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A gross insult to the nation

Published: 
Wednesday, March 11, 2015
Guave farmers during last Friday’s protest outside the Chaguaramas Convention Centre. Photo: JEFF MAYERS

Investors, said to be local and foreign, in the historic Convention Centre (Chaguaramas) and its surrounding eight acres of super prime land, are unknown! However, known are the Guave Road farmers who say they have been planting the lands for generations. 

Ministers in Parliament defend the investment and investors. The chairman of the state agency charged with the development of this heritage of land, bends over backwards in accommodation of the Sheiks. Meanwhile, the farmers, known as salt-of-the-earth Trinbagonians, and their crops are bulldozed off lands in Chaguaramas.

The images and storylines on television news on Friday evening last left me bazodee.

Said to be amongst the foreigners are a few Saudi Sheiks. The local investors are also veiled. The purpose of investment, the elements of the project, the quantum of investment, unknown; this is if you ignore the US$1 billion floated figure as an enticement to those who would query the wisdom of the project—all vague and really unknown; but the perpetrators know that we catch easily at big money, especially US dollars. 

Interestingly though, an official figure of $200 million is said to be required to renovate the Centre; surely a means to devalue the full market price of the property; more so that the investors are reported to be paying a paltry $50 million for the 30-year lease. Investors pay hundreds of millions for buildings, which they demolish, just to acquire sites. 

There was further trauma and deep sadness when I did not see Augustin Noel amongst the farmers and conscientious protestors who marched from Chaguaramas. A day or two before the event, someone, who was not absolutely certain, had told me that Noel had passed on. His absence from the protest confirmed to me that this patriot was no longer amongst us. If he were breathing but incapacitated he would have insisted that he be taken on the march in a wheelchair or carried on the shoulders of an able-bodied protestor. 

For those not aware of this indomitable fighter for what he believed to be his birthright, Noel had contested for decades that acres of land at Chaguaramas were stolen from his family and hundreds more acres from the original residents of the Peninsula.  

Noel petitioned the courts of T&T, the British Privy Council and every government of the last 25 years demanding justice.

His contention was to the effect that they, the original residents of Chaguaramas, had received by Royal Charter, deeds to the lands at Chaguaramas and had been robbed of their lands through a joint conspiracy between the British and American governments—a conspiracy perpetuated by succeeding national governments.

An historical account of the transaction says the British government received 50 “antiquated battleships” (Williams) for lands to construct naval bases in Trinidad and other Caribbean islands, then colonial territory. 

Noel contended that his family and the original owners of the lands at Chaguaramas were evicted without proper compensation and without legal authority to make way for the Base.

In my last face-to-face conversation with Noel, I said to him, “Man, you going down with this fight; take ah rest nah and pass on the struggle.” He looked at me and must have seen an innocent man with misguided notions about what is important in life, “Tony,” he replied, “boy, till ah dead, I ent stopping this fight.” 

Noel was fearless, he needed no one to stand with him in a protest or to reoccupy his family lands even if he knew he would be, at times, dragged before the magistrates’ court to face some concocted charge of public disobedience. 

If he had not passed on, Noel would have had to be physically subdued in this protest against the calculated unfairness of farmers who have been on the land for decades, and families dispossessed and denied their birthright at the same time that groups of “investors,” foreigners and unknown locals, receive special access to Chaguaramas lands.

What is particularly disturbing about the Convention Centre and land deal is the arrogance of governance by the Government. No information is given. No discussion engaged. When pressed in Parliament, Minister Roodal Moonilal is seen on television offering as a rationale, that if the PNM could have done a similar thing with Pier One, then what is the fuss about?

After the fact, the CDA issues a statement saying the lease is for 30 years and a hotel is to be developed at the Convention Centre—a gross insult to the right of the national community to have been consulted before such a deal was struck. But there are probably reasons for that. 

It is also very unfortunate that six months away from a national election, the Government could secretly dispose of such state property.

But the PNM, the party and government that recovered Chaguaramas must share the responsibility for this disaster of UNC governance. During the decades of PNM administration, the governments of Williams, Chambers and Manning did little or nothing to engender development in Chaguaramas to benefit the nation. 

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