Pride and EWEF disappointed Heritage being peddled off

Dear Editor,

Board members and volunteers of the Sint Maarten Pride and Emilio Wilson Estate Foundations have taken notice of an article in the local media, announcing that Rain Forest Adventures (RFA) has obtained the long lease to the entire Emilio Wilson Estate, with a great sense of disappointment.
The fact that the newly sworn in Government has apparently made the decision to facilitate the Rain Forest Adventures’ plans for the Emilio Wilson Estate without any sort of consultation with relevant stakeholders signals a continuation of Government’s lack of appreciation for Sint Maarten Natural and Cultural Heritage and its dictatorial approach towards management of the island’s natural resources.
Sint Maarten is the only island within the Dutch Caribbean and one of the few in the wider Caribbean region which does not have a land-based protected area. Rapid and poorly planned development over the past four decades has resulted in the destruction of much of the island’s natural resources, except for a handful of remaining green areas such as the Emilio Wilson Estate in the Cul-de-Sac valley.

The Foundations have repeatedly objected to the extremely commercial plans which the RFA has for the Emilio Wilson Estate.
In November of 2010 the Foundations were approached by Rain Forest Adventures a foreign company with plans for the development of the Estate into a mass tourism amusement park for primarily (Cruise Ship) tourists, featuring zip-lining and chair-lifts to the top of the hill.

The Foundations decided not to support the aforementioned proposal for the Emilio Wilson Estate based on the following;

The Rainforest Adventures Plans are focused on the commercial, mass exploitation of the Emilio Wilson Estate in the form of an amusement park with no noteworthy conservation initiatives and no regard for the cultural significance of the area and our ancestors who toiled on the Estate for generations during slavery.

Just a few weeks ago it was announced that Government had finally made due on its commitments to the people of Sint Maarten and purchased the Emilio Wilson Estate. Purchasing the Estate only to now turn around and peddle off the people’s patrimony to Rain Forest Adventures, Carnival Cruise Lines and the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) can in no way be considered in the best interest of the People of St. Maarten.

Many countries throughout the Caribbean and the rest of the world have established protected areas which are either managed by a Government Ministry or in partnership with local Natural and Cultural Heritage organizations.

Sint Maarten Foundations such as the Heritage Foundation, Emilio Wilson Estate Foundation (EWEF), St. Maarten Pride Foundation, the Emilio Wilson Historical and Cultural Park Foundation and the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA) have been involved in efforts to protect the Emilio Wilson Estate and are the local centers of expertise in the management of Natural and Cultural Heritage.

Government has made commitments to the people of St. Maarten to protect the entire Emilio Wilson Estate which is now officially Government owned and is a legally recognized national monument.

Contracts between government and a partnership of local Natural and Cultural Heritage organizations regarding the establishment of the Emilio Wilson Estate as a National Park and the subsequent management of the Estate upon Government obtaining ownership were prepared and finalized accordingly in April and May of 2013.

It surprises and disappoints the Foundations that this current Government is completely ignoring the commitments made to the general public to purchase the Estate for the people and is attempting to disregard contracts made with qualified local heritage organizations regarding the management of the Emilio Wilson Estate. The Foundations are left to wonder why Government would choose to jeopardize the wellbeing of Sint Maarten’s Heritage by making arrangements to hand the Emilio Wilson Estate over to a foreign company focused on mass commercialization rather than on sound and sustainable heritage management.

The Foundations once again question whether the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) has such a high level of influence on Government that commitments to and in the best interest of the people are disregarded in favor of the business interests of the Cruise Line Industry and its business partners.

The Foundations’ position on the estate is simple. The Emilio Wilson Estate must be established as a National Park for the protection of the area’s natural and cultural-historical value but also for the long-term welfare of St. Maarten’s residents. Spending time in green open spaces such as the Emilio Wilson Estate has been shown to improve people’s health happiness and overall wellbeing. From and economic perspective St. Maarten’s Natural and Cultural Heritage, and the Emilio Wilson Estate itself, forms the Foundation of the island’s tourism driven economy. The durability of St. Maarten’s tourism product greatly depends on the level of nature conservation and environmental care and requires a balance between tourism and the natural environment.

Pride and EWEF once again urge Government to pursue all possible legal and financial means necessary to realize its commitment to the people of St. Maarten to secure the Emilio Wilson Estate as the Island’s first land-based protected area and National Park managed by the people for the people.