Letters & Opinion

Statement by the Catholic Church on the DSH Project and other Social Issues

Image: A design of the proposed Pearl of the Caribbean.

IN light of recent events affecting the citizenry of Saint Lucia, at home and abroad, with regard to the proposed plans submitted by Desert Star Holding Limited (DSH), His Grace, Archbishop Robert Rivas, O.P., in consultation with the clergy of the Archdiocese of Castries, have together reflected on the potential impact of the proposed project.

The following statement is an expression of concern regarding aspects of the DSH project, and other issues currently prevalent in the country, from a standpoint of social justice. This statement comes after a considerable period of reflection and discussion on the issues addressed below.

Our thoughts are guided by time-honoured Social Teachings of the Catholic Church, which have at their heart seven basic themes that include options for persons who are poor and vulnerable, and care for God’s creation. We are concerned as the Catholic Church of Saint Lucia that, notwithstanding the potential economic benefits of direct investment and development, there must be a balanced focus on the relationship between investment, people and the environment.

Pope Francis, who serves as the spiritual leader of the Roman Catholic Church, has emerged as a significant moral voice on the global scene for people of all faith traditions, especially those who are poor and vulnerable. Our expression of concern finds support in his recently (2015) published Encyclical Letter, Laudato Si – On the Care for Our Common Home. Through the pages of that teaching, we read the following:

Public pressure has to be exerted in order to bring about decisive political action. Society, through non-governmental organizations and intermediate groups, must put pressure on governments to develop more rigorous regulations, procedures and controls. Unless citizens control political power – national, regional and municipal – it will not be possible to control damage to the environment. Local legislation can be more effective, too, if agreements exist between neighbouring communities to support the same environmental policies. [179]

Within the context of caring for our common home, and assuming our responsibility to be a moral voice on social issues, it is incumbent upon us to take a stand on the following issues of major concern:

Possible displacement of persons and their livelihoods, who occupy and operate within and around the investment site. Particular concern is raised on behalf of persons whose voice may be lost in the process. These would include, but are not limited to, farmers, fishers, footballers, vendors, recreational users, small business owners, eco-tourists, charcoal producers. We feel the need to draw specific attention to residents of the Bruceville and Bacadere sections of Vieux Fort, as well as shop owners in the same areav and the vicinity of Sandy Beach, also to young persons, particularly those who frequent the use of Dames Field for athletic purposes, and persons living within the radius of the proposed Equine Disease-Free Zone.

Lack of priority articulated for local labour inputs. The DSH Framework Agreement gives the Master Developer “absolute discretion” to “engage and/or terminate” the procurement of labour contracts. [5.1] Such a clause leads to high speculation regarding the employment of local Saint Lucians, and if so, for what duration. No guarantee seems to be in place regarding employment priority and permanence for local citizenry.

Damage and depletion to cultural and natural resources. Phase Two of the DSH-proposed plan (unveiled on March 9, 2017) has illustrated a link between the two Maria Islets and a proposed “Southern Causeway” to the mainland. We fail to see how such an idea could be productive to the environment and at the same time to the multitude of local persons who enjoy Sandy Beach for recreational purposes. The land there is of great value in its present state as a gathering place for citizens throughout the country and visitors who greatly enjoy the natural beauty and ambiance of the locale. The recent (April 13, 2017) press release from the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) does little to ease fears of potential hazards of the Causeway to the environment and ecosystem. Furthermore, the mention in said press release that “part of the Causeway will belong to Saint Lucians and Saint Lucians will be allowed access to beaches built along the Causeway” further alienates support of the proposal insofar as access to the entire beach is not a matter of limitation for local residents. In line with the issues raised here, we also join our voice in support of those who have expressed fundamental dissatisfaction with the proposed use of Pigeon Island for commercial aquatic amusement. We applaud and endorse the efforts of the Saint Lucia National Trust (SLNT) in their work of preservation. We wish to encourage continued and vigorous participation on their part and that of other non-governmental organizations (NGOs), local citizens and all people of good will to preserve the authentic patrimony of Saint Lucia. The removal of the Mankote Mangroves from the original DSH plan is to be highly commended and should serve as a participatory model for further action in response to concerns raised by the SLNT, their supporters, and other concerned citizens.

Unsustainable relocation of the local landfill in Vieux Fort. One proposed site purported for consideration of relocation is in close proximity to a freshwater source in the community of La Retraite. Movement of the landfill to that area, or a similar place, could prove detrimental to citizens, land and livestock. Moreover, the livelihood of those depending on the freshwater source could be seriously jeopardized.

Herewith, we express additional concerns that we see presently affecting the quality of life of all citizens of Saint Lucia and those who visit our shores.

 The NICE programme is seen as a valuable social safety net mechanism for vulnerable persons. We commend the retention of workers in various aspects of the programme, particularly those caring for elderly and homebound persons. At the same time, we urge reconsideration of decisions that have impacted persons in school employment and ask for full reinstatement of services rendered to the youth through education and other means.

Health care, particularly in the south of the island, is of major concern for persons who are infirmed, their families, medical personnel and support staff. The current use of the George Odlum Stadium as St. Jude Hospital is inadequate, and the deteriorating structure poses serious hazards to patients, staff and visitors. We are encouraged by recent news reports of progress regarding the original St. Jude Hospital. The lack of completed renovations to the original site, however, threatens satisfactory health care in the south of the island. We thus urge that resources and efforts directed toward the completion and reopening of the original St. Jude Hospital be accelerated.

Violent crime is an issue of grave concern to all Saint Lucians. The quality of life – spiritual, moral, physical – must be given serious priority and seen as paramount for human development. The Church promotes a stance of non-violence which aims to foster and promote a culture of life and right relationship among all peoples. We urge and pledge cooperation with increased endeavours to stem the escalation of violence in our communities.

We respectfully encourage serious attention to the above issues. A way forward could be to turn political swords into plowshares and partisan spears into pruning hooks (see Isaiah 2:4), thus working to build a better Saint Lucian society with long-term goals that are supported by members of the incumbent Government and the Opposition.

In consideration of the above social issues and following our moral imperative, we again join Pope Francis with words from Laudato Si as we conclude:

The myopia of power politics delays the inclusion of a far-sighted environmental agenda within the overall agenda of governments. Thus we forget that “time is greater than space”, [130] that we are always more effective when we generate processes rather than holding on to positions of power. True statecraft is manifest when, in difficult times, we uphold high principles and think of the long-term common good. [178]

In keeping with the gospel message, it is our view that the long-term common good always places high priority on persons who are poor and vulnerable, their human rights and dignity, and respect for the earth.

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