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Protecting our paradise
There were many haunting images of environmental challenges and destruction during the year of the Water Dragon. The cutting into and irresponsible planning and development of the Northern Range resulted in massive floods in the northwest Trinidad, affecting Diego Martin, Maraval and Port-of-Spain, amongst other areas.
Cars being washed down hills in Diego Martin; roads being washed away in Glencoe; heavy rains, flooding, land slippage and severe traffic congestion in the capital; thousands of leatherback turtle eggs and hatchlings crushed by heavy machinery along the beach in Grande Riviere, one of the world’s densest nesting areas for the biggest of all living sea turtles; corbeaux and stray dogs hovering to predate upon the fragile remains in the burning sun.
Who can forget the memory of Dr Wayne Kublalsingh’s emaciated body in the protest against the construction of the Debe to Mon Desir segment of the highway extension without careful review by the government? Recently, the Highway Re-route Movement protested that work had restarted on the interchange project, despite its being a breach of the findings of the Highway Review Committee.
The report gave validity to Kublalsingh’s efforts, noting “shortcomings resulting from the inadequacies of proper assessment of the likely impacts on the human and natural environment must first be determined and resolved.” Whether you believed in or condemned his methods, whether you thought he was an extremist or a saint, the strength of his conviction should be respected.
A man of quiet determination and with a keen sense of justice, it should be remembered that his argument was not just about opposing the construction of a highway. At the heart of the matter, he was protesting against the lack of transparency and accountability. We should all do the same here in T&T. One who did stand up was one we lost to the Dragon. We lost an amazing, heroic woman in Angela Cropper.
She was an environmental and human rights warrior for the Caribbean, for the world. I will not repeat here her many and awe-inspiring achievements. That has been done by many through obituaries and articles, by better and more worthy writers. But I will sing her praises in one area—her devotion to the Caribbean on the international stage. Many may not know this, but she was one of those on the forefront of the movement that allowed the voices of small islands to be heard at the negotiating table in climate change. It is perhaps worthwhile to put things into perspective to understand how significant this is.
Small islands are usually never heard in international negotiations. International trade has shown us this clearly with the banana trade war with the EU and the US. Banana industries in low-income African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries were decimated so that hugely successful US multinational fruit companies could penetrate the remaining minor percentage of a European Union market share that had been cornered off as a protected market for those ACP countries. The World Trade Organization held that the protected market violated free trade agreements, and duly ordered the trade barriers to be removed.
These economies, including the eastern Caribbean neighbours we all know, suffered a huge blow. Tiny, low-income islands—exposed to rampaging hurricanes every year, dominated by a fickle tourism industry which itself is subject to the vagaries of economic meltdowns and recessions, limited in diversification options for their economy—lost a major sector of their tiny economies in one fell swoop. So what Angela Cropper did—helping small islands to negotiate, to speak out loud, to carve out a space for small islands to be heard, and to fight against the contrary agendas of rich developed economies who refuse to limit their carbon-emission footprint—was no small feat.
Of course, she was not alone but she was a soldier in the army on the forefront of change. Relentless, unwavering, committed despite personal tragedy. She envisioned a world of greater equality and less exploitation of the powerless by the powerful. Today, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) that brings together disparate members from both the Caribbean and the Pacific is one of the most vociferous lobbying groups of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Thank you, Angela, for your conviction, your strength, your contribution. We will miss you, and mourn your spirit passing.
As attorney and environmental enthusiast Anthony Vieira notes, it is “auspicious that the transition from the year of the Water Dragon to the year of the Water Snake was marked in Trinidad by the discovery of a 200-pound, 18-foot-long anaconda snake in Caroni. We as a country must take note.” The year of the Dragon, year of extravagant change, tumultuous and flamboyant, brought spectacular victories and memorable defeats. The year of the Snake promises to be more subtle, with its transformations leading to re-birth and renewal.
Auspicious indeed, in that the anaconda is a water-snake, living in swamps and rivers. But also auspicious in that the security guards who found the snake, rather than killing the animal or alerting others to its presence (drawing the threat of potential hunting or harm to the snake), immediately contacted the Emperor Valley Zoo where the animal was housed and cared for.
So too was it auspicious that the animal was pregnant, in keeping with the theme of the year of rebirth. The discovery of the anaconda, nicknamed “Sarp,” has breathed new life into the rescue and recovery programme at the zoo. Officials have reported that there was an increase in people reporting snakes, monkeys and other forms of wildlife, as opposed to killing or hunting these vital creatures of our fragile ecosystem. January 13, 2013 saw 10,000 visitors to the zoo to see the anaconda and the three new lions. Perhaps we can look at the anaconda as a symbol of hope that there will be a change in our little corner of the world, that there will be a flowering and renaissance in the interest of protecting our little paradise.
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