The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected]
The long-running satirical Pogo comic strip’s most memorable quote — “We have met the enemy and he is us” — is a parody of a message sent in 1813 from U.S. Navy Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry to Army General William Henry Harrison after his victory in the Battle of Lake Erie in the War of 1812 between the United States and what later became Canada stating, “We have met the enemy, and they are ours”. What the Pogo adaptation of this famous expression mocked was indifference to environmental protection but it has since been applied to countless other issues deriding various features of the human condition.
I was reminded of Pogo by the angry reaction of the New Democratic Party (NDP) of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) to the announcement by its Unity Labour Party (ULP) enemy that the latter has sold 36 acres at Mt. Wynne/Peter’s Hope to foreign developers for what it said was a paltry EC$7 million (US$2.6 million)
“’You can’t take all of the best lands and give it to foreign investors. That is so basic, it doesn’t need a comment,’ … Arnhim Eustace told a press conference in Kingstown …. “As far as Mt Wynne-Peters Hope is concerned, we, in the NDP, simply do not support this fire sale of a prized national asset by the ULP administration, under the so-called guise of ‘development.’
He noted that the area could have been developed without selling 31 acres of land that he called ‘prime real estate.’
He said the NDP … is ‘totally against the sale of Mt Wynne and Peters Hope to foreign interests and thereby denying unborn Vincentian generations an opportunity to be stakeholders in their own land and therefore be reduced to second class citizens.’ …
He said what shocked him even more was that the land was sold for a mere XCD$7 million, which he says boils down to about $5.18 per square foot.”
Of course, the NDP’s angry response was no surprise because opposing government policies is, well, what an official opposition party is supposed to do regardless of whether it is warranted or not.
In this case, however, knee-jerk opposition is nothing short of mindless inflammatory hypocrisy for which it deserved the condemnation it received from the Prime Minister, Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves. This rebuke was warranted partly because the Mt. Wynne/Peters Hope area has been earmarked for tourist development since the 681 acres composing the two former plantations were bought by the Sir James F. Mitchell NDP government in 1989 for a mere EC$5 million — testimony to its low agricultural value and developmental potential — from the Casson family, the last of a long series of private owners of the estates since the partitioning and sale of Crown lands after the British gained control of SVG in 1763.
This means the two former estates were private property for 226 years and public property for only the past 27 years, hardly grounds for any outrage.
Yet indignation — unrighteous in this case — is what we also hear from others as well, including self-styled “political activist and social commentator for almost thirty years,” Matthew Thomas (in real life a pharmacist trained overseas by white people), who has just written a letter to the Prime Minister complaining about “… how determined [he is] to sell our patrimony [namely a few acres at Mt. Wynne/Peter’s Hope], ironically to the descendants of the slave masters…”, ignorant of the fact that the descendant in question is actually Dino Sciavilla, a man of Italian parentage, whose ancestral homeland colonized only Ethiopia and parts of East African between 1869 and 1960 during which time they enslaved no one.
But perhaps this pharmacist (who received his education from and regularly imports the white man’s dangerous prescription medicine from the true descendants of slave masters in the genuine ex-slave societies of the United States or Great Britain to sell at inflated prices to his hapless black countrymen) was actually referring to Ancient Rome of 2,000 years ago where the enslavement of white people did, in fact, flourish for centuries (Ancient Rome of 2,000 years ago where the enslavement of white people did in fact flourish for centuries ). More likely, in his warped mind, all white people, including perhaps the Prime Minister himself, are the “descendant of slave masters,” a belief he shares with his acolyte Peter Binose (his acolyte Peter Binose ).
According to this “political activist”, Mt. Wynne/Peters Hope is a “diamond” (yes, there are “black diamonds” of immeasurable worth in the world but none at Mt. Wynne) which “… consists of billions of dollars worth of stones [that can be exported] for generations to come.”
Such is the level of racist “intellectual” and nonsensical developmental discourse in our backward little nation. Should anyone be surprised that, with opponents like these, Comrade Gonsalves has won four-in-a-row?
The real story of Mt. Wynne/Peters Hope is that the previous Mitchell government bought the land in question with World Bank and other funding for two purposes: (1) peasant housing and agricultural resettlement (at Peters Hope) and (2) to attract direct foreign tourism investment, the local hospitality sector being incapable of raising the millions needed for large scale hospitality projects. Indeed, according to no less an authority than Karl John (Karl John ), by the early 1990s there were serious negotiations with a group of British investors to build a 100- to 150-room hotel, leisure complex, marina, and 18-hole golf course at Mt. Wynne, the latter made possible by the sweeping inland road diversion that exists today as the only sign of the failed effort.
The land has remained idle, undeveloped, and unwanted ever since. This is the kind of property the NDP calls “a prized national asset”, “all of the best lands,” and “prime real estate” and what dispenser Thomas calls “a diamond”.
Mitchell’s goal was to sell or lease the lands not earmarked for peasant cultivation, with the probable exception of the Little Bay area (that currently hosts sea bathing, picnicking, and special events, almost exclusively attended by locals). For years, Invest SVG, a government department, has listed 400 plus acres at Peters Hope/Mt. Wynne as available for tourism investment, suggesting that the Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves’ regime is simply parroting the previous NDP policy of reserving Little Bay for exclusive public use.
The rest of the property has been off limits to the general public since the last days of the Mitchell era. Big Bay is available for limited use “by request only” and the Peters Hope road has been long blocked by big stones to prevent the sand-mining and garbage dumping that was destroying the area and further lowering its already rock bottom value.
As for the alleged low price of the land (“a fire sale”), it was surely based on the law of supply and demand and the aphorism that beggars can’t be choosers. Those who claim the land should have been sold for EC$ 12 a square foot or more or is worth “billions” as dispenser Matthews claims (who is joined at the hip to another “Internet crazy,” Peter Binose, who wildly opined that the tiny bit of acreage is worth US$68 million, or 26 times the actually purchase amount) are incapable of comprehending that no one showed any interest in buying or leasing any of the lands for any purpose for two and a half decades.
Accordingly, I contend that the Canadian developers were actually ripped off when they agreed to pay an exorbitant EC$7 million for worthless property, an assertion implicit in Mr. Eustace’s own words in his Dec. 11, 2000 budget address during his quickly aborted period as Mitchell’s hand-picked Prime Minister:
“… we are presently holding discussion with a consortium of investors with a view towards establishing a hotel of over 100 rooms in the Mt Wynne/Peter’s Hope area. Among other things, the Government is prepared to contribute the land as equity for the realisation of this project” (Searchlight newspaper, Friday, October 7, 2016, p. 21).
Indeed, the entire block of some 620 acres has not been anything like “prime real estate” since the ancient days when “sugar was king” and fortunes were made (on the backs of our wickedly enslaved ancestors) for several decades between the 1780s and 1830s. Since then, as one cash crop after another (principally cotton, arrowroot, coconuts, tobacco, and bananas) experienced a brief flit with prosperity, the estates floundered, went bankrupt, were abandoned, changed hands time and again, and were finally nationalised and partially subdivided for peasant cultivation, residential settlement, and some dreamed of future development.
The last period of agricultural prosperity ended with the recent removal of tariff, quota, and other trade preferences on bananas, something we had as little control over as all other market declines but for which the present regime has been unfairly blamed. The return of aged overseas migrants from the Caribbean and Great Britain eager to purchase land for a little gardening and a lot of house building is long past and the prospect that most of those who relocated to work in the United States and Canada will ever return here for retirement being a fantasy at best, means that lands between windward Biabou and the outskirts of leeward Layou will soon reach their maximum value.
In a market economy like ours, land has no human value or price if no one wants to use or buy it, hence Mr. Eustace’s 2000 offer to freely give it to overseas investors. That the current Prime Minister was able to extort EC$7 million for this land was surely another of his many “masterstrokes”.
As they say, the proof is in the pudding: after over 25 years of trying to market these leeward lands, the best that the government could get is a promise by Pace Developments Inc. (https://www.pacedevelopments.com ), a mid-sized developer and builder of family homes and apartments headquartered just north of Toronto with no international experience, to build a mere 50 so-called villas on a black sand beach no one else has ever wanted.
Is this the scale of projects Glen Beache, beleaguered head of our tourism authority, had in mind when he said, “This [Argyle] airport is a huge game-changer for us”
Compare this to the recent announcement by another Canadian developer, Montreal-based 360 VOX, which is preparing to break ground on a $1.4 billion development with 27 holes of golf, four luxury hotels, and 2,700 high-end villas and apartments for sale to foreigners in — you guessed it — Cuba.
And where are the other big-time developers we have been hearing about for years, giant international corporations that have been building or running massive hotels and resorts all over the Caribbean for years — Marriott, Starwood, Club Med, Sandals, Four Seasons, and others?
As for leasing the land instead — what Mr. Eustace must have been referring to when he said “the area could have been developed without selling” — a 100-year lease is usually the minimum period in such transactions but that would have still seen a loss of “all the best lands” (36 acres or a mere five per cent of the entire 681 acres) for five generations “reduc[ing] Vincentians to second class citizens” in the interim.
My guess is the government opted for a sale instead of a lease, the latter being the more common way to transfer land to foreign developers these days since it is more politic to do so, because it is so strapped for upfront cash to finish the airport and pay its other bills.
The hypocrisy of the NDP position is even more glaring than the repudiation of its own historic policies. Its barely dry December 2015 election manifesto acknowledges that:
“Tourism is our largest foreign exchange earner. It is largely undeveloped and has enormous potential for growth.” The party’s two most ambitious projects for realizing this potential are: (1) “A major international construction group will partner with the NDP to finally get the Argyle Airport into a state of readiness” and (2) “a major international development group will build a 1,000 unit integrated residential and hotel resort complex on St. Vincent”.
No name is attached to the “major international construction group” leading to the speculation that it does not exist. No location is given for the “1,000 unit integrated residential and hotel resort complex on St. Vincent” — 20 times the size of the Pace project — but, based on their other plans for tourism development in the Grenadines, it could be nowhere except the Mt. Wynne/Peters Hope area, the only suitable locale in the entire country for such a complex.
St. Clair Leacock, one of two vice-presidents of the NDP, suggested at the same press conference that a national stadium could be built at Mt. Wynne or that the lands could be used for agriculture. Both claims are as absurd as dispenser Thomas’ call for a giant environmentally devastating quarry at the site. There are no existing funds or potential donors for a national stadium, plantation agriculture is long dead, peasant farming is on life support as cheaper imports flood our market, and our existing quarries are all underexploited.
So what is the NDP’s real position on international tourism? Who knows? But given that there are no realistic developmental alternatives to international tourism (save making some chocolate and producing a few coffee beans) and given that the ULP is going full speed ahead — for better or worse — to build direct foreign tourism investment, the NDP opposition to the new project (despite its recent manifesto promises and the Mitchell-era legacy of promoting international tourism) is the sign of a disorganised and demoralised party tilting like Don Quixote at every ULP windmill, this time falling flat on its face before its latest phantom enemy: foreign hospitality development. To paraphrase Pogo, “The NDP has seen the enemy and it is them.”
The second tourism enemy is we, the people of SVG. At least this is my take on what Daniel Cummings, and NDP politician and Member of Parliament for West Kingstown, said about public beach access at the same press conference:
“’How many places in St. Vincent can we go to the beach, have recreation without interruption’ … noting that St. Vincent does not have the type of beaches that are found in the Grenadines.”
Apart from the fact that that we wouldn’t even be having this discussion about Mt. Wynne/Peters Hope if our mainland beaches resembled those of, say, Canouan or Mustique or Palm Island because dozens of hotels would have been constructed from one end of the leeward coast to the other decades ago, what would be the effect of this sale on the people who use the beachfront area?
Except for public holidays and special events, Little Bay (which again does not seem to be earmarked for either sale or lease), is virtually deserted during weekdays. Sometimes fewer than five or six people are there during the prime evening sea-bathing hours. On some days not one. Some visitors never even leave their vehicles except to climb into the back seat for a little lovemaking on the generally secluded area above the northern corner of the beach or on a track off the main potholed stone path leading to the sea. Except for holidays and other special occasions, usually no more than 100-150 people occupy the bayside area most weekends, many there only to old talk, fill their belly with food, and get drunk (or stoned, if there are no police around). Lots of visitors never venture down to the sea even for a quick dip. This is especially true of female guests, many of whom cannot swim.
How do I know all this? Because my wife and I have driven to Mt. Wynne, arguably the best sea-bathing beach area in the country, nearly every evening between December and April from our Windward holiday home for the past 13 years to swim, snorkel, and beach walk.
I also know from observation that many visitors indiscriminately discard their glass, plastic, and styrofoam refuse all about in typical Vincy fashion though there are some garbage bins (but not enough) on the bayside.
Though the entire three-bay area is protected from environmental predation by gates and boulders, this is not true of the rest of the mainland where generations of our people have mindlessly destroyed one leeward beach after another by selfishly and illegally engaging in household and commercial beach-sand mining. Our countrymen have likewise aimlessly destroying our forests and ignorantly polluted our rivers and inshore seas. Tell me, which throngs of discerning tourists will ever want to flock here?
Kingstown is a ramshackle excuse for a capital, to be sure, as the photo below and everyday experience suggest.
But our formerly pristine rural communities are no better. The town of Layou, the second closest settlement to Mt. Wynne/Peters Hope, used to have a reasonable bayside area which saw children swimming and playing from Corner Bay to mid bay to Jackson’s Bay from morning to night, often augmented by national and foreign visitors from overseas until, beginning some 50 years ago, indiscriminate personal and commercial sand, gravel, and stone mining by locals and outsiders, reinforced by and, in turn, reinforcing natural erosion, threatened to drown much of the bayside area even during small storms. This necessitated the construction of a coffin-like Word Bank-funded retention wall some 15 years ago.
The unabated mining of sand at shrinking Jackson’s Bay on the northern side of the larger bay area (residents have told me that much of the time 10 steps into the sea means water up to their necks), right under the nose of Sir Louis Straker, the Deputy Prime Minister of SVG, who lives less than 100 yards away, will soon demand yet another retention wall and no more beach swimming for Layou people.
So where will they go for a sea bath? Not to Mt. Wynne if all the land is leased or sold to overseas developers, allegedly over Mr. Thomas’ dead body (“Mt. Wynne/Peters Hope is not for sale. It shall not be sold. It will not be sold. It is our patrimony. It is our diamond.”), as unlikely as such a sale or lease may be. And what would be my response if this ever happened: “Fire for you, Layou people! You made your concrete coffins at Jackson Bay, now go lie in them.”
Though it appears that the ULP is the only true friend of direct foreign tourism investment — after all, the party invited Dave Ames to build the Buccament Bay facility, it is expediting five-star resort development in Canouan, and it has just brought Canadian developers to invest in Mt. Wynne/Peters Hope — with a friend like this, who needs enemies?
For all the reasons I have documented in 34 essays, the mainland of St. Vincent has little intrinsic potential as a major Caribbean tourism destination. Not the least reasons for this is the poor construction, enhancement, protection, and maintenance of our existing hospitality attractions and the manner in which this government has turned a blind eye to the colossal anti-Pogo environmental destruction that has occurred all across the land during its nearly 16 years in power. Most of all, the “game-changing” construction of Argyle International Airport to service what will be a miniscule increase in tourism has been a colossal waste of time and money that will make us poorer than ever for generations to come. So will the foolhardy decision to allow someone like Dave Ames to build a resort at Buccament Bay that may soon be shuttered following the Oct. 3 announcement that “Harlequin Property SVG has formally entered insolvency proceedings, which could lead to its liquidation and heavy losses for thousands of [overseas] investors” together with the loss of tens of thousands of dollars by unpaid Vincentian workers, contractors, and suppliers, not to mention the termination and pauperisation of scores of resort employees.
Could this also be the eventual fate of Pace Developments, an Italian family business that has constructed a comparatively few 3,000 residential units around the Toronto area during its 30 year existence (an Italian family business that has constructed a comparatively few 3,000 residential units around the Toronto area during its 30 year existence, given that many similar projects by much larger companies with lots of international experience have failed all across the tropical holiday world? My guess is that Pace will market these small homes the same way that Dave Ames peddled the cottages at Buccament Bay (calling the small buildings at either locale “villas” is a hyperbolic use of a term that refers to spacious, usually multi-storied, luxurious country residences enclosed within a large courtyard): income-generating holiday rental accommodation occupied by the owner for only a couple of weeks a year.
Whether this project is a success or not, it would still adversely affect the rest of the mainland tourism business because the whole local industry is a zero-sum game with visits to one already half-empty resort or hotel coming at the expense of others. Needless to say, this impediment could magically disappear if the operation of Argyle International Airport becomes “a huge game-changer for us” by precipitating an unimaginable burst in tourist visits. Flying pigs, anyone?
And what happened to the other promised initiatives based on an agreement the Prime Minister claimed he signed with Canadian investors (Pace Developments or others) in July 2015 for hotel development at the same leeward site?
“It’s a huge investment. The developers, on whom we have done the appropriate due diligence, they will be doing hotel development and also villas. They are doing a golf course with clubhouse. The Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines will retain ownership of the golf course and the club house facilities, but also the management for the hotel, the enterprise will manage it”.
What exactly is the status of this long-signed project? Ask Ralph.
When all is said and done, these three international mainland tourism enemies – the established political parties and the masses — are inconsequential compared to, indeed largely a consequence of, our overarching vacation industry foe: Mother Nature herself which has blessed us with a beautiful and beloved island — a tropical paradise of our very own that we are slowly but surely destroying — which nonetheless has little potential for large-scale beach tourism and limited capacity for small-scale eco-tourism, assertions I have repeatedly documented in these essays.
So, we have met the tourism enemy and he is us — all of us — plus our meagre offering to the competitive world of international holiday travel.
This is the 35th in a series of essays on the folly of the proposed Argyle International Airport.
My other AIA can be found below:
- Get ready for a November election!
- Lessons for Argyle Airport from Canada’s Montreal–Mirabel Int’l
- Lessons for Argyle Int’l Airport from the cruise industry
- Lessons from Target Canada for Argyle Int’l Airport
- Lessons from Trinidad & Tobago for Argyle Int’l Airport
- The Dark Side of Tourism: Lessons for Argyle Airport
- Why Argyle Won’t Fly: Lessons from Dominica
- Ken Boyea and the Phantom City at Arnos Vale
- Airport Envy Vincy-Style
- Fully realising our country’s tourism potential
- Airport without a cause
- The unnatural place for an international airport
- The Potemkin Folly at Argyle
- False patriotism and deceitful promises at Argyle
- Airport politics and betrayal Vincy-Style
- Phony airport completion election promises, Vincy-style
- Is Argyle Airport really a ‘huge game-changer for us?’
- Has the cat got your tongue, Prime Minister?
- More proof that Argyle won’t fly
- Our very own Vincentian cargo cult at Argyle
- The missing Argyle Airport feasibility studies
- The world’s four most amazing abandoned airports
- Farming, fishing, and foolish talk about Argyle International Airport
- Argyle Airport amateur hour
- St. Vincent’s place in the world of travel
- Investing in St. Vincent’s Tourism Industry
- The Argyle Airport prophecy: what the numbers say
- Why Qatar? Why St. Vincent and the Grenadines?
- Did the IMF drink the Comrade’s Kool-Aid?
- Foolish words about Argyle International Airport
- ‘If I come, you will build it’: Lessons from the Maldives for Argyle Airport
- Urban lessons for Argyle International Airport
- Who really lands at Arnos Vale?
- No ticky, No washy — Argyle-Style
The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].