Jamaica’s conservative prime minister, Andrew Holness, has given the non-ferrous metals mining company Noranda Bauxite, permission to carry out mining operations in the Parish of St. Ann, in the region historically known as the Cockpit Country.
The approval granted by the government is for the mining operations to cover an area of approximately over 3,200 acres (1,300 hectares); according to a Gleaner report, Maroon Chief Richard Currie says he is “totally uncomfortable” with the decision taken by the government.
In late 2021 Noranda Bauxite changed its name to Discovery Bauxite. The rebranded company is owned by New Day Aluminum, whose principal owner is Concord Resources, headquartered in London, with offices in New York, Connecticut and Hong Kong; the latter—Concord Resources—changed its name to Atlantic Alumina Company (ATALCO).
Concord Resources, a multinational company formed in 2015, buys and sells non-ferrous metals including aluminum, copper, zinc, lead, and nickel, delivering 1.2 million tons of raw materials to more than 40 countries each year (Dun & Bradstreet). The company’s website reports group revenue of $4.3 billion and a gross profit of $68 million; that quantity of financial accumulation can only be realized by disproportionate contract agreements.
What is missing from media reports and commentaries on this agreement is the detrimental environmental and socio-political impact on the nation.
Prior to beginning mining operations, the land has to be cleared of trees and other vegetation so that the ore can be extracted by drilling, blasting and using heavy earth-moving machinery. In some cases, ore is not reached until 60 feet (18 meters) down from the surface. Upon mining, there are some insoluble substances that remain in the bulk; the alumina is removed from the bauxite using caustic soda, leaving impurities in the residue—red mud.
After all of these operations there still remain minute quantities of heavy metals and radioactive elements in the mined area; that area will not be able to sustain plant life, which is antithetical to the concept of sustainability. According to one report Noranda is the largest producer of mercury emitted into the air in Gramercy, Louisiana, where another of its alumina plants is located.
At the root of the agreement between the Jamaican government and Discovery Bauxite (Noranda Bauxite) is the ideological and environmental context within which it takes place. The Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) through successive administrations has spared no opportunity to “open” the country to foreign-based companies and transnationals, at the disproportionate expense of local businesses and the poor and working people, the masses in general.
Its policies represent a radical departure from the socialist vision of Michael Manley, Jamaica’s socialist Prime Minister from 1972 to 1980 (and then again from 1989 to 1992), who was undermined in a CIA-backed regime-change operation—exposed in CovertAction Information Bulletin.
The JLP has consistently and assiduously worked to make “the side of the wealthy secure, while we create a hell for the poor;” to quote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
It was the JLP that initiated the “industrialization by invitation” concept starting with the late Alexander Bustamante and then adopted after the ouster of Manley’s socialist government. The role of transnational companies and their impact on the socio-economic life of the country and its people are completely lost on most of Jamaica’s politicians today.
A former head of the National Planning Agency in Jamaica, the late Dr. Norman Girvan, who was also a member of the bauxite negotiation team during the Manley administration, wrote in his 1976 book Corporate Imperialism: Conflict and Expropriation that, “in fact, the Caribbean bauxite industry is a classic case of economic imperialism….Caribbean bauxite does create great wealth, but for others outside of the region.” It is no secret that these transnationals invest in developing countries and cover their exploitative character with contributing to ‘growth’ and ‘creating jobs.’”
The rewards received by these transnationals are, of course, significantly disproportionate to the investments made.
Girvan further wrote: “Moreover, the corporations have been so powerful that they have largely succeeded in molding the political economy of the Caribbean states concerned to their own needs.”
This observation is not outdated: The actions of the transnationals both overtly and covertly, whether through negotiations, contributions, contract requirements and in some instances direct payments to political parties or politicians, influence government policy.
The approval for mining operations in the Cockpit Country is in an area that is home to lush and varied vegetation and diversified ecosystems. Most importantly, perhaps, is in the ancestral territory of the Maroons.
For generations, this vast region has been respected by various administrations and has escaped the ravages of environmental encroachment.
It took the shortsighted and “prostituted” administration of Andrew Holness, who enjoys close relations with the U.S., to expand the obsessive “sellout” to include this region. Not only is it an environmental mistake but it tramples on the cultural and historical legacy of the region, and it exemplifies the cultural and historical bankruptcy of the government.
The government, with relative ease, was able to grant the approval without any organized or influential opposition. Some members of the citizenry expressed concerns through letters and commentaries in the newspapers, and the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) had published a list of their concerns and the negative impact the mining operations could cause, and reported that they encountered missing or lack of data. On the whole, however, there has not been any nationwide environmental defense or natural resources control and protection movement in the country.
The situation in Jamaica is much different than in El Salvador, which instituted a nationwide ban on metal mining. After at least ten years of activism against a proposed Canadian gold mine called “El Dorado,” the protests developed into a nationwide movement to protect and control its natural resources and preserve the local environment and ecosystems.
In Jamaica, the government has effectively “dumbed-down” the electorate and shaped the national dialogue to stifle any debate. The result is that the citizenry has acquiesced to its own exploitation and surrender of their country’s sovereignty to monopoly capital.
The JLP administrations, especially those led by the late Edward Seaga and now Andrew Holness, have gone out of their way to appease and kowtow to the U.S. to make the country secure for capital and an unquestioning ally of the U.S.
The State Department advertises its generous aid packages, including $90 million through the International Development Finance Corporation to expand energy sources, and the fact that more than 100 U.S. firms have offices in Jamaica, and hundreds of other U.S. firms sell their products through local distributors.
Holness has simplistically and proudly announced that “Jamaica is in the backyard of the United States.” In March 2019, he, along with Dr. Hubert Minnis, President of the Bahamas, Dominican Republic President Danilo Medina, Jovenel Moïse, President of Haiti, and Allen Chastanet, Prime Minister of St. Lucia, was invited to meet with then U.S. President Donald Trump to discuss Venezuela and energy, supposedly under the auspices of CARICOM.
The meeting was not only unprincipled and divisive but outside of protocol because there was no legitimate CARICOM representation: Neither Dr. Timothy Harris, the Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis and Chairman of the organization, nor any member of the CARICOM advisory committee was invited.
For its loyalty, the Holness administration was rewarded in 2019 with $5 million following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Jamaica and USAID; this payment was reportedly to “improve the financial and fiscal resilience and safeguard against losses during natural disasters.” The government in 2020 received another $4.5 million to “fight human trafficking especially children” under the “Child Protection Compact Partnership.”
After the killing of George Floyd last summer, the U.S. ambassador Donald Tapia joined anti-racist demonstrations outside the U.S. Embassy in Kingston. To my knowledge, this has never been done before; the closest I can recall is Vincent de Roulet, who was declared persona non grata in 1973 by the Manley administration for interfering in the domestic affairs of Jamaica.
The extensive land clearing, drilling, blasting, and other earthworks have created the unavoidable potential for landslides, pollution of water sources and displacement of ecosystems that cannot be replaced. It is understood that environmental protection requires measures to restore the damage to the natural systems of the region and minimize the environmental disruption that the mining operations caused.
What is apparently overlooked is that mining wastes contain toxic metals that can leach into water sources, and this requires very tight controls on hazardous wastes. There needs to be vigilance by the government and a commitment to challenging the political power of the mining industry.
Instead, the government often repeats the mining industry’s claims about “providing jobs”—as it persists in trampling on the cultural rights of the adjoining community, showing yet again the government’s subservience to the interests of capital.
Norman Girvan, Corporate Imperialism: Conflict and Expropriation (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1976). ↑
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About the Author
Richard Dunn is a retired construction professional, trained in Architecture and Energy Management.
He’s been a social justice activist since 1968 and was particularly active with the Walter Rodney defense demonstrations.
Richard is an author, a contributing columnist to newspapers, an editor for a music industry magazine and operates a social justice website.
Richard can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.