REMARKS DELIVERED BY LT. GOVERNOR WINTHROP ROCKEFELLER
GOVERNOR, TRUSTEES OF THE BVI NATIONAL PARKS, USA
January 27, 2002
Long Bay, Tortola, The British Virgin Islands.
Mr. Chief Minister, Mr. Georges, and other distinguished guests:
Good afternoon, and thank you all for taking the time from your Sunday afternoon to be here when you could be with your families and friends.
I am deeply honored to be able to address this most august group of people, because the strength and guidance you, the leaders and opinion makers of this nation give now, will shape the future of these islands for centuries to come. An awesome thought, but that is why you have been chosen to lead.
From what I have been told, over the last couple of days, my voice and words have been heard quite a bit throughout the B.V.I., and as you can imagine, no matter where that might take place, it is music to a politician’s ears. Today, these British Virgin Islands stand, like the explorers of centuries ago, at the point of embarkation on a voyage into vast and seemingly uncharted waters.
You are aboard your vessel, and anxious to cast off lines. You know that you are about to go on a journey, but are not yet sure where, although you have a dream of what you would like to find on your arrival. The major differences are that you are not sure if you have assembled the right crew yet, and it has not yet been determined what provisions and cargo are to be loaded, or what you are going to do with the cargo when you arrive, if you arrive.
Oh yes, we need to give this vessel a name. Let us call her “Hope”, a word that is synonymous with future, and reflects the dreams and aspirations of her passengers and crew.
There are many possible directions in which “Hope” can go, as many as there are points on the compass, but some of these will lead quickly to reefs and shoals which can tear out her bottom, leaving the souls aboard shipwrecked and stranded. Others will lead to places where the weather is far less kind, and the environment inhospitable to human life. And some, not many, but some of these courses will lead to peace, joy, and plenty.
There are other vessels in the bay that have returned from trips to these far-away places. Some of them report great success, but others speak of nothing but strife, dissent, and failure, and some are yet to return. As captain and officers of the good ship “Hope” the souls aboard her place their lives and futures in your hands to chart and follow the best course, to that land of gentle breezes, good weather, and abundant blessings.
As we look out around us, we see so many of God’s abundant blessings on these islands; white sand beaches, lush, verdant mountains rising majestically from the crystal clear waters surrounding them, and the greatest blessing of all, a people who not only live on these islands, but love them as a child loves the mother who bore him. In my part of the U.S., we are also home to many of the Native American tribes who first found their way to our land, as the Arawak did here. They lived on the land in harmony with nature, even referring to the land as “mother”. They have a saying that has lived in my heart ever since I first heard it, and I want to share it with you. “We do not inherit the earth from our parents, but borrow it from our children.”
There is truly much opportunity in these magnificent islands, but to allow transient attractions to blind our eyes to what their impacts can be on your legacies to your children is unacceptable. In Arkansas, we are surrounded by states with casino gambling and lotteries that purport to put money into education. Yes, that is very attractive, but there is a great cost to this “easy money”, a social cost that we cannot afford. Those who frequent the casinos are usually the poorest of our society who can least afford to waste their paychecks, but do. Yes, the money is put into education, but the ancillary costs of crime, pressure on the infrastructure for roads, sewer, and law enforcement to deal with additional crime, far outweigh the transient beauty of the quick buck.
Although there have been three attempts in the last eight years to put casinos in Arkansas, the people have resoundly spoken, and they do not want them.
Those same sorts of temptations are put before you here, too. The cruise ship industry looks like easy money, but ask yourselves, “Why do they want to come here?” The shopping? They already went shopping in St. Thomas. The rum? That’s great, but there are only so many bars, and how much can one tourist drink and still get back to the ship? They come to enjoy the as yet unspoiled pristine beauty of these British Virgin Islands.
But how long can those beaches, and communities around the island remain that way if the numbers of cruise ship tourists double, triple, or even multiply tenfold? And what is to become of the local family who, on their day off, want to go to the beach, only to find no place to park, and no place to sit…who are not welcome because the cruise ship passengers have taken over the beaches.
That is not to say you ought to ban the cruise ships. The camel’s nose is already under the tent. But, you can insure that your infrastructure is not overwhelmed by further expansion of a business that is already taxing your capacity. I have heard rumors of a move to allow mega liners to land here. Please, look at how your lives have changed already, and ask yourselves, do the benefits of that transient quick buck really outweigh the costs to these islands? How is the traffic downtown? Is the shopping you need to do every day easier when the cruise ships are in town? Is your quality of life better because of the cruise ships, and will it be even better when the larger ones arrive?
If you want to see what it will be like, just take the ferry over to Charlotte Amalie on a day there are three or four large cruise ships in town. Spend the day there, try to get a table to eat in one of the restaurants, enjoy the dozens of people standing on the corners trying to get you into their establishment.
Deal with the merchants while those ships are there, if they can find the time for you. Enjoy rubbing shoulders with thousands of people whose interest in that island will last as long as they are there, because they don’t live there. They don’t have to care because they don’t have to live with the consequences of their presence. They just get back on their ship, and they don’t even vote here.
Is that the better life you seek for your people? I don’t think so.
No, I’m not saying that cruise ships themselves are bad, but there must be a limit to the number you can manage if you are to maintain the quality of life that makes these islands so attractive.
There are those who think that nature undeveloped is nature wasted. I must disagree. To quote our fellow trustee, Walter Cronkite “The beauty undoubtedly is the greatest asset of the islands…”the unspoiled beaches, the glorious hills, the pristine waters of what is certainly one of God’s greatest gifts to humankind.”
Nature undeveloped in a sensible and appropriate way is the very thing that draws more people to these islands; people who are prepared to spend their money to take home only the friendships, the photographs, and the memories of unspoiled nature.
Please take just a moment to look around you at what has been successful here. Look at Little Dix Bay, Caneel Bay, and some of the private guest houses and islands around here. They are successful because people are willing to spend vast amounts of money to have the tranquility, the convenience, and the service of these places without having to fight the same sorts of crowds they deal with every day at home. Yes, to be the best, you must have service and convenience, but people are even willing to give some of those up for something extraordinarily beautiful and unspoiled.
I have made an observation about the general assembly of Arkansas, somewhat in jest that, as natures abhors imbalance, so does the legislative process. What that generally means is that no matter how much good a legislature does in a given session, there is the tendency to do an equal amount of bad. I would hope that your legislative body does, and would continue to be able to avoid such an inclination.
Most of that which I have addressed has to do with planning. As we all know, it is the tendency of government to be reactive rather than proactive…to react rather than to plan. Generally, that is good, because it tends to keep government out of our lives, but there are some times, those rare times, when we, as public servants, recognize that we must exercise the leadership qualities for which we have been chosen.
It is said that to govern a large state really requires very little management because generally, a little mistake will go unnoticed because everything else is so big.
However, if one is to manage something small, the slightest little error becomes significant because it stands out so much. Therefore, like building a fine watch, the maker must be a skilled craftsman, adept at using the finest and most minute tools. These islands, as one sees with every license plate, are truly “nature’s little secrets”, and like all fine jewels, must be treated with great care and respect.
You find yourselves at that moment in time at which decisions must be made which will affect the future for generations. How to best balance the needs of urban and rural populations? How to meet the infrastructure needs of the existing population, much less that of a major tourist influx? What sort of growth is the best for the islands? Industry, tourism, banking and commerce? ecotourism? All are options, but now, the best options must be chosen not just for today, but for many tomorrows to come.
I am told that you have a planning commission. Imagine, if you would, the excitement of having the opportunity to be a part of a body which could help shape the very appearance, the character of one’s country, the future of one’s country. Like the founding fathers of the United States, they had the sense that they had to do something for posterity, not for their personal legacies, but to create something that would live for centuries to come. That, ladies and gentlemen is the opportunity you have with your Town and Country Planning Commission.
There are those who probably, and rightfully so, wonder what our agenda is. Some might even ask what gives us the right to stick our noses into the affairs of these islands. We aren't belongers. Those are fair questions, and deserve straight answers. No, we’re not here to tell you how to run your country. That is your job.
No we’re not here to build yet another mega-hotel or resort. For right now, there are plenty of them, and you will know when you need more. No, we weren’t born here, and we didn’t grow up here.
So why are we here? We’re here because we have been touched, even changed by these islands. We come because the hills, the sand & the sea restore us and our souls. Because no matter how insane the world around us becomes, we feel the tranquility and calmness that enable us to return to that other world, refreshed, with a clearer view of what is really important in life, with the reassurance that these islands will always have the ability to restore us.
Ponce de Leon, the Spanish explorer spent his life searching for the fountain of youth, and died unsuccessful. No, we don’t think the BVI has the fountain of youth, but we do believe that if Ponce de Leon had come here rather than Florida, he would have realized he had found a place unique in the world, a fountain of blessings for the soul and for the spirit. We are here because we love these islands, and their peoples; because we have made friendships here that are worth having for life. We are here because we want the BVI to achieve all her dreams, but not at the cost of her soul.
Before I left to come on this trip, I was able to speak with my uncle Laurence. I was thrilled to hear the excitement in his voice that I was coming to be a part of a group of people like Peter Jennings, Walter Cronkite, Jean-Michel Cousteau, Remar Sutton, and Dr. Ed. Towle with whom he and I shared that one common bond, the love of these islands.
I asked my uncle if there was one message I could carry with me to share with you from the bottom of his heart. I don’t need to tell you of the love my 90 year-old uncle has for these islands. The devotion of the last 50 years of his life and his resources to these islands speaks far more eloquently than I ever could. But, he asked one thing be passed along to all who can hear it…”Let me help you to help yourselves.”
I don’t know how many more years uncle Laurence has left, but I do know him well enough to be able to ask you to do something for him that would mean so much. Help him fulfill that dream. He wants so much to see this country flourish and bloom, but done strategically, not haphazardly. Can you hear the love in these words of a 90 year-old man whose passion for so long has been to leave this world a better place for his having been alive? There are those among you who have known him for many years. You know he has been the best friend these islands could have had for someone not born here. Can you return that love, and caring, and help him see a dream come true? Can you give that much of yourselves? We too have a reason for being here today, and, God willing, long into the future. We want nothing, and ask nothing, but that you reflect your love for these islands, your country, by demonstrating your courage; by standing up for what is right, and believing enough to preserve that legacy of caring and courage for children yet unborn, who will be the beneficiaries, and hopefully, like you, the good stewards, the good shepherds of this unbelievable bounty the good Lord has blessed you with.
At the beginning of my remarks, I spoke of this nation as a ship, the ship “Hope,” preparing to embark on a great voyage. You, Mr. Chief Minister, are the captain and your ministers are the officers of this ship.
As you prepare to cast off, I am reminded of the first sign visitors see as they head toward town from West End. It welcomes all to these Virgin Islands, and reminds the visitor, and all who see it to “Do the right thing.” I ask you to carry those words in your hearts, every day, as you go about navigating around the shoals and reefs of temptation, and pray your own words fall upon open ears, open minds, and open hearts, as we all work together to “do the right thing.”
Thank you, may God bless you, and these “nature’s little secrets” forever.