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Historical justice needed at Chaguaramas

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The need for “historical justice” is one significant element largely missing from the reportage and commentary on the Chaguaramas land distribution contention that first surfaced towards the end of the 2010-2015 UNC administration.

At that time, the reportage implied that favours were being given by the then government to its supporters, financiers and co-ethnics regarding the leases to occupy the Chaguaramas Peninsula.

Then too, I wrote about the inadequate information on the intended distribution of the lands; the inequity of the distribution; and very significantly, the purposes to which the land leases were to be put: a range of non-productive ventures—non foreign exchange earnings and savings being among the major reasons stipulated for the use of the leases.

Having only teased it in the 2015 column, I want to frontally place before readers the reason why historical justice should be a major determinant in the distribution/allocation/lease of the Chaguaramas lands.

One thing is certain; no one, no group of individuals should be allowed permanent ownership of the lands at this historical piece of real estate which belongs to the people of T&T.

The push to re-acquire Chaguaramas from the 1941, 99-year lease made by the colonial power, Britain, to the United States, was initiated (instigated by CLR James) by Premier Dr Eric Williams supported by the black middle and intellectual classes with the mass Afro base marching in “the rain with our Premier”.

It was a period when the established ruling classes were forsworn against Williams and his policies; they likened him to Hitler.

In turn, he characterised the attack against him by the commercial elite for his wanting to re-take the Peninsula as self-serving to protect their business arrangements with the American military.

The Indo-political party of the time joined with the French-Creole elements against Williams leading to his “Massa Day Done” historical-political essay. Eventually, he asked the question of those who opposed him: “They have to answer the question whether they are for colonialism or not”, ‘From Slavery to Chaguaramas’.

Upon being re-focused, that question has resonance today for how the lands are to be occupied: “Is it that a new form of landowning colonialism—economic and social—will be allowed to emerge at Chaguaramas?”

Through the march in the rain to the American Embassy and in negotiations with the British and American occupiers, and at several public political meetings, Williams prosecuted his case.

In the process, he received the support of elements of the black middle-class, from segments of the Indo population led by Kamal Mohammed and Winston Mahabir, with the bulk of the marchers from the black economic underclass.

When the names of those who had acquired the leases for Chaguaramas at the end of the UNC government became publicly known, largely absent from those who had acquired leases were those whose ancestors marched in the rain for the return of the prized T&T property.

But the need for historical justice does not end there. Hundreds of families, blacks and people of mixed descent were systematically deprived of their properties by the colonial government to make way for American occupation of Chaguaramas.

For a couple decades, Augustin Noel protested, braved police beatings, jail and faced the courts to retrieve ancestral lands.

Often the argument for retention of the British Privy Council is based on what is said to be the “uninterested” nature of justice from London.

We can surely take issue with the final decision of that court that denied Augustin and the hundreds of families the right to their ancestral lands for which they were poorly compensated; surely the BPC had the interest of colonial Britain to protect.

Recently, the country deservingly celebrated and recognised our Amerindian ancestors and pledged a parcel of land as “historical justice.”

Caroni sugar workers received lands and enhanced compensation; Chaguaramas farmers were pushed off the land.



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