There are many persons in the halls of ‘power’ who believe that the persons expressing concerns over the Yida Development plans are ‘anti-development’ and have accused them of being ‘small minded’ and opposing for the sake of opposing. Granted, there may be some that are doing just that, but there are many, many people, we would venture to say the vast majority, who are looking at this situation objectively and forming their own conclusions – outside of any political taint.
Unless you are completely blinded by politics, there is no predisposition to being anti-anything. We all want to see our country develop, and for every able body to have a job or own a business, but achieving that goal must be done responsibly. And it must be done with the long-term in mind. We must think of what impacts the decisions we make today will have on future generations. If our politicians continue the myopic vision of fulfilling short-term satisfaction in order to win the next election, we are doomed.
We expect that the first response will be that the Yida project is not a short-term thing and by its mere scale, we should know that. Yes! We agree. So, let’s dispense of that argument at the onset. Our criticism is that there are decisions being taken that do not exhibit a long-term plan or vision that truly considers our children, our grandchildren and every future generation to come. And if there is one, it has not been communicated fully or properly.
As the criticisms continue to fly back and forth, and valid points are unfairly categorized political rhetoric, it got us to questioning whether this is all normal. We wondered whether our people could ever rise above politics to agree on the way forward? Could we ever unite for the sake of our children?
Strangely, that led us to our Caribbean brothers and sisters to the south in St. Lucia. The people in that country are facing very similar issues to us. The Allen Chastanet administration is pressing forward with a massive, more than 800-acre development called “The Pearl of the Caribbean”, located at Vieux Fort in the southern part of the island. The project is better known as the ‘DSH Project’ as it is backed by the Hong Kong based management and investment company Desert Star Holding Limited.
Like our Yida project, the investment is said to be in the billions and massive in scale. Concessions have been generous and transparency, according to many, has been scarce. From the information available, the proposed “fully integrated” project will house a marina, a racecourse, a resort, a shopping mall, casino, Free Trade Zone, entertainment and leisure facilities, eco-tourism as well as villas and apartments. A “fully-integrated” world within a world. By the way, as far as we can tell, “Free Trade Zone” equals “Special Economic Zone”. Boy, this all sounds so familiar.
What is different, is the response by the locals. As preparation work on the DSH site continues, protests have been ramping up with the opposition joining with various concerned citizen and community groups to call for greater transparency and a full renegotiation of the deal. Protest marches have begun and people have been turning out in their numbers.
In a recent protest march held in Vieux Fort recently, it was interesting to read some of the comments from the protesters. Online news portal stlucianewsonline.com reported, “Cynthia Satney, a member of the Vieux Fort Concerned Citizens Coalition for Change, said they are not protesting because they are party hacks, but because they have a genuine concern which needs to be addressed by Prime Minister Allen Chastanet.” Fear of victimisation was of the main reasons cited as a reason why more people were not speaking out, with another coalition member, Julius James, reportedly saying, “They are afraid of making a statement. They don’t want their faces to be shown in public … Victimization is real in this country.”
Protests and criticism aside, it would be worth it for all of us to become more informed about the St Lucia DSH Project because it will put our own Yida project in perspective. We should apply the same critical eye in assessing the arguments there as we attempt to analyse the arguments here. In this way, we could dispense of any colour kool-aid that we may be consuming and arrive at a well-reasoned opinion that is based on fact and “in the best interest for the country” and not on any political propaganda.
And speaking of political propaganda, we wonder what the Antigua & Barbuda Labour Party’s stand would be if the United Progressive Party had gone into bed with Yida and were making the same type of proposals. Would we hear them singing in unity for the destruction of mangroves for the sake of beaches? Would they lock arms in support of the myriad of generous concession? And would they say that the environmental risk to our most precious marine park is worth the risk of potentially dangerous development? We venture to say, with great confidence, the answer to those questions is a big fat “NO!” With that, we believe that our point has been made.
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