Who Owns Jamaica’s Beaches?

UnknownEaston Douglas once took up a very big job that’s still not finished. I suppose it was much harder than chairing the board of the National Housing Trust. A board of ‘yes’ men and women makes things really easy for a chairman. This is particularly true if it’s a ‘bagasse’ board, accountable to no one.

As minister of environment and housing, Easton Douglas announced in 1995 that the Government had started to develop a policy for controlling access to Jamaica’s beaches. Nothing much has come of this promise after almost two decades. We are still stuck with a 1956 Beach Control Act.

According to that pre-Independence law, the Queen of England owns our beaches: “all rights in and over the foreshore of this Island and the floor of the sea are hereby declared to be vested in the Crown”. But even that outdated act does acknowledge the fact that the rights of the public have to be protected against selfish private-sector interests.

images-1Hotel owners, for example, can apply for a licence to operate ‘private’ beaches. But the act makes it absolutely clear that “licence shall not be granted under this section unless the Authority has certified that the issue of the licence is not likely to conflict with the public interest in regard to fishing, bathing, recreation or the protection of the environment”.

Now this ‘Authority’ is the very same Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) that appears to have given its stamp of approval to the Housing Agency of Jamaica (HAJ) to sell off protected public lands on Long Mountain to private developers. So I really don’t have much faith in the capacity of the NRCA to protect the public interest.


Two Sundays ago, I watched that episode of Anthony Bourdain’s travel series, ‘Parts Unknown’, which focused on Jamaica. Avoiding the well-known all-inclusive hotels in and around MoBay, Bourdain turned to Portland, where Jamaica’s upscale tourist industry started. And he didn’t paint the usual portrait of the island as ‘paradise’. He got it right.

Bourdain documents the sharp lines of division in our society. The programme wasn’t aired on CNN in Jamaica. Conspiracy theorists immediately came up with a wicked explanation. It was because Flow is owned by Michael Lee-Chin. He came off so badly in the show that he stopped the company from airing it.

When I checked with Flow, I learned that CNN sends targeted feeds to different markets. We get the Latin American and Caribbean feed. Bourdain’s show is not on our feed. It’s now on Vimeo.com.


Hopefully, either TVJ or CVM will negotiate the rights to air the episode. We all need to see it. It’s not a pretty picture of our country. The landscape is beautiful and the food is appetising. But the disparity between the rich and poor is rather ugly.


Perhaps Michael Lee-Chin should have been much more cautious about exposing himself to Bourdain. This is how Bourdain introduces him: “There are those who believe that the area can come back; that it must come back. That the future is in hotels and resorts and restaurants for wealthy visitors as it once was.

trident-castle“Take this place, for instance: the Trident hotel. Expensive, luxurious! Best of all, I’m the only guest. Oh, did I mention that it comes with a castle? What kind of person would own a building like that? Who? Why? Then this man arrived and kind of answered that question. All of this belongs to Michael Lee-Chin. Local boy-turned-billionaire. One of the richest men in the world. And my host. He’s invited me for dinner.”

With guests like Bourdain, you don’t need gatecrashers. Down the road at GoldenEye, St Mary, Chris Blackwell, another host, gets the full Bourdain treatment. It’s a case of show me your friends. This is how Bourdain puts it: “When Blackwell heard I wanted to visit the local fishermen, he hooked me up with his good friend, Carl, to accompany me.”

Apparently forgetting that this wasn’t a B movie, Carl Bradshaw acts quite ugly. One of the insistent fishermen tries to tell the truth as he sees it. Blackwell’s ‘development’ plan for Oracabessa will create major problems: “This going belong to di tourist. . . . ┬áThe native here don’t have no beach in a few months time.”


Bradshaw menacingly responds, “Wi no care ’bout truth, man. Wi kill people fi truth, man.” And he shouts down the middle-aged fisherman, “Yute, yute, just stop talk! Mi seh just stop bombo klaat talk!” Bradshaw forces the fisherman out of the interview. And then descends into a pseudo-philosophical rant on “tolerance”!

The star of Bourdain’s show is Cynthia who, with her partner Dennis, runs a cookshop on Winnifred Beach in Portland. It’s the only public beach for miles. The Urban Development Corporation (UDC) tried to capture the beach for private use, promising that the public would still have access. Cynthia’s response is completely understandable: “We don’t trust them. So we do not believe what they say.”

The Free Winnifred Benevolent Society took UDC to court. Last month, before Bourdain’s travel show aired, they won the case. Their heroism is a part of Jamaican culture we definitely know. The barbed-wire fences that block public access to so many beaches around the island must be torn down. With no regard for Missis Queen and her untrustworthy deputies, we must claim the right to sovereignty over our own beaches.


4 thoughts on “Who Owns Jamaica’s Beaches?

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  1. YES! I watched the show also and was amazed how he depicted “Parts Unknown” in Jamaica. Folks who thought he was going to make the island palatable for coming and going might be surprised. He mocks the typical tourist as a pot belly, continuous alcohol drinking, silly hat wearing clown. One comment made by the grandson of Errol Flynn at the lavish dinner party hosted by Mr. Lee-Chin, I agree with and that is most people who say they’ve been to Jamaica don’t really ever see the island-its people, culture and life struggles. Perhaps its because they stay within the walls of an all-inclusive compound. The development plan discussed on the show would promote more of this and leave local Jamaicans without!
    Bourdain previously hosted a travel food show on the Food Network several years ago, but his commentaries about the country visited began to branch out beyond cuisine into the history, culture, politics affecting the country. By the way, Mr. Bourdain visited Jamaica during that time on the Food Network and he didn’t touch on politics then.
    So now “Parts Unknown” is aired on CNN more as a documentary than just how tasty local food is. He has not just singled out Jamaica. Take a look at what he investigated and exposed with Mexico. A celebrated poet whose son was murdered in that country’s drug war crossfire, described the new political tyrant in the world – GREED! Take note. This tyrant exists worldwide, even in places we consider PARADISE.
    Thank you Dr. Cooper for sharing this with your readers and to highlight the real heroes in Portland- Cynthia, Dennis and the Free Winnifred Benevolent Society. So happy to hear their efforts won the case! May it inspire others!

  2. Soon there won’t be any place to have a good bath on the coast in Jamaica if it were for these capitalist. What do they expect the common man to do when they have acquired all the properties on the coast? We are not idiots we are not fools and we have constitutional right just like them. It is really frightening how human being can say they are doing things for the betterment of humanity when they are casting the poor men into a state of no return. I wonder if these big men pray like me and you and I wonder again if they pray through the same Jesus I pray through.

  3. Righteous! So important to have intellectuals with heart like yourself still Doing The Right Thing. I didn’t get the Flow feed in my colonial rock in the ocean (where we luuuuuuuuuuuurve to give up ‘our’ beaches to any western magnet so we can be in close proximity to a Tourist).
    Thanks again for the reference to Anthony Bourdain’s , ‘Parts Unknown’ – It’s online at:

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