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Defiant Vega Squatters Rebuild After Demolition
Five days after the army, police and forest rangers demolished 175 homes in Vega De Oropouche, Sangre Grande—a squatting settlement—residents have started to rebuild. Yesterday, over 200 residents who were affected by last Monday’s demolition re-entered the forest reserve lands, armed with hammers, saws, galvanise sheetings, nails and pieces of lumber to construct new homes, claiming that they had nowhere to go.
However, while Toco/Sangre Grande MP Dr Rupert Griffith said he would not condone the rebuilding exercise, the residents argued that the demolition was not done within the confines of the law, as they were not served notices of eviction. Angered by the turn of events, the residents on Tuesday converged at Griffith’s office in Sangre Grande, seeking a meeting with him.
Some threatened to take legal action, while others say they will leave everything in the hands of God. The residents said homes that were numbered by the Land Settlement Agency last year to be regularised were also flattened by sledge hammers. Pieces of wood that residents tried to salvage were shredded to bits by chainsaws. Resident Patrick Phillip said for several nights, children and mothers slept under cardboard boxes.
Some were rescued by relatives, others have started to put up crudely built wooden structures on the lands they once occupied. Lucita Gibbs condemned the State’s action. “Is things like this that have the country in the crime situation today. Look how much land they have up here! The Government can’t give out houses fast enough and they don’t want you to live anywhere. This is ridiculous.” Her friend and neighbour Merle Liverpool looked on helplessly.
Having no clue about construction, both women tried to help each other rebuild, but failed miserably. They were eventually assisted by a group of men from the community. Miguel Trancosco said he lost his $15,000 home and his worldly possessions. “I can’t study them, I have to live. They (Government) have destroyed us,” said Trancosco, who was busy nailing pieces of plywood on the frame of his house.
Errol Bruce, 54, and his common-law wife Donna Castle, 29, tried hard to contain their tears, stating that since the incident their lives have turned topsy-turvy. Terry Pabaroo said Bruce has been walking aimlessly up and down the Toco Road every day. “The man can’t catch himself,” said Pabaroo. Pabaroo said he feels the State should reimburse those affected. Bruce, who is unemployed, said he had no money to restart his life.
He has been forced to sleep under a sheet of galvanise erected on four short stilts, which is covered by plastic at nights. Bruce’s “new” home has only a dingy piece of sponge, a bucket filled with tools and wares in a box. Managing without food, water, electricity and a toilet, Bruce said the phrase “every home is a castle” means nothing to them. “Our lives have been shattered.”
Griffith: People need to do the right thing
Yesterday, Griffith admitted to meeting with a small group of residents. “I told them that the issue of squatting was receiving much concern by the Government and something had to be done.” Asked if the squatters were given permission to rebuild, Griffith said, “I don’t know. If the Government should demolish the illegal homes and they are rebuilding, I don’t know anything about this.”
Griffith said the decision to rebuild would have to come from two agencies, the Environment Ministry and Forestry Division and not the squatters. “I told them there was nothing I can do, but offered to assist through the land for the landless programme. We gave them forms and advised them to fill it out and we would dispatch it to the Ministry of Housing. I cannot condone an illegal situation. People need to do the right thing.”
Asked what would become of the displaced, Griffith replied: “I wonder where they were before they came there.”
Maharaj: They are playing cat and mouse
Chairman of the Sangre Grande Regional Corporation Keshwar Maharaj said the area was a restricted forest reserve. Maharaj said the squatters were playing a cat-and-mouse game with the law. “But from next week there will be more patrols in the area. More forest rangers will be on duty.”
Maharaj could not say if the State would demolish the homes again. “If it is unlawful and illegal I expect that it should be done.”
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