News Americas, PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad, Thurs. Oct. 9, 2014: As Trinidad & Tobago hosts the 8th Americas Competitiveness forum in Port-of-Spain, a Trinidad & Tobago-born environmental activist appears ready to die for his principles.
It’s been 22 long days since Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh of the Highway Re-Route Movement has gone without food and water. He is protesting – opposite the Office of the Prime Minister on Gray Street in St Clair, Port-of-Spain – the T&T government’s decision to construct the Debe to Mon Desir segment of the Solomon Hochoy Highway extension to Point Fortin, Trinidad.
“How could one Madam PM (Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar) turn a blind eye to the cries of her people? Those very same people she promised during her election campaign 2010, ‘There will be NO HIGHWAYS, NO BIWAYS through these communities,'” the group argues.
Right now stable, Dr. Kublalsingh’s doctor says he is stable but critical because his body has poor circulation, but it is still trying to conserve the major organs. Because of this, Dr. Asante VanWest‐Charles‐Le Blanc has withdrawn her professional services with immediate effect. “Today is day 22 going into 23 of the hunger strike of Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh. Based on the laws of physiology, and on studies of hunger strikers, there is now organ damage including to the Nervous System. Based on my observations, I have strongly and repeatedly advised Dr. Kublalsingh to cease this hunger strike before it is too late and further irreparable damage is done to his organs. The ultimate result of a hunger strike of this nature is death and to my mind this is highly probable and a rapidly approaching occurrence,” she said in a statement.
“The true clinical picture is not a pretty one, there are no smoke screens or tricks, this citizen of Trinidad and Tobago is dying. Owing to this, I have been forced to reflect and have advised Dr. Kublalsingh that I am forced to take a step back. I will still be available to him if an emergency occurs, and I will be happy to attend to him in any institution of his choice if he decided to stop this hunger strike. While 23 days with no food or water is demonstrative of tremendous mental and physical fortitude, it is also a very unsettling experience for all those involved. After many sleepless nights, endless conversations with my mentor and advisers, it is with a very heavy heart that I have to suspend my professional relationship with Dr. Kublalsingh. I have informed him that I am more than happy to continue medical treatment once he stops this hunger strike. I am not threatening or coercing him, but rather being honest with him and myself,” she added.
Dr. Kublalsingh, however, says he is fine, but is beginning to crave food. He said he is yet to get a response from Prime Minister Persad-Bissessa but that “diplomatic efforts” were being made by private citizens to talk with the Prime Minister.
“Her conscience will ultimately dictate what happens to this matter and I look forward to a resolution soon,” Dr. Kublalsingh said. “I feel as if my body is standing between the bulldozers and a large segment of the Oropouche Lagoon. I feel as if my body is standing in-between the bulldozers and 13 communities. It is standing between white collar criminals in high office and the Treasury and accountability and transparency.”
Dr. Kublalsingh and his Movement says the re-routing of the will lead to the wrongful expropriation of land from residents of 13 communities and cause irreparable environmental damage. Their call is simple. The group wants the government to halt construction until the matter is settled in court. But the Government of Trinidad and Tobago has commenced the construction of the two highways in what is considered to be the Point Fortin highway project.
“We the people await answers as one man’s life is at stake to save the livelihoods of these already empowered communities,” the group added, noting that the project will destroy thirteen communities, 350 homes and will result in substantial flooding on one side of the highway whilst contributing to extensive salt water intrusion on the other side.
Further, the group argues that the project is not feasible and is over designed and it “has been riddled with corrupt practices from inception from the award of the construction contract to a sole bidder (Construtora OAS) and the granting of multi-million dollar contracts for the supply of illegal aggregate and trucking to financiers of the current political party.”
They also argue that the government’s “unrelenting position” for the construction of this segment of the highway is to facilitate the commencement of a Tar Sands Project in the Mon Desir / Parry Lands area, which the state has expressed intent to pursue.
Dr. Kubalisingh’s brave fight has stirred the souls of many. Roman Catholic Archbishop Joseph Harris and Anglican Bishop Claude Berkley jointly called for a day of prayer on Monday and are now asking for mediation in the matter of the HRM.
And veteran masman Peter Minshall said one thing he has learned from freedom fighter Mahatma Gandhi is never apologise for being correct or being years ahead of your time. “If you are right and you know it, speak your mind even if you are the minority of one.”
He said in our midst “we have a towering warrior, his name is Kublalsingh.”
“When I look at Kublalsingh, I see those ideals incarnate,” he added. “He is the avatar of love, truth, beauty and integrity amongst us.He is prepared to die for what he believes in. I give you Gandhi and I give you Wayne with the same breath. If this thing ends tragically, the whole country will carry a stain and a dark cloud will befall us.”
2012 HUNGER STRIKE
It is the second time Dr. Kublalsingh has taken such drastic actions to stand up for his beliefs. His first hunger strike in 2012 – from November 15th to December 5th – ended on the 21st day. That strike resulted in the formation of the Highway Review Committee which produced a landmark report which strongly advised the government that further studies are required before a decision to proceed with the construction of the highway is decided. The Highway Reroute Movement suggests that findings of the Highway Review Committee be considered and an Independent Quantitate Review should cover, among other items:
1. Hydrology and Hydraulics
2. Economic Cost/ Benefit Analysis
3. Traffic and Transportation
4. Social Impact Assessment.
ABOUT DR. KUBLALSINGH
For over ten years, Dr. Kublalsingh has worn many hats, university professor, writer and activist and has worked tirelessly to promote authentic economic development. In 2002 he organized the University of the West Indies Symposium on land use options for 77,000 acres of land and infrastructure on the West Coast of Trinidad, which was about to be abandoned due to the closure of Caroni (1975) Limited and the historic sugar industry. From 2006 to 2008 he worked with communities at Chatham and the South West Peninsula to prevent the state from allowing the ALCOA aluminium smelter at Chatham; similarly with La Brea and South West Peninsula from 2006 to 2010 to prevent the state from proceeding with the Alutrint aluminum smelter.
From 2009 to 2011 he worked with residents of Pranz Gardens and environs to prevent the building of Essar Steel a steel manufacturing complex that was proposed to be built in the proximity of communities in Claxton Bay. He also worked with residents of Claxton Bay and the fishermen of the Claxton Bay fishing port to stop the building an industrial port on the Claxton Bay Mangrove System. He worked with residents of Savonetta Village and environs to prevent the state from building CARISAL, a caustic soda company, to be built on lands outside of the Point Lisas Industrial Estate.
From 2011 to the present, he has been working with residents of Debe to Mon Desir to prevent the state from building a highway in the Debe to Mon Desir area.