(CNS): Management at Kirk Freeport closed its downtown stores early on Saturday in response to the peaceful protest organized by the Save Cayman campaigners over the plans for cruise piers after staff reported concerns that they would be targeted by the demonstration. Chris Kirkconnell told CNS ahead of what turned out to be a very peaceful protest that there had been no threats or evidence that the workers in the stores would be vulnerable but he said because staff were worried and so they decided to close.
On Friday Kirkconnell denied that this was a ‘protest against the protest’ and that the stores would be open as usual until 5pm. However, on Saturday he stated that the stores would close after all, as workers were worried and the management felt that the best thing to do would be to close early. They also blocked access to their parking areas, despite the arrival of hundreds of people into the capital to join the demonstration. The Island Company stores and other retail outlets owned by the Dart Group also closed because of the rally, which attracted almost 500 people.
Workers in other stores that remained open said that there had been nothing to fear and were puzzled over the decision by Kirk Freeport and others to close and miss an opportunity to serve local shoppers.
The protest, which started at around 3pm on Saturday in the blazing sun attracted almost 500 people from across the community, young and old, Caymanian and expatriates alike. Despite the hot sun and lack of shade, people expressed their concerns about dredging and publicly called on government to rethink the plan and seek other ways to accommodate the cruise ships that would not lead to the destruction of so much coral reef and marine habitat. A spokesperson told CNS that the demonstrators would be continuing their campaign with nothing but peaceful protest and that people were misled if they thought it was anything else.
Now that the premier has said that the government is pressing ahead with the cruise port development, a spokesperson for the campaign told Cayman after the rally that the group was really pleased with the turnout and that the peaceful opposition to dredging would continue.
“We are feeling inspired that so many people came out and stood together. We will continue to press ahead by peaceful means to make government listen to the widespread concerns in the community,” one of the group’s campaign leaders stated.
The goal now, the campaigners stated, was to press ahead with a local petition to raise enough signatures to trigger a people-initiated referendum.
With no designs or concrete plans for the project yet, Save Cayman is hoping that the government will continue to look at the alternatives and reconsider the proposed plan, which which calls for the direct destruction of around 15 acres but would destroy a further 20 acres or more as a result of the silt and turbulence.
While government’s main environmental focus is the preservation of Seven Mile Beach, The Save Cayman campaign is trying to press upon government that reefs are just as important and play a critical part in the tourism product and are some of the main reasons why tourists come.
Bud Johnson, the general manager at Atlantis Submarines, and Bo Miller, a former candidate for election and long-time vocal advocate for environmentally sound development, pointed to the importance of overnight tourism to Cayman. Johnson warned that destroying one of the capital’s major attractions to accommodate more cruise passengers was a dangerous move, as he pointed to the decline in overnight visitors to Cozumel, Mexico because of the focus on cruise ships.
Miller said in all of his years working in tourism he had yet to meet a visitor who came to Cayman because of the shopping.