Monday, February 23, 2009

Poor Antigua and Barbuda

First, let me just thank the thousands of people who have viewed my blog entries over the past week. It's been a crazy time for LA (little Antigua) and I wish i could have spent more time keeping you up to date. Anyway, the good news is that the "run" on Bank of Antigua (owned by Allen Stanford) seemed to slow down before the weekend close, and with word that the ECCB is taking over control of the Bank starting today we can further be assured that some needed control will be gained out of this move. Stanford International Bank is another story though. The Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer says he will cooperate fully with the SEC on their probe into the Antiguan registered off shore bank. His attorney general didn't sound so optimistic echoing some of the issues mentioned in my last blog entry.
Found in this damning New York Times piece, AG Justin Simon, said "I’m sure various other offshore companies are going to worry exactly how far S.E.C. control will go.” YUP!
Anyway, while all of this tangled web of organized chaos continues there can be no doubt that people all over the world will be touched in some way. There are depositors at SIB from over 100 countries according to Allen Stanford who boasted about that sort of thing in the past, and there are about as many countries involved with off shore banking who are as worried with the new SEC as the depositors at SIB. According to Melford Nicholas (leader of the OND political party here in Antigua) writing about this story on my facebook page, "I think we are at Act 1 Scene 1".

In related news, my company got a private charter from a journalist who wanted to do a private version of the Eco Tour. As we usually do on the Eco Tour, i took them into the North Sound to teach them about the history (ancient and modern) as well as the ecology of the area. Of course, like all of our Eco Tour guests this week, he was extremely interested in what we had to say Allen Stanford's interests in the area and especially about Maiden Island and Guiana Islands. While we were up there he asked me about the big white building to our south. I told him that it was Mr. Stanford's boat house and his new EC $67 million dollar (US $26 mil) boat yard which is just being finished up. As it was a private charter I went where he asked me to go and over we went. The marina is like all of Mr. Stanfords buildings.... top notch. Unlike most of his colonial type architecture here on the island this marina was an ultra modern (James Bond) sort of thing, and I assume that his huge boat was inside the NASA style hanger or boathouse.
The last bit of dredging was taking place and there was a huge cloud of dredged up silt in front of us. I didn't get too close, but what caught my eye was something that had nothing to do with Stanford. Crabs Peninsular is a key commercial port in Antigua with the Antigua Brewery, the desalination plant, Antigua Power Company, Stanfords Marina, a cement loading and off loading facility and other commercial type operations. What caught my eye was a huge sand barge filled to the brim with well over 200 truck loads of pure white Barbuda sand. I know they had over 200 truck loads because for the past 15 years Barbuda sand has been coming from Barbuda to the condemned High Point jetty where i grew up. This jetty was built by the US government in the 1930s i think. Anyway sometime in the mid 1990s sand from Barbuda started arriving there. Up until that point Barbuda sand has been shipped all over the Caribbean and was always imported into Antigua at other commercial ports. Back in the 1990s the opposition accused many within the ALP ruling party of profiting from the mining of sand calling it just another corrupt way for the ALP leaders to get rich. The Lord Nelson Beach Hotel which was owned by my grandparents tried to get the new landing place for sand into Antigua moved complaining that it was damaging their business. Sand trucks raced up and down past the hotel after collecting sand from the massive barges and guests checked out time after time complaining about the noise and dust. Petitions from guests and residents nearby was ignored. With the UPP opposition complaining about corruption and the residents and hotel complaining about noise, dust, and speeding heavy machinery nothing changed. All this time poor little Barbuda was getting scraped clean of it's land. There can be no place on our nation where "Land is sold off" in a more barbaric way than in Barbuda.

Their water table was destroyed and erosion of the beaches closest to the mining started. Local Barbudan environmentalist, John Mussington, confirmed what i thought i was seeing at Palmetto Point. According to John, the erosion on the lee side is different from the seasonal shift in the sandy shoreline, and the vegetation now falling into the sea was signs of something far more sinister. Scientists and other experts testified in court cases introduced by the Barbuda Council during the 80s telling judges that terrible damage was being done. Injunctions after injunctions were issued forcing the mining to stay within a specified boundary. Time and time again the injunctions were ignored and new boundaries were set. On once such occurrence Minister Humphreys was charged with contempt of court. That didn't stop the mining and it continued around the clock. I am told that what the mining interests would do was to change the company names each time an injunction was issued giving the new company permission to get right back to work. In their manifesto five years ago, the UPP said all sorts of nice things for the environment including turning the Guiana Island area into a park. We know from my blogs that they ended up giving Stanford the "green light". When the ALP was in power the UPP had fought against the corruption that they said was happening with Barbuda sand mining. All people concerned about environmental damage and corruption associated with Barbuda mining were hopeful that "What was wrong would be made right". How wrong we were. By the time the UPP took over leadership of Antigua's government, the Barbuda council had been running the Barbuda mining operation for about eight years. Even though the Council were the ones who originally complained about the corruption and negative environmental impact of the mining, they had gone against everything they stood for on the issue, and management of the sand mining had stayed the same. The council was now being lead by Trevor Walker who had aligned himself with the new UPP government in Antigua.
Something happened shortly after Mr. Walker got into power over in Barbuda with environmentalists like John Mussington and many others complaining once again about the sand mining operation, and it was temporarily stopped. I don't know the specifics, but our government stepped in and asked the good old Environment Division to step in. Dian Black Lane who at the time was chief officer within the division helped sort the conflict out by doing some sort of detailed study. According to the politicians, World Cup Cricket was coming to Antigua and a construction boom was taking place, increasing the need for sand used in concrete. They had to continue mining sand otherwise there would be big problems with hosting World Cup Cricket. Using GPS and all sorts of technical mapping equipment, the Environment Division suggested that 103 acres of land in Barbuda be put aside for sand mining, and after that area was mined then sand mining would stop forever in Barbuda. Confused about how much sand was going to be mined in the 103 acres of land which mostly sits a few feet above sea level, Mr. Mussington asked how much sand was actually needed for World Cup cricket and was told by the ministers in charge that it was approximately 800 tons. He then said "ok so about two or thee barge loads". According to John who i called today, he said he didn't get a confirmation on that calculation.
John Mussington says that depending on the barge being used you can have between 200, 400 and even sometimes 800 tons of sand being exported from Barbuda each time one of the many barges pulls out. Anyway, this decision was made back in may 2006, and the mining never stopped. In fact, I always felt that the frequency of barges arriving at High Point increased at that time. To tell you the truth it was the first time that sand started being off loaded through the night. I called my local representative one night and woke him out of his bed. I told the Hon. John Maginley that i was very sorry to wake him up, but i was unable to sleep with all the noise the trucks were making off loading sand. I told him that the house i was living in was covered in a find layer of sand dust. I was surprised at his reply "they still mining sand? I thought they stopped that." Mr. Maginley assured me he would do something about it. He told me later that he had spoken to Wilmouth Daniel about it and was assured that it had been a mistake and wouldn't happen again. Like the sand mining from Barbuda, the offloading of sand at night didn't stop at all. In fact in continued with sometimes several barges arriving at the same time at High Point Jetty. You could see how frenzied they rushed to get the sand loaded, and transported. Many people would call into the radio stations complaining about the speed of the sand trucks. Sand was spilled all over the roads in their rush to drop off sand and quickly return to collect more. Mr. Maginley got tired of me calling and texting his mobile phone and finally stopped replying. As reckless as the sand trucks here in Antigua, the ones in Barbuda were more so. A bus containing small children was hit by one of the trucks ending the lives of several of them from what i remember. (this link was sent to me by "adam" showing a black and white photo of the bus in Barbuda) Sand barges ran onto reefs here in Antigua and Barbuda in their rush to get to and forth, and one even ended up on a beach in Barbuda where it rests today in a pile of rotting metal. When i wrote to the Daily Observer paper about this barge owned by Council member Knackbill Nedd, I was later ridiculed saying that the barge would be moved easily. I wonder if looking at that rotting barge on the beach if Princess Dianna would still think the beach so beautiful?
According to the recommendations from the Environment division back in May of 2006, sand from Barbuda was only to be delivered to Antigua and to nowhere else. I work on boats and travel to islands like St. Martin and St. Barts. If you read my blogs then you know i spend considerable time at sea fishing too. I can say without a shadow of doubt that sand from Barbuda has gone down to St. Martin and passed Antigua heading south as well many times since 2006. This export of sand is not legal in any way shape or form. Many allege that other goods have arrived back in Barbuda from places other than Antigua. The very flimsy controls on the sand mining operation are laughable. One person is employed by the Barbuda council to count truck loads of sand. That is how they know how much sand leaves Barbuda and how much "levy" is due to the Barbuda council. A person doing this job makes between EC $300 and $400 (US $111 and $148) a week doing this job. The operation is 24 hours a day. We have more control here in Antigua at our garbage dump! Apart from the simple math you can do your own calculations. A ton of sand delivered to you is worth EC $90 (US $33) and there are 20 tons of sand in an average sand truck here in Antigua. From this photo I took late last week at Crabs Peninsular, you can imagine how much sand is packed on. I imagine you could make a pretty nice beach with this sand alone, but as i said earlier sand isn't used for making beaches here in Antigua although many other areas around the Caribbean have used Barbuda sand to help their beaches. The sand here is used primarily for construction just like the sand that has been dug up from Pinchin Beach, Farley Bay, McKinnons Swamp, Darkwood Swamp and recenlty Ffryes (a.k.a Fry's). While many have gotten rich the beaches and their fragile and related ecosystems have suffered. Biodiversity in Barbuda has been hit as well and little is known about how badly the island's ecology is being effected. No one involved in any of the mentioned atrocities have ever been punished in any way. According to several people i have spoken with close to the Barbuda sand mining operation, it is alleged that sand from Barbuda is often traded instead of being sold. These people say that persons or companies in Antigua sometimes do business in Barbuda for the Barbuda Council in exchange for sand or barge loads of sand.
According to John Mussington, the 103 acres of land offered that were set aside in the recommendations from the Ministry of Environment has long ago been mined. He says that according to his GPS calculations on the ground, the borders of that 103 acres of land were long ago passed and dug up. John agrees with me that since 2006 there has been a dramatic increase in mining in Barbuda. The more things change in Antigua and Barbuda the more they seem to stay the same. I know that Mr. Maginley will be reading my blog later today so I will ask him once again to consider something:
John, if you say you have no control at all over what happens with the sand mining operation over in Barbuda where between 10 and 15 people are employed then so be it, but don't tell me that there is no other place for sand to come into our country. Notice i didn't mention anything about the even larger barges of gravel that since 2006 have been arriving at High Point almost as regularly as the sand. My photos show sand arriving at the Crabs industrial port. Please tell the people you are asking to vote for you that you will work harder to get all the sand and gravel barges to go there. The restaurants, hotels and residents who exist right next to the condemned high point jetty and along the path of the speeding trucks want you to do something about that at least if nothing about sand mining.
If anyone thinks that something i have written here is untrue or if you feel you would like to add more that i missed please email me at elifuller @ hotmail . com and let me know. You are all free to comment here as well.