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Chaguaramas, the ignored capital site
I continue from last week, the rationale for historical justice to be achieved in the determination of how the lands of the Chaguaramas Peninsula are to be made use of, with a glance at the original sharing out of portions of Trinidad.
A pact between the Spanish rulers and the French occupiers granted lands to Roume de St Laurent and the French Creole planters from Grenada, Dominica, St Lucia and Haiti. The objective was to establish a plantation here; and this after the initial use of Trinidad by the Spaniards as a transshipment point to the fabled gold of El Dorado on Central America.
For their “reward” the enslaved black population was bequeath a life of brutality and servility on the plantation. When the British muscled in on the Caribbean plantation economy, the class of millionaire West Indian absentee landowners emerged in Britain.
When slavery was eventually abolished, the planters received compensation. The African, brutally disadvantaged through enslavement, was largely left to fend for himself; the education grants were unable to sustain human development programmes for the African.
It was necessary to have sketched something of the beginnings of land distribution in Trinidad to make the case for the need for “historical justice” to prevail to bring Chaguaramas into national development. The above can be substantiated by the historical accounts which abound.
I reiterate that when Premier Eric Williams and the People’s National Movement, the party founded essentially, if not exclusively, among the black middle and lower economic and social classes, confronted the Americans for the release and return of Chaguaramas from the 99-year lease, the other ethnic, social and commercial groups opposed Williams in their own interest.
Therefore, whereas other groups have benefited from large tracts of state lands granted by the Crown and by national governments, Afro-Trinis have been left on the sidelines. Moreover, hundreds of black families and those of mixed ethnicities were denied, through court rulings and government decisions, a return of their ancestral lands spread over the villages of Chaguaramas. Major among the governments which have done nothing with the returned lands have been those of “William the Conqueror”.
Undoubtedly, Premier Williams fought a successful and historic battle for the return of the lands belonging to all citizens. However, apart from Chaguaramas as the capital sight of the Federation, the venue for the signing of the Treaty of Chaguaramas and the stomping ground for PNM political conventions, little else was done with the area. This is not to disregard the army and coast guard’s occupation of the area, but that cannot be considered “developmental”.
A few short-lived efforts by Manning administrations to create “mega farms” in the area and to start a nursery for seed were the exceptions.
The UNC government sought to distribute Chaguaramas lands to selected and privileged groups, while undermining the long, occupational rights of the Chaguaramas farmers. I have questioned the developmental value to which those lands were to be put, but at least there was an attempt to have the Peninsula be part of the economy.
Chaguaramas and the offshore Five Islands have every potential and possibility to be part of the diversification of the non-energy economy. The economic reporting of the Central Bank has indicated the desperate need to spread the economy away from its historical and contemporary dependence on mining and the production of semi-finished goods in the energy sector.
My contention is that in the leasing of lands at Chaguaramas, given the history of the Peninsula and the attempt to make “sweetheart” land leases, there is the requirement for political, economic and social justice to prevail; to do otherwise would be to encourage negative consequences.
Next week, an approach to converting Chaguaramas into the economic and social hub that it has the potential to become and doing so through processes which will assure that historical justice is done.
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