7B the migo IQ blog

April 22, 2017

Manufacturing Paradise

By Ana Portnoy Brimmer

“That water---have you ever seen anything like it? Far out, to the horizon, the colour of the water is navy-blue; nearer, the water is the colour of the North American sky. From there to the shore, the water is pale, silvery, clear, so clear that you can see its pinkish-white sand bottom. Oh, what beauty! Oh, what beauty!” - Jamaica Kincaid, A Small Place

“The Caribbean continues to be advertised and marketed in North American venues as local “paradise”-near, yet remote; familiar, but exotic; luxurious and green.” - Jana Evans Braziel, “‘Caribbean Genesis’: Language, Gardens, Worlds”

“El Puerto Rico que están planificando mediante todas esas medidas es uno que no incluye a la inmensa mayoría de los que hacemos de esta isla nuestro hogar. Es un Puerto Rico para otra gente, un poco una especie de isla resort (1).” - Emmanuel A. Estrada López, “Amenazada la Supervivencia de los Puertorriqueños por PROMESA,” Diálogo

 

This is not what you think. These are not golden sands, translucent waters and lush greens. This is not the place for flowered shirts. This is not a travel brochure. This is not an exotic getaway. This is not like that movie you once saw. This is not a romantic niche. This is not piña coladas and daiquiris. This is not a selfie-moment. This is not the-people-who-live-here-are-so-lucky. This is not for your hands and hotels. This is not NO PASE: PROPIEDAD PRIVADA (2). This is not yours.

This is not paradise.

***

The history of Puerto Rico, the history of the Caribbean, is a history of socio-environmental destruction. It reads of ecological exploitation, of resource profiteering, of the colonization and eradication of the land and of those who inhabit(ed) it.

It speaks of paradise.

Of waters clearer than the most expertly polished glass, of skies bluer than blue can be, of sunshine brighter than the light of a thousand bulbs, of lands richer than the wealth of all of its future colonizers put together.

And with the arrival of European ships to the shores of the Archipelago, the search for the long-lost and long-desired Eden had ended, and its desecration (its manufacture) had begun.

The story of Playuela is a prolongation, the continuation, of this seemingly never-ending story.

***

Seven months ago, an activist collective established itself in a barrio (3) that has seen its name on flyers and banners, on newspapers and social media, on court trials and legally binding documents: Playuela.

This borough, located in Punta Borinquen, Aguadilla, is the site of a socio-environmental, economic, historical and political struggle, the origins of which can be traced back approximately two decades. About twenty years ago, the land that constitutes el barrio of Playuela was designated for the construction of a tourist resort by the (colonial) name of Christopher Columbus Landing Resort (4), the construction of which is under the current control and supervision of Caribbean Management Group (CMG) and the municipality of Aguadilla.

El Movimiento Playuela, the collective, made up of activists, students from the UPR system and members of the community, has been struggling against the implementation of this project, which is not only outdated, but environmentally and socially detrimental. El Movimiento Playuela occupied the territory under development, establishing a resistance campsite against the destination mega-resort; but after discussions between the members of the collective (5) and a lawsuit against El Movimiento Playuela by CMG, they moved the campsite closer to the beach and away from the “private property” under construction. The voices of the people against this project, against the destruction, destitution and commodification of that socio-environmental space, have been invisibilized and denied participation in the process. The community’s and the movement’s access to legal action and participation has also been hindered, the Superior Court of Aguadilla rejecting the lawsuit demanding the paralyzation of the tourist project under construction (6).

Civil disobediences (some of which resulted in arrests), protests, demonstrations, information forums, social media campaigns and other tactics have been employed in the struggle against the Christopher Columbus Landing Resort project, highlighting the numerous problematic ramifications that could result from it. The consequences are wide-ranging: the infertility of the land; the annihilation of endangered coral reefs, fauna, and endemic trees (7); the gentrification and displacement of the community; deforestation; the artificial alteration of the beach and ecosystem to achieve “tourist-friendliness” (8); the list goes on and on, and so does la lucha (9) against the exploitation of Playuela, against the manufacture of paradise.

***

This is not a tourist’s dream. This is not a worry-free weekend. This is not sunshine and clear skies. This is not summer year-long. This is not a coconut-scented fantasy. This is not an all-inclusive (exclusive of everyone excepting yourself). This is not island life. This is not seaside living. This is not horseback riding by the shore. This is not sunsets and sangrias. This is not salsa, merengue, reggae and calypso all day every day. This is not an invitation.

This is not paradise.

***

But it hasn’t stopped them from thinking so, from conveniently crafting it as such; from selling it in travel agencies and showcasing it in brochures; from encircling acreage with barbed wire and piercing the soil with PRIVATE PROPERTY; from making a fantasy of a people’s reality; from transforming the land into a luxurious commodity; from seeing dollars and cents in every grain of sand, in every coastline, in every blade of grass, in every acre of green. And it’s all his fault: 

Christopher Columbus Landing Resort... Christopher Columbus Landing… Christopher Columbus. It’s like he’s still here. Like he didn’t die 511 years ago. As if colonizing Puerto Rico once wasn’t enough, and, with our trusty aid, like an old-fashioned tradition that refuses to die out, he keeps on doing it, over and over again.

La Plaza Colón (10), El Parque Colón (11), Escuela Cristóbal Colón (12), Residencial Columbus Landing (13), la Estatua de Cristóbal Colón (14); Christopher Columbus Landing Resort...

Absurd this eternal return to “the pioneer”; this tragicomic recurrence to the individual who initiated this culture of socio-environmental destruction, to the man who, stunned by the “paradisaic nature” of the region (and bored of his domestic banality), decided to wring it dry; surreal this constant coming again to the construction of an Eden built for destruction.

Paradise is only paradise for those outside of it, for those visiting for a few days or a couple of weeks, for those stuffing their pockets with the ruin it reaps. The idea of paradise always conceals a pervading logic, a discourse, of socio-environmental destruction, it conceals an invitation, airs of entitlement. Christopher Columbus felt invited (entitled) to mine the “paradise” he came upon in search for gold (wiping out the Taino population almost in its entirety and engaging in the barbaric institution of slavery), defiling the land in the process.

Later, the Spaniards felt invited to turn Puerto Rico into a monocrop wonderland, planting only cane, and transforming the Archipelago into a dependent, sugar producing profit-monster. The US came into the picture, and, apart from taking over and continuing with the sugar industry, felt invited to invade “paradise” with its military forces, the troops raising the U.S. flag over the island, formalizing U.S. authority over the 108-mile-long, 40-mile-wide Eden (and what a coincidence that many of the military bases in PR, Aguadilla’s la Base de Ramey (15) (noticing a pattern here, Aguadilla?) for example, are situated right by/on the beautiful beaches of “paradise”).

And some time after, the tourist industry came into being, and it’s made sure to explore (exploit) the land from sea coast to sea coast; luxury hotels, cruises, corporations, privatization and gentrification showcasing (manipulating) Puerto Rico’s “paradisiacal charm." And so, La Isla del Encanto (16) was born. Money makes paradise, and el paraíso Puertorriqueño (17) became el Paraíso Fiscal (18) , the Archipelago’s beauty (bill) growing. 

And now, with the $72 billion debt clinging to Puerto Rico’s neck, the eternal return, the tragicomic recurrence, the constant coming again does what it does best: “paradise” is being manufactured once more as the (profitable) solution. And what does it look like? Under Puerto Rico’s current fiscal circumstances and the dictates of PROMESA, segments of La Reserva Natural El Corredor Ecológico del Noreste (19) are under threat of being sold, especially the segments owned by the Industrial Development Company (20), so that the government can generate liquidity and be able to help defray basic and essential services, and of course, le pièce de résistance, to pay the debt (21).

Playuela, a biodiverse, archaeologically revered (22), eco-systemically rich terrain, is being converted into a tourist’s fantasy, a sightseer’s dream, a traveler’s fetish, showcasing what they (the firms, corporations, and government and tourism agencies involved) manufacture, conveniently construct (destroy) as Puerto Rico, as “paradise;” gaining control over the land, and destroying it in the process.

The excuse: it’ll create more jobs, it’ll attract tourists and feed the economy, it’ll add value to the region, eternal return, eternal return, eternal return. The truth: the land will suffer, the ecological diversity will perish, the community will be dispossessed of its home and history, the terrain will be (re)colonized by Christopher Columbus (Landing Resort)

Across the Archipelago, across the Caribbean, a great number of other socio-environmental struggles are taking place parallely to Playuela’s (and the Corredor Ecológico del Noreste’s). If they’re to be successful, the manufacture of paradise must be deconstructed and dismantled.

***

This is not a the-Island-in-a-day bus tour. This is not a tropical utopia. This is not yoga by the beach. This is not sun-bathing and cabana boy service. This is not made-in-china sarongs and beaded braids. This is not an ocean clean of history. These are not fields free from memory. This is not a land unscarred by time. This is not a people of sunshine and amnesia.

This is not paradise.


 

Footnotes

  1. The Puerto Rico that is being planned through the implementation of all of these measures is one that does not include the vast majority of us who make a home of this island. It is a Puerto Rico for other people, a kind of island resort.”
  2. DO NOT TRESPASS: PRIVATE PROPERTY

  3. Borough

  4. The investment firm involved in the development of this project is Stone Creek Partners.

  5. Interview with Verónika Mercedes Banuchi Ponce, member of El Movimiento Playuela and a Political Science major at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez Campus.

  6. http://www.elnuevodia.com/noticias/locales/nota/denuncianfaltadeaccesoalajusticiaenelcasodeplayuela-2312314/
  7. http://informacionaldesnudo.com/movimiento-playuela/
  8. Interview with Verónika Mercedes Banuchi Ponce, member of El Movimiento Playuela and a Political Science major at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez Campus.

  9. The struggle

  10. The Columbus Plaza, in Old San Juan and in Mayagüez.

  11. The Columbus Park, in Aguadilla.

  12. Christopher Columbus School, in Bayamón.

  13. Columbus Landing Housing Project, in Mayagüez.

  14. The Statue of Columbus (as it’s locally called/known). Its official name is Nacimiento de un Nuevo Mundo (The Birth of a New World), and it’s in Arecibo.

  15. Ramey Air Force Base

  16. The Island of Enchantment

  17. Puerto Rican Paradise

  18. Tax Haven

  19. The Nature Reserve The Northeast Ecological Corridor

  20. Compañía de Fomento Industrial

  21. http://dialogoupr.com/nuevamente-en-peligro-el-corredor-ecologico/

  22. http://www.elnuevodia.com/noticias/locales/nota/arqueologospidendetenerproyectoturisticoenplayuela-2295396/