Paradise behind Fences: The Creation of a Two-Tier State

Below is a must-read letter to the editor written by my colleague at the College of the Bahamas, Dr. Ian Bethell-Bennett. Originally published in the Nassau Guardian on 21st November, 2012, it addresses an important reality that has the potential to severely, and adversely, impact our lives on this evermore overcrowded rock of nineteen miles by seven miles we call New Providence.

Tourism is a wonderful industry; it pays our BEC, BTC, Water and Sewerage and Cable Bahamas bills, gives us money to shop in Miami and Ft. Lauderdale and creates mega-resorts that we wonder around as if in a dream. It creates the hottest, coolest clubs, restaurants and discos. It removes most resources from the local grasp, enclosing them within the resort’s limits. Locals can only venture there at the owners’ pleasure; it is private land on what may have been once upon a time public access property. Sadly, as I walked along the lovely newly fenced in Paradise ‘public’ beach access, it became clear that Bahamians are up against a monster. While the beach on this part of Paradise Island has been open to the public for years, it has not been public in the true sense of the word in many years. Atlantis actually acquired the beach years ago. Unfortunately, Bahamians were probably unaware of that fact.

As the beach access is controlled and restricted, Bahamians seem to be unaware that they are losing rights that they thought they had as a part of their birth. Yet, people seem nonplussed by it. As the gate stands locked across the ‘public access’, tourists approach from the inside and are confused as to how to leave. Locals simply duck under, jump over or somehow negotiate in and out. Ease of access is gone. The owners are asserting their right to the land. As the new owners/managers of Atlantis flex their muscles, asserting their ownership of the land that allows people to access the beach, the public wonders by apparently unaware.

Conditions of Beach Access: Access to this property is limited to those authorized, from time to time… Persons entering the property may be subject to a search and/or questioning.

A few years ago, Adrian Gibson (Tribune 13/11/09) wrote a piece on public beach access and the right to it. Yes, Bahamians may use the beach up to the high water mark, but he left out that we are not guaranteed access to the high-water mark. Private property extinguishes the right to that access, unless there is a common law right-of-way provided to the beach, which is usual for many coastal communities, but seems to be tentative on Paradise Island. However, the signs do say, as is customary, that the beach is accessible to Paradise Island residents. This does not include New Providence residents. Tourists are less important – or perhaps more important than locals; they do not live here, they simply play here, they do pay though. However, they may gain access by the virtue of their identity; they are not local.

All governments talk about tourism’s benefits for the local economy, but what are they? It seems, to date, that they include jobs, at the expense of land. Low-paying service jobs at the expense of high-earning professions, all of which allow for diversity. Yes, we must recognize that the government has provided Goodman’s Bay for public use, and so kindly too, along with Montagu. However, as the population grows two public beaches with a smattering of a few other local access points seem rather inadequate. Perhaps, though, we matter less in this country. Unfortunately, the more people feel penned in and ghettoized, the more they begin to act as people do when in confined spaces and not allowed to enjoy the pleasure they see on the other side. As the tourism areas grow, the local area shrinks. Areas such as Bain Town and Millennium Gardens become more crowded and other troubles brew.

What tourism actually develops, as the title indicates is a two-tier community where the tourists that can afford, or apparently afford, the pleasure of luxury have the pickings of the coast and all the accoutrements of the resorts, while the locals serve them to be able to afford to eat. As tourists go, they are unaware of the disparity that they create. They save for months, or in some cases years to come here for a few days of luxury, or to take a cruise. Often, they live out their dreams while here. So the country becomes a place of play, according to Mimi Sheller and John Urry in Tourism Mobilities. It also becomes a place in play; a place that is created according to the whims of the tourist or those catering to them. The place is produced to attract tourists. What is the actual cost of that production? Local development is sidelined in favor of the mega-resort.

As Frantz Fanon argues, locals become second-class citizens. Tragically, the resentment and anger build and it often turns in on itself until it becomes too explosive. Rather similar to colonialism, tourism creates a separation between those who serve and those who are served. This separation is not only mental but physical. Or, it is not only physical but also mental. It becomes real and as Fanon and Camus illustrate, manifests in physical and psychological ways. We not only begin to kill each other, we also begin to hate ourselves and what we see ourselves as. But we downplay the violence and crime, we protect the tourist areas with increased police presence, all the while encouraging the others out of those areas. Regulations are made to limit local access to said areas, after all, it is private property and if you do not look the part, management reserves the right of admission.

Cabbage Beach is no longer accessible to 250,000 Nassauvians, only to residents of Hog Island aka Paradise Island, most of whom are expatriates.

As the coastline becomes out of bounds for many of the blacks who inhabit paradise, it becomes a place where those who fly in for five days and four nights enjoy all manner of pleasure. They play. Meanwhile, the locals who can no longer freely access the coast or most of the desirable spaces unless paying top dollar, are consumed as mere pawns to a hungry industry.

As the local community gains jobs and loses land, it also feels like it has more disposable income. At least that is one of the objectives. We want to buy things. We are willing to sell our souls to buy some thing, any thing that we are told will make us better looking, more desirable or happier. We assume that the tourists who inhabit the destination that paradise promises are happy and rich. That is the image we see.

When I walked past the beach this morning and realized that I no longer had access to it, a button was pressed and a sad realization took hold. As many of the taxi-driven, cruise-shipped-in tourists also realized, but they had to find an entrance. That entrance is at the pleasure of the owner. Tragically, the government did not have the foresight to write in a clause that would protect coastal land for continued enjoyment by locals and others who may wish to live near it. They simply sold it. The owners who bought then also sold and made massive profits. The ones who lost out and continue to lose out are those very people who are meant to be benefiting from all this development.

In the long run, the tourists may be willing to pay $10 or $20 to visit the beach for a few hours as their ship passes by, but what of those rich, and noble locals who braid hair day in and day out, work in hotels, restaurants, banks, shops, laundries, those who work to pay to stay alive? If we go to the beach daily do we have to pay $10 or $20 to swim? It may sound like a little, but $10 times 5 equals $50. A mere drop in the bucket to swim in the beautiful aquamarine waters that hem in these islands. Many can afford to pay this and others will pay it and smile, because they look rich paying it. But the fact is that we have sold our navel string and birthright for a song, much like the yellow bird caught in that sickly sweet rendering of paradise.

To be sure tourism is a great provider of jobs that pay bills. It creates wealth for some and pleasure for others. It also creates envy and discontent. More fully, it creates a two-tiered country where those who can pay to play and fly in for the pleasures of paradise, luxuriate in spaces that protect themselves with chain-link fences against the vagrancies and dalliances of those beyond.

Collins Wall 2.0

The segregation of the 1950s does not compare to the mindful segregation of a people no longer able to enjoy the natural pleasures of their land because said nature has been mega-resorted. More tragically, we do not even realize it is happening. The Bahamas is certainly becoming a destination, but not one that we can all pay to play in. Paradise truly exists behind fences.

Dr. Ian Bethell-Bennett


Rien Ne Va Plus

It is interesting that some pundits accuse “the pundits” of the Bahamas to be too silent on the issue of a question being put before the nation’s voters on 3rd December, because a number of pundits, such as Larry Smith or Front Porch Simon, have weighed in on this issue, which has been looked at from many different angles, but few have come out in support the proposed referendum.*

There are supporters of the referendum, but their contributions tend to find their way into established media as paid advertisements rather than as op-eds. The campaign relies heavily on social media and the mass appeal created there by “liking” or “retweeting.”

The official opposition has not regained its composure after the by-election in North Abaco, and, except for tepid, timid criticism when the silence becomes too awkward, instead relies on a few mouthpieces with no official connection to the party. This cacophony of voices we hear is either exaggerating or obscuring the issue, and all too often focussing on utterly irrelevant aspects of it, as personal gain or political loyalty determine their stance.

One of the PLP’s campaign promises for its first 100 days in office was this: “Provide details for a referendum on a National Lottery and gambling in The Bahamas.” Needless to say, the promise was broken, as details for the event on December 3rd are still shrouded in fog 23 days before the date, but 187 days after the election; only yesterday did Perry Christie announce that another announcement would be forthcoming next week.

When we talk about gambling in the Bahamas, we are not just talking about gambling, but rather a whole array of issues:

  1. Gambling as such, and a criticism thereof based on their interpretation of the Bible as well as their interpretation of their religious role in our society, is the focus of the “Christian Council.” That body, as is often the case, made its case heard “proactively,” when nobody had asked for it – most notably during this year’s independence celebrations.
  2. Economic benefits for an abstract bigger picture is what the “Vote Yes” campaign chooses to focus on. Of course, this argument not only neglects that these benefits are the result of countless Bahamians foolishly gambling away their money, but their campaign is, upon closer analysis, nothing but smoke and mirrors. Their numbers do not add up, and the website has been changed to disguise this fact, but no real numbers have replaced the fraudulent ones that vanished. Initially, it was claimed that the numbers industry generates an annual revenue of $40 million, creates 3,000 jobs, and could contribute, if taxed at 25%, $26M to the public treasury. Revenue, by definition, is the amount of money taken in before subtracting expenses, and should not be mistaken for profit. $40 million taxed at 25% is $10 million, not $26 million; if untaxed, it can pay for 3,000 jobs, but then your rent and utility bills would remain largely unpaid, even if they are all minimum wage jobs, because you also claim huge donations to charities. All of this would mean you make no profit. Apparently, the numbers men expect is to believe that they are not in it for the money. These, more so than the current illegality of some of the webshops’ activities is probably the reason why the “Vote Yes” campaign is trying to hide the identities of the individuals behind it.
  3. The one argument of the “Vote Yes” campaign that I can sympathise with, is that gambling can be seen as a form of entertainment, and that it is none of my business how you use your money to entertain yourself. Agreed, as I also do not want you to tell me how I use my money to entertain myself. Need an example? Some people spend frivolous amounts of money on golfing. I do not find golf entertaining, and instead am inclined to agree with Mark Twain, who said, “A game of golf is a good walk spoiled.” I also do not find gaming entertaining, but then again, I am a plane spotter; you probably do not find that entertaining.
  4. Then there’s the question of discrimination. The 1969 Lotteries and Gaming Act prohibits residents from participating in casino gambling. When the constitution was written for independence, clause 26, paragraph 4, subsection e was included to permit the possibility that the gaming law might not follow more general anti-discrimination clauses, however, the constitution does not ban gambling. It leaves it up to the legislators to allow or ban gambling, and it allows legislators to discriminate against Bahamians when doing so. While I strongly feel that any kind of legally sanctioned discrimination is wrong, it does not require a constitutional amendment to allow Bahamians to gamble, despite some pundits claiming that Perry Christie may be about to commit treason if he allows Bahamians to gamble under the current constitution. However, the PLP’s “Charter” never planned to address the question of discrimination written into section 50 of the 1969 act, as casino gambling was not included in their plan.
  5. A referendum on a national lottery on the other hand was included in their list of campaign promises. However, shortly after Christie publicly announced that the government would look at local experts, for instance from the College of the Bahamas, for consultancies, as opposed to foreign consultants, they hired a UK-based consultancy firm, which in record time produced a report that said that a national lottery in the Bahamas would not be viable due to the country’s small size. I will not go into any more detail here, as I have a gut feeling that future developments may shed some more light on this issue before the referendum – see the next two points.
  6. This then brings us to the question of transparency. The consultants drew their conclusions faster than gamblers pick their numbers. To convince the public that thorough research was done, demands began to be heard that the report ought to be made available for review by the public. This prompted Christie to deny the existence of any formal report.
  7. Yesterday, Christie announces that another announcement will be forthcoming. BahamasPress (usually in Christie’s pocket) announced shortly afterwards that the announced announcement will see the consultants reporting to the Bahamian public about a non-existent report. We shall wait and see.
  8. If a national lottery in the Bahamas would not be viable, how are they viable in even smaller Caribbean nations which have them, and how are webshops, which are essentially privately-operated, competing and thus smaller lotteries, viable? A national lottery, clearly, would not be in the interest of the number bosses; it would hurt their business model. A national lottery, however, should be of interest to the Bahamian people, for they would be the owners, collectively, and all profits – not just a taxable percentage – would contribute towards the common good of the Commonwealth.
  9. There is debate on whether the referendum question has been announced, even Christie is trying to play semantics with that one. My ears heard it as having been communicated by Christie in the House of Assembly: the question would be whether or not we “support the legalisation and regulation of webshops. (7:30 minutes). Yet webshops are already legal, and they have business licenses. Some of their activities are currently not legal, but how would this unannounced but announced question address that issue?
  10. The above video goes on to hint at future licensing practises, but these hints remain so vague that I can already hear, through a portal in time, cries of victimisation that will make us forget any and all previous cries of victimisation ever heard in our Bahamaland.
  11. Legalisation of webshop gaming will enable a privileged few to come clean with their currently illegal fortunes, but will not benefit the many. The numbers they themselves provide demonstrate that, while the number of jobs may sound impressive, they are poorly paid jobs, continuing the exploitation of the masses by a small mercantile minority.

A referendum should be the ultimate tool in a democracy allowing for all citizens’ direct participation, however, given the lack of transparency and the nature of this referendum, which in reality is an extravagantly expensive opinion poll, we are witnessing a farce. Christie appears to be indebted to the numbers men, but seems to lack the chuzpe to take on the “Christian Council” on their behalf, thus trying to pass the buck to the populace on a non-sensical question he could easily push through parliament with his more than comfortable majority of seats.

Playing games with a referendum is being disrespectful to the electorate, the sovereign in a democracy. Am I willing to be a pawn in Christie’s game? No, I am not willing to take that gamble.