Members of the Highway Re-route Movement smashed a tent belonging to Constructora OAS Ltd on Wednesday night, as the Brazilian contractors moved heavy machinery into the San Francique area to begin work on a disputed segment of the $7.1 billion San Fernando to Point Fortin Highway.
The activists, who are opposed to the Debe to Mon Desir stage, spent the night patrolling the San Francique Road, determined not to allow OAS to begin land-clearing works. The work crew arrived around 8 pm and within two hours had set up a tent with lights and running water. However, when the excavators rolled in at 10 pm, the residents moved in and pushed down the tent.
Some of the protesters sat on the road, while others used a master key to drive the excavators off the land. Police arrived a short while later but the excavators remained in the middle of the road overnight. By morning, hundreds of drivers were caught in a massive traffic jam. Many had to use alternative routes and by 9 am, police led by Insp Rohan Pardassie arrived. They cleared the road and drove the excavators aside.
Deoraj Boodai, whose family owns a ten-acre plot of land in San Francique, said they will not allow their lands to be seized by the State. "This is blatant trespassing. They have damaged our fixtures and they have not paid a cent to us," Boodai said. He added that since 2005, the Government had done soil tests on the land.
"No permission was sought from us and they put down pickets on our land. This is not right," Boodhai fumed. Another resident, Randy Boodhai, said his forefathers paid 20 cents per square foot for land in San Francique. "This is private property," Boodhai declared. "I cannot go in the Prime Minister's house and pick up her TV. Why are they coming into our property?"
He also said the San Francique Road was paved just two weeks ago and the heavy machinery was destroying it. Businesswoman Dowatie Deolal said she was not willing to give up her land to facilitate the highway. "We are well settled here. We are a community and if we are moved to Petit Morne (Ste Madeleine), how will we sell our doubles in Penal? Our children go to school in this community and we are not leaving here," Deolal said.
Activist Dr Wayne Kublalsingh said the State had violated the rights of the people. He said the highway re-route issue is now before the High Court, so OAS had no authority to proceed with the Mon Desir route. He also said Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar promised six months ago to review the highway project.
In a notice issued to residents, OAS said construction between Siparia and Mon Desir was expected to start from November 1. The company said construction would go on between 7 am to 6 pm from Monday to Saturday. In a separate flyer, the company said the highway would improve safety and security, reduce travel time, enhance connectivity, boost industrial development, improve movement for people, goods and services and create sustainable development.
However, the re-routers believe the Debe to Mon Desir segment will destroy 300 homes, flatten 13 communities, destroy 20 streets, 13 businesses, 65 oil wells, uproot gas pipelines in the Oropouche Lagoon and cause permanent flooding.
The movement is proposing that Government add a new highway section between Debe and Mosquito Creek, repair and widen bypass and connector roads and then feed them into the new highway sections from San Fernando to Point Fortin.