How Donald Trump and Andrew Holness are destroying Jamaica one shoreline mile at a time.

Hellshire Beach, Jamaica
Hellshire Beach, Jamaica

In the small island of Jamaica where votes can be bought and often time are, average Jamaicans know fully well who they are voting for but not the slightest idea what they are voting for. So when they first voted in Andrew Holness, a mini replica of Donald Trump, as their prime minister in 2016, most had no idea that they have voted in the beginning of their death and destruction.

Like Donald Trump who withdrew the United States from the Paris climate agreement which goal is to reduce greenhouse gases and carbon emissions on the planet, Holness has made some likewise silly decisions that are to the detriment of the Jamaican people.

To be fair, Jamaica and other Caribbean islands were in great trouble long before Trump and Holness came to power, however, plans were put in place to help fix these problems but these two men have put a stop to these plans for nothing else but the short term fattening of pockets for themselves and their cronies.

Take for example; Hellshire Beach in Portmore, St Catherine, when on a public holiday or weekend Jamaicans and visitors alike would flock to one of the island’s most popular beaches. Today, however, parents no longer bring their children. The horses, along with most of the beachline, have long disappeared and the few visitors who come to Aunt Merl’s or Prendy’s on the Beach – two of the few remaining seafood restaurants left standing – are confined to the benches inside.

Jamaican and other Caribbean islands contribute a tiny fraction of the greenhouse gas emissions that are heating the planet but they are poised to suffer the worst consequences of the climate crisis. Coasts play a critical role in the economies of many Caribbean nations, whose population centers are close to the shore and who rely heavily on their ports and on tourists attracted to their picturesque waters. But beaches throughout the Caribbean are eroding as a result of rising sea levels and dangerous storms resulting from climate change. And many island nations lack the funding to invest in the infrastructure and innovation necessary to combat the changes – a situation made worse by the Covid crisis.

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While Jamaica has a mixed record on environmental protection, the country is part of a coalition of small island nations that has been instrumental in lobbying for global climate action, and recently became the first Caribbean nation to increase the ambitiousness of its plan under the Paris climate agreement to reduce its carbon emissions. However, Trump withdrew the United States from the agreement on November 4, 2019. The withdrawal takes a year to take effect so on November 4th, just one day after the country’s presidential election, they will no longer be a part of the agreement. So everything Barack Obama put in place to decrease global heating and ward off increased risk to the people and lands of the Caribbean will be reverse by Trump. Despite these incompetent if not evil decisions, the U.S. president is dearly embraced by Holnesss.

Hellshire Beach, where the marine ecosystem is rapidly eroding, offers insight into what’s at stake for many Caribbean communities. Intensified storm activity and increased water temperatures are helping destroy offshore coral reefs that otherwise buffer the shoreline from pounding waves. The problems are compounded by unregulated commercial development and waste treatment, along with the removal of sand dunes and other vegetation. A landmark report published in 2012 found that Hellshire had lost up to 120 meters of shoreline in four decades.

When the scope of Hellshire’s destruction became clear, the government seemed ready to act quickly and decisively. A master plan to rehabilitate the beach was created – but then dashed in 2016 when the People’s National party (PNP) was swept from power. Since then, budding initiatives meant to invest in the beach have been consistently shut down, often without explanation. Despite all of this, Jamaicans still voted Holness back into power in their most recent election.

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Jamaica’s economic difficulties will thwart any short-term action to save the beach. The coronavirus has served a major blow to tourism and remittances, the country’s top two sources of revenue. The post-crisis receipts from both are forecast to fall to just around half the US$5.4bn of value they represented before the pandemic, with remittances ¬expected to decline by 17% and tourism by 68%.

Jamaica has long sent mixed signals on its commitment to environmental protection. Environmentalists recently protested against the government’s decision to allow bauxite mining in an area that supplies drinking water to the parishes of Trelawny, St Elizabeth and St Ann. The government also met with outcry over its decision to sell off fertile land to developers to build a new city, despite the fact that just a fraction of Jamaica’s land is available for farming.

And environmentalists, archaeologists and residents have been united in their opposition to the construction of a floating pier for cruise ships in Port Royal, arguing that the fragile ecosystem is in danger. Despite this, the pier opened last year to much fanfare but generated little economic spinoff for locals. While there is no watchdog group in Jamaica to assess how much the opening of the pier benefitted Holness and other high ranking officials in his government, it is fair to guess that someone benefitted from such inept decision making.

Time is running out for Jamaica and it would behoove Holness to stop being lock stock and barrel in step with Trump, where environment protection is concerned. As dangerous as fracking and oil drilling is in the United States, it benefit millions. In Jamaica, however, where faming and tourism is of utmost importance, the small benefits from bad environmental decisions only benefits the decision makers along with their cronies.

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