When a former Minister of Tourism first suggested that the iconic pitons of Saint Lucia be further enhanced (developed?) by the addition of sky rides connecting the two, some 'Nature Lovers' here went ballistics. At that time the cold war was drawing to a close, the Berlin wall was crumbling and those who had neglected the environment in favour of developing weapons of mass destruction suddenly saw the light. Then foreign aid from countries which had themselves polluted the planet became tied up with environmental protection. The environment even rose to a place on the curriculum of certain tertiary institutions which formerly did not give a hoot how the rest of the world foraged and survived.
Such was the backdrop against which a new appreciation for the long forgotten and neglected pitons of Saint Lucia became a world heritage site. Since that time politicians, environmentalists and those who had both desecrated, and defecated on them, or, who had once tried to claim them as private property, have all been scratching their hair off in search of ways to exploit their new heritage status, for money!
Those with jealous eyes and who have long dreamt of benefitting financially from that unique land formation were roused to indignation when it was leaked three years ago, that a department of government had authorised the construction of a dwelling house there. Long before their World Heritage Site status the pitons were declared as the breasts of the island. Why then should a foreigner be allowed to suckle at the nation's breasts even as they became available for the entire world to feast upon? It was the question on the lips of environmentalists who had finally found their voice.
Some said it was not for love of country or the need to preserve the environment which had aroused certain locals and their political allies into righteous indignation. Instead, the anti-construction campaign was aimed at the former Minister of Housing against whom there was choreographed anger, due to his deliberate flaunting of new wealth. Put crudely, it was more to do with politics and the perceived source of that minister's largesse than with the pitons. Such vulgar audacity of the proverbial crab-in-the-barrel had to be crushed! The other crabs were vexed that a country bumpkin would dare climb over the barrel's edge to financial freedom, leaving 'friends' and 'colleagues' stealing from their clients' account and not delivering.
It is difficult to determine where all the finger pointing ended and who, if any, benefitted from what was publicised as the rape of the pitons. Since then, the government has changed hands and not a single word has been heard about the island's iconic pitons from those who made the most noise - until last week. It had been earlier suggested that a certain minister of government had to use the full weight of his scientific scholarship, and love for the 'island's breasts', in order to calm the fears of those at the United Nations who were threatening to revoke the pitons 'Heritage' status. It was hard to believe that it was his 'friends' in opposition who had threatened to use their connection with environmentalists to threaten the withdrawal of the new status which had been granted the pitons.
Today, the idea of developing the beach at the foot of the pitons and along the precious Queen's chain has largely gone un-noticed except by the island's living Nobel Laureate. The pitons are again at centre stage, but this time the silence seems oddly familiar - and deafening! Not a squeak has been heard from any of those who had so vehemently opposed the construction of a single home near the boundary of the World Heritage site. I confess that I may have missed any environmental impact studies which may have been presented or discussed by and with the people of Saint Lucia, due to my absence from the island. Still, I am not aware that any other person has complained about the new plan to invest near and on the pitons with the possibility of their defilement and desecration.
Likewise, no hypocritical voices have arisen to remind us of the importance of the Queen's chain - a relic of this island's French heritage - which is often resuscitated when it suits a political purpose. Many have asked whether Barbados that most English of former British colonies in the Caribbean has a Queen's chain around it. Or is the Queen's chain law limited only to former French colonies? Such a question should make for an interesting discussion, even now.
The thought of such a question brings to mind another controversial idea, I wish to share. The pitons belong to the people of Saint Lucia and the wider Caribbean and are held in trust for them by the government of the island. That would not change if it lost its World Heritage rating if the people here and in the wider region continued to appreciate as their very own. They are therefore for the government of the day to use them wisely, as we see fit. There ought however to be a clear policy between balancing 'economic development', and the protection of those precious breasts - our pride and heritage. These two - economic development and the protection of our environment should never become fodder for cheap political opportunists and scoundrels in search of a fast buck.
I repeat that the country's development needs ought to be sustainable and therefore ought also to be in the hands of the wisest, most experienced and most trusted nationals and foreign experts whom they may wish to consult.
I also wish to state here that, there is one aspect of the recently announced plans for a new hotel near the pitons which excites me. It is the involvement of Andrew Strauss, former captain of the England cricket team. Mr Strauss has fallen in love with Saint Lucia, which we completely understand, and has offered to bring his tremendous cricket knowledge and skills to the youth of Choiseul and Soufriere, the communities likely to benefit from the new investment.
Mr Strauss can help nurture and raise local cricketing talent to the heights which he achieved in his chosen sport. It is for this reason that I support his effort at establishing a cricket academy in the south/west part of the island. In addition, the creation of jobs through direct foreign investment is welcome by all right thinking governments. For my part, the expanding of the horizon of a young citizen through sports and the encouragement to strive for excellence, in my books has no parallel.
It is the continuous striving for excellence and the attainment of an out-of-body experience, (as when a batsman is in 'the zone') to which serious governments ought to point their youth. Next week, I shall try to expand on this idea and look at the reasons the early Greeks looked upon their gods as superb human specimens rather than mere spiritual creations.
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