Jamaica To Hand Over Heart of Its Largest Protected Area to Blacklisted Chinese Conglomerate

author writer Richard Conniff
Author Richard Conniff

Tourism has long been the leading economic sector in Jamaica, bringing in half of all foreign revenue and supporting a quarter of all jobs.

Yet government officials now risk jeopardizing that lucrative business, and Jamaica’s reputation in the international community, with a secretive deal to let a Chinese company build a mega-freighter seaport in the nation’s largest natural protected area.

The planned port would occupy the Goat Islands, in the heart of the Portland Bight Protected Area, which only last year the same government officials were petitioning UNESCO to designate a Global Biosphere Reserve. Instead, the lure of a $1.5 billion investment and a rumored 10,000 jobs has resulted in the deal with China Harbour Engineering Company, part of a conglomerate blacklisted by the World Bank under its Fraud and Corruption Sanctioning Policy.

  

Many details of the proposed project remain unknown, and the government has rebuffed repeated requests for information under Jamaica’s equivalent of the Freedom of Information Act. But the plan is believed to involve clear-cutting the mangrove forests on both Goat Islands, building up a level work area using dredge spoils from the surrounding waters, and constructing a coal-fired power plant to support the new infrastructure. The port, including areas currently designated as marine sanctuaries, would accommodate “post-Panamax”-size ships—up to 1,200 feet long and with a 50-foot draft—arriving via the newly expanded Panama Canal.

Hellshire Goat Island picture
Photo: Jeremy Francis

The new port would compromise an area known for extensive sea‐grass beds, coral reefs, wetlands, and Jamaica’s largest mangrove forests. The protected area is also home to the Jamaican iguana, a species believed extinct until its dramatic rediscovery in 1990. Since then, the international conservation community has spent millions of dollars rebuilding the iguana population in a protected forest in the Hellshire Hills, part of the reserve adjacent to the proposed port. Much of that investment hinged on the government’s promise, now apparently discarded, that the Goat Islands would become a permanent home for the iguanas, which are Jamaica’s largest vertebrate species.

“It sends a really poor message to the international conservation community—that an investment in Jamaica is not a good investment, that it can be wiped out in the blink of an eye,” said Byron Wilson, a herpetologist at the University of the West Indies. Wilson warned that a proposed causeway from the Goat 

Islands to the mainland, and the likely development of a community of workers, would consign the mainland iguana population to re-extinction. “Any place you put a lot of Chinese workers around the world, the wildlife suffers—it’s pretty clear.”

“Everything is for sale in Jamaica,” and not just the Goat Islands, added Rick Hudson, a herpetologist at the Fort Worth Zoo who has long collaborated on the iguana project. “They’re committed to developing every inch of the coastline for high-end hotels and resorts. There’s going to be no natural environment left.” Thus not much reason to visit Jamaica in the first place.

Jamaica’s existing port in Kingston Harbor could be expanded to handle the new traffic, Alfred Sangster, past president of Jamaica’s University of Technology, wrote earlier this week in the Jamaica Observer. The Chinese decision to reject that option “reflects a clear desire to have an enclave on the islands” where it can operate with fewer restrictions. He characterized the Chinese as the “new colonialists…in a country which has long memories of the legacies of colonialism.”

Diana McCaulay, CEO of the Jamaica Environment Trust, noted that the government has already relaxed work permit rules and created new categories of economic citizenship to accommodate the proposed project. On previous projects with Chinese contractors, she said, the majority of employees have been Chinese people. “And where they do employ Jamaican people, they don’t obey our work rules,” she said. She also worried that the secret terms of the deal may include tax or other incentives. “What is the benefit to Jamaica? That’s not clear.”

  

She added that China Harbour had insisted on building a coal-fired power plant, despite the inevitable contribution to climate change, because Jamaica’s electricity rates are too high. “Imagine that. We have to pay [the high rates], and they don’t.”

As one of the most indebted nations in the world, Jamaica is dependent on an International Monetary Fund financial package that stipulates paying down the nation’s debts. McCaulay attributed the deal to “desperation for what they call ‘development,’ but it’s more about winning an election in two years” for the government of Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller “than any benefit to Jamaica.”

“We live on a small island,” she added, “and it’s hard to believe anything universal is happening here. But it’s this whole idea that we should have more consumption. We already don’t know what to do with our wastes. We know we’re going to see sea level rise, and yet we just keep building more. We’re not stopping at all.  And then you have players like China come in, who don’t care at all.”

Conservationists say the Jamaican government does not much concern itself over internal protests, but both Jamaica and China are concerned about international opinion. Jamaica’s economy depends largely on European and American tourists, and the U.S. consumer market is the ultimate destination for most ships that would be using the Goat Islands port. So signatures from outside Jamaica may carry weight on a petition asking Prime Minister Simpson-Miller to stop the proposed development.

Contributed by Richard Conniff

Check out Richard’s blog HERE

Download The Jamaican Blogs™ App for your Android device: HERE


Remember to share this article on Facebook and other Social Media Platforms. To submit your own articles or to advertise with us please send us an EMAIL at: [email protected]

0 0 vote
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
112 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Andrea Taylor
6 years ago

No No No NO Jamaica DoNot let this happen…

Janet Margaret Davis
6 years ago

It’s six of one and half a dozen of the other. The Government, Conservationists and the Chinese need to get together to put their cases forward and let and independent enquiry team decide the outcome. Has this been suggested by anyone?

Wade Jackson
6 years ago

We Jamaicans better wake up and very soon. This secret deal with the Chinese can not be to the benefit of us, if it was why hide the details from us

Marcia Brown
6 years ago

There is good and bad in this idea, but mostly bad. It saddens me that Jamaica is for sale to the highest bidder, WHY?

Eulice Utton
6 years ago

Why not a solar Plant? Coal fired plants give off poisonous arsenic into the sea. The fishermen in the area will not see it coming. Sad.

Brenton Giff
6 years ago

China polluted their and water…….wasteland and they will do the same thing to this precious land while employing their own people.

Steven Smith
6 years ago

Please sign the petition and leave a comment at: http://chn.ge/1cZEZKw

Stephen Thorpe
6 years ago

I was told about this by a Govt. minister over two years ago— though none of the horrendous environmental implications were mentioned; another dark day for Jamaica indeed if it goes ahead

Stephen Thorpe
6 years ago

I was told about this by a Govt. minister over two years ago— though none of the horrendous environmental implications were mentioned; another dark day for Jamaica indeed if it goes ahead

Nathan Cowan
6 years ago

I hop this does not happen …..but for some reason i know it will. I travle to many Caribbean Islands and we are one of the only island that does not educate or put an importance on environmental conservation .Shame!!!

Satnarine Ricketts-Weller

Here we go again selling our souls so that a few can get rich. This needs to stop. Why can’t Jamaicans protect the assets God gave us? The Chinese got their own land and people let them stay there. Enough of them taking over the world and pushing our people out.

Josephs Martin
6 years ago

Ok, the writer seems very passionate about keeping this area free from development. I will not judge his motivations but let’s think what is best for the people who live there. Is it better to leave the area as is for whatever reason it is being used for now, or is it better to develop the area? Middle and upper class Americans like the writer, tend to romanticize “exotic” areas around the world because they view them as getaways. However, for the locals, these areas have to provide food, clothes and shelter, one way or another. The first thing that… Read more »

Josephs Martin
6 years ago

Ok, the writer seems very passionate about keeping this area free from development. I will not judge his motivations but let’s think what is best for the people who live there. Is it better to leave the area as is for whatever reason it is being used for now, or is it better to develop the area? Middle and upper class Americans like the writer, tend to romanticize “exotic” areas around the world because they view them as getaways. However, for the locals, these areas have to provide food, clothes and shelter, one way or another. The first thing that… Read more »

Janna-Joe McLeod-Delattibudiere

Thank you Richard,let us continue to spread the word.

Robert Farese
6 years ago

legalize it and tourism will break all records

Tammy Follis
6 years ago

Jamaicans wanted Portia and now they have her. She has always been working for the devil and will destroy Jamaica eventually.

Lorraine Seal
6 years ago

Jamaican govt is their own worst enemy. How you can sell out like that? No wonder your people have to fight for themselves.

Poochie Luu
6 years ago

No benefit to Jamaica, nothing in it for the average Jamaican. Look at the destruction of the environment in China does anyone think we will fare better. The deal was secret for a reason. Jamaicans will end up with jobs to sweep the compound, whilst the Chinese will employ their own. Very sad but this is what happens when a country’s economic plan is to fly around the world with our hands out begging. Instead on focusing on production we have always looked to others to save us.

Faheemah Luqman
6 years ago

We will all rue the day this polluting and destructive port/logistics hub is constructed. Please let’s all sign the petition as Steven Smith urges.

Creators' Blossom
6 years ago

wOW!! I cannot believe the Jamaican government is acting so clandestine and brokering a deal which is NOT beneficial to the people or the land and in fact, will decimate our natural graciously beautiful shores. There can be no reason why a government would want to destroy the future of the next generations – pollution of the Earth is a serious issue and should not be ignored. Coal-fired power is detrimental to the whole environment. JAMAICA PLEASE DON’T SELL YOUR BIRTHRIGHT FOR POTTAGE LIKE ESAU. And invest in educating our youths, create infrastructure to support higher learning, apprenticeships and job… Read more »

Creators' Blossom
6 years ago

wOW!! I cannot believe the Jamaican government is acting so clandestine and brokering a deal which is NOT beneficial to the people or the land and in fact, will decimate our natural graciously beautiful shores. There can be no reason why a government would want to destroy the future of the next generations – pollution of the Earth is a serious issue and should not be ignored. Coal-fired power is detrimental to the whole environment. JAMAICA PLEASE DON’T SELL YOUR BIRTHRIGHT FOR POTTAGE LIKE ESAU. And invest in educating our youths, create infrastructure to support higher learning, apprenticeships and job… Read more »

Alexander Mclean
6 years ago

That’s not good..

Mary Veronica
6 years ago

So, when we sell out Jamaica to the Americans it is okay, but if we sell out to the Chinese it is bad? At least the Chinese fix the roads and build highways. What have the Americans done that have benefited Jamaica?

Simone Henry
6 years ago

Were do I sign the petition. Please this can’t happen. This is a cause for the bad man fi take up. Run the china man out a town. Please don’t let this happen.

Stephen Smith
6 years ago

When we vote in a government devoid of intelligence, ideas, competence who have no clue how to generate jobs for a burgeoning populace, we should know that they would pimp out anything and anybody for money and or jobs. We have a government of pimps so I hold no hope that our environment (Goat Islands) can be saved. How I wish John Maxwell were alive to address this issue in print.

Yvonne Dujan
6 years ago

my prime Minister need to preserve our reefs and it natural resources, dont contaminate pur air with these factories let it become a china where we have to be wearing MASK and have lung infection . why they dont invest in the wind mill system like what we have before its a much cleaner and better resources. we must not contaminate our water system all these things must be considered . He could never get approval we are considered third world thats why they want to contaminate our natural reserve of life force. our Goverment need to start thinking HEALTH… Read more »

Yvonne Dujan
6 years ago

Why not give it to the American Goverment to PLANT WEED and set up their Medical SCIENTIS LAB HELLO MY GOVERMENT , did you not listen. Millions is on wall street since APRIL. so legalize it> set up our own weed pharmacy. legalize marijuana CAFES its in ENGLAND,CANADA, its the cure for CANCER<.DO that UP There.

Yvonne Dujan
6 years ago

PLEASE DONT POLLUTE OUR SEA WATER,AND our FRESH RIVER ALKALINE DRINKING WATER> NO PORSHA>DONT DO IT> WATCH ASIA TOday on BBC>

Donald Callum
6 years ago

My friend John Maxwell is spinning in his grave, and to think it’s his own PNP doing this!

Donald Callum
6 years ago

My friend John Maxwell is spinning in his grave, and to think it’s his own PNP doing this!

Howard Isaacs
6 years ago

Our government seems not to have any foresight–This proposed development will only blight the country and destroy the protected area of Goat Island–However, at what cost development/jobs etc–We need economic development but, not at the expense, and destruction of our natural habitats–NO, NO and No to rass!!

Howard Isaacs
6 years ago

Our government seems not to have any foresight–This proposed development will only blight the country and destroy the protected area of Goat Island–However, at what cost development/jobs etc–We need economic development but, not at the expense, and destruction of our natural habitats–NO, NO and No to rass!!

Lucinda Gordon
6 years ago

Where is the petition to
sign?

Latoya Francis-Williams

Please sign the petition and leave a comment at: http://chn.ge/1cZEZKw

Damarley Brown
6 years ago

All for sale, the land, and the people or next. Jamaican need to wake up.

Cleron Clarke
6 years ago

dam if you do. dam if you don’t.

Raymond Henderson
6 years ago

Get creative JA…get creative and win!

Raymond Henderson
6 years ago

Get creative JA…get creative and win!

trackback

[…] May, concerns about Goat Islands have not abated. Now, Richard Conniff at The Jamaican Blogs suggests the “secretive deal to let a Chinese company build a mega-freighter seaport in the […]

Eran Spiro
6 years ago

The proposed Logistic Hub in Goat Island is not only destructive to Jamaica’s environment. In the event that it will be pushed through despite the many objections, it will be un-sustainable……Time is longer then rope as we say in Jamaica !

Verna Brown
6 years ago

It’s a shame

David A. Guilfoyle
5 years ago

Total Destruction……………………….

Nadene Thompson
5 years ago

What can the Jamaican diaspora contribute , in order to prevent this heinous “deal” from happening!

Hugh M. Dunbar
5 years ago

Clearly, the government is willing to sell our birthright for a mess of pottage. They hope the Chinese will rush in and spend a few million US dollars and underwrite their campaign, so they will be elected to another term in office to continue their inept bungling.. This is a betrayal of our faith in them that they represent our interest. I don’t think a petition will work, we need to send emails. Every Jamaican should send emails everyday to the office of the prime minister and the houses of parliament everyday until we get a response from them about… Read more »

Marva Small
5 years ago

It is about time we wake up .If we look all over the world we are the only nation that do not have a claim.Every other nationality has some thing.We support the Chinese,Asians,Jews,Indians because they make sure that they have from food to hair products in their stores.And who go buy it ,Jamaicans of course.Now they place them selves on our soil.Look how many of them have Beauty Supply Stores in Jamaica.But I hope there is some one out there who can remember what happens in the 60’s.They should remind Porsia.What else is there to sell,not much I believe,may be… Read more »

George Bond
5 years ago

in answer to your question….Jamaica has a long history of dealing with and doing deals with suspect companies/blacklisted organisations etc….so no surprises there jablogz…..heres a few…morant,(now jps)…trafigura.(dumped toxic waste in Africa)…purchasing ammunitions/ordinance from a barred dealer in the us….there are many more instances………CHEC has a very firm hold on Jamaica and if they still want them the goat islands will go to them….resistance is futile….the Chinese are coming in numbers.get used to it…x

Neva Allen
5 years ago

I would want to tell them what to go sell. this country belongs to the people for Jamaica are they asking us if they can sell we out we soon no have nothing for ourself. can we go in another country go buy there most valuable lands. as a woman;the leader is a disappointment.

Sebastian Murray
5 years ago

Jamaicans need to be more informed about these types of activities and how they impact us.

Andre Lindsay
5 years ago

theez sorry,worthless, hungry belly, sellout experts,theez good for nuttn ignorant mf i cant stand they dumb ass! all this dumb shit they been doin over tha years jus pains me, they should be run out of the country, them an their relative , put in front of a firing squad immediatly!!!! i swear

Russell Jackson
5 years ago

What guarantee that we Jamaicans will keep the jobs when Chinese are already trying to take over Jamaica. This only mean there are more Chinese to come to the island.