Mon | Sep 23, 2019

Richard Crawford | Draw red line on Cockpit Country mining

Published:Wednesday | August 21, 2019 | 12:31 AM

The Government of Jamaica is the 51 per cent majority shareholder in Noranda Bauxite Company, while the remaining stake is held by private owners. I am extremely grateful to the Maroon community warriors who drew my attention back to this fact as I was about to make another plea to the prime minister and other members of parliament to ensure that no mining takes place in the Cockpit Country.

The task has become easier, however, because the Government would be courting political and economic disaster if it thought that it could get away with permitting more bauxite mining in this part of Jamaica through some cloudy arrangements.

From 1970-80, the Government of Jamaica (GOJ) attempted to redefine the Maroon treaty rights, their autonomy and the extent of their land ownership outlined in Maroon Autonomy in Jamaica by Kenneth Bilby and reported occasionally in The Gleaner, but the Maroons held to these rights, their land and self-determination for the benefit of their communities.

Eventually, in trying to acquire more land for bauxite mining, the GOJ issued some six special mining leases and established proposed boundaries of the Cockpit Country through nine different stakeholder groups to try to facilitate mining.

The mining leases were designed by a single individual to include all bauxite-laden property and exclude non-bauxite land and has been a main reason for this untenable situation.

The GOJ announced that there would be a Cockpit Country Protected Area where no mining would take place. However, this area has not been completely defined and agreed upon by the GOJ/Noranda because the Maroons, the Cockpit Country stakeholders groups, as well as thousands of other Jamaicans who are familiar with the project realise that the mining leases would jeopardise the entire area.

Maroon territories in Jamaica have a history and culture of incalculable and timeless value. The physical properties formed over millions of years are a priceless ecological treasure. The Cockpit Country is a great soil source and supplies 40 per cent or more of our water supply.

The Cockpit Country and other Maroon ­territories are underdeveloped agricultural regions ready for food production, economic and agro-­industrial development. The area is open to community, cultural, environmental, health, wellness and medicinal tourism, and other activities that can provide sustainable development and incomes.

Why would we not develop our country to provide food and a better standard of living for our people from the land?

John Allgrove’s article ‘Before you pour more cement’ (Gleaner, August 9) also successfully argues that the current Government should reconsider its decision and use the Bernard Lodge and Caymanas lands for agricultural purposes and not urban development. This is sound advice considering that we imported nearly US$1 billion of food last year.

Jamaica is one of the high-risk countries that may suffer greatly from climate change, decreasing our potential food supply and water resources. Therefore, it is imperative that every acre of land be used as wisely as possible.

So why would we even be thinking of bauxite mining in the Cockpit Country now?

Richard Crawford is a public affairs commentator and lecturer on government. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and richard.dickie.crawford@gmail.com