“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
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
“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
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
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
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.