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INSIDE the COCKPIT COUNTRY - Maroons, conservationists say no to bauxite, limestone mining

Published:Thursday | June 20, 2013 | 12:00 AM

Petre Williams-Raynor, Contributing Editor

CONSERVATIONISTS - THIS time joined by the Accompong Maroons - have once again come out against bauxite prospecting in the Cockpit Country, which accounts for a significant percentage of Jamaica's remaining forest cover and invaluable water resources.

"The Maroons are a sovereign people who have exercised sovereignty over Accompong and surrounding lands for over 275 years [and whose] rights are recognised and guaranteed by virtue of a treaty with the British in 1738," said Colonel Ferron Williams, leader of the Accompong Maroons in St Elizabeth, in a June 13 release to the media.

"The act of granting a licence to any entity to prospect over our lands without our permission is illegal, unconstitutional and a breach of international human rights law."

Williams said no good could come of mining in the Cockpit Country - home to some 27 of the island's 28 endemic species and the largest butterfly in the Americas, the giant swallowtail.

"We are opposed to the mining, whether for bauxite or limestone - white or yellow. When one takes into consideration the other areas that bauxite has really gone into, what do they have to show for it? Poverty, health hazards and houses that are in a deplorable condition," he said.

Williams' comments follow revelations that a special exclusive prospecting licence - scheduled to expire in November this year - had been granted to bauxite interests in 2005 and renewed annually since then. Commissioner of Mines Clinton Thompson confirmed this on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, conservationists in and outside the Cockpit Country have echoed Williams' sentiments, suggesting that Government had perhaps not acted in good faith.

"If you want us to act in good faith, act in good faith," said Diana McCaulay, chief executive officer for the Jamaica Environment Trust, one of several organisations that comprise the Cockpit Country Stakeholders' Group (CCSG).

"Having declared the boundary, do the consultation about land use, what is going to be allowed and what is not going to be allowed. Don't continue to consult and while consulting continue prospecting," she added.

Special campaign

As far back as 2006, the CCSG, which also includes the Southern Trelawny Environmental Agency (STEA) and the Windsor Research Centre - both of which operate from inside the Cockpit Country - launched a campaign to pressure Government into not reissuing a prospecting licence for bauxite.

Up to recently, it was thought that their efforts at the time had yielded dividends. This, as the discussion moved to boundaries for the Cockpit Country, which were expected to conclude before any resumption of prospecting, whether for bauxite or limestone.

"The prospecting licence is an opportunity for the State to come in and do all sorts of things until we get our act together with this discussion of figuring out the boundary," said executive director of STEA Hugh Dixon.

"We are basically delaying and allowing those who have urgent interest in raping the resources to get their hold on it and at the back end, you come at a later date and say, oh, now that we have figured out what is the boundary, let us put our hands up. But by that time, the horse is through the gate, and we wouldn't be protecting anything of value. So we as an organisation are opposed to it (prospecting)," he added.

Thompson, for his part, said the licence had been granted "long before this", referencing the ongoing boundary discussions. Further, he said whether the prospecting would result in mining is too early to tell and would be subject to further consultations.

"They need to define the Cockpit Country; that is a process which is taking place. Everything will flow from that. This is the reason why the consultation is taking place - to see how we proceed from there. And once a boundary is decided, decisions will have to be made concerning land use practice," he said.