There have been so many arguments and conflicts over the past week that we need a very deep step back to assess what is really worth fighting for. Locally, we have the continuing Goat Islands saga, the JLP leadership race, and high unemployment. Internationally, the US is gearing to have a military response to the use of chemical weapons to kill some 1,500 Syrians, including over 400 children, by the al-Assad Administration.
The Goat Islands negotiations — if they exist at all — are shrouded in half-truths and speculation. A group of environmental experts met on August 29, and were unanimous in their rejection of the use of Goat Islands as a logistics hub. The following quotes are from a statement issued by the group:
"Placing this development in the PBPA [Portland Bight Protected Area] could destroy fisheries from Old Harbour Bay and beyond," said Professor Dale Webber of the University of the West Indies and chairman of the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica.
"The mangroves and seagrass beds of Portland Bight produce fish, conch and lobster eggs and larvae that are carried by currents all along the south coast. Without a source of eggs and larvae, the fish, conch and lobster could die out," agreed Marcia Ford of the Centre for Marine Sciences.
"The livelihoods of thousands of people will be lost. Residents will no longer be able to supplement their diets by fishing. Those people will not benefit from the proposed hub and they know it," said Dr Ann Sutton, ecological consultant for the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation (C-CAM). "The Portland Bight Fisheries Management Council does not support the proposal."
The statement noted: "The Portland Bight Protected Area (PBPA) is legally the most protected area in Jamaica. As well as the Protected Area designation, it includes three fish sanctuaries, four game reserves, two forest reserves, and several sites declared under the Jamaica National Heritage Trust Act. The wetlands are recognised as Wetlands of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. Last year the United Nations Education and Science Organisation conditionally approved a proposal from the Government of Jamaica to create a Biosphere Reserve in Portland Bight."
The group also included Robert Stephens, Jamaica Protected Areas Trust (JPAT) and Jamaica Conservation Development Trust (JCDT); Diana McCaulay, Jamaica Environment Trust (JET); Dr Susan Otuokon, JCDT; Richard (Dickie) Crawford, Jamaicans United for Sustainable Development (JUSD); Jan Pauel, Jamaican Caves Organisation; Peter Espeut, environmentalist; and Michael Schwartz, Windsor Research Centre (WRC).
Robert Stephens said the group is asking the Government to "carry out a thorough, scientific and transparent assessment of all the options for sites before making a decision. We believe that there are other more suitable sites for this development".
'War' for leadership
The JLP leadership battle took on a distressing tone when we heard two bright, seasoned women politicians caustically criticising each other as they lined up behind each opponent. Having had conversations with both Mrs Gordon-Webley and Ms Grange, I know that these ladies are usually courteous and gracious. The contretemps at Belmont Road, and the various dramatic performances on both JLP and PNP campaign platforms have convinced me that political tribalism is nothing short of a disease.
Let me give an analogy. I was visiting a family when their daughter suddenly had an epileptic seizure. A device was placed in her mouth to prevent her from biting her tongue, and she was embraced by loving arms until the episode passed. She had no knowledge of what had taken place when she went back to being normal. Believe me, when I hear intelligent folks in politics carrying on, I wish I could help them in this way, protect them from this terrible symptom of political tribalism until they return to their normal selves.
Better to be fighting for jobs
Some of us pondered, last week, what a Jamaica we would have if the passion and energy that is poured into the pursuit of power were directed to the empowerment of the poor. Let our political representatives walk with their ambitious constituents to the various financial institutions to help them access the funds for small- and micro-business sectors announced by Labour Minister Derrick Kellier. There are many intelligent Jamaicans who are not able to read and write, so they are intimidated by the bureaucracy involved in applying for such loans. Hardly any voter would forget an MP or caretaker who took the time to walk her or him through the ropes to succeed in getting such a break.
How many MPs are organising job fairs in their constituencies and assisting young graduates to prepare for job interviews? To have 40,000 unemployed graduates in the country, and thousands of 'unattached youth' is a serious crisis. I heard Leahcim Semaj warning on the television programme Impact last week that, while females will try to find even a humble means of earning a living, unemployed males are likely to segue from being parasitic to becoming criminals.
Appeals to our leaders are falling on deaf ears. We need to put in mechanisms to make them more accountable, help them achieve the higher objectives of political engagement and discover the best way to restore the trust of a disillusioned electorate.
The Syria dilemma
How does a peacemaker prevent a ruthless leader from visiting horror upon his own people? This is the dilemma of President Barack Obama. His announcement that he would be going to Congress to obtain agreement to declare war on the al-Assad regime in Syria has not garnered wide international support. A video carried on the New York Times website showing the close-range execution of Syrian soldiers by rebels further complicates the matter. Secretary of State John Kerry has insisted that those rebels in the video do not represent the moderate opposition supported by the US Government. War is a sad option, but how can we forget the faces of those infants, poisoned by chemical weapons? This is an agonising issue.