What is the value of one’s identity? The knowledge and perception of self that an individual holds, in addition to how he or she is viewed by others, to a large extent shape the course of one’s life and treatment.
For Caribbean nations, our identities matter in determining the quality of life of our people. They are impacted by historical legacies of control and exploitation and are defined by political decisions and vision plans. As independent states, the region is at a critical juncture, a coming of age in which an acute awareness is necessary for determining the intentional actions that are taken and the consequences that will arise.
Yet, there is a great dilemma that has plagued Caribbean development the inability to reconcile the differences between building a destination, a product marketed for the enjoyment of the visitor, and the building of a nation. The latter is rooted in the welfare of citizens, their culture, and development that does not sacrifice sustainability and tokenize things that are invaluable.
The Gros Piton Saga, that is, the controversy surrounding construction on one of the two most iconic peaks in Saint Lucia and the world, The Pitons, is emblematic of the political and development crisis of the Caribbean. It is reported that privately owned land on Gros Piton was sold to a Canadian, who later applied to construct a private dwelling there. The application for construction was denied and later approved with intervention from the Cabinet of ministers in Saint Lucia. Public discourse on the matter has been marked by outrage, married with nonchalance and a business as usual posturing.
The issue involves the potential environmental degradation of a World Heritage Site, the need for more comprehensive and equitable legislation in the management and preservation of national heritage, a culture of heritage conservation, civil society activism, the integrity of governance authorities, and the abusive powers of Westminster executives.
Moreover, what has been a rising concern is the practice of making disposable and cheap, national, and invaluable public goods, particularly those of historical or environmental value. The Gros Piton Saga is not the tip of the iceberg, it is the mountain of national shame that has been built on similar occurrences like the Le Paradis, Desert Star Holdings (DSH), and Cabot Links ‘developments’.
In the name of ‘development’ which has become a euphemism for destruction without conscience or thought of the future, the inexcusable becomes an acceptable standard. And so, it is said that in the name of development, the land must be sold, and construction must take place.
People must eat. But, for how long, and at what cost? Can the nation afford development like this? Conversely, in discussions on the need to acquire lands privately owned within the Piton Management Area (PMA) officials have disclosed that the cost is far too prohibitive. Yet, can the nation afford not to make such a significant investment?
The Pitons are to Saint Lucia, what the pyramids are to Egypt and the Eiffel Tower is to France. They are arguably the most utilized national symbol, known and used by everyone. The Pitons adorn the Saint Lucian national flag, feature prominently in the paintings, poetry and sculptures of national artistes, and are utilized in school symbols, the logos and labels of leading beverage companies, national investment organizations, and statutory corporations among other private and public institutions.
The economic lifeblood of Saint Lucia, tourism, relies heavily on the pristine image of the Pitons. In national marketing campaigns and rebranding, while words, tag lines and musical accompaniments have changed, the Pitons remain an immovable fixture.
It is a great contradiction, therefore, that the nation would throw bate of an empty shell image of a destination where natural beauty is reserved for advertising and catchy slogans – Saint Lucia – Let Her Inspire You.
What however is inspiring about national self-mutilation? If any visitor desired concrete jungles and towering skyscrapers the Caribbean would not be their destination.
Whether at home or in the diaspora, it is likely that a Saint Lucian in speaking of themselves or the nation as collective would reference with pride the pairings of Nobel Laureates, Sir Arthur Lewis and Sir Derek Walcott or the Pitons. And that is of consequence. Much of the historical record of Caribbean societies are laden with experiences of trauma, turmoil, and despair, intermingled with varied forms of resistance. So, the narratives that a nation pulls from, its hopes, aspirations, and treasures matter as nation-building resources.
Development cannot be for us simply an economic calculator. Otherwise, it would be a continuation of a colony, where people have no place and value except as labourers, whose toil benefits everyone except themselves. What is development if people cannot experience a sense of purpose, equity, and representation in the things that are allegedly done in their names? At the foundation of nation-building must be indigenous ideas, cultural and environmental protection and people-centered decision making.
The Caribbean present and future deserve an inheritance beyond the basics of food, water and rented shacks. They deserve ownership, autonomy, and a fair stake in shaping the only home they have. The Gros Piton Saga transcends losing a mountain. The mountain is a metaphor for the people who cannot afford to lose themselves.