Once Upon a Time …

Editor’s Note:

This 1982 letter written by Peter Anderson was recently found by Foxy Callwood of Jost van Dyke and given to Capt. Phil Chalker of S/V Wayward Sailor, who brought it to St. John Tradewinds for publication. When contacted by St. John Trade-winds, the author was surprised and very pleased at the letter’s discovery and wholeheartedly gave his permission for it to be published.

April 23, 1982

An Open Letter To the People of Jost van Dyke,

Once upon a time in the Northernmost corner of the Caribbean there was a little island full of very rich people. They had little money, but then they didn’t need more than a little money because everything that was important in life was free for the taking or growing.

They had friendships that were real. When someone caught fish, everyone had fish. When someone was in trouble, everyone was there to help in any way they could. Children couldn’t get into too much trouble because everyone cared and watched out for them.

Life went on for many generations. People cared for each other and their families. Sons and daughters learned the skills that kept them all rich from the older people. The older people had sons and daughters to teach, and to take care of them as they got too old. Life was good. Life was rich. Life was full.

It was a beautiful little island. It was so beautiful and life was so rich, that other people from near and far came to visit, relax, and enjoy the riches that all their money could not buy.

Over the years the word went out far and wide that this richest of little islands was the place to go. More and more people came to visit and enjoy. There were lots of lobsters. There were tons of mangoes, and guavas, and papayas. There was lots of love to go around and the people shared.

People started to come, however, who could not see the riches the islanders had. Poor people with a lot of money came to the islands and saw not the richness of life, but what they called opportunity.

“More and more people want to come here,” they told the islanders. “They must have somewhere to stay. They must have more boats to take them fishing and lobstering.”

“They must have more restaurants and bars to get happy in,” they said to the islanders. “Look, let us build some hotels, and marinas, and restaurants, and bars. We will give your sons and daughters jobs, and you will have lots of money to buy things with.”

Never having had much money, the islanders said okay. After all, it sounded good to have jobs. It sounded good to be building things.

And so the hotels, marinas, and bars and restaurants went up. Lots of people started coming to the little island. Lots of people…

Soon the poor people with lots of money who built these hotels, and marinas,and bars and restaurants started to notice a problem. There was too much garbage from all these people who were coming. There was too much sewage…there was no place to park…someone had to hire more police…government had to get bigger and bigger to handle all these things.

“Well, this is your problem,” the islanders said. “After all it’s your hotels and all that are creating the problems.”

In the meantime, other things were happening. Young people were forgetting how to fish. People were getting dependent on money instead of each other. Some people who cozied up to the developers got lots of money…others still had little money. Families were split…and still the garbage mounted up, the sewage seeped into the water and killed the fish and lobster, the police were needed more and more to solve problems, people couldn’t park in front of their own house anymore because of all the people who came to play and stay in hotels and all that.

And still the problem of who is going to pay for all of this…The poor people with lots of money who built all of these things that no one needed in the first place didn’t want to pay. They backed the other poor people with lots of money who wanted more money and invested in the hotels and all that.

Sure people had jobs, but they weren’t the good jobs, and they didn’t pay very much. All the good jobs went to the “experts” from out of town who moved down and bought up the old houses. Prices for houses went up and up.

Soon the young people who had grown up on the island couldn’t buy a house anymore because they cost too much money. More and more people came down to live on the island and paid lots and lots of money for houses.

Families who had lived on the island for many generations sold their houses to the newcomers for lots of money but found out that they then had no place they wanted to live. Suddenly, they were poor where they had been rich. They had lots of money, but no life worth living.

All the people who were coming caught all the fish. They caught all the lobsters. They bulldozed the mangoes, guavas, and papayas, to build more hotels. The garbage pile got bigger. The sewage got thicker.

Meanwhile, the poor people with lots of money who started all of this had taken over the government. They could pay, and the bought the best politicians money could buy. The best politicians money could buy told the people that they had to raise the taxes on their houses to pay for all the garbage, and the sewage, and more parking.

Besides, all the prices for houses had gone way up, so there was more value to tax. And don’t forget about the schools. There were more children to educate with all these people coming all the time. Suddenly, people needed two low paying jobs in this new “tourist industry” in order t o pay their taxes. Suddenly people had to buy their food instead of taking it, or growing it.

So… pretty soon Mamas had to get jobs too, instead of taking care of the children. Since no one was taking care of the children any more they started getting into trouble. So the island needed more police, and more jails, and more social workers. The best politicians money could buy raised taxes even higher. Families started to leave the island, selling their houses for ever more money; but finding their lives ever poorer. And all the while the building went on.

“Let us build more so there will be more jobs and more to tax,” the poor people with lots of money told the islanders who were still left.

And so it went. A ring of concrete started encircling the island. People couldn’t get to the sea anymore. People couldn’t get out to the ocean to catch the fish that weren’t there anymore anyway.

The islanders couldn’t see the sea anymore unless they wanted to sit a fancy hotel bar and pay prices they couldn’t afford because all their money was going to pay the taxes that the best politicians money could buy were telling them was needed to deal with the garbage, and the sewage, and the police.

And so, slowly (but forever) the richest little island in the Northernmost part of the Caribbean became poorer and poorer. The poor people with lots of money got more and more money, and the rich people with little money got poorer and poorer.

Paradise got paved…the concrete ring got more and more dense and impenetrable. Life was not good anymore. The rich heritage of an entire people was squandered on the developers’ lies to line the developers’ pockets.

Make no mistake about it. The developers know what they are doing, and you are not a part of their plan. They will lie to you to get your life and island. They will lie to your children about bright futures that never come true. That is their job.

They are good at it, and they are paid well to steal your past, and your future. They are the land sharks, and they will take your leg, then your arm, and then take your children.

They look good. They talk really well. They make big promises that make a not of sense. They lie.

Please dear God, please dear people, don’t give up your riches for empty promises. Heritage is beyond price. Dignity is beyond measure. Don’t let your child be seduced. No amount of money will every replace a life.

The little island I speak to you of is known as Key West, Florida. Let our funeral be your birth. Learn from our mistakes…

With love,
Peter Anderson, Secretary General
The Conch Republic, Key West