Tread carefully on Cockpit Country
THE EDITOR, Madam:
I am writing in response to the Gleaner article ‘Government eyes Cockpit Country for tourism’, published on October 15, 2020.
With mining in the Cockpit Country still being on the books as a major environmental issue, I find it quite disconcerting that we would want to add it to our suite of tourism offerings, and, no less, in response to the fallout of the tourism sector due to COVID-19. People living in Cockpit Country communities and environmental advocates are still coming to terms with the fact that mining is being allowed in the Cockpit Country, irrespective of whatever boundaries exist around the protected area and despite our very vocal disapproval.
As the most biodiverse region in the country, hosting over 1,500 of our endemic flora and fauna, and an area that accounts for nearly 60 per cent of our water sources and is still on the books for mining, we have to tread very carefully with this idea of tourism (at any organised scale) in the area. We must also be mindful that adding ‘sustainable’ before a word does not automatically ascribe protection benefits. We are duty-bound to centre the communities in the Cockpit Country in this conversation at this stage of ideation and through any developments regarding their land. I don’t believe it is the place of the Southern Trelawny Environmental Agency to welcome or reject the idea but for the many established communities, including the Maroon settlements, to determine de jure whether this move aligns with their cultural ideals and connections to their land. Jamaica does not have a rich history of inclusion as it relates to land use determination, and we need to change that. Now is as good a time as any other to ask ourselves, do the Cockpit Country communities want this kind of large-scale influx of tourists? How will this move benefit them economically beyond tips from the tourists?
In response to reduced tourism sector revenues, has the Government given consideration to reducing travel costs and giving other benefits to regional travellers? While global travel is still experiencing fallout from COVID-19, CARICOM governments have a distinct opportunity to reimagine our relationships and establish better travel relations within the Caribbean. Some very low-hanging fruit are reduced taxes for inter-regional travellers and offering local rates to CARICOM nationals, if that is not already practised. Make travelling within the Caribbean more attractive.
We will be watching this development very closely as the Government continues to look towards the Cockpit Country for a ‘sustainable tourism product’.
Director, Policy and Research
Change Youth Council