By Matthew Thomas
St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves announced on June 7, 2018, that he has secured a US$50 million soft loan from Taiwan to construct a 250-room hotel at Mt Wynne. He said that the government will build the hotel but will engage a company with a global brand to market and manage it. Gonsalves made the statement in the context of the old saying: “Government can’t manage anything.”
Mt Wynne is a beachfront estate that was sold to the government of SVG in 1989 by the original owners, the Cassons, descendants of slave owners for almost a reparative price.
Mt Wynne is located approximately two miles from the controversial Buccama Beach Resort, which was built on farmlands, 27 acres of which was forcefully acquired/repossessed from 12 Rasta farmers in 2006. The project turned out to be a Ponzi scheme and its architect, Dave Ames, left this country as a fugitive and is currently in Britain on charges of fraud and corruption.
The hotel has been closed since December 2015, with employees and local businesses yet to be paid for services and credits. With the experience of Buccama, reasonable people are asking where is the wisdom in investing in such a project at Mt Wynne.
In reporting the injustice that was meted out to the Rasta farmers at Buccama, the Searchlight of 17/08/2006, reported thus:
“Buccamma Farmers Singing The Blues – Some of the farmers own the lands while others lease and have vowed to die before they give up their land. Minister Francis told the farmers that he understands their passion for the land but pointed out to them that Government felt it necessary to change from farming to tourism in the picturesque valley.
“’If the land is good for our survival, it is good for us to die for. I feel like get a bullet right now,’ said a farmer.”
To date the farmers have not been resettled.
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves is a forerunner in the debate on medical marijuana to the extent that three bills were slated for Parliament on Thursday September 6, 2018. (1) A Medical Cannabis Industry Bill, (2) A Sacramental Bill and (3) A Marijuana Amnesty Bill. As a precursor to the Bills, the government accommodated various foreign entrepreneurs to interview and have meetings with landowners and prospective employees with a view to purchasing and or leasing lands and to guarantee prospective employment to the labouring class.
The actions of Ralph Gonsalves are so overt that many, even among the Rastas, see them as a clear case of a return to the plantation life, not necessarily in physical chains but mentally.
Ralph Gonsalves has impressed many that there are millions to be made by investing in a medical marijuana industry. He has even employed a medical doctor, Dr Jerol Thompson, together with lawyers from the Legal Affairs department, to conduct a series of radio interactive and community outreach programmes in order to convince the skeptics and the “doubting Thomases” that the medical marijuana industry can become the economic lifeblood of SVG.
Everyone knows that the lack of employment and other opportunities have forced too many of our young black men and women into smoking ganja and to seek employment in the hills as ganja farmers, taking the line of least resistance.
I implore Prime Minister Gonsalves to do just as he has done for tourism, to find a US$50 million soft loan to build the medical marijuana facility and hand it over to the Rastas to market and manage. He should not be fearful since he is totally convinced that medical marijuana can become the panacea of our economic future.
In helping him to make the decision, I quote from the book” Land Reform In Small Island Developing States by Karl John, a developmental planner:
1. Sir Rupert John, then Governor said in a Throne Speech on May 4, 1972: “My Government will develop the infrastructure of St. Vincent to promote agricultural expansion. Programmes of Land Reform geared at production will be undertaken and proper advice and financing sought so as to stabilize our rural communities.”
2. James Mitchell, then Premier and Minister of Agriculture, in delivering a lecture at the Caribbean Ecumenical Consultation for Development (CADEC) in Trinidad on August29, 1972, said: “Land Reform must be related to both the sectional interests of development in our region, both agriculture and tourism. Such reform means redistribution of large areas into small farms and also the consolidation of small plots into small farms. The goal of any policy in land reform should be related to productivity. The programme must permit beneficiaries to own the land and provide credit, training and opportunity for them to lead fulfilling lives as farmers.”
3. The author, in adopting the guiding principle of land reform in the charter of Punta del Este wrote:
“Land Reform is an integrated process designed to transform the agrarian structure of the country and replace the system of large land holdings (estates) and very small holdings by an equitable system of land ownership, tenancy and exploitation; by instituting for that purpose a framework of agrarian legislation which will guarantee social justice for the agricultural sector, increase the output and productivity of the land, raise and assure the incomes of the farming population; so that the land represents for the person working it a basis of economic stability, the foundation of his well-being and a guarantee of his dignity and freedom.”
Like so many bills before, facilitating foreign direct investments, if the local people cannot be financially empowered to own or be in direct partnership with the foreigner, as glossy as the bill may appear to be, it only provides for a return to plantation life.