For several years, whether or not mining should take place in Jamaica’s Cockpit Country has been a contentious debate among residents at home and Jamaicans living in the diaspora.
According to the Water Resources Authority, the area is Jamaica’s largest remaining natural forest on limestone, a sanctuary for extraordinary biological diversity, sitting over a large aquifer. The freshwater stored and released via almost 40 rivers, streams, springs, upwellings, glades and ponds supplies about 40% of Western Jamaica’s water needs.
In 2017, the Andrew Holness administration announced the designated Cockpit Country Protected Area (CCPA) boundary in Parliament. Some 74,726 hectares of existing forest reserves would be protected and closed to mining.
The government later announced that it was planning to grant Noranda bauxite company license to mine in the Cockpit Country. Although Prime Minister Holness reassured the nation that no mining would take place in the CCPA, the announcement did not go over well with Jamaicans, who chastized the government for wanting to mine in the Cockpit Country in the first place.
A campaign to save the cockpit country was started, with an accompanying petition that garnered over 34,000 signatures, both paper and online.
In responding to the backlash, Holness said he was sensitive to the issue for environmental and historical reasons. “The cockpit country was where the maroons lived and it is where the British were defeated,” he said, referring to the peace treaty of 1793, signed by Maroon leader Cudjoe after the first maroon war. This treaty gave the Maroons liberty and freedom and the right to own about 1500 acres of land in the Cockpit Country.
In 2020, an environmental impact assessment (EIA) prepared by Conrad Douglas & Associates, noted that although mining would give a significant boost to Jamaica’s economy, noise pollution, wildlife migration, and potential loss of biodiversity in the immediate area and disruption of established ecosystems were among the environmental concerns.
These factors, among, others were cited by the Accompong Maroon’s new leader in his anti-mining campaign.
Chief Richard Currie was elected as the youngest leader of the Accompong Maroons in February. The 43-year-old holds an MBA from the Mona School of Business at the University of the West Indies in Kingston.
“My mission is to alleviate the struggle and release the shackles and bring about the economic liberation and economic independence that we need to survive as a sovereign nation,” he told Flair magazine in a video interview.
On March 21, Chief Curry proclaimed independence for the state of the cockpit country.
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“Today, We the indigenous people inhabiting the archipelago within the North American territory of the Americas, now referred to as Jamaica have proclaimed our independence and the independence for the “State of Cockpit Country. Accompong Town is now the Capital of the Cockpit Country. The Cockpit has remained and will remain a Sovereign territory protected under the 1738 Treaty,” he said.
Chief Currie says that the area belongs to the Maroon community and no mining shall take place in the region. He has also challenged the Jamaica Forestry Department to produce proof that the Jamaican government has absolute ownership over the Cockpit Country.