The Bahamas: Structural Violence

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This article by Ian Bethell-Bennett appeared in The Nassau Guardian.

Structural violence has nothing to do with people grabbing chains off necks from cars stopped at traffic lights, persons being abducted and pushed into car boots, crime being on the rise, and another 150 jobs being lost.  Wisely, the government continues with its plans to implement a new Value Added Tax as well as to drill for oil in Bahamian waters.

Other taxes and fees are to be fully enforced and collected.  Failure to pay one’s electricity and water bills will result in disconnection, a threat few citizens feared in earlier days.  This is made more expensive by reconnection fees.  Education is set to become more expensive and the cost of living, in general, is to rise.  Locals pay a hefty 70-80 per cent import duty on heavy vehicles.  Will this duty, for example, be reduced to offset the impact of VAT?  This is all referred to as structural violence, much like the Cyprus government’s policy to garner residents’ money from their bank accounts.  These work to undermine local development.  However, foreign development thrives as those projects are offered concessions that basically throw the doors open for free.  Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is positive; it is actually a necessary part of development and can be tremendously beneficial when handled properly and regulated.  However, when the commons are divested of everything in the coffers, no good can come.

Local development comes to a screeching halt as FDI takes over and thrives.  Yet, the parties concerned sell the benefits of said projects that will generate jobs.  However, the World Bank and the IDB, among other organisations, show how under-educated the local population is and so unemployable.  Meanwhile, the population buys into (pipe)dream of jobs and a more cash-rich future.  In the wake of the debate that ‘killed’ Clifton Cay these issues are often thought to be dead until they come back to feast on a terminally unaware mass.  As the ‘Intervention by Senator Fred Mitchell . . . [to the] Select Committee on Upscale and Traditional Bahamian Communities’ on 27 December 2001’ illustrates:

I move a request to look into all matters relating to the development of Clifton Cay in New Providence and other gated or financially upscale communities in The Bahamas, more particularly to investigate their social and environmental impact and to look into all matters connected to the protection of traditional Bahamian communities . . . .

You will remember Mr. President that developers Chaffin & Associates and the Bechtel Corporation proposed to develop the last wilderness of 600 acres on the western end of New Providence into a golf course, and a gated community right next to Lyford Cay.  This announcement brought howls of protest from the Bahamian people. The Bahamian people have scuttled this project.

So what of howls?  All governments run interference while in opposition yet promote the same schemes once in power.

This running to put out this fire and then the next fire and to survive the dramatically rising cost of living has left the engaged residents worn out, yet the masses remain unaware. Land deals seem to treble.  Ministers talk about development as if the result of fire that required divestment of damaged goods at rock-bottom prices, only not to locals.  This is not violence.

Meanwhile, the tangible violence is on-going.  Everyday people are becoming less aware of the true cost of the cheap term ‘development’. Violence and crime increase.  Larry Smith introduced the Bahamian ‘public’ to a recent study conducted by then MIT student N. L. Smith, “Whose Land is it Anyway?” that showed the need for regulation of the disbursement of public land.  The study is significant in its examination of structural violence and its impact on the Bahamian landscape and psyche.

In a recent union meeting, executives of the oil drilling company presented on the impact of oil exploration and drilling in the Bahamas.  Their presentation was followed by The National Citizen’s Committee address on inconsistencies with the numbers ($$$) the drilling group presented.  Firstly, the former group argued that Bahamians would benefit directly from oil drilling as funds would reside locally, and drilling would create jobs.  The latter, explained that most of the jobs would be held by foreigners as Bahamians were untrained in this area, which required trained personnel.  This is reminiscent of Baha Mar.  At the end of the day, fewer jobs were created for the local market because of the lack of an adequately trained workforce.  This, in turn, is reminiscent of the 1980s Crystal Palace project that conscripted South-Asian workers; there were too few  (adequately) trained Bahamians.

In the case of oil drilling, the proceeds have already been divvied up and delivered in sealed envelopes to persons beyond Bahamian shores.  Apparently, these deals were already struck, and have been finalised.  The stocks were sold at ‘public offering’ in London.  As such, they do not deliver benefits to the Bahamian market per se. Normal Bahamians are not to participate in such stock offerings.  The government has already agreed to a paltry ‘price’ that will be delivered in, according to the parties concerned, instalments, one at the beginning and the second at the end.  This is all (un)common knowledge, though.

Bahamians are, meanwhile, sold on a proposed project, not on a deal that has already been signed, dusted and implemented.  The government plans to create legislation and regulations that will mitigate any drilling-caused damage.  Is this not rather late?  Once the deal is done, the legislation in effect at the time of signing governs the project.  This is much like the Exuma Land and Sea Park fiasco.  The existent legislation when the land was sold did not disallow dredging.  The country actually lost as a result of the deal of years before the ‘parks’ legislation was created. (Notwithstanding this debacle, the legislation to protect beaches, coastline, sea and reefs, for example, has remained unwritten).  The deals are still being struck and the public told that legislation is forthcoming.  Frustratingly, precious few public meetings are held, gazetting and other publication of said bills and debates are afterthoughts.

Laws and regulations are not meant to take effect retroactively.  A law changed or a regulation implemented next week will only cover the deals from thereon, it cannot influence the agreements that were made earlier.  At the same time, the Bahamas government is unaggressive about regulating private property.  In other countries, governments intervene heavily to regulate privately-owned land.  The Bahamas has avoided this with foreign-held land, but it has done this to Bahamian-owned land.  It expropriates Bahamian-held land in the name of the public good.

While all the hoopla sounded and the dust settled after the opinion poll on gambling and a national lottery, these other events were underway.  If one looked off the south-west of New Providence in 2010-2011, the silhouette of an exploration vessel hovered.  The masses are the only players who will pay for these decisions, yet are delightfully excluded from sealing the deals.  So what of true public consultation?   Tragically, like the El Salvadorian short story ‘And They Sold the Rain’, where the population finds itself being charged to catch and use rainwater because it was sold to a rich country in the East, the country has been privatised under the population’s nose.

Now that the tides are slowly turning in public participation in governance, as Larry Smith argues, the rapid acceleration of fire deals no matter which government is in power signals a disregard for good governance.  This is much like Puerto Rico a few years ago, where in order to divest the population of land that had been put into a community cooperative, the politician involved decided to benevolently ‘give’ residents land titles.  Attempts were then made to expropriate the land from those title-holders.  Structural violence has become a regular part of the developing world as neoliberalism takes firmer hold.

How are Bahamians preparing for this, given the sale of the land on Mayaguana, Elbow Cay, Guana Cay?  The Clifton debate Mr Mitchell lambasted in 2001 as  ‘widely regarded as dead in the water’ is like the living dead, back; this is of course outside the original Albany plan that would conjoin the older hotel properties of South Ocean and the adjacent land.  Would minister Mitchell ask for the ‘impact’ to be examined before development went any further?  The government continues to deal away drilling rights that could destroy the pristine waters the country packages to survive. Forget old fishing communities which thrived until coastlines were privatised much along the lines Justice Carroll condemns in the Save Guana Cay case.  Tacitly argued, there is a new apartheid-like development model afoot that works in tandem with the lack of policy and other draconian regulations and fees to disenfranchise an entire nation of people, who, that is, are too broke to pay entry to the gated community because they are too busy paying 80 per cent duty on trucks and 15 per cent VAT on purchases (on top of the stamp tax, duty, and shipping fees?).  There is no violence, however.

For the original report go to http://www.thenassauguardian.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=38199&Itemid=86

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