The Exploitation of Vieux Fort

A pensive looking Dr. Anderson Reynolds
Second in a four-part series By Dr. Anderson Reynolds

WHO runs Vieux Fort? Well, as is to be expected, in the absence of strong and recognizable leadership, community cohesiveness, and an entity that oversees or coordinates the physical, social and cultural development of Vieux Fort, the central government has had a free hand in deciding what takes place in the town. Indeed, one gets the impression that government (no matter the administration) views Vieux Fort as an object of exploitation, as a version of America’s erstwhile wild, wild, west, with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of land, a free for all; or as a third world, backwater country good mostly for providing the nation with raw materials—land and sea—for its production processes.

The government’s economic charts and trends have shown a strong correlation between St. Lucia’s economic growth rate and foreign direct investments (FDI). With this discovery, the government has apparently found a panacea for the nation’s economic woes, so the buzzword in town is FDI. So where is this FDI adventure largely being played out? Well, with the north of the island already taken, the obvious conclusion is Vieux Fort and the south of the island. Pointe Seraphine and the industrial zones aside, starting with Morne Vent and Fond d’Or Bay all eight parcels of real estate that Invest St. Lucia has in its FDI portfolio, totalling 716 acres of land, are in the south of the island. Four of them are in the Vieux Fort area, including BwaChadon Beach, Anse de Sable Beach, Il Pirata, and the parcel of land lying between the old Vieux Fort River and Wilrock’s operations. If investors are found for all these areas, then most, if not all, of our sandy beaches will be fronted by development, because except for Morne Vent all the lands in the investment portfolio are beach properties.

Now, is this government initiative a bad thing? No, not necessarily. After all, to continue growing our economy and improving our standard of living, such hard choices have to be made. However, shouldn’t communities be consulted on these economic initiatives? Shouldn’t they have a say in what goes where in their communities? In a democracy should citizens not have a say in decisions that are going to impact their communities for generations to come? If so, in the case of Vieux Fort, which entity is insisting that Vieux Fort has a say? Who is there to protect Vieux Fort against the whims, idiosyncrasies, misadventures, and experiments of government? Who is there to stand firm when what is good for an administration is not good for the country, and what is good for the country is not good for Vieux Fort?

Anthony...seen as a fence-sitter.
Anthony…seen as a fence-sitter.

The government and Invest St. Lucia’s recent land foray into Vieux Fort have some Vieux Fortians speculating that government coffers are empty and the solution, just come to Vieux Fort, the perpetual frontier, and sell off a few parcels of land, with little consideration for what is best for Vieux Fort. And who could blame Vieux Fortians for forming this impression? After all, there is no one standing between government and the community of Vieux Fort.

A popular St. Lucian blog apparently captured the same sentiment expressed above. “The National Development Corporation was supposed to be engaged in a land reform project that should have helped spark off development. Instead, they have been selling off the assets in the south to pay for their debts.”

And there is plenty of cause to worry. Take, for example, the Ritz Carlton Resort that was supposed to come to Black Bay along the Vieux Fort-Laborie corridor. Through NDC the previous UWP administration had swapped 469.5 acres of Black Bay and Cannelles lands for shares in the developer Roebuck Properties (St. Lucia), where the land would be used to establish a five-star, Ritz Carlton Resort. Unfortunately, the project went under, forcing the developer to default on the loan of approximately US$25 million it had secured from the Kaupthing Singer & Friedlander bank to finance the resort.

Meanwhile, as if the development was never meant to be, Kaupthing Singer & Friedlander collapsed and entered into administration; and, understandably, the administrators, in a hurry to recoup the Roebuck Properties loan, threatened to sell the Black Bay and Cannelles lands.

By then UWP was no longer in power, and, according to the then freshly elected SLP government, realizing that the lands would be lost to the people forever, despite the country facing dire economic conditions, it had little choice but to come up with the EC$58.72 million to reclaim the land for the people. But ironically or contradictorily, back in 2005, before the SLP administration was booted out, it had proposed to sell the land outright to Roebuck Properties (St Lucia), which meant that the people for whom the current SLP government has purportedly reclaimed the land would not have had it in the first place had SLP won the 2006 elections and the Ritz Carlton resort development had come to fruition. So apparently the only beef the SLP administration had with the past UWP government over the Ritz Carlton affair was swapping the land for shares instead of selling it outright. But on second thought maybe the bigger beef SLP had with the UWP was that they would have caused the loss of the land without the people gaining anything in return. I, for one, everything else being equal, would prefer swapping land for shares, unless there was a definite community development plan for the use of the land proceeds.

Vieux Fort

In any event, no matter the administration, Vieux Fort lands were being sold, negotiated away, with little transparency, with little input from the community. Not for the first time Vieux Fortians would have just woke up one morning to be greeted with the news that another substantial piece of their real estate is no longer available for their use; and worse, unclear as to whose purpose the move was really meant to serve.

Just before the last elections, following many faux pas (including building rooms too small to house intended equipment) in the rehabilitation of the fire damaged St. Jude’s Hospital, the dysfunctional Stephenson King led UWP government put up a billboard at the entrance of Vieux Fort, boldly announcing the near completion of the rehabilitation of the hospital. This was in 2011. Three to four years later, 2015, the reconstruction of the hospital has proven to be so problematic that authorities have stopped offering a completion date. Therefore no one knows when the hospital will be ready for use. Meantime, new hospital equipment procured or donated as gifts in anticipation of the reopening of the hospital are deteriorating through lack of use and improper storage; sporting activities are suffering because the George Odlum Stadium has served as the de facto hospital since the fire; and hospital waste flowing from the stadium towards the Atlantic Ocean is an environmental disaster in the making, reportedly destroying the northern end of the largest stand of mangrove forest left on the island. Given all this, when administrations come to Vieux Fort, seemingly bearing gifts, how can Vieux Fortians know for sure to whose benefit, and what poisonous pill is buried in the gifts?

Another NDC-turned-Invest St. Lucia deal may be on the way. It is my understanding that Invest St. Lucia has proposed to make available to LUCELEC over 60 acres of land in the La Tourney area for the establishment of a coal generated power plant. Yet it is my impression that because of the pollution and environmental degradation associated with coal power plants, countries are moving away from this method of generating power. And ironically, this is coming at a time when both LUCELEC and government are known to be pursuing an agenda of green energy. Question is: have Invest St. Lucia and LUCELEC consulted with the community (whose health would be affected) on the placement and environmental feasibility of such a project; and if Invest St. Lucia and LUCELEC insist on having their way irrespective of the accompanying harm to Vieux Fortians, who will stop them? Who can stop them? Which entity in Vieux Fort has the muscles to flex to say, “not in my town”? Who runs Vieux Fort?

Even when well-intentioned projects come to Vieux Fort, because of a lack of consultation with the community, a lack of community ownership, the absence of a coherent, empowered and proactive Vieux Fort voice, and because of misguided management or inadequate management resources directed to the running of the initiatives once they are in place, they often falter and fail to realize their potential. Many of the Hewanorra free zone commercial shells built in the early 2000’s on American constructed airfield strips (and in the very area that may be needed for airport expansion) remain empty. Likewise, many of the factory shells at La Tourney between Black Bay and St. Jude’s Highway, which once heralded the John Compton led UWP government’s vision of Vieux Fort as the new frontier and the industrial capital of St. Lucia, are empty and dilapidated, the voices of workers long gone silent.

The Japanese built state of the art Vieux Fort fishery complex, colloquially called the pond, the largest of its kind in the Eastern Caribbean, that should have been a source of pride to Vieux Fortians, but has become an eye sore and a source of shame. The pond created by the encircling breakwater is filled with all manner of garbage. The complex included a fish cleaning area equipped with proper stalls and running water, but the fisher-cleaners insist and persist in cleaning fish pond-side and disposing of the fish guts in the pond, adding to its pollution. The locker rooms provided to fishermen for storage have become their live-in quarters. The perimeters of the break water serve as toilet to many.

Yet, besides its primary function as a fishery complex, with a view that includes a pond and a wide open sea, a colourful fleet of fishing pirogues with names like “Wave Dancer”, “God’s First Gift Is Life”, and “Son of Sun”, seagulls hovering overhead in search of easy meals, fish-laden pirogues making their way home with the day’s catch, and all manner of fish on display and for sale, The Pond could have served as a visitor attraction and a venue for cultural and entertainment events. Instead it has become a haven for criminal elements and the launching pad for anti-social behaviour.

The Pond and its operations are managed or administered not from Vieux Fort but from Castries, and it is in constant turmoil with fishermen over payment for fish sold to the St. Lucia Fish Marketing Corporation. The fishermen’s suspicion that the lengthy delays in payment receipts are due to The Pond’s fish proceeds being used to finance operations elsewhere, or worse, that the monies may be unaccounted for, doesn’t help the cause.

During the reign of the last UWP government, when there seemed to be as many prime ministers as ministers, when the telegenic and unbashful Taiwanese ambassador, Tom Chou, appeared to be the de facto prime minister among prime ministers, the Magi Grounds in Vieux Fort was fenced with an eight-foot brick wall financed by the Taiwanese government to the tune of one million EC dollars. To spread the Taiwanese largesse, each sports club in Vieux Fort was reportedly contracted to build a segment of the wall. It is not clear who was consulted about the fencing of the field and what other alternatives were considered, but given the negative and resentful reaction to the wall, as spoiling the aesthetics of the town, giving the town an oppressive, prison-like feeling (forcing many to sarcastically refer to it as the Taipei Wall), it is doubtful that much consultation took place, that the initiative followed a transparent process, or that the main motivation behind the wall was to improve the sporting facility. A strong Vieux Fort entity would have ensured that the project conformed to what was best for Vieux Fort.

Who runs Vieux Fort? Well, It isn’t Friends of Labour turned Vyé-Fo – MouvmanAnsanm. It isn’t the Vieux Fort Tourism Development Group. It isn’t the dormant STDC, and it most definitely isn’t the helpless Town Council. But the NCA and the National Trust control the Pointe Sable Protection Park that includes the Maria Islets and the stretch of the Atlantic coast extending from Moule-a-Chique to BwaShadon; SLASPA controls the airport, seaport and the lighthouse area of Moule-a-Chique; the National Development Corporation renamed Invest St. Lucia controls the choicest properties, the industrial zones, and much more; and in between the government has a free hand.

Vieux Fortians may have little say in what happens in their own town and district, but clearly they continue to pay a heavy price for this absent voice and for facilitating the country. One of the clearest examples of that is Vieux Fort’s housing of the nation’s international airport. Instead of hugging the Atlantic coast or running parallel to it, Hewanorra International is perpendicular to the coast and as such cuts across the plains of Vieux Fort, occupying a large chunk of the very land that would have allowed the town to spread outwards in unbroken fashion across its plains. To make matters worse, Vieux Fort can’t enjoy the full benefits of shouldering this high cost for the good of country because the incidence of two airports has meant that Hewanorra is underutilized. However, loss of real estate is not the only cost to Vieux Fort of the airport. Research has shown that the toxic emissions of airports increase the risk of cancer, asthma, liver damage, lung disease, lymphoma, myeloid leukemia, and even depression; and airport noise pollution increases the risk of high blood pressure, coronary heart disease and stroke.

The master’s thesis of the affable and eloquent Honourable Alva Baptiste , who seems perfectly fitted for a life of politics and who may well be next in line to lead the Labour Party—that is when Dr. Kenny Anthony who is now nearing the end of his third prime ministerial term decides he has had enough— makes a strong case for the unfeasibility of having two airports in St. Lucia and the desirability of closing Vigie, a case that the minister had made no bones about in the print media when he was in opposition. But as a district representative, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Baptiste has become uncharacteristically silent on the subject.

The best hope of this happening was with Dr. Kenny Anthony as both the Prime Minister and Vieux Fort District Rep. But the Prime Minister, who though in leadership and intellectual stature appears to stand head and shoulders above all other politicians on the island and most in the CARICOM region, is perceived, unlike his predecessor, Sir John Compton, to sit on the fence on contentious issues requiring boldness. In keeping with this sentiment, he has shown little inclination to mounting such a move. Therefore, there seems little hope of the one airport concept materializing in the foreseeable future.

In light of this, it has been suggested that, given the high cost Vieux Fort is paying for hosting the nation’s international airport, a percentage of SLASPA’s port fees should go towards a Vieux Fort development fund. But which entity is championing or lobbying for that cause, and who would manage such a fund? In the absence of a viable central body in Vieux Fort, as with most other aspects of Vieux Fort life, would such a fund be managed by Castries folks?

The government is now well on its way to privatizing the operations of Hewanorra International Airport in an arrangement called Public Private Partnership (PPP) whereby a private entity will assume the responsibility of operating, maintaining, and expanding the airport, while SLASPA will be relegated to the role of regulating the operations of the operator. Under this arrangement, government will collect corporate profit taxes and SLASPA will receive a share of corporate revenues. But how about Vieux Fort? How will the town be compensated for the high price it is paying for the good of the nation? Doesn’t this reformulation/restructuring present an excellent opportunity to institutionalize a development fund for Vieux Fort? But, again, who is advocating or making sure that Vieux Fort gets a piece of the pie.


  1. You have all these questions. Why don’t you just ask your Representative for the answers…and then you can tell us.

  2. Exactly. Since you know so much about everything . You already know the answers. Smart ppl like you should be helping the ppl understand what really is going on.

  3. YOu guys cannot accept constructive criticism. Anytime there is an articla or comment you deem to insult your party you take it personal while the country is being sold out and the people are becomoing more and more destitute.Lambs to a slaughter.Keep watch time will tell.Just because one speaks does not me he has to have the solutions.He has done his part by education us about the issues.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Send this to a friend