Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 22nd 2014 Contents A26
Sunday Guardian www.guardian.co.tt June 22, 2014
Aweek ago, Alcoa said it
will pull out of Jamaica.
Plans for a Trinidad
smelter are dead and buried.
Alcoa s Tembladora transship-
ment plant in Carenage has
gathered dust for four years.
Guyana? That s ancient history.
And Alcoa threatened last month
to pull out of Suriname.
That is not good news for the
president, Desi Bouterse. There s
an election due next May.
When independence-era politi-
cians faced off the multination-
als, Alcoa played a starring role.
Now Alcoa is in the departure
lounge, boarding pass in hand.
In the 1960s, the Caribbean
produced almost half the world s
bauxite, or aluminium ore; today,
just six per cent. Back then,
bauxite rivalled T&T s oil as an
economic force. Not again.
Resource riches can turn to
red dust if planning for the
future goes astray.
The world has plenty bauxite.
Prices are adrift. Caribbean costs
are high, and reserves dwindling.
Producers have lost ground to
Australia, China and Brazil.
Alcoa started shipping bauxite
from Jamaica in 1963. It has a 55
per cent stake in the Jamalco
refinery, which produces alumi-
na, the pure aluminium oxide
which is shipped overseas to
make aluminium in energy-
intensive smelters. Just like the
one we didn t build at Point
Alcoa now plans to sell its
Jamaica operations to the Hong
Kong headquartered Noble
Group. Not a familiar name?
Founded in 1986, they are a
"global supply chain manager of
agricultural and energy products,
metals and minerals." Alcoa will
stay on as managers for two
years, then that s it.
The Jamaican government
fought hard in the 1970s for its
45 per cent stake in Jamalco.
Since an ill-advised fixed-price
sales agreement a decade ago,
this potential money-spinner has
instead drained cash from treas-
ury; the government is desperate
Jamaica s high-cost energy
makes up half of Alcoa s local
costs. Stretching back through
the mists of time, Jamaica has
for years promised lower-cost
power from natural gas or
Noble has "increasing access
to low-cost coal production
assets in Asia," with exclusive
rights over output from two
Indonesian coal mines. Jamaica s
mining ministry hopes a coal-
fired generating plant will power
Jamalco by 2018. Carbon emis-
In Suriname, Alcoa s history
runs back almost a century, from
1915; those were still pickaxe and
shovel days. In 1959, work start-
ed on a dam at Afobaka on the
Suriname river, creating a lake
five times the size of Tobago, a
hydro-electric generating station
and an alumina plant. That was
a huge investment, even by
today s standards.
Last month, Alcoa s regional
director for Latin America and
the Caribbean Aquilino Paolucci
called a special meeting of all his
Surinamese staff. He said the
company would pull out unless
the government cuts a sweet
deal on energy costs.
He wants the state-owned
electricity company to pay more
for the power it buys from the
Afobaka dam. And he wants the
state-owned oil company Staat-
solie to sell him cut-price fuel.
The pull-out threat looks
credible. Alcoa s former bauxite
partner BHP Billiton sold its
Suriname operations in 2009.
Suriname has plenty bauxite,
but the working mines are close
to depletion. Hopes lie in the
remote interior. An American
company, Newmont, wants to
bring gold and bauxite mines on
stream in the Nassau mountains
of eastern Suriname by 2018.
Alcoa is keeping its options
open. It sold its 20 per cent
stake in the Newmont project
back in April, for US$18 million.
Even with Nassau coming on
stream, Alcoa says it will leave
Suriname unless it gets its ener-
In 2008, Alcoa abandoned
plans to develop the enormous
(but inaccessible) bauxite
resources of the Bakhuys moun-
tains of western Suriname.
There is not enough bauxite in
the existing mines to last until
2018. Energy deal or no, mine
output will be cut by two-thirds
this year, to eke out the dwin-
dling resources. Counting Alcoa s
own staff and contract mine
workers, close to 1,000 jobs are
Bouterse plays hardball. Alcoa
wanted an answer on energy
costs by June 12. They didn t get
A pull-out would be a body-
work knock for Suriname s
economy, not a car wreck. Since
2007, gold has easily surpassed
bauxite and alumina as a
prices look iffy this year.
Bouterse argues that Suriname
could even benefit from Alcoa s
departure. The state-owned
electricity company last year
paid Alcoa s local subsidiary
Suralco US$53 million for elec-
tricity from the Afobaka hydro
plant. That s plenty more than
Suralco s US$19.4 million tax
Two questions. If Alcoa pulls
out, what happens to the Afoba-
ka hydro plant and the dam?
And what happens to a disused
Neither fits easily into airline
The dam was built under the
75-year Brokopondo agreement,
which has 19 more years to run.
I have not seen the fine print,
but there s an argument that if
Alcoa pulls out early, it would
have to pay Suriname up to
US$700 million compensation.
That is not a line of thinking
anyone expects Alcoa to buy
With one year to the election,
President Bouterse and Mr
Paolucci will have plenty to talk
PART IIOn that hot day in the
Beetham, three people---
Simone de la Bastide,
Wayne Jordan, and I---gazed at
tall grass that had shot above a
uncovered galvanised enclosure
from a different perspective.
Simone de la Bastide is known
and loved by the people in this
area not as the wife of the legal
luminary Michael de la Bastide
(who, incidentally, is one of their
heroes---his name is carved into a
plaque at the entrance to this
area, along with those of Prince
Charles and British High Com-
missioner Arthur Snell). Some in
the Beetham remember that it
was Simone---then chairman of
her brainchild charity, Women in
Action for the Needy and Desti-
tute (Wand), who, 14 years back,
helped Wayne Jordan to build a
proper school just yards away
from this spot.
Jordan s childhood was spent in
the St Michael s Home for Boys.
His mother left him there when
she left the country, and his
father was not around. Occasion-
ally, perhaps at Christmas or
Easter, families who wanted to do
more than just give hampers to
these boys took him to their
There, he saw privilege in
things that most middle-class
homes take for granted. Oddly, it
was not the soft sheets and toi-
lets that made such an impres-
sion on this abandoned child, but
the loving care given by the
mothers of these families to their
children by exposing the children
to books, educational tools, eti-
quette, kindness and ambition.
So when Jordan moved into the
Beetham after he got too old to
stay at the home, he noticed that
lots of children, as old as seven,
eight, even ten, were not going to
school. They were children of
illegal immigrants, or left in the
care of older siblings.
In 2000, Wayne agreed to
teach two boys in exchange for
the use of this galvanised enclo-
sure. Remembering the families
who treated him like a son for a
weekend, he decided he wanted
to "give back" the random love
he had received from strangers,
and began accepting any child
who was unable to go to school.
Gradually, people in the
Beetham and environs began
sending their children to Jordan s
shed, where he taught them
whatever he knew---not just
maths, English and science, but
kindness to one another.
The children came, some bare-
foot, some with slippers, some in
rags, but they came. The earth
was their floor. It was hard and
cold but they had access to an
outdoor latrine. A kind neighbour
gave them cold water, and others
donated snacks. There was no
electricity and they left before it
got dark, to go to their quiet,
often abandoned homes. Jordan s
school had grown to 60 children,
who were being rained on and
burned in the heat of the midday
By then, Simone de la Bastide
got involved through her NGO,
Wand was helping destitute
women and children, drug
addicts and people in need of
When Jordan, fed up with
watching his students suffer,
moved to an abandoned concrete
structure nearby, Wand, under
Simone s stewardship, flew into
action, adding electricity to the
building, a suspended ceiling, a
finished concrete floor, bathroom
facilities, part furnishings and
part library. The UK High Com-
mission pitched in and that year,
Prince Charles visited this "All in
One Child Development Centre."
Just a few yards from the shed,
Jordan and Simone de la Bastide
showed me a beautifully run
school, a product of their labour.
When that got going, Jordan
moved on, and so did Simone:
this time, to build a pre-school---
Each One Teach One---in the
Beetham, run by Jordan. It is one
of three projects of Simone s
newly-formed NGO, the Chil-
dren s Ark.
When we arrived at the school,
Simone dropped to her knees to
talk to the children, who were
seated on specially-made minia-
ture furniture. The children, most
of them from parents of poor
families from Beetham, Sea Lots,
Laventille, Morvant and Trou
Macaque, smiled with delighted
Jordan showed me the minia-
ture toilets. This is nothing short
of magic in a place where tod-
dlers fall into toilet bowls. The
children used to sit on chairs
with their heads too low to write
on tables. Simone got the financ-
ing from the Children s Ark, and
the army to help with the labour.
The school is clean but under-
staffed. Jordan seems to do
everything. I recalled that the
Ministry of Education promised
with fanfare to fund the running
of the Beetham pre-school. This
promise has not been kept.
I wonder what the social work-
ers of this country do. Are they
ghosts? Nobody will know if a
child never goes to school, or
goes hungry, or a woman gets
beaten up, or a boy is tempted
On our way home, Simone
asked me if I had seen what she
saw that day, despite Jordan s
best efforts: a four-year-old boy
pulling a two-year-old girl to kiss
his protruding belly button; the
three-year-old, his face set with
the rage of a cold-blooded man;
the boys on the walls, with their
bright potential setting faster
than a single sunset---the boys we
so easily call "animals" when
Wayne Jordan and Simone do
what they can. I m starting to
think it s we---who neglect the
vulnerable amidst us---who are
the real animals.
To contribute to the Chil-
dren's Ark, please call 389-9772.
A WALK IN THE BEETHAM
ALCOA: END OF AN ERA?
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