The most famous quotation in the renowned syndicated Walt Kelly comic strip
The long-running satirical Pogo comic strip
’s most memorable quote – “We have met the enemy and he is us” – is a parody of a message sent in 1813 from US Navy Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry to Army General William Henry Harrison after his victory in the Battle of Lake Erie in the War of 1812 between the United States and what later became Canada, stating, "We have met the enemy, and they are ours". What the Pogo adaptation of this famous expression mocked was the indifference to environmental protection but it has been applied to countless other issues deriding various features of the human condition.
I was reminded of Pogo by the angry reaction
of the New Democratic Party (NDP) of St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) to the announcement by its Unity Labour Party (ULP) enemy that the latter has sold 36 acres at Mt Wynne/Peter’s Hope to foreign developers for EC$7 million (US$2.6 million):
“’You can’t take all of the best lands and give it to foreign investors. That is so basic, it doesn’t need a comment,’ … Arnhim Eustace told a press conference in Kingstown …. ‘As far as Mt Wynne-Peters Hope is concerned, we, in the NDP, simply do not support this fire sale of a prized national asset by the ULP administration, under the so-called guise of ‘development.’
“He noted that the area could have been developed without selling 31 acres of land that he called ‘prime real estate.’
“He said the NDP … is ‘totally against the sale of Mt Wynne and Peters Hope to foreign interests and thereby denying unborn Vincentian generations an opportunity to be stakeholders in their own land and therefore be reduced to second class citizens.’ …
He said what shocked him even more was that the land was sold for a mere XCD$7 million, which he says boils down to about $5.18 per square foot.”
Of course, the NDP’s angry response was no surprise because opposing government policies is, well, what an official opposition party is supposed to do regardless of whether it is warranted or not.
In this case, however, knee-jerk opposition is nothing short of foolish hypocrisy for which it deserved the condemnation
given by the Prime Minister, the Honourable Dr Ralph E. Gonsalves. This rebuke was warranted partly because the Mt Wynne/Peter’s Hope area has been earmarked for tourist development since the 681 acres making up the two former estates were bought by the previous NDP James F. Mitchell government in 1989 for a mere EC$5 million – testimony to its low agricultural value and tourism potential -- from the Casson family, the last of a long series of private owners since the partitioning and sale of Crown lands after the British gained control of SVG in 1763.
So the land was private property for 226 years and public property for only 27 years, hardly grounds for much outrage.
Yet outrage is what we also hear from others as well, including self-styled “political activist and social commentator for almost thirty years”, Matthew Thomas (in real life a pharmacist trained overseas by white people), who has just written a letter to the prime minister
complaining about “… how determined [he is] to sell our patrimony [namely a few acres at Mt Wynne/Peter’s Hope], ironically to the descendants of the slave masters…”, ignorant of the fact that the descendant in question is actually Dino Sciavilla, a man of Italian parentage, whose ancestral homeland colonized only Ethiopia and parts of East Africa between 1869 and 1960, during which time they enslaved no one. But perhaps this pusher of the white man’s dangerous prescription drugs (which he regularly imports from the ex-slave society of the United States to sell at inflated prices to his hapless black countrymen) was actually referring to Ancient Rome
of 2,000 years ago where the enslavement of white people did in fact flourish for centuries. More likely, in his warped mind, all white people, including perhaps the prime minister himself, are the “descendant of slave masters,” a belief he shares with his acolyte Peter Binose.
According to this “political activist”, Mt Wynne/Peter’s Hope is a “diamond” (yes, there are “black diamonds” of immeasurable worth in the world but none at Mt Wynne), which “… consists of billions of dollars worth of stones [that can be exported] for generations to come”.
Such is the level of racist “intellectual” and nonsensical developmental discourse in our backward little nation. Should anyone be surprised that with opponents like this that Comrade Gonsalves has won four-in-a-row?
The real story of Mt Wynne/Peter’s Hope is that the previous Mitchell government bought the land with World Bank and other funding for two purposes: (1) peasant resettlement (at Peter’s Hope) and (2) to attract direct foreign tourism investment, the local hospitality sector being incapable of raising the millions needed for large scale projects. Indeed, according to no less an authority than Karl John
, by the early 1990s there were serious negotiations with a group of British investors to build a 100-150 room hotel, leisure complex, marina, and 18-hole golf course at Mt Wynne, the latter made possible by the sweeping inland road diversion that exists today as the only sign of the failed effort.
Peter’s Hope (top) and Mt. Wynne (bottom)
The land has remained idle, undeveloped, and unwanted ever since. This is the kind of property the NDP calls “a prized national asset”, “all of the best lands”, and “prime real estate” and what dispenser Thomas calls “a diamond”.
Mitchell’s goal was to sell or lease the lands not earmarked for peasant cultivation, with the probable exception of the Little Bay area (that currently hosts sea bathing, picnicking, and special events, almost exclusively attended by locals). Currently, Invest SVG, a government department, lists 400 plus acres at Peter’s Hope/Mt Wynne as available for tourism investment
, suggesting that the Dr Ralph E. Gonsalves’ regime is simply following the previous NDP policy of reserving Little Bay for exclusive public use.
The rest of the property has been off limits to the general public since the last days of the Mitchell era. Big Bay is available for limited use “by request only” and the Peter’s Hope road has been long blocked by big stones to prevent the sand-mining and garbage dumping that was destroying the area and further lowering its value.
As for the alleged low price of the land (“a fire sale”), it was surely based on the law of supply and demand and the aphorism that beggars can’t be choosers. Those who claim the land should have been sold for EC$12 a square foot or more or is worth “billions” according to dispenser Matthews (who is joined at the hip to another “Internet crazy,” Peter Binose, who claimed the tiny bit of acreage is worth US$68 million
or 26 times the actually purchase amount) need to learn that no one showed any interest in buying or leasing any of the lands for any purpose for two and a half decades.
Indeed, the entire block of some 620 acres has not been “prime real estate” since the ancient days when “sugar was king” and fortunes were made (on the backs of our wickedly enslaved ancestors) for several decades between the 1780s and 1830s. Since then, as one cash crop after another (principally cotton, arrowroot, coconuts, tobacco, and bananas) experienced a brief flirt with prosperity, the estates floundered, went bankrupt, were abandoned, changed hands time and again, and were finally nationalized and partially subdivided for peasant cultivation, residential settlement, or some hoped for future development.
The last period of agricultural prosperity ended with the recent removal of tariff, quota, and other trade preferences on bananas, something we had as little control over as all the other market declines but for which the present regime has been unfairly blamed. The return of aged overseas migrants from the Caribbean and Great Britain eager to purchase land for a little gardening and a lot of house building is long past and the prospect that most of those who relocated to work in the United States and Canada will ever return here for retirement being a fantasy at best, means that lands between windward Biabou and the outskirts of leeward Layou have just about reached their maximum worth.
In a market economy like ours, land has no human value or price if no one wants to use or buy it. Surely, both sides in the Mt Wynne/Peter’s Hope transaction were well aware of the demand for and price of comparable beachfront land in neighbouring islands.
As they say, the proof is in the pudding: after over 25 years of effort marketing the lands, the best that the government could come up with is a promise by Pace Development Inc.
, a mid-sized developer and builder of family homes and apartments headquartered just north of Toronto, with no apparent international resort experience, to build a mere 50 villas on a black sand beach no one else has ever wanted. Is this the scale of projects Glen Beache, beleaguered head of the tourism authority, had in mind when he said, “This [Argyle] airport is a huge game-changer
Little Bay, Mt Wynne (below) and Big Bay, Mt Wynne (above)
Compare this to the recent announcement by another Canadian developer, Montreal-based 360 VOX, which is preparing to break ground on a $1.4 billion development
with 27 holes of golf, four luxury hotels, and 2,700 high-end villas and apartments for sale to foreigners in – you guessed it – Cuba.
And where are the other big-time developers we have been hearing about for years, giant corporations that have been building or running massive hotels and resorts all over the Caribbean for years -- Marriott, Starwood, Club Med, Sandals, and Four Seasons?
As for leasing the land instead – what Mr Eustace must have been referring to when he said, “The area could have been developed without selling” -- a 100-year lease is usually the minimum period in such transactions, which would have still seen a loss of “all the best lands” (36 acres or a mere five percent of the entire 681 acres) for five generations, which would have still allegedly “reduced Vincentians to second class citizens” in the interim.
My guess is the government insisted sale instead of a lease, the latter being the more common way to transfer land to foreign developers these days since it is more politic to do so, because it is so strapped for upfront cash to finish the airport and pay its bills.
The hypocrisy of the NDP position is even more glaring than the repudiation of its own historic policies. Its barely dry December 2015 election manifesto
acknowledges that, “Tourism is our largest foreign exchange earner. It is largely undeveloped and has enormous potential for growth.” The party’s two most ambitious projects for realizing this potential are: (1) “A major international construction group will partner with the NDP to finally get the Argyle Airport into a state of readiness”; and (2) “a major international development group will build a 1,000 unit integrated residential and hotel resort complex on St Vincent”.
No name is attached to the “major international construction group” leading to the speculation that it does not exist. No location is given for the “1,000 unit integrated residential and hotel resort complex on St Vincent” – 20 times the size of the Pace project -- but based on their other plans for tourism development in the Grenadines it could be nowhere but the Mt Wynne/Peter’s Hope area, the only suitable venue in the entire country for such a complex.
St Clair Leacock, one of two vice-presidents of the NDP, suggested at the same press conference that a national stadium could be built at Mt Wynne or that the lands could be used for agriculture. Both claims are absurd. There are no existing funds or potential funders for a national stadium, plantation agriculture is long dead, peasant farming is on life support as cheaper imports flood our market, and our existing quarries are all underexploited.
So what actually is the NDP’s real position on international tourism? Who knows? But given that there are no realistic developmental alternatives to international tourism (save making some chocolate and producing a few coffee beans) and given that the ULP is going full speed ahead – for better or worse -- to build direct foreign tourism investment, the NDP opposition to the new project (despite its recent manifesto promises and the Mitchell-era legacy of promoting international tourism) is the sign of a disorganized and demoralized party tilting like Don Quixote at every ULP windmill, this time falling flat on its face before its latest phantom enemy: foreign hospitality development. To paraphrase Pogo, “The NDP has seen the enemy and it is them.”
The second tourism enemy is we, the people of SVG. At least this is my take on the view expressed by Daniel Cummings, the NDP’s other vice-president, who raised the issue of beach access at the same press conference by saying:
“How many places in St Vincent can we go to the beach, have recreation without interruption” … noting that St Vincent does not have the type of beaches that are found in the Grenadines.
Apart from the fact that that we wouldn’t be having this discussion about Mt Wynne/Peter’s Hope if our mainland beaches resembled those of, say, Canouan, because dozens of hotels would have been constructed from one end of the leeward coast to the other decades ago, what would be the effect of this sale on the people who use the beachfront area?
Except for public holidays and special events, Little Bay (which again does not seem to be earmarked for either sale or lease), is virtually deserted during weekdays. Sometimes fewer than five or six people are there during the prime evening sea-bathing hours. On some days none. Some visitors never even leave their vehicles, preferring instead to visit the generally secluded area above the northern corner of the beach or a track off the main potholed stone path leading to the sea for a little lovemaking.
Except for holidays and other special occasions, usually no more than 100-150 people occupy the bayside area most weekends, many there only to old talk, fill their belly with chicken and rice, and get drunk (or stoned, if there are no police around). Lots of visitors never venture down to the sea even for a quick dip. This is especially true of female guests many of whom cannot swim.
How do I know all this? Because my wife and I have driven to Mt Wynne, arguably the best sea-bathing beach area in the country, nearly every evening between December and April from our Windward holiday home for the past 13 years to swim, snorkel, and beach walk.
I also know that many visitors indiscriminately discard their glass, plastic, and Styrofoam garbage all about in typical Vincie fashion, though there are some refuse bins (but not enough) on the bayside.
Though the entire three-bay area is protected from environmental predation by gates and boulders, this is not true of the rest of the mainland, where generations of our people have mindlessly destroyed one leeward beach after another by selfishly engaging in household and commercial beach-sand mining. Our people have likewise aimlessly destroyed our forests and ignorantly polluted our rivers and inshore seas. Tell me, which throngs of discerning tourists will ever want to flock here?
Kingstown is a ramshackle excuse for a capital to be sure, to be sure, as the photo below and everyday experience suggest.
A piece of urban sculpture, the main tourist attraction at Chinatown, Kingstown, St Vincent Island
But our formerly pristine rural communities are no better. The town of Layou, the second closest settlement to Mt Wynne/Peter’s Hope, used to have a reasonable bayside area, which saw children swimming and playing from Corner Bay to the jetty to the end of Jackson’s Bay from morning till night, often augmented by national and foreign overseas visitors until, beginning some 50 years ago, indiscriminate personal and commercial sand, gravel, and stone mining by locals and outsiders, reinforced by natural erosion, threatened to drown much of the bayside area even during small storms, thereby necessitating the construction of a coffin-like World Bank-funded
retention wall some 15 years ago.
Layou seaside around 1930 showed the healthy width of the beach
The unabated mining of sand at shrinking Jackson’s Bay on the northern side of the larger bay (residents have told me that much of the time ten steps into the sea means water up to their necks), right under the nose of Sir Lewis Straker, the deputy prime minister of SVG, who lives fewer than 100 yards away, will soon demand yet another retention wall and no more beach swimming for Layou people.
Current Layou beachfront following the reclamation project
So where will they go for a sea bath? Not to Mt Wynne if all the land is leased or sold to overseas developers, allegedly over Mr Thomas’ dead body (“Mt Wynne/Peters Hope is not for sale. It shall not be sold. It will not be sold. It is our patrimony. It is our diamond.”), as unlikely as such a sale or lease may be. And what would be my response if this ever happened: “Fire for you, Layou people! You made your concrete coffins at Jackson Bay, now go lie in them.”
Beach preservation, Layou-style
Though it appears that the ULP is the only true friend of direct foreign tourism investment -- after all, the party invited Dave Ames to build the Buccament Bay Resort, it expedited five-star resort development in Canouan, and it just brought Canadian developers to invest in Mt Wynne/Peter’s Hope – with a friend like this, who needs enemies?
For all the reasons I have documented in 34 essays, the mainland of St Vincent has little intrinsic potential as a major Caribbean tourist destination. Not the least reasons for this is the poor construction, enhancement, protection, and maintenance of our existing vacation attractions and the manner in which this government has turned a blind eye to the colossal anti-Pogo environmental destruction that has occurred all across the land during its nearly 16 years in power.
Most of all, the “game-changing” construction of Argyle International Airport to service what will be a miniscule increase in tourism has been a colossal waste of time and money that will make up poorer than ever for generations to come. So will the foolhardy decision to allow the likes of Dave Ames to build a resort at Buccament Bay, which may soon be shuttered following the October 3 announcement that “Harlequin Property SVG
has formally entered insolvency proceedings, which could lead to its liquidation and heavy losses for thousands of [overseas] investors” together with the loss of tens of thousands of dollars to unpaid Vincentian workers, contractors, and suppliers, not to mention the termination and pauperization of scores of resort employees.
Could this also be the eventual fate of Pace Developments, an Italian family business that has constructed a comparatively few 3,000 residential units
around the Toronto area during its 30-year existence, given that many similar projects by much larger companies with lots of international experience have failed all across the tropical holiday world?
My guess is that Pace will market these small homes the same way that Dave Ames peddled the cottages at Buccament Bay (calling the small buildings at either locale “villas” is a hyperbolic use of a term that refers to spacious, usually multi-storied, luxurious country residences enclosed within a large courtyard): income-generating holiday rental accommodation occupied by the owner for only a couple of weeks a year.
Whether this project is a success or not, it would still adversely affect the rest of the mainland tourism business because the whole local industry is a zero-sum game with visits to one already half-empty resort or hotel coming at the expense of others. Needless to say, this impediment could magically disappear if the operation of Argyle International Airport is “a huge game-changer for us” precipitating an unimaginable burst in tourist visits. Flying pigs, anyone
And what happened to the other promised initiatives based on an agreement the prime minister claimed
he signed with Canadian investors (Pace Developments or others) in July 2015 for hotel development at the same leeward site?
“It’s a huge investment. The developers, on whom we have done the appropriate due diligence, they will be doing hotel development and also villas. They are doing a golf course with clubhouse. The government of St Vincent and the Grenadines will retain ownership of the golf course and the club house facilities, but also the management for the hotel, the enterprise will manage it.”
What exactly is the status of this long-signed project? Ask Ralph.
Of course, our final mainland tourism enemy is Mother Nature herself, which has blessed us with a beautiful and beloved island – a tropical paradise all our own that we are slowly by surely destroying – but which nonetheless has little prospect for mass tourism and limited capacity for small-scale eco-tourism, an assertion I have repeatedly documented in these essays.
So, we have met the tourism enemy and he is us -- all of us -- and what little we have to offer the competitive world of international tourism.
This is the 35th in a series of essays on the folly of the proposed Argyle International Airport.
My other AIA pieces can be found below:
Get ready for a November election in St Vincent and the Grenadines! But which November?
Lessons for Argyle International Airport from Canada's Montreal-Mirabel International Airport
Lessons for Argyle International Airport from the cruise ship industry
Lessons from Target Canada for Argyle International Airport in St Vincent
Lessons from Trinidad and Tobago for Argyle International Airport
The dark side of tourism: Lessons for Argyle Airport
Why Argyle won't fly: Lessons from Dominica
Ken Boyea and the Phantom City at Arnos Vale
Airport envy Vincie-style
Fully realising our country's tourism potential
Airport without a cause
The unnatural place for an international airport
The Potemkin Folly at Argyle
False patriotism and deceitful promises at Argyle
Airport politics and betrayal Vincie-style
Phony airport completion election promises, Vincie-style
Is Argyle International Airport really a ‘huge game-changer for us’?
Has the cat got your tongue, prime minister?
More proof that Argyle won't fly
Our very own Vincentian cargo cult at Argyle
The missing Argyle Airport feasibility studies
The world's four most amazing abandoned airports
Farming, fishing, and foolish talk about Argyle International Airport
Argyle Airport amateur hour
St Vincent's place in the world of travel
Investing in St Vincent's tourism industry
The Argyle Airport Prophecy: What the numbers say
Did the IMF drink the Comrade's Kool-Aid?
Why Qatar? Why St Vincent and the Grenadines?
Foolish words about Argyle International Airport
'If I come, you will build it': Lessons from the Maldives for Argyle International Airport
City lessons for Argyle International Airport
Who really lands at Arnos Vale?
No ticky, no washy - Argyle-style