Lawyer Marcus Goffe has shot back at claims by Prime Minister Andrew Holness that he is anti-progress, due to his persistent defence of clients at risk of being kicked off lands they’ve occupied for decades in order to facilitate construction of a US$200-million luxury hotel.
Goffe, the attorney representing Rastafarians living on Bob Marley Beach in Bull Bay, on the border of St Andrew and St Thomas, also took aim at the developers of the hotel, Woof Group Limited, asserting that their tactics to get the families off the land have been “less than legal”.
In 2019, Woof Group purchased 200 acres of land leading to the Bob Marley Beach. Two multiple generations of Rastafarian families have lived on the beach for over four decades. They, therefore, claim a right to the 0.12 acres of the land which they occupy.
“The speech by the prime minister seems to be intimating that the Jamaica Beach Birthright Environmental Movement (JaBBEM) and myself are anti-development and how people are using poor people to fight development. At no time did we say that. That is just propaganda. If the Government appreciated the people’s land rights, they would not be talking that way. It is clear that proper appreciation of people who have been on lands for generations is not being done and the only recourse that we see as being productive and protective is to seek the intervention of the courts to resolve this thing according to law,” Goffe said.
In a media interview on Thursday, director of Woof Group Donovan Reid denied that there were any attempts to forcefully remove anyone from the lands. He also said that as part of the development, activities to benefit the wider community would be put in place, such as the construction of a school. He also denied claims that there were plans to restrict the public access to Bob Marley Beach.
According to Goffe, only Woof Group and the Government were aware of those plans.
“He and the Government know, but nobody else knows. He has never had any consultation with the communities down there to say they are going to do X or Y. What we would like them to do is have proper consultation with the community. Don’t use intimidation and send word and other things to intimidate people. Even if he is intending to do something he thinks is benevolent, then he should consult with the community and the wider public and let the public know of his intention. We are not fighting whatever it is he wants to do to uplift the community. The issue is that he pursued the wrong approach, because he feels like he is doing the people a favour by offering them three acres of land elsewhere.
“He doesn’t understand that the people have land rights there. This is what he seems to fail to understand. He is going on as if he didn’t have to offer them anything and they didn’t take it and so it is their loss and he has the right to evict them. They have land rights so if he wants to move to get them off the land, he must do through proper legal channels. He must pursue the matter through the court of law and what is required by the law of Jamaica, not to send message with police and politician to get off the people dem. His approach to the community has been absolutely wrong,” Goffe said.