Wed | Oct 23, 2019

Noranda: We all want to protect Cockpit Country

Published:Wednesday | September 18, 2019 | 12:09 AMPaul Clarke and André Williams/Gleaner Writers
Clerk of the Houses of Parliament, Heather Cooke, accepts the letter from (from left) Robert Pairman, aka Kasike Nibonrix Kaiman; Inilech Guydeen and Toni-Ann Braden at Gordon House yesterday as various interest groups staged a protest against mining in the Cockpit Country.
Clerk of the Houses of Parliament, Heather Cooke, accepts the letter from (from left) Robert Pairman, aka Kasike Nibonrix Kaiman; Inilech Guydeen and Toni-Ann Braden at Gordon House yesterday as various interest groups staged a protest against mining in the Cockpit Country.

Self-declared defenders of the Cockpit Country yesterday marched on the nation’s Parliament yesterday to press home their opposition to potential mining in the biodiverse region which is a major source of water for western Jamaica.

Led by Robert Pairman (Kasike Nibonrix Kaiman) and endorsed by the Reverend Jeffrey Shuttleworth, the Cockpit Warriors – which also included Rastafarians and Maroons – sought to drum up further support around discussion over the hotly contested Cockpit Country boundaries.

They drummed, danced, sang, and chanted from National Heroes Circle on their way to within metres of Gordon House, where the clerk of the Houses of Parliament, Heather Cooke, accepted their letter to legislators setting out their objections.

LEARN FROM OUR MISTAKES

“We are saying that we must, as a people, learn from our mistakes. For well over 60 years, we have seen mining taking place in various parishes, and we have seen the effects in Clarendon, Manchester, St Elizabeth, St Ann, and St Catherine. I have also seen what mining has done to the rivers; many of them have dried up. We have witnessed its impact on farming, too. It’s a massive worry if the plan is to mine anywhere inside of the Cockpit country,” Shuttleworth said.

The clergyman added that mining in the Cockpit Country could affect the climate, leading to rising temperatures in the country and that food-security issues could arise if the water table is disturbed.

“What good would it serve us if we have pretty homes and some money in our pockets but the environment is filthy, the air is polluted, and our water is messed up, which means we will have to import water?” asked Shuttleworth.

“The Cockpit is the Amazon of Jamaica. Bauxite mining is not sustainable development,” he added.

A woman introduced as Rachel, who was said to be representing the people of Manchester and St Elizabeth, gave a testimony of how she and others were being affected by mining in the southern end of the country.

“I know we are here for the Cockpit Country, but we have experienced mining in Manchester and St Elizabeth that have put many of us in hospital,” she said as she addressed the gathering. “If you look good on my neck, you will see a scar. I thought it was normal for everybody in my community to have this scar after surgery. I thought it as normal to have sinusitis bad, bad, or to be using an inhaler for asthma. Children are growing up thinking that it is normal. It is not normal and, therefore, we are here today to support you from the Cockpit Country to say no more mining. Do not do to the Cockpit Country what you have done to us and continue to do to us in Manchester and St Elizabeth.”

Colonel Melvin Curry, 87, deputy leader of the Accompong Maroons, said although he was not feeling well, the occasion could not miss him.

“The day could not pass and mi lay down a Maroon Town. ... Cockpit Country can’t mine because it belong to a certain set of people, and dem deh people deh no want no money. We nuh want no bauxite money. We want plant corn, we gungo, and plant we banana, plant we plantain, and ... plant we ganja,” he said.

Also out to register their views were representatives of Noranda Bauxite Ltd.

Property Manager Evon Williams was among a group of about 400 pro-mining, placard-bearing protesters, chanting, “Save our jobs! Let’s get mining!”

Williams explained that their protest was morally aligned with the demands of the Cockpit Warriors and the other groups in that they are also seeking to protect the entire Cockpit Country, notwithstanding mining in areas close to the Cockpit Country Protected Area (CCPA).

The CCPA includes the lands belonging to the Maroons and is believed to have some 250 million tonnes of bauxite in reserves. Opponents, however, contend that the CCPA boundary does not include the entire Cockpit Country.

“Yes, we support the Government in closing that area to mining, and at a five-million tonne run rate, that is 40 years of mining in Jamaica. Yet we don’t want any of it. We respect the arrangement, we respect the water, the biodiversity, and we want to ensure it is there for future generations,” he said.

The protected area boundary was declared in October 2017 and Noranda made an application for Special Mining Lease 173 - an area adjoining the CCPA - in August 2018.

Noranda told The Gleaner that the prospective mining areas are far away from Maroon Town and Accompong and that the company’s operators have never impacted food supply to the surrounding communities.

The company owns more than 50 per cent of land in the mining area, but it has plans to mine only 15 per cent of the entire area under its control.

paul.clarke@gleanerjm.com

andre.williams@gleanerjm.com