When the cause is just
THE HUMAN ELEMENT SUZANNE MILLS Sunday, July 1 2012
A television poll on Wednesday night last week asked viewers if they supported Jack Warner’s instructions to demolish the Debe protest camp, which was blocking the site for the construction of a section of the planned highway to Point Fortin.
Interestingly, eighty percent agreed with Warner. Twenty percent disagreed. Several questions arise.
Should a very small group of people stand in the way of the construction of a much needed highway that would open up the South of Trinidad and Tobago to progress?
If we follow the poll, the majority do not think so. But the majority can afford to take such a position. They are not being called upon to pull up roots and move elsewhere, disrupting family and community. For those who will be affected life could be a virtual nightmare. It is bound to mean incurring expenses not bargained for, and even more painful may be the inability to get the real market value for property into which has gone much labour and sacrifice.
In the case of the Point Fortin highway, there is no disputing the need for the road if this area of Trinidad and Tobago is to be developed economically, to provide jobs and reduce traffic congestion. Consultations with the people who will feel the pain of displacement have been held, but when not heated, rowdy or generally unruly there has been no compromise. All the signs have pointed to a continuation of the stand-off. In the meantime the contractors are on site, unable to proceed because of the camp and taxpayers are being billed for the delay caused by the inability of the developers to get past the Debe camp blockage.
Let’s forget the religious aspect that has lately been introduced. No one should be fooled by this. Simply placing statues or murtis under a tent does not miraculously transform the site into holy ground. In fact, this claim detracts rather than furthers the merit in favour of the protestors. We didn’t need Sat Maharaj to tell us so.
It is not the first time the issue of progress versus the human element has arisen and it will not be the last.
Consider the Churchill Roosevelt Highway which the Americans built in the pre-independence days of 1940-1941. That story was beautifully captured by Sam Selvon in his book A Brighter Sun. The Churchill Roosevelt Highway’s construction cut through what was then rich agricultural lands, displaced farmers, families, communities. There were protests then too but where would we be today without that highway? The Churchill Roosevelt Highway opened up the East. Millions of wheels have rolled over it, conveying travellers, goods and services from west to east. On both sides of the highway, business has sprung up and contributed substantially to the economy by way of jobs and productivity. Many would argue that the price for progress was worth it.
It happened as well in the west with the construction of the Diego Martin Highway. Houses in the way had to be removed, families were displaced but the west could not have developed into the booming area it is today if the minority had been allowed to decide the issue. In the case of Diego Martin, which also had its agricultural base, families lost their homes but their protests were confined to ensuring that they received a fair price for their properties. The state must mitigate the upheaval and pay the proper price.
The same story could be told when the construction of the new airport at Piarco was first announced. These were protests and dislocations but in the end the new airport was welcomed by everyone. What is important is that those who are dislocated receive fair and adequate compensation for their property.
If the compensation falls short for the people of Debe, do they have redress? Yes they do. They have on their side the attorney for all seasons and events, the great Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj; the newer and the greater David Abdulah and his Movement for Social Justice; and the greatest of them all, Dr Wayne Kublalsingh, the professional protester of all time whose family album must be bulging with photos of him being dragged on the ground and man-handled by police or soldiers as he tries to imitate Mahatma Gandhi at the height of his fast.
Except that the venerable and martyred Mahatma of treasured memory had a just cause.