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Category: Trinidad Society 05 Oct 14

 

“The hunger strike is against the Debe to Mon Desir section of the Point Fortin highway. The highway between San Fernando to Point Fortin is 27 miles long, with a budgeted cost of $7.2 billion. The Debe to Mon Desir highway is some 9.1 miles, with a budget of $5 billion.

It’s a disproportionately expensive segment of the highway that rose from $3 billion to $5 billion, partially because the Government is making a complicated highway, through a lagoon swampland, requires nine exchanges, and significantly heavier engineering and construction because of the terrain.

The Government wants to create access for areas including Golconda, Debe, Siparia to Point Fortin.

“We agree it’s necessary to connect communities through a highway. This can be done without the extortionate expense, the degradation to the environment, or displacing communities. The Re-route Movement’s proposal allows for a much shorter highway to pass through relatively flat state lands, avoiding the swamp lands entirely, with link roads to the highway. Even 20 link roads would be cheaper than building the highway on swampland.

“The Government refused to accept that proposal, bent on constructing the highway where they originally planned to construct it, with the original high cost.”

—Hayden Kublalsingh, brother of environmental activist Wayne Kublalsingh in an interview in November 2012.

If there was little public support or sympathy for environmental activist Wayne Kublalsingh in 2012 when he broke his hunger strike after 21 days, after the Government promised to review the project, there is even less now. People are bored or annoyed, have switched off, and frankly don’t care if he lives or dies.

Approximately two years ago (published December 2, 2012) I wrote this in this very space.

What strikes me is that nothing has changed. We have fallen further on the transparency index. Nothing has changed, except that the fast has now lost its novelty value. Nothing changes in sweet T&T:

“We are numb to brutality. We see dead people on the roads and drive by, dead men on the pavement and continue to drink, headlines of the murdered and turn the page, swerve past dead dogs, as easily as we avoid potholes.

“We hurtle, like the early Romans, from spectacle to spectacle.

In the past two weeks we’ve watched Dr Wayne Kublalsingh, university lecturer, Sandhurst military graduate, with a PhD from Oxford University, in that ring. And how we’ve enjoyed it. All we need now for our spectator sport is to put Kublalsingh in the middle of the stadium and sell tickets to watch him die, spurring him on.

“The sight of a dying man makes thousands of us in that virtual arena jeer with glee, led by government ministers egging him to kill himself quickly, demonising him and his family as part of a cult, telling him to soak himself in corn soup and much worse. Issues? What issues?

Independent technical reports? The hydrological study? The cost-benefit analysis for this segment? The social impact study? Transparency? Accountability? We are here for the theatre. Bring on the popcorn. When I first went to see him, he hadn’t eaten or drunk anything for eight days. I was struck by a cameraman on his break casually licking down his chicken and chips lunch while gawking at Dr Kublalsingh. The horror came from the ordinariness of this act.”

If he lives, by the time you read this, Wayne Kublalsingh would be on the 18th day of his hunger strike. People are either annoyed or bored he went on a 22-day fast, calling for accountability; there are even less now.

I gather that he is asking the Government to “abide” by the report of the Highway Review Committee (HRC) of the $7 billion project. The report submitted last year by Dr James Armstrong had advised the Kamla Persad-Bissessar Government to “reassess” the social, environmental and economic impact of the Debe to Mon Desir segment.

This has not happened. Work goes on. The impasse continues.

The Prime Minister’s stance is that she and her Government will not be held hostage to a man because he is starving himself. Further, since the group has taken the Government to court, the Prime Minister has refused to meet with Kublalsingh as this is now a “court matter.”

Fair enough. Except the Government’s position is specious and deliberately obtuse—because even as it allows them (and us all) to dismiss Kublalsingh, it also allows us all to forget that in March last year before the report was produced and submitted, the Prime Minister said she would “consider” the recommendations of the report. And as we dismiss Kublalsingh and forget the report, we push the question of accountability to the back of the closet like a skeleton we would rather not look at now.

Two years ago when I spoke to Kublalsingh on day 14 of his fast, supine on a stretcher, barely sheltered from the burning heat of the afternoon, I reminded him that people were actually hostile to him and didn’t see the point. I told him, perhaps brutally, that Gandhi had millions behind him.

He, Kublalsingh, had just a handful of supporters.

He replied: “It took just a handful to save the smelter.”

Somehow I have a feeling he is not going to win this time round.

 

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur