Ian K Ramdhanie, MSc,
Several families in Vega de Oropouche, Sangre Grande, did not have a Good Friday yesterday, after their homes were demolished by agents of the State who claim the families were occupying State lands illegally. According to reports, the demolition of homes started on Thursday and ended yesterday. Over 80 structures were demolished.
The residents who lost their homes said police officers and soldiers came and demolished their homes around 9 am yesterday. They claimed they had not been notified that they were to move and none of them were given the opportunity to remove any valuables from the home.
One resident, Sherwin Jack, said he lost over $100,000 after his two-bedroom home was destroyed. Jack said he now has to look for a place for his wife and four children, who range in ages from 18 months to 11 years. He added that he had been living in the area for the past 12 years and had received no notice of eviction from the land. He said some time ago he received a house number, which was 23, from agents who represented themselves as acting on behalf of the Land Settlement Agency (LSA).
Another resident, Lisa Maharaj, said she lost everything, including her son’s belongings. She said she fled to the community from an abusive relationship, but now has nowhere to sleep. “I plead with them to get my things but they just come and bulldoze everything. I have nowhere to go now I have to sleep on the streets,” Maharaj said.
Himchan Salickram said he went out and when he returned home he found it in shambles. Salickram said his six-year-old asthmatic son is in need of hernia repair surgery, which is supposed to be done at the Sangre Grande District Hospital, but after the demolition he could not find his appointment slip. The self-employed father of one said he could not even re-construct a structure to spend the night. The residents appealed to the Government for help.
Attempts to contact both Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal and officials at the LSA were unsuccessful yesterday as calls to their cell phones went to voice message.
Contacted yesterday, Lieutenant Commander of the Defence Force, Kirk Jean-Baptiste, confirmed that the engineering battalion based at Camp Cumuto had assisted in the demolition of the structures on the request of the Forestry Division and the LSA, who say the land is forest reserve land and watershed areas which in recent time has been flooded with people erecting structures. Jean-Baptiste claimed most of the homes were unoccupied and those who were occupying homes were given notices to vacate the land.