The Jamaican government recently declared the Goat Islands a protected wildlife sanctuary. Thus dashing any hopes of transforming Goat Islands into a major business establishment; such as the proposed logistics hub announced by the previous government.
The government’s decision was welcomed by environmentalists. But for many residents living near Goat Islands – incl. Old Harbour Bay, Old Harbour, Bannister, Bodles, Bushy Park, Colbeck, Spring Village, Church Pen- the news was a blow to an area desperately in need of major investment.
The People’s National Party (PNP) government (2012-2016) made a raft of announcements on plans to establish a multi-billion US dollar transshipment base and logistics hub on Goat Islands and mainland environs of Old Harbour Bay etc.
The proposed logistic hub was said to be pushed by Far Eastern investors. In 2013 then Industry Minister Anthony Hylton said:
“The construction and the build out of the facilities will employ significant numbers and we are talking about projects that span numbers like US$9 billion of investments, a lot of that in physical infrastructure”
My initial reaction was “$US 9-10 billion in the Old Harbour area? This can’t be real.” But Hylton kept reassuring the media that these plans were authentic.
The residents were excited at this major development. Billions of US dollars in investment for any country is a massive. So for this area such a massive venture is bound to be life changing.
For an area plague by high unemployment, increasing levels of violent crime and growing population Hylton’s statements was much needed positive news.
Today, Old Harbour, Old Harbour Bay and it’s environs is recognised as the fastest growing community in the Caribbean with a population more nearer to 70,000 – far more than most recent official figures (2011) of 35,000.
With the never ending major housing developments, some experts have projected that the combined population could exceed 180,000 by 2030.
Ironically most of latest housing projects is being built on land historically used for fishing and agriculture, with no environmental outrage.
[“Gore Developments Limited has acquired a 475-acre property at Old Harbour in St Catherine from Matalon-owned West Indies Home Contractors (WIHCON) to develop more than 2,000 homes on lands known as Whim and Brampton Farms.” – 2018]
Yes, thousands of houses being constructed, but the local infrastructure, regeneration and economy has not matched this sharp population increase. The area has just one high school that was established in 1969 to cater for 600 students. Today the school population is roughly 2500.
The local health centre has hardly expanded since the 1970s to meet the needs of its growing community. Patients can wait up to 7 hours to get any assistance.
Hub for Drugs & Guns
For 30+ years the coast of Goats Islands and Old Harbour Bay has been a regular transit route for gun and narcotics trafficking.
Some local traffickers have carved out lucrative criminal careers thanks to the easy flow of guns shipped via Old Harbour Bay from Haiti and elsewhere.
Goat Islands is also widely known as a drop-off point for narcotics coming from South America.
So while environmentalists and pro Goat Islands lobbyists have raised concerns about wildlife, spare a thought for the local community blighted by criminal activity exacerbated by decades of illegal trafficking.
Local men have known to die at sea over a gun or drug deal gone wrong. Some live both in Haiti and Jamaica and use the sea as their main method of transport to enhance their illegal wealth.
Some locals believe that a high percentage of the illegal guns – in today’s violent Jamaica – came through the coast of Goat Islands and Old Harbour Bay. Impacting heavily on the area and nearby parish of Clarendon
Old Harbour Bay is a well known fishing village. But some will tell you that there are days when it is easier to buy a gun than purchase 2lbs of fresh parrot fish.
In one of the most recent murders in Old Harbour the shooter was just 16 years old.
With this history of drug and gun trafficking, the proposed logistic hub was welcome news. Any major development of Goats Islands and the mainland could have modernised the area, making it more secured and monitored. Providing legitimate employment for tens of thousands Jamaicans. Creating real hope.
Hub Local Consultations and Next Steps
Following Hylton’s announcements, a number of focus group meetings were hosted by government appointed project planners. The project team advised the community on how best to prepare for these major upcoming developments.
Old Harbour High School had put in plans for students to learn basic Mandarin.
In anticipation of the logistic hub, existing local businesses upgraded their premises. New swanky businesses were being established in Old Harbour. Some came from China.
Locals were attending vocational classes to acquire certificates in their chosen skill in preparation for the employment opportunities.
As popular fisherman Compton Campbell said “My children, my grandchildren need jobs… They need opportunities. I believe this port business will be good for Jamaica.” (source: Jamaica Observer)
Most of the promised “30000 jobs” were said to be on the mainland (coast of Old Harbour Bay and Bushy Park) leaving parts of Goat Islands safe for the current wildlife population.
But as the months dragged on there were no ongoing tangible developments
Did the PNP run scared of influential environmental lobby?
Hub Dream is Dead
The Jamaica Labour Party won power in February 2016 and months later quietly scrapped any logistics hub plans for Goat Islands. A decision that wrong footed interested stakeholders including the IMF which had days earlier mentioned the Goat Islands hub development in a report.
Too many folks have a misunderstanding of the historical maritime relevance of Goat Islands/Old Harbour and its future potential.
- Goat Islands and nearby mainland were occupied by the indigenous Tainos.
- Columbus visited the coast of Goat Islands/Old Harbour Bay and met the head Cacique for the Taino community.
- When the British chased the Spanish out of Jamaica (17th century) Old Harbour & Old Harbour Bay was initially called Colbeck. Named after Colonel John Colbeck who was assigned the area by the crown.
- Pirates hid their treasures and livestock (tax avoidance) on Goat Islands
- Slaves worked and lived on Goat Islands up to the 19th century.
- The British shipped sugar from there.
- The first Indian contract workers embarked at Old Harbour Bay.
- A century ago the American-owned United Fruit Company operated their business on parts of Goat Islands and the mainland in nearby Bushy Park.
As a kid in the 1970/80s Goat Islands was a regular (scary) short boat ride for many of us at weekends and during the summer holidays.
US Navy on Goat Islands
During the 2nd World War the US had a naval base stationed at Goat Islands. I used to hear stories of the impact the US naval base had on the local economy of Old Harbour Bay and Old Harbour.
Jobs were created. The Americans would go into hills of rural St Catherine and Clarendon and purchased raw materials and food from the locals. The US navy even brought along a string orchestra.
3 years ago, a local historian in Old Harbour showed me aerial photographs – of the US occupied Goat Islands – taken by an English cameraman. In the photos you could clearly see the Goat Islands with structures, barracks, ships, small boats, airstrip etc.
The US left Goat Islands in 1949 but still owned the long term lease.
Winners and Losers
- Credit must go to the environmental lobby led by Diana McCaulay for mounting such an effective and passionate campaign from the start.
- The PNP government must be blamed for a lousy display of leadership and not backing up their comments with commitment and significant steps.
- Old Harbour, Old Harbour Bay and extended communities missed out on thousands of jobs.
- Current JLP government were short sighted in their rush to halt the hub development and protect the whole of Goat Islands. Why did the opposition PNP show little objection to the government’s decision?
- Business as usual for local gun and drug trafficking?