Dec 30, 2017  Features / ColumnistsFreddie Kissoon

On Christmas Eve, I walked my dog twice on the “Eve Leary” beach – the early morning hours, then, back in the afternoon. On the second visit, I saw the preparations for the beach party. In fact, my dog was fascinated at what she was seeing and quite happily sat down looking at the activities. I didn’t know what it was, assuming it had something to do with some big soca jam.

What I do know and can verify was that the centre of activities was on a part of the Atlantic beach that is public area. No one at my age in this country knows that area as I do; I literally spent my entire life visiting that place; up to now I go there almost daily. My dog probably knows the area too more than most other dogs.

I still cannot believe that Marriott has put up several signs on that very site indicating it is private property and permission is required. Guyana has gone crazy. That is the Kingston beach. How is it private property? Who bought that vicinity, when and how? If it is under jurisdiction of Marriott, then NICIL, under the Bharrat Jagdeo regime needs to be investigated for the purpose of criminal prosecution.

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Are we becoming like Barbados where parts of the beaches are in private hands and as you walk along the seashore, you have to make a detour?  There have been serious uproars over the past three decades in Barbados over the privatisation of beaches. But even if it is done in Barbados, there is an explanation though not right is still logical.

Barbados’s main income is from tourism. Quite a number of really rich people and famous personalities have beach front property on the island.  My first visit to Barbados was 1978 and I went looking to see the house of one of music’s most romantic pop singers – Engelbert Humperdinck. At that time, there were no moves to privatise the beaches.

Quite unlike Barbados, our income is not derived from tourism. Barbados’s tourism industry generates over 50% of the country’s foreign exchange. Tourism is central to the Barbados economy and employs 14,000 persons directly with 12 percent of GDP attributed to the industry. Its hotel occupancy levels average 65% annually.

Interestingly, I am looking at the half yearly report of the Bank of Guyana for 2016 and it does not state income from tourism. But the World Travel and Tourism Council put the figure of 0.3 percent of GDP. The same organisation put Guyana out of a total of 184 countries at 165 for nations where tourism contributed to GDP.

Clearly one can see, here, that though it is immoral to privatise public beaches in Barbados, an argument can be offered to justify such a policy; absolutely not so for Guyana. Let the Tourism Ministry advance a reason for the Marriott’s claim to the Kingston beach.

Every Sunday, without exception, young men play soft-ball cricket on that very spot that the beach party was held and that Marriott now claims as its property. I guess come this Sunday, security will move them. And, what about the swimmers? That area sees more swimmers than any other section of the stretch of beach from the Kingston jetty to Camp Road.

Last Sunday, a few bus loads of people from out of town were swimming there. As I passed with my dog running behind me, a few of them shouted at the dog, “Run chubby, run!”  I guess come Sunday, swimming there will be a thing of the past.

I am not surprised at the weird, irrational, illogical, dystopian, shambolic, eerie, psychotic things that happen in this Dostoyevskian country but this Marriott claim to the Kingston beach definitely took me by surprise.  Guyana is getting more hellish with every passing day. I am dreading the next few days, because it is the time of the year when I have to do what all commentators must do –analyse the contents of the past year.

Me, being an eternal pessimist, I look more for the lows rather than the highs because the lows always surpass by a billion miles, the highs. And certainly 2017 have seen a huge amount of lows. What about this Marriot beach claim? This occurred just days before we close off 2017 and what a regressive way to end it – the privatisation of a part of the Georgetown seawall, the Georgetown seawall that literally runs through my vein and whose existence reminds me so much of the father I loved so much.