Breaking Unawatuna

Photo by AFP

They are demolishing Unawatuna. At least, they’re demolishing all the illegal hotels there. I don’t know how i feel about this yet. On the one hand they’re illegal, on the other the hotels are what give Unawatuna its character and feel.

The Man is moving into Una. I’m picturing large resorts being opened up on the bay and the beach being turned into a virtual desert spotted with the occasional oasis of deck chairs the use of which requires the purchase of a coke and lime. The charm of Una gone, the local entrepreneurs reduced to selling ganja, massages, inflatable toys and beach sarongs. Anyone been to Negombo? Its the same there.

The local entrepreneurs, now there’s a story. The beach was unused so they used it. They built their hotels and kept the local economy going. Tourists came and Una was voted one of the best beaches in the world. Places like Unawatuna, devoid of big investors and resorts were kept alive by local businesses that could survive on low turnover if they had to. This kept Sri Lanka’s tourism industry going. And now that the war is over and the Man is moving in, the authorities are quick to disenfranchise them.

In Islam for example, property rights are different. Land belongs to him who makes use of it. And if you own a patch of land and leave it idle for a long while, it effectively ceases to be yours if someone comes along and actually uses it for social benefit. All land ownership developed organically, everywhere. This whole sense of the government owning land is a remnant from feudal regimes. And if the government doesn’t provide these hoteliers with adequate compensation, it would be grossly unjust.

But what compensation can replace the loss of a lucrative business? Something that will continue to provide you and your children with a steady source of income and continued opportunity for development? What can compensate the loss of livelihood, the loss of something that gives you the satisfaction of being independent? nothing.

OK, the peeps at Una aren’t exactly cherubs. There is a very tight mafioso-esque cartel system that completely cuts off competition. Meaning that if anyone has the gall to set up show in Una without their explicit approval they would stop at nothing to make that business fail. Thug cartels like these are common around the island, look no further than Kiribathgoda for an ideal example.

But local businesses benefit the local economy. Big investors tend to suck all the profits and leave nothing for the locals. Sure, laws exists that make big hotels hire locals for work, but this only lets a smattering of the money trickle down. A plausibly better way of developing would have been to distribute deeds to well run hotels, destroying the cartels and bringing outside investors in to partner with existing owners. Come up with a plan for the development of the bay and work close with the locals to make it work. This ensures fast development while at the same time keeping the locals in the money.

Taking away a lifetime’s effort just when all their hard work seems about to pay off seems not just tyrannical, but downright ungrateful. If this happens, it would be a perfect example of the ill affects of capitalism. So much for Southern camaraderie.


UPDATE: Newer reports say that Unawatuna isn’t broken, much

  1. Johan said:

    Didn’t realize those beach hotels were illegal. Makes sense now that I think about it–lots of 3 and 4 roomers. The ‘posh’ ones had hot water. Sucks that they’re gonna lose them, but I guess illegal is illegal. Also, some of them looked a bit dodgy.

  2. It annoying that while there are always other, intelligent ways to handle these situations the govt consistently chooses the bulldozing, demolishing, tear-gassing options. wtf.

  3. mark said:

    “Taking away a lifetime’s effort just when all their hard work seems about to pay off seems not just tyrannical, but downright ungrateful. If this happens, it would be a perfect example of the ill affects of capitalism.”

    This made no sense to me, capitalism isn’t knocking down the small owner to make way for the big owner, it is 100% the government throwing their weight around. If big hotels had bought these places out, then sure, but their entire establishment was illegal from the start and so their demise is their own fault.

    I feel for them, but at the same time they knew it was coming.

  4. indi said:

    I just went down to Una, we should be clear. Businesses/hotels haven’t been destroyed, just the stuff they built on the beach itself. That was a bad idea in the first place (and illegal). Where the government has erred is leaving rubble on the beach, effectively ruining it. They need to clean that up.

    Second, these small businesses have gotten big and built three story or more boutique type hotels (on legal land, not the beach). Those structures are fine. The man has already moved into Unawatuna in that those once small businesses have already started to expand.

    • prasa said:

      Did you go along the beach to the UBR side, friend…?????
      How do you say such things without looking at them. Do you say tartaruga Restaurant as a stuff..????
      go to their website- and see what has happened?

      is this fair…..
      Do you know how many families depend on that restaurant ?
      Why this government can’t give them a chance at least this season to work.
      As I know that hotel and restaurant stands there since 1979. Tsunami even couldn’t destroy them. jealousy people like you can’t understand this.

  5. Whacko said:

    This is good news. If the hotels are controlled at least on some level by locals then i suppose it still helps the economy there. I went to Mirissa and the hotel owners have already disenfranchised the small local operators

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