The Daily News of the Virgin Islands, Correspondence Section, May 8, 1958, p. 2-3.
Exploitation, 1958 Style
May 5, 1958
Editor, The Daily News
St. Thomas, V.I.
Your editorial of May 2nd regarding the national park on St. John was widely read here, and I wish to say it presents the broad facts of our fears very well. This most recent of incidents centering on the use of the telephone line to this island is only one more of a long series of humiliating incidents that have proved to us how little importance is attached to our needs and desires as residents of St. John.
We who were born on this island approached the idea of a national park hopefully. We wanted to believe that what we were told was true – that the park would indeed be of great help to us economically. We also believed when we were glibly assured that such a park need not change our way of life too drastically, that we would not be coerced or pushed around. As a result, Jackson Hole Preserve was able to buy all of the land needed to offer as a park within about a year. I understand it took some 20 years to acquire the land for Grand Teton National Park, another Rockefeller project. I don’t know if this proves anything except to suggest that we are 20 times more gullible than the people in the States. Or maybe that the older Mr. Rockefeller employed more scrupulous “front men” than Mr. Frank Stick.
But we did have some fears just the same, and many doubts. How often in these islands have we been tricked by smooth-talking strangers? Taking advantage of our desire to trust – and our ignorance? Anyway, many of us believed the empty assurances and false promises of Mr. Rockefeller’s representative, Frank Stick.
But it was not really Mr. Stick we believed in. It was Mr. Rockefeller. If he was behind the plan it must be honest and good for his [???] have shown in many ways all over the world that they have a real interest in the welfare of people, especially [??] in these so-called backward areas where poverty and ignorance reduce opportunity. Because of this we were ready to believe him when he announced that one of his aims was to “help the people of St. John and the other Virgin Islands.”
We believed this. And most of us thought that maybe it would be a good thing – better, maybe, than allowing private interests to “spoil our island with their selfish projects for private gain,” as we were often assured would happen.
We wonder now, many of us, if after all, private projects for private gain are not more likely to produce greater advantages for the people. We wonder. At least you then know where you stand with an organization whose clear intention is to make a profit – and pay taxes. And, without the park, there might have been in time several reports on St. John, offering jobs and a choice of where to work. It would be very difficult for anybody to start a resort now.
As it is we don’t know where we stand – somewhere far behind the Rockefeller interests, as shown once again by V.I. Corp’s denying a telephone to a branch bank that is needed on St. John. Mr. Allston Boyer, President of Caneel Bay Plantation, Inc. thought it over and decided they couldn’t permit this. And V.I. Corp meekly agreed.
This becomes especially hard to take when we recall that the original telephone line was intended to be an emergency line only for the use of V.I. Corp – and Caneel stated clearly at the time that they did not want telephones at all because it would spoil the atmosphere of the resort. And then, after Caneel Bay decided they should after hook on to the line and have a phone. Mr. Boyer was very much disturbed when he found that the people of St. John felt they should have the use of a phone at Cruz Bay. It’s true the one line is inadequate. And it’s true that a resort needs a phone. But what about the people? And what about Mr. Boyer’s often repeated assurance that “we want to be good neighbors”?
I ask who is helping whom? Who is looking out for whose interests? It is obvious that we like our good neighbors at Caneel must look our for ourselves. That our needs are, if a choice must be made, secondary to theirs. We and our government agencies are here to serve them.
Unfortunately, the gift horse we have accepted is permanently installed in our stable – asking for more and more room, and threatening it seems, to kick us off the island entirely if we don’t “cooperate.” And “cooperate” means we have learned, simply to agree to whatever is presented.
The donors of this gift horse, so far as we can determine from their actions are blind. They do not see that they are losing friends and building distrust for themselves all over these islands – and farther than that, judging from the questions asked by visitors. They are blind to the fact that we have long considered this to be our island, our home. We don’t like to be disregarded as being of no consequence. No amount of money spent on St. John can make up to us for the threatened loss of our rights as citizens. The National Park Service is inflexibly following the book, as if this was an uninhabited island, and Mr. Rockefeller, through his representatives, are pursuing their own goals. But we feel that the greatest responsibility for taking the necessary steps to protect us from being pushed around belongs to Mr. Rockefeller. He started this and he made the promises. We think he is poorly served by his representatives and we wonder if he knows how poorly he is served. But he should.
Here, I think, is the big weakness in this whole project. Recently I read this in a national magazine: “Peace demands person-to-person action rather than dollars-to-persons programs.” All those who are interested in helping people should study this philosophy. The dollars are important, but they accomplish little unless there is a meeting of the minds and hearts, which result in mutual understanding and trust.
The St. John program is basically a dollars-to-person program. And because the amount of dollars is big, the sponsors feel satisfied that the program itself must be good, and people should be grateful. Especially our people, who seem to have so little. We feel all along a condescension that they are trying to do their best for us, but we make it so difficult. No doubt we are difficult, but not more than people in other places. The difference is that they are not prepared to find us local people difficult because they are doing so much for us. And because we are so backward that we don’t know what’s up.
Maybe that is why there has been little if any person-to-person action in advance of any phase of this park program – except in the first stages, where Mr. Stick was dealing person-to-person, like a barracuda facing a grouper. The fact is that no effort of any kind has ever been made to determine how the park would affect our people. Nor does anybody seem to care. To those responsible for trying to push through plans about which we have never been consulted we are stupid nuisances, stubborn and ignorant. Every effort seems to be made to work around us, always devious and never direct. The program to “improve Cruz Bay” as the entrance to the park is an example. The plan was laid before us, again by Mr. Stick, complete in every detail. All that was required of us was our whole-hearted approval. And then all we had to do was sell them our land in Cruz Bay areas, or give them long-term leases. Then we had only to get out of the way while they worked it out.
Presented differently the plan might very well have been worked out (though never on the basis of selling), for it was a pretty good plan and many of us would like to see Cruz Bay look better. But not put this way. Not when it is made so obvious that they would rather have us get out, not try to participate.
Recently we had another example of the high-handed way in which our good neighbors prefer to operate when Mr. Frank Stick, complete with rolls of plans under his arm and a neighborly smile, reopened the issue of the beach road at Cruz Bay. When told that the road was going through regardless of his wishes, Mr. Stick appeared at St. Thomas Public Works and angrily said that the road would not go through. “We have plenty of money to fight this!” he said. “And we’ll fight it!”
Good neighbors? Interested in guarding our rights as well as theirs? We know they think many unflattering things about us, but do they also think we are fools?
No, we no longer believe that we the people of St. John are considered of any importance in the minds of the sponsors of this park. And we no longer believe much of anything we are told by Mr. Rockefeller, who faithfully assured this writer not many months ago that Mr. Frank Stick would not be meddling again on St. John. But despite this assurance, here was Mr. Stick again, staying at Caneel as the guest of Mr. Rockefeller and still representing him, and still trying to impose their desires on us, using a money bag as a club.
And now Mr. Stick seems to have found new opportunities for his special talents in dealing with people of limited experience with men of his type. This time, again representing Mr. Rockefeller, he is taking over Virgin Gorda, where he has already succeeded in making a lot of people believe that the best way to help them to happiness and prosperity and freedom is to let him take over their land. He is making the same false promises as on St. John and nobody will be cheated. We on St. John sincerely hope our British neighbors will come out better than we have on St. John. And we are left with one big question: How can a sincere and honorable man allow himself to be represented by such as Mr. Stick?
In closing, I would like to say this: While it will not be easy to convince us of sincere good will in the future, we still believe that most of our problems and differences of opinion could be worked out – if Mr. Rockefeller is truly interested in our welfare and our rights as people as well as in realizing his own aims. Much time and effort cannot be spent in promoting our good feelings toward the park and its sponsors.
They would find us responsive and willing to plan for our mutual interests. But no high pressure tactics, please. No threats. No Mr. Sticks. And no looking down on us as if our wishes did not matter. We believe that 750 Virgin Islanders do matter, even if we appear ignorant in many ways, and stubborn and distrustful.
There are good reasons for all that, and we need many things. But above all we need sincere friends who recognize us as people with rights. We like tourists. But we will not sacrifice ourselves to make this a happy place for tourists. What we want is a happy island – happy for everyone, including ourselves. It is not headed that way now.
Very Sincerely Yours,
Senator for St. John