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Owners deny PNM claim: Canoe Bay resort no election base for TOP
Representatives of the T&T Guardian covering the upcoming THA election were threatened by security officers guarding the entrance to the Canoe Bay Beach Resort in Tobago yesterday. The property was reportedly recently rented to the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) to be used as a base for their election campaign.
“You are breaking the law. I am precepted,” an officer dressed in plain clothes warned as T&T Guardian photographer Marcus Gonzales took a photograph from the Milford Road side of the secluded Cove Estate resort in Canaan. Informed that Gonzales was taking a photograph from a public road and was not breaking any law, he said: “You took a picture of me. That is an infringement of my right.”
As this reporter approached the security, he used his cellphone and took a photograph. Calls were then made by the two officers present and shortly after a burly gun-toting officer appeared and positioned himself at the front of the gate. A large “Closed” sign was at the front of the resort but several cars with TOP flags drove in and out.
Trucks also entered and left the compound, one holding equipment to lift heavy objects. The security officer, asked what was going on and why such a shroud of secrecy, said he could not say. PNM sources told the T&T Guardian that the resort, owned by prominent Tobago tourism activist, Carol-Ann Birchwood James, has been used as a TOP base since the start of the election campaign.
“We understand that TOP people are being housed there and trucks brought up from Trinidad are parked there,” the source said. Another source said food is being cooked at the resort and distributed to activists at all the TOP’s offices in the island. The resort not too far from the state-owned Magdalena Grand (the former Tobago Hilton) and has 17 apartments. The source said the facility is the only access to Canoe Bay near Crown Point on the south-eastern end of the island.
She said Tobagonians are upset about the activities at the resort and the blocking of access to the popular bay. “They are being treated very poorly when they go near the area,” she said. The T&T Guardian called the resort’s number and asked if rooms were available. The woman answering the telephone said, “Not at the moment. No rooms are available until February.”
Asked if they were sold out, she replied, “Sold out and doing renovations.” The T&T Guardian called back the same number, identified our media house and asked to speak to Birchwood-James. A woman answering the phone identified herself as Ashella James, Birchwood-James’ daughter.
Told about reports that the TOP has rented the entire resort for the election campaign and asked why it was closed, she said, “I don’t know about that. “There’s a group staying with us. They haven’t identified themselves as belonging to any political party.” James said the resort is closed for renovations to its beach facility which everybody knows.
She said renovations started since September last year and due to contractual delay, are still incomplete. James said the facility is the only access to Canoe Bay and there is a charge of $20 for adults and $6 for children for bathers wanting to access the bay through the property.
And the TOP’s election campaign appear to be well-organised and funded. There’s a music truck for each of the 12 constituencies. High-profile artistes on the island, like Speyside resident Gardah Knight, and Trinidad calypsonian Denise “Saucy Wow” Belfon have performed at TOP political meetings. One of the TOP’s most popular campaign songs is sung by Mt Pleasant youngster Kyle Baptiste and is played on music trucks all over the island daily.
Activists have been distributing jerseys, hats, cups, flags, glow sticks and whistles to supporters. The music and giveaways are creating excitement among the youth. There are reports that cellphones are also being given away. But the PNM’s campaign does not have the same level of excitement.
TOP Tobago East MP Vernella Allen-Toppin, Minister in the Ministry of Social Development denied that the central government has been funding the party’s campaign on the island. “TOP could buy something?” she asked in response to questions about Canoe Bay Resort.
The minister said the party’s headquarters are at Tambrin Square in Scarborough. She said she knows nothing about the TOP using Canoe Bay resort as a base. The TOP gets funding from friends, well-wishers, party members and supporters, she claimed.
Allen-Toppin said together with Delmon Baker, Minister of Tobago Affairs, and Tobago-born Justice Minister Christlyn Moore all give $700 a month from their salaries to the party. The cost of the TOP’s campaign is yet to be worked out, she said.
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