Poverty underlies vacation paradise

Last week, this columnist focused on the natural beauty of the U.S. Virgin Islands of St. Croix, and its surrounding waters. Today I am remembering another side of that island, a side which I suppose is largely rooted in the slave trade history of this small island.

St. Croix is still dotted with sugar mills, stone structures that are shaped like small nuclear power reactors, and which were used by the original Danish colonists in their sugar farming plantations.

The darker aspect of that, of course, is that the sugar plantations were powered by slave labor, human beings brought over on the triangle trade from West Africa.

By 1917, when the U.S. purchased St. Croix from Denmark with an eye to a strategic naval location, the slave trade had been long abolished. But the shadow remains, just as it does in some parts of the continental U.S.

As mentioned in last week’s column, farming of food and cash crops is not as easy as one might think, given the lush green vegetation that covers much of the island. Saline atmosphere and lack of fresh water, along with excessive humidity, present their own kind of challenge.

So … unemployment is high.

Dropout rate is high. Addictions are high.

A major employer, a large oil refinery, just recently left the island, taking with it jobs not in the hundreds, but in the thousands.

These problems, resulting in a harsh and growing dividing line between very rich and very poor {hillside mansions of amazing proportions look down upon hovels and streets on which one would not likely walk alone, even in daylight.

Certainly these are not problems unique to St. Croix. But it’s kind of a maxim that, when we go to a place like St. Croix, St. Thomas, Cancun, Belize, etc., we ought to understand that, underlying the tropical and vacation oriented paradise, there is almost always a substrata of poverty.

This was a direct engagement on our part, since the primary purpose of Clovis Community School senior trips is to combine fun with a mission trip.

There’s no easy solution to this reality. It is at least important to remember that, in the case of the U.S. Virgin Islands, this cannot be passed off as “not our problem” for nationalistic reasons; even though 1,000 miles off the mainland, they are still a part of us.

Clyde Davis is a Presbyterian pastor and teacher at Clovis Christian High School. He can be contacted at: