Tue | Oct 22, 2019

Peter Espeut | The empire strikes back

Published:Friday | September 20, 2019 | 12:07 AM

In a rare example of ‘man bites dog’ news, more than 100 employees of Noranda Jamaica Bauxite Company last Monday protested in front of the offices of the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) in Kingston against “misinformation” being spread about the bauxite industry. For years, JET and thousands of other environmental activists across Jamaica have been protesting against the damage bauxite mining has been inflicting on Jamaican rural community livelihoods and the natural environment.

Clearly, the anti-bauxite mining protests are hitting home, hence the fightback. Last Monday’s demonstration was not spontaneous but was staged and funded by Noranda Jamaica Bauxite Company and led by their public-relations consultant, Lance Neita.

In recent weeks, Neita (some would call him Noranda’s chief propagandist) has penned a series of pro-mining articles in the public media littered with half-truths. Loose and imprecise language has served to further confuse the issues.

Three zones, one cockpit country

PNP and JLP governments swore publicly that there would be “no mining in the Cockpit Country” and set about defining boundaries. Scientists from The UWI were contracted to determine the boundary, and they defined a core area, a transitional zone, and a buffer zone. It must be noted that all three zones together make up the Cockpit Country as defined by the UWI scientists.

The present Government chose not to accept the findings of the UWI scientists. They propose to create a Cockpit Country Protected Area (CCPA) consisting solely of the core area, which is only a small part of the total Cockpit Country. In typical political double-speak and ‘samfie politricks’, ‘no mining in the Cockpit Country’ has morphed into ‘no mining in the Cockpit Country Protected Area’.

The proposed CCPA boundaries are not what the UWI scientists recommended, yet Noranda and other pro-mining interests falsely claim that the announced CCPA boundaries were recommended by the UWI scientists.

The UWI scientists held several public consultations in the Cockpit communities, and their concerns are reflected in the boundaries of the zones the scientists defined. By accepting only the core area, the Government has rejected the concerns of Cockpit Country residents and has pandered to the wishes of the mining companies. Yet Noranda and other pro-mining interests falsely claim that the proposed CCPA was the result of public consultations.

Conflict of interest

What is very interesting about this Cockpit Country vs bauxite mining contretemps is that the Government owns majority shares in Noranda. When it gives Noranda a licence to mine, the Government is giving itself a licence and will benefit from the profits of the mining. This is a patent and blatant conflict of interest, which should be illegal.

When Noranda Jamaica Bauxite Company protests in front of the offices of JET and Gordon House, it is the Government protesting against a Jamaican NGO and in front of the Parliament building!

To do the right thing (and to keep its solemn promise), the Government will have to expand the CCPA boundaries to include all of the Cockpit Country and make less profit from Noranda. So be it! It is the right thing to do.

We in Jamaica are not alone in our anti-bauxite mining protests. Last month, thousands of villagers in India blocked the road leading to the mines near Laxmipur, alleging that their lives have been ruined and their fields and rivers polluted and that promises of local employment remain unfulfilled.

In Guinea, the mining towns of Boke and Kamsar were the scene of repeated bouts of unrest last year, with residents protesting about electricity cuts, pollution, and a perceived failure of mining projects to raise living standards.

There were protests in Ghana last year against government plans for Chinese companies to mine bauxite in the Atewa Range Forest Reserve under the Belt and Road Initiative.

We only have a small amount of minable bauxite reserves left. Let us declare a new day in Jamaica and leave them alone.

Peter Espeut is a sociologist and environmentalist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.