By Jay Bruno
The Camerhogne Park affair is rapidly evolving into an issue of serious social stability implications for the government and the nation. Already the Congress opposition has issued a thinly veiled threat warning governament to “tread lightly on this matter”.
Prudence dictates we de-escalate and defuse the growing crisis situation before things get nasty and it implodes.
Grenada has a history of obstructionist and reactionary backlash from diehard hardliners waging campaigns to derail and abort development and modernisation.
If backward mentality had prevailed, today we would have no St George’s University, no international airport, no national stadium, and no Cruise Ship Terminal.
Any change to the old status quo, political or economic with whatever obvious benefits, is anathema. Recall the politically-motivated 1974 independence struggle that brought Grenada to the brink of civil war, the strikes, the violent demonstrations, and the police brutality.
Civil unrest right now would be a backward and a retrograde step with dangerous repercussions for Grenada going forward.
Nobel laureate Milton Friedman said, “there is no such thing as a free lunch” and to gain something you must lose something. In economic jargon the opportunity cost of future economic development is the sacrifice of current consumption, a tradeoff between competing wants.
Here, “sacrifice” has special significance in the prevailing economic climate.
But sometimes the price of progress, the sacrifice, is too high causing traumatic human dislocation and social fall-out in the mad drive for rapid development. Consider the recent ruthless bulldozer demolition of a hospital by China’s government sending doctors, nurses, and patients, still inside, running for their lives because the building was blocking construction of a modern superhighway project.
But Camerhogne advocates make a powerful case for preservation of the people’s park. Firstly, the unique aesthetic ambiance of the park environment brings health and happiness to consumers and deprivation would reduce their quality of life. Also, it is physically impossible to replicate that atmosphere by relocation and the benefits promised from “trickledown” economics hardly ever trickles down to the masses.
Secondly, the Washington Consensus (World Bank, International Monetary Fund, United Nations) prescribes us an ethnocentric roadmap of strategies for development. Using consensus criteria, capitalist economists and politicians equate privatisation, foreign direct investment (FDI), and GDP per capita income with high standard of living.
This model is based on a false premise that ignores income distribution, Human Development Indicators (HDI) like longevity, and other related psychosocial dividends.
People correlate their socio-economic status and standard of living with feelings of wellbeing, quality of life, and happiness. Given advanced education, modern technology, and five-star hotel complex feelings of poverty still persists in communities when there is deprivation.
For a big capital project the decision-making process involves weighing social costs and benefits, conducting a socio-economic impact analysis, and utilitarian principles determine “the greatest good for the greatest number of people”.
But stakeholders see Camerhogne Park as a symbolic national asset with a priceless, intangible value that cannot be evaluated in monetary terms.
Leading players in the Camerhogne saga are government, the foreign developer, and “we the people” with most to lose. Stakeholders share the mass support of anti-park and pro-park factions, the latter steadily gaining momentum and becoming increasingly vociferous and demanding.
For the Mitchell administration commitment to the IMF-supported structural adjustment program (SAP) is paramount with job creation and economic growth high-priority manifesto mandates for constituencies.
The foreign investor expects government to provide an enabling environment to facilitate his multimillion-dollar investment projects, and promises must be fulfilled. Caught in the crossfire the people will not be moved.
The whole spectrum of civil society across partisan party lines and a coalition of desparate factions spreading internationally have joined forces to save Camerhogne Park.
On social media the debate is trending in overdrive and is surging virally on the internet. On the domestic front, the Willie Redhead Foundation wants preservation of Camerhogne Park as a legacy of national heritage without the intrusion of privatisation. And Friends of the Earth (FOE) opposes infrastructure development on Camerhogne Park property to prevent degradation of the pristine natural environment.
In Parliament, Labour Representative, Sen. Ray Roberts is a strong lobbying voice for Camerhogne Park and spearheads the Save Camerhogne Park movement with a mass mobilisation petition in support of the issue.
He takes the “moral high ground” on principles of ethics and social justice.
And opportunistically politicising the issue, the National Democratic Congress “jumps on the bandwagon” to score as much political mileage as it can for the upcoming national election.
Camerhogne Park touches the pulse of the nation, friends, visitors, and the diaspora, igniting the flames of patriotism and country to rally around a little piece of real estate “green space”, demanding that it remains sacrosanct and inviolable for the people of the nation.
Ultimately, the fate of the park rests with the people of Grenada, Carriacou, and Petit Martinique. They have drawn a “red line in the sand” and are going to defend it.