back."

I think that if Tom still lived in Jamaica, he would agree with me and most Jamaicans that if the horse is not dead, we should still try to find him and entice him back.

04 June 2006

Beyond the Pale

Common Sense
John Maxwell

Katherine Dunham, who died last week at 97, was one of the most important figures of 20th century culture. The daughter of a black father and a French Canadian mother, she immersed herself in scholarly explorations of African/Caribbean cultures, particularly among the Maroons of Jamaica and the people of Haiti. She even became a voudun 'priestess' while completing her master's degree in anthropology.Katherine Dunham's life was a century of struggle to restore the dignities of the peoples who resided in her soul. She was not only a major figure and powerful influence in modern dance but was, at the same time, a leader in the struggle for civil rights in the United States and in Haiti. Fourteen years ago, at the age of 82, she survived a seven-week hunger strike in protest at her government's treatment of Haiti.

She must have died of a broken heart.

There are eight million Haitians in a country turned into a concentration camp. Their leader was stolen from them and transported as cargo to the heart of darkness where he was no doubt expected to be killed and perhaps, eaten.

After two years of brutal repression - supervised by the United Nations Security Council on behalf of the civilised world - the people of Haiti have been reduced to a condition in which they are less free than they were 200 years ago. Their legitimate leaders are in exile or in jail, and the civilised world looks on approvingly as these uppity blacks are starved and coerced into good behaviour.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which they were among the original signatories 60 years ago, obviously cannot apply to them. They have elected a president, under rules set by people who don't believe in rules and scorn elections.

The omniscient and all wise president of the United States, Mr Bush, says the Haitians are not entitled to freedom and his judgment is backed up by that certified black intellectual, Dr Condoleezza Rice and by Mr Annan, the world's Commissioner of Police cum Ombudsman - also a black person, and a citizen of Ghana.

These two, who undoubtedly benefited from the struggles of Katherine Dunham and people like Martin Luther King and Marcus Garvey, provide American racism with all the legitimacy it needs to cancel the human rights of the Haitian people and millions of others.

It was the Haitian people after all, who were the first nation in the world, before the Americans, the French and the British, to proclaim and promulgate the universal rights of all human beings, whatever their sex, race or economic condition, to democratic equality.

Cultures of Abuse

The Haitians were, of course, premature and presumptuous. As William Jennings Bryan, Woodrow Wilson's secretary of state, famously said 90 years ago: "Imagine! Niggers speaking French!" That, plus their democratic pretensions, was enough to damn them forever.

Some people have rights; most of us have nothing more than the illusion of freedom. It's been obvious for 500 years, long before Kipling wrote about 'lesser breeds without the law'.

Generalissimo von Rumsfeld put everything into perspective three years ago as platoons of looters ravaged the history of civilisation, stealing to order, priceless artefacts protected over 8,000 years by the people of Iraq. They, too, were presumptuous. The free market rules - or as the generalissimo said: "Stuff happens."

Stuff happens

On my computer, filed on March 15, 2006, under 'War crimes/Massacres', is a Reuters story "US accused of killings, Saddam urges resistance" in which it is reported: "Iraqi police accused US troops of killing five children in a raid on an al-Qaeda suspect on Wednesday as ousted leader Saddam Hussein used his televised trial to call on people to "resist the invaders".

It is an odd story, because details of a massacre are entangled with a report of an incident at the trial of Saddam Hussein. But the story is clear enough.

'[Iraqi] Police and witnesses said 11 members of one family were killed in a US raid overnight in Ishaqi, a town in Saddam's home province north of Baghdad. The US military said two women and a child died as troops arrested an al-Qaeda militant.

'A senior Iraqi police officer said autopsies on the bodies, which included five children, showed each had been shot in the head. Community leaders said they were outraged.

'Television footage showed the bodies of five children, two men and four women in the Tikrit morgue. One infant had a gaping head wound. All the children seemed younger than school age.'

The American Press has just last week discovered this story, which is strange, since it was carried in the New York Times a day after the Reuters story. In a bylined piece by Jeffrey Gettleman the incident was relocated to Balad:

'American soldiers demolished a farmhouse near the Sunni Arab town of Balad on Wednesday after encountering unexpectedly heated resistance from insurgents, killing a number of civilians in the process.

'The American military said that only three civilians had been killed, while Iraqi officials said an entire 11-member family - from a 75-year-old grandmother to a 6-month-old baby - had died in the attack.

'Major Tim Keefe, a military spokesman, said American troops were on their way to capture an insurgent in a rural area north of Baghdad when insurgents opened fire from the farmhouse.

'Coalition forces returned fire, utilising both air and ground assets,' Major Keefe said.

'The results were devastating, according to images broadcast on Arab TV: dead cows, scorched cars, a smashed house and 11 bodies rolled up in blankets.'

Last week, the US media 'discovered' the story. What has obviously happened is that the Iraqi 'government' has been raising a stink about the incident to the point where the US Army has been pushed to arrest several soldiers and is charging them with murder.

As in previous cases, only ordinary servicemen are charged, only ordinary 'grunts' - no officers, although it is clear from both stories that Major Keefe was involved.

This replicates the pattern of Abu Ghraib where it was clear that senior officers, including General Jeffrey Miller and the senior commander in Iraq, General Sanchez, must have been involved. A number of grunts are serving time for their aberrant behaviour at Abu Ghraib. One wonders if any of them speak French, like Haitians.

We don't do torture, President Bush has said. American soldiers do not commit atrocities; except of course for a few underprivileged peasants from places like West Virginia who obviously got into the army on false pretences.

Three years ago I wrote in one of these columns:
'It is the contempt that is so obvious, and so offensive. The total disregard of public opinion, the failure to make even a gesture toward the norms of civilised behaviour. Even more amazing, is the disrespect for their own Anglo-American traditions, norms and law.

'It is the absolute setting aside of any idea of a duty to act according to law, or custom, or convention; the arrogation of authority to do, and to try to get away with, whatever one wishes to do; to do whatever is necessary to get one's way; to impose one's will, to kill, to destroy, to humiliate, and finally, to abrogate the human and property rights of others.

'Dexter Filkins of the New York Times, reporting on March 29, [2003] provided a vivid picture of the Allied mind-set:
"At the base camp of the Fifth Marine Regiment here, two sharpshooters, Sgt Eric Schrumpf, 28, and Cpl Mikael McIntosh, 20, sat on a sand berm and swapped combat tales.

The marines said they had little trouble dispatching their foes, most of whom they characterised as ill-trained and cowardly. "We had a great day," Sergeant Schrumpf said. "We killed a lot of people.... We dropped [sic] a few civilians," Sergeant Schrumpf said, "but what do you do?" [In one incident], he recalled watching one of the women standing near [an] Iraqi soldier go down. "I'm sorry," the sergeant said. "But the chick was in the way."'

It is as if the Marine was apologising for running over a cat in the road."
I wrote that on April 12, 2003.

I reprint it here because it is so easy to say that you knew that all the time. I reprint it to demonstrate that not only did we 'know' about these abuses, we wrote about them. And no one did anything.

We heard the lies, the transparent pretexts, knew about the subhuman savages transported to Guantanamo Bay, straight-jacketed, blindfolded, gagged and shackled to the bare floor of the C-130 transport planes to prevent them chewing their way through the plane's hydraulic lines; about the German Arab whose fortuitous liberation enabled him to tell of his kidnapping, torture, rape and imprisonment as a suspected terrorist.

We know of the gulags where 'invisible' prisoners' brains are systematically turned to blancmange; we know about people too demoralised to want to live, choosing not to eat but force-fed like Strasbourg geese. All in a place described by a British High Court judge as a 'law-free zone' presided over by the President of the United States. We know about the levelling of Fallujah, destroyed in order to save it from the insurgents. And we have now heard about the massacre in Haditha.

We know about the Palestinians in their concentration camp, essaying democracy, only to be told that they can have any government they may choose, as long as they do not choose the one they want. We know that Israel claims the right to kill whomsoever it chooses and has defied more UN resolutions than all other countries put together.

So, why are we whining about a few more dead Iraqis? Half a million babies died in the run-up to the war, hundreds of thousands were maimed or died from the effects of depleted uranium so that the civilised world may be assured of oil for air conditioning, for ATVs, SUVs and cruise shipping and the US vice-president can be guaranteed against loss from his public service.

What is all the fuss about 24 dead Iraqis in Haditha? They were killed by young men who thought they were doing their duty, scared out of their wits by the knowledge that insurgents were everywhere, coming out of the woodwork - unable to distinguish between friend and foe when everybody is on the other side.

The US military insists that these are all isolated incidents. The troops are to be lectured on "core values" - Loyalty, Duty, Respect and Iraqi cultural values.

A few will be court-martialed as an example to the others and life and war will go on, as after Abu Ghraib and all the other 'few, isolated incidents'.

Stuff happens!

So! What else is new?

Why, there is the huge story about the Americans deigning to offer the Iranians the chance to talk to Mr John Bolton, the American ambassador to the United Nations. The Americans and their noble allies in the rest of the civilised world are offering the Iranians a choice between the most delicious carrot and the most punishing stick, a choice usually offered only to donkeys.

The US will talk to the Iranians if the Iranians surrender, in advance, their right to process uranium fuel for power generation. It is, according to the US media, a hugely significant breakthrough.

The Americans don't believe the Iranians only want to generate power.

They believe the Iranians want to go much further, to produce nuclear weapons of mass destruction. In this, they resemble the Cubans, whose biochemical industry is not geared to produce medicine, according to Mr Bolton, but to manufacture bio-terrorist materials.

The Iranians have, as the Americans calculated, rejected the carrot and the stick. The Americans and their noble allies can now proceed to Stage Two - designing an elaborate pavane to lead Iran to the punishment table, and if possible, to the fate of Iraq.

Nearly a decade ago, General Lee Butler, head (1992-94) of the US Strategic Air Command, declared that it was "dangerous in the extreme that in the cauldron of animosities that we call the Middle East, one nation [Israel] has armed itself, [with] nuclear weapons, perhaps numbering in the hundreds, and that inspires other nations to do so.

An October 1998 "Memorandum of Agreement" between the US and Israel, upgrading their military and strategic relationship, was widely interpreted to mean that the US regards Israel's nuclear arsenal "not only as a positive factor in the regional balance of power, but also as one it should support and enhance" (Foundation for Middle East Peace - Special Report, Winter 1999).

It is such a pity that people like the Cubans, Venezuelans, Haitians, Hamas and the Iranians persist in believing that universal human rights apply to them, that justice is for all and that people like John Bolton, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and George Bush are not prophets of God.

Five hundred years of history have obviously taught them nothing. As my grandmother used to say: "If you can't hear, you must feel."