Against Bauxite Mining in Jamaica

Bauxite or ‘red dirt’, the raw material used in the production of aluminium, has been extracted in Jamaica by open-cast mining since 1952. In the 1960s Jamaica was the leading producer in the world and the industry expanded over the years to include four large refineries which process most of the raw bauxite into alumina before it is exported.
Although the bauxite/alumina industry has produced foreign exchange earnings and a number of jobs, it has always been an environmental disaster, removing forest cover, disturbing and polluting waterways, displacing residents, destroying agricultural livelihoods, compromising air and water quality and thus damaging the health and well-being of thousands of Jamaicans. Large areas of good farmland have been torn up, replaced after mining with a thin layer of top-soil that is barely fertile. Whole communities have been displaced, or compromised, with very limited or no compensation. And the alumina refineries which use copious amounts of caustic soda, discharged after processing into vast ‘red mud lakes, further pollute both the air and soil, toxic heavy metals included.
With steep declines in earnings from the industry since the 1970s, growing numbers of people in Jamaica are questioning whether or not it should continue. A cost-benefit analysis has never been done although in its publication ‘Red Dirt’, the Jamaica Environmental Trust (JET) estimates that air pollution alone has a yearly cost of at least US$3.7bn against GDP economic benefits of US$1bn.
This concern has been brought into sharper focus by recent threats to extend the mining into the Cockpit Country, 500 square miles in west central Jamaica with unique ecological, cultural and living heritage and a possible UNESCO World Heritage site. It is the largest remaining intact original forest in Jamaica with high levels of biological diversity and rare species and the source of several major rivers, providing 40% of Jamaica’s fresh water. The Cockpit Country contains many vibrant farming communities and is the home of the Leeward Maroons who successfully fought the English for many years and were finally granted their own governance in 1738, long
before the Haitian revolution in 1804, Emancipation in 1838 and Jamaica’s political
independence in 1962.
There was renewed opposition to bauxite mining with the application in 2018 by Noranda Jamaica Bauxite Partners II for Special Mining Lease (SML) 173 in what many consider to part of the Cockpit Country. Just one year before, after years of dispute, the Jamaican government announced in 2017 an ‘official’ boundary, the Cockpit Country Protected Area (CCPA), smaller in size to that argued for by the Cockpit Country Stakeholders Group (CCSG) and many others.
The government-designated CCPA does not include the area of SML 173 nor indeed a buffer zone and other important areas in the south and west.

On 7 February 2022, the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) issued an
environmental permit for mining to go ahead in a so-called ‘released area’ of SML 173 to Noranda Jamaica despite irregularities in the consultation process, concerns about the robustness of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and also without the 2017 CCPA having been formally gazetted. The released area is 1,333 hectares with a duration of five years although at the public consultation the CEO of the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) made it clear that subsequent applications for mining in SML 173 would be considered. This ‘released area’ is within the CCSG Cockpit Country boundaries and is in the upper watershed of the Rio Bueno.
There is a clear conflict of interest since the Jamaican government, home of the environmental regulator (the NRCA), also has a 51% stake in Noranda Jamaica. In addition the Prime Minister has a veto power over NRCA decisions, exercised recently regarding a controversial limestone quarrying application also in the parish of St. Ann. UK-based Concord Resources plc holds the remaining 49% of Noranda Jamaica and is also the managing agent.
There are thus both short and long-term problems with the bauxite-alumina industry in Jamaica which need to be addressed, serious enough to question whether the destructive open-cast mining and the refining of bauxite should be continued, or not.

As such Caribbean Labour Solidarity is calling for a commitment to support the following demands by activists in Jamaica:
1. The re-designation of the Cockpit Country Protected Area using the boundaries defined by the Cockpit Country Stakeholders Group, followed by a legal gazetting. This would include all the area of SML 173 and a buffer zone.
2. No mining of any sort (bauxite, limestone etc) in the Cockpit Country, including the buffer zone, as defined by the Cockpit Country Stakeholders Group
3. No further bauxite mining permits to be issued anywhere in Jamaica
4. The urgent development of an exit plan for the bauxite/alumina industry in Jamaica,
including options for economic replacement and reparations for the communities that
have been sacrificed to the industry.
5. In the meantime stricter monitoring and a review of the practices of the bauxite/alumina industry to reduce the environmental and social damage to an absolute minimum.