There can be no mining in Cockpit Country!

There can be no mining in Cockpit Country!


Tuesday, August 13, 2019

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The Government of Jamaica is the 51 per cent majority shareholder in Noranda Bauxite Company, while the 49 per cent minor shareholders are the private owners. I am extremely grateful to the Maroon community warriors who drew my attention back to this fact as I was about to make another plea to the prime minister and all the Members of Parliament to ensure that no mining takes place in the Cockpit Country.

The task has become easier, however, because the Government would be courting political and economic disaster if it thought that it could get away with permitting more bauxite mining in this part of Jamaica through some cloudy arrangements and agreements within the Noranda Bauxite Company, which it owns and the confusion of stakeholder boundaries in the wider industry.

It is all being exposed now and accounts for the behaviour of the private owners who feel they will be successful in this battle which will destroy Jamaica's priceless ecosystem and remove residents from their homes, farming, and other businesses for some more bauxite.

At first, in 1970-80, the Government of Jamaica attempted to redefine the Maroon treaty rights, their autonomy, and the extent of their land ownership outlined in 'Maroon Autonomy in Jamaica' by Kenneth Bilby and reported occasionally in The Gleaner, but the Maroons held to these rights, their land, and self-determination for the benefit of their communities.

Eventually, in trying to acquire more land for bauxite mining, the Government of Jamaica issued some six special mining leases and established proposed boundaries of the Cockpit Country through nine different stakeholder groups to try and facilitate the mining. The mining leases were designed by a single individual to include all bauxite-laden property and exclude non-bauxite land and has been a main reason for this untenable situation which is confusing and cannot be supported by any sensible person.

The Government of Jamaica announced that there would be a Cockpit Country Protected Area in which no mining would take place; however, this area has not been completely defined and agreed upon by the GOJ/Noranda combined because the Maroons, the Cockpit Country stakeholder groups, as well as thousands of other Jamaicans who are familiar with the project realise that the mining leases would jeopardise the entire area and none of the nine proposed boundaries can protect the Cockpit Country.

They represent nine overlapping boundaries and one problem with one solution — there can be no mining in the Cockpit Country!

Maroon territories in Jamaica have a history and culture of incalculable and timeless value. The physical properties formed over millions of years are a priceless ecological treasure which modify Jamaica's climate. It is a great soil source — some say second best in the world — supplies 40 per cent or more of our water supply and the Black River and morass, Great River, Martha Brae, Rio Grande, Appleton Estate water supply and exports totalling over US$10 million of yams in a year.

The Cockpit Country and other Maroon territories are underdeveloped agricultural regions ready for food production, economic and agro-industrial development. Community, cultural, environmental, health, wellness and medicinal tourism, and other activities that can provide sustainable development and incomes for thousands of Jamaicans. Why would we not develop our country to provide food and a better standard of living for our people from the land, countering climate change and its problems, as the governor general just said?

John Allgrove's article 'Before you pour more concrete', also successfully argues the case for the current Government — which says it values the environment — to reconsider its decision and use the Bernard Lodge and Caymanas lands for agricultural purposes and not urban development. Sound advice, as we imported nearly US$1 billion of food last year, which seems to increase in cost to consumers daily.

Jamaica is one of the high-risk countries that may suffer greatly from climate change, decreasing our potential food supply and water resources, so it is imperative that every acre of land be used as wisely as possible guided by an updated National Environmental Impact Assessment study and the recently announced national spatial plan.

So why would we even be thinking of bauxite mining which we have done since the 1950s yet people mainly point to the red mud lakes and increasing poverty after over 60 years of being a prime bauxite producer in an unpredictable industry?

If we have enough technological and industrial capacity to process bauxite to higher levels of value-added products then the Government could consider importing bauxite for this reason without mining in the Cockpit Country.

Richard Crawford is an advocate and social commentator. Send comments the Observer or

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