Bequia Begone . . .
Allow me to first feel a fond memory of Friendship. I remember well those idyllic days with father, mother, siblings, cousins, grandparents on Friendship beach, my feet sinking inches into the soft sand, my nostrils inhaling the aroma of seaweed deposited on the shore, the endless, relentless, sound of the waves gently throwing themselves on Friendship beach next to the whaleboats. I recall seeing that mast-less would-be schooner in solitude forever bobbing and tugging at its anchor in the middle of what was Friendship bay, just inside Hillary. I remember when we were free to walk and swim anywhere, anytime…
Wake up! This is not romanticising a childhood past; this is a reality check in the present! A marina will turn that azure, aquamarine sea of Friendship - in 10 years - into a blackened bilge and oil-slicked soup. This marina completely detracts from, nay, disturbs, destroys and dishonours the natural, historical, spiritual and social stature and landscape of Friendship and Bequia. The whole vernacular - architectural, spiritual, linguistic, social, and marine – of this precious space will be reduced to an abyss and a bottomless pit of cultural bilge and environmental insurgents. Friendship will no longer be a sound, unimpaired, perfect condition. Friendship’s destruction has already begun with the ugly concrete carcasses contaminating its shores. Let’s not continue the destruction. Let us not be lured in like lobsters in a lobster trap that is designed to benefit solely the owner of the trap. We will hear a lot of architectural, marketing and political sophistry about environmental management plans and best management practices and how the project will create 45 million jobs for 5000 people… you get the drift.
Let me first of all say that I fully support any plan conceived with integrity and responsibility for the development of Bequia. I support any development that, as well, falls within the definition of sustainable tourism. I place emphasis on the pertinent word, “integrity”. Examples of “integrity development” in Bequia – looking at Bequia’s history for inspiration and guidance - include the installation of electricity, making concrete decisions in laying down roads and the facilitation of effective, comfortable ferry services. Thank you to the visionary leaders in government and private sector who did those deeds.
I think it important to remind ourselves of the definition and, more so, the essential meaning of the word “integrity” so as to better understand the purpose and meaning of my proposition.
The dictionary indicates that the word integrity means:
1)”adherence to ethical principles
2) “The state of being whole”
4) “A sound, unimpaired or perfect condition.
I am in no position to launch into any invective suggesting that putting down a marina in Bequia is in opposition to ethical principles; then again, it probably is. My position is that a marina in Bequia, lacks integrity and does not contribute - but in fact destroys the notion and the ocean of sustainable tourism. Sustainable tourism should, inter alia, make optimal use of environmental resources, maintain essential ecological resources, help to conserve natural heritage and biodiversity. Sustainable tourism should also respect the socio-cultural authenticity of the community, conserve the living cultural heritage and traditional values and contribute to inter-cultural understanding and tolerance.
Responsible development should reduce to a minimum, the negative social, environmental and economic effects of that development - and again I emphasise - the conservation of natural and cultural heritage.
I am, like most of us, well acquainted with many islands in the Caribbean – especially those famous for their heavy investment in the larger-scale tourism product – Jamaica, Barbados, Antigua, St. Lucia, Trinidad, - and the evidence is blatant on almost all the islands I have visited – and those I have not visited I have read the reports on the horror – that the above conditions are never met with any degree of seriousness or sense of obligation by politicians or those they allow to become their foreign masters. Once the politicians and investors sign the papers, the former boast that they have created jobs (high-tech slavery really) and the latter swear they will do all that is agreed to above, and then its basically back to 1710 in the Caribbean we go. Wash, rinse, hang out to dry … the people, that is – and repeat with next “investors dream” – not yours.
To place a marina in Friendship is preposterous, it’s an oxymoron, and it’s a contradiction of common sense. Take a gorgeous, pristine, natural, marine environment that’s alive and open, flowing and free, a source of joy to all. Then, through greed for profit, kill it; turn it into a money-machine for a select few - under the guise of creating “jobs” for the people of Bequia. We’ll also hear that it’s going to contribute to the GDP of SVG. That’s BS, MS, PhD - Piled High and Deep. What is people-wrong could never be economically or politically right. To this unspoiled beauty, boats will introduce fouling fuel, messy motor oil, bio-diversity-killing bottom paints and hull cleaners into the environment from operation and maintenance activities. What about the necessary and requisite laws needed at the national level for this type of operation? Will they be written? Then, how are these laws going to be policed? Let’s not even go there!
What about hazardous waste management? Spill Prevention Control and counter-measure planning? Forget about the BP oil spill, just take a look at the water at the wharf in Kingstown where there is a constant oil-slick from the vessels there. Or try taking a swim at Rathomill/ Blue Lagoon. Bequia cannot even handle the numerous challenges with the current flow of yachts and their pollution coming into our waters. I urge those in favour of this project to consider the mounting challenges of increased sea traffic and its illegitimate spawn: crime and drugs. Yes every man-made solution causes two more problems: drugs and piracy are two of many more that will attend this maritime monster.
Let me take you now 24 years into the future … into another dream, this one however is a nightmare of the dystopia of 2034. The FUTURE!, featuring Friendship Bay: Hello folks – I’m your tour guide and welcome to this brave new world of 2034; The smile you see on my face is plastic; we practise to pretend when we greet our new friends. Now If any of you have been here before you might remember this one-time paradise being called Friendship. I welcome you to what is now, “Leaky-ship”. It is now so called by locals because of the oil, bilge and other pollutants that have been disgorged from the many yachts that have s-l-i-t-h-e-r-e-d into this once pristine area where children of Bequia once freely played but is now off limits to them – unless, of course, their parents have club membership at the marina.
I’d like to give a brief history of Leakyship. It was once, as I just said, called Friendship and indeed that was a time when people were friends, this was a friendly place and the ships were built in Bequia and were owned by the people of Bequia. Now everyone’s fighting over the limited number of jobs available at the marina, most of which have been awarded to persons outside of Bequia now that, in 2034, the world is a free zone. Of course every Caribbean island north and south of Bequia has a bigger and better equipped marina – especially Cuba, now once again a thriving, open-market, and greedy US playground. In fact Cuba is completely surrounded by not an embargo but US-owned cruise ship berths and marinas. Fidel and Raul must be turning in their Mausoleums.
Indeed, how things have turned upside down. Imagine Haiti, under the avant–garde leadership of President Wyclef Jean, unanimously voted into office in 2010, is now ranking high in the economic indices of the world. Their secret? Because Haiti was and is still so “undeveloped” and “stuck” in history and culture, the public and private sectors marketed that to a niche clientele and Haiti is now where intelligent, wealthy, cultured tourists, looking for authentic Caribbean experiences, are going. Haiti’s eco-resorts are booming – and so is Haiti! Who would have thought so, just twenty-four years ago after the earthquake!
In 2010 we reached out to the wrong market, and thousands of new, uncaring rich swarmed onto our shores – we began to see the other negative effects of the marina. It destroyed the whole; it created a huge, jagged rip in the fabric of what the people of Bequia had defined and designed over centuries as essentially Bequia, of Bequia and for Bequia. There was no place in the world like this “Island of Clouds”, Bequia. Now, in 2034, Bequia is just like any north American city – concrete, corruption, cars, carelessness... and no clouds, therefore no rain, no green, no growth. What we knew as Bequia over 30 years ago in 2000, forged over centuries by women and men of sail, salt and sea, this marina, in ten years has wrecked. This marina, though associated with sailing, is not part of that special something that was quintessentially Bequia. This marina is outside the pale of the culture of what was Bequia. This marina is now Bequia; it has diminished not only Friendship into Leaky-ship but Bequia into Wreck-we. My grandfather, a whaler, shipwright, fisherman and farmer, born in Friendship in 1902 and who lived in Friendship for most of the twentieth century, used to say, “Partnership is a leaky ship”. Indeed partnership with the wrong ideas has led to Leaky-ship, Wreck-we. Anyway ladies and gentlemen, let’s move on to the next exhibit on our guided tour, the life-size golden statues of the investors and political leader who brought us the marina….
Wake up! It has not happened - Yet. We can predict the future – by creating it! We must have a common (and uncommon) sense response to the questions: what type of investment is right for us and when is enough investment enough? When all the land and sea is packed up with investors’ projects, and there's no space and place for a child of Bequia to play unless he or she can pay, will we then be free and filled with joy? When everyone on Bequia is employed by this marina, will Bequia then become better? What is the end product? What are we seeking to achieve with this marina? If the best that the politicians/planners/owners can come up with is, “jobs for the people of Bequia” and more foreign exchange/more visitors to Bequia” then I say that is the complete antithesis of what is needed. Less is more. Stop this infernal five-hundred year practice of an external group using us to create a machine that the unthinking but hard-working get winched into like a sheet in a sail in a Bequia regatta double-ender. Tremendous profits are made but only the captains of industry, not the captains of the yachts, taste of them. At what point do we stop filling up the open land and sea with an edifice to profit and leave a space simply because that space has priceless value to all?
I'd like to share the "Cadet Prayer" offered at the U.S. Military Academy:
"Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half truth when the whole truth can be won. Endow us with the courage that is born of loyalty to all that is noble and worthy, that scorns to compromise with vice and injustice and knows no fear when truth and right are in jeopardy."
Please - politician, planners, people - keep this and all other such “developments” away from Bequia. Let us make no more concrete plans for building Bequia in this way, or we become but thieves of the bliss that is Bequia and stealers of our children’s God-given, ancestor-driven inheritance – a free, open, clean, green land of liberty, the Island of Clouds - not crowds. Bequia Beware.