200 march on Parliament building

BY SHARLENE HENDRICKS
Observer staff reporter
hendrickss@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

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APPROXIMATELY 200 people marched to Gordon House in downtown Kingston yesterday, to demonstrate against prospective mining in adjoining sections of the Cockpit Country.

The march was led by the Cockpit Country Stakeholders' Group (CCSG), representatives of which delivered a petition calling on the Government of Jamaica to accept the boundary they proposed in 2009 as the official outer boundary of the Cockpit Country.

A cover letter addressed to Prime Minister Andrew Holness read: “We call on you, the prime minister of Jamaica, to do this on behalf of the residents of the areas excluded from the 'designated protected area' announced in 2017, and on behalf of all people who value the irreplaceable wildlife, scenic landscapes, history, cultural heritage, ecosystem services, traditional livelihoods such as farming, and expanding ecotourism opportunities that these areas provide.”

“We seek protection for the Cockpit Country in its entirety, because all the areas that were included within the CCSG boundary were recognised as integral parts of the Cockpit Country — hydrologically connected, culturally and historically significant, economically valuable for sustainable livelihoods, and of national ecological importance, not only in terms of biodiversity but in ecosystem services such as underground water resources,” it read.

An attached petition was endorsed by 3,901 people, who signed the 'Save Cockpit Country' online petition in 2009, as well as another 37,568 citizens and residents of Jamaica who signed the Save Cockpit Country, petition to the Prime Minister' in 2017.

Another 29 communities were noted in the petition to have been left out of the designated Cockpit Country protected area.

“People in these communities should not have to lose their homes, farmlands, forests, and traditional livelihoods or suffer the adverse impacts of bauxite mining,” the letter continued.

The crowd marched from Heroes Circle, on to Hanover Street, then on to Charles Street before mounting their demonstration at the top of Duke Street — just above Gordon House — where police had set up barricades.

Before the march, scores of people gathered at Heroes Park where at least six Toyota Coaster buses off-loaded individuals from communities in and around the Cockpit Country area, who poured in for the demonstration. These included Maroons from Accompong in St Elizabeth, the Rastafarian Indigenous in St James, as well as residents from Alps, Ulster Spring, and Albert Town in Trelawny.

Community leaders, environmentalists and entertainers addressed those gathered from a make-shift platform inside the park.

Sharon Paris Chambers, public relations consultant and environmental advocate who assisted with organising the march, told the Jamaica Observer that the idea is to bring to the attention of the prime minister, alternatives to mining in the communities in and around the Cockpit Country.

“We want eco-tourism, agriculture, agro-tourism, and for medical tourism for the growth of the herbiceutical industries [as well as] wellness tourism. We want more attention on these industries as we only have 30 more years profit from bauxite.

“The profit has not been going back to the people and the people are crying for attention. They are crying for their health, for places to live, and we are on the cusp of losing our water source and the lungs of Jamaica, which is the Cockpit Country,” she said.

Meridie Rowe, former colonel for the Accompong Maroons and president of the Maroon Federal House Assembly, told the Observer that his people have a vested interest in preserving the Cockpit Country.

“We are sternly opposing the possibility of mining in the Cockpit Country, notwithstanding the prime minister saying that there would be no mining. It cannot be prosperity and development at any cost, because the preservation of the Cockpit Country is critical.

“Some 40 per cent of the water comes from the Cockpit Country and mining in the Cockpit is going to cause the destruction of many trees, which is watershed, and so years down the line we are going to have problems. The Maroons have clear interest in the Cockpit. It was a part of the deal between the Maroons and the British that culminated in the treaty in 1738.

“My advice to our beloved prime minister is to let good sense prevail, and not to be tempted by any big money coming in that will help to bring in prosperity in the economic sense, that usually only benefit a small percentage of the population,” said Rowe.

Reggae singer Tony Rebel, who participated in the march, also addressed the gathering.

“Now we know who are the real revolutionaries,” he signalled to the crowd as he took to the platform. “This is the beginning of a revolution which will not only be seen on television, but later it will be all over the Internet. It is starting right now. Jamaica is ours. We cannot afford to let our backyard just go down like that without doing anything — that is democracy. You supposed to participate in whatever decisions are made in the country. Let us protect Jamaica with all our might,” the entertainer said as he segued into his hit song, Jah is by my Side.


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