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Bauxite mining dispute very painful

Monday, September 16, 2019

The long-running dispute over bauxite mining in and around the Cockpit Country is painful.

While boundaries have been, or are being drawn under the Cockpit Country Protected Area project, it is a hard sell to tell local people who have always considered themselves part of the protected area that in fact they are not.

We are not surprised that locals in hilly, forested western St Ann are rejecting the notion that the Cockpit Country suddenly starts and/or stops.

Note this comment attributed to an elderly man in yesterday's Sunday Observer story:

“The whole area is the Cockpit Country... Over deh so and over here so. All of it is the Cockpit...”

For those of us on the outside, there is relief that the authorities have made an effort to protect the core of the Cockpit Country the source of much of Jamaica's water as well as a last refuge for varied species of flora and fauna — and embracing heritage of immeasurable value.

However, for those on the fringes of the Cockpits, now having to deal with the messy consequences of bauxite mining, it's a far more personal matter.

We shouldn't discount the negative psychological consequences of witnessing pristine hills and valleys being permanently transformed perhaps we should say disfigured.

Spare a thought for Ms Gretchen Linton, who lamented the loss for young people and children yet unborn.

“The pickney dem weh a come up nah guh get fi see di Cockpit Country as we know it. If dem come and mine it, the younger ones coming up nah guh know this land,” she said.

Then there are the farmers in areas bordering on and embraced by the Cockpit Country. For generations they and their ancestors have been among the country's leading producers of root crops such as yam, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, etc. From their perspective, what's needed are support systems to maximise production and earnings. They do not need a change of life, which is what bauxite mining brings.

But, of course, the argument doesn't end there. As Mr Lance Neita of Noranda Bauxite Company points out, Jamaica's bauxite/alumina industry is a cornerstone of the Jamaican economy.

We know, for example, that there will be considerable fallout for the national economy when the JISCO Alpart plant closes soon to facilitate modernisation.

We recall that the shutdown of the bauxite/alumina industry in 2009 played a major role in Jamaica's return to the International Monetary Fund.

Yet, all of that doesn't ease the public dissatisfaction with Jamaica's bauixite/alumina industry.

People in communities which host bauxite/alumina operations consistently complain that they do not have nearly enough to show for the environmental degradation and pollution which go hand in hand with such operations.

Shamefully, in many such communities people are without piped water, for example.

A Capital Development Fund (CDF) set up by the Michael Manley-led Government in 1974 envisioned that levies charged to bauxite mining companies would finance development projects, especially in host communities.

Instead, the CDF was largely drained to support the national budget.

Mr Neita tells us of several economic and socially uplifting projects his company has implemented towards a lasting legacy for host communities. We believe there needs to be much, much more on a far larger, grander scale for Jamaicans to feel even remotely rewarded.